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Maxfield Parrish

National Portrait Gallery

Maxfield Parrish

National Portrait Gallery

Beyond the Blue: The Art of Maxfield Parrish

Smithsonian Magazine

Between the world wars, artist Maxfield Parrish was the common man's Rembrandt. When a Parrish print was placed in a department store window, crowds gathered to admire it. Hotels hung his dreamscapes in their lobbies. Housewives bought his calendars, viewed them for a year, then cut off the dates and framed the pictures. His 1922 painting Daybreak became a decorating sensation and pop icon of the 1920s, selling more than 200,000 prints.

A short, puckish man with piercing blue eyes, Parrish painted the stuff dreams are made of. His trademarks were lush gardens, ecstatic women and his famous "Parrish blue," the color skies must surely be in any Eden worth the name.

A generation after his death, Maxfield Parrish remains one of America's best-known and least-known artists. Though his utopias still adorn calendars and posters and his images are sold as computer screen savers and mouse pads, refrigerator magnets and tote bags, few have ever seen his paintings in person. A major retrospective now at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia offers visitors an opportunity to do just that. Going beyond the blue, the exhibition features more than 170 works from Parrish's 68-year career. Those who know him only for his "girls on rocks" will be startled by the imagination, virtuosity and sheer delight of his designs. The show includes his enchanting children's illustrations and magazine covers, his ambitious murals, his machine-tooled maquettes and the lonely landscapes he painted into his 90s. After showing in Philadelphia through September 25, "Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966" will travel to the Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, and to the University of Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, in New York.

Stephen Parrish

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; image 18 x 18 cm. on board 21 x 18 cm. Parrish seated on a bench under a window of a house.

Identification on verso (handwritten): Stephen Parrish.

photo somewhat faded


National Portrait Gallery

Philip Guston 1913-1980

Philip Guston started his career in the 1930s as a figurative painter, became a leading abstract expressionist in the 1950s, and returned to figuration in the 1960s, when, as he said, "the brutality of the world" made him "sick and tired of all that Purity!" that abstract painting implied. Painter, produced in the infirm, final year of Guston's life, seems to illustrate a reference he made in 1978 to his work as a "battle . . . with dozens of brushes as weapons." Here, his battle-scarred and bandaged face, with its Cyclopean eye (a common self-depiction of the 1970s), stares out at his right hand. The pose alludes to his cigarette smoking; a benediction; or the artist's meditation on his future ability to produce art. Such self-reflection characterized Guston's career, which author Nicole Krauss called "an unflinching journey towards the most unflinching expression of self."

Painter and Faun

Catalog of American Portraits

Artist Souvenir

National Portrait Gallery

Artist Conversing

National Portrait Gallery

Artist & Model

National Portrait Gallery
Artist and Model

David Hockney born 1937

David Hockney's etching grew out of an invitation to participate in a portfolio dedicated to Pablo Picasso, who died in 1973, and reflects his admiration for this father of cubism. Probably basing his rendering of Picasso on a photograph by French photographer Robert Doisneau, Hockney casts himself in an intimate tête à tête with his hero. Although fictional-the two artists were not personally acquainted-the scenario captured an important intersection between them, for Hockney created the print with Aldo Crommelynck, who had long produced prints with Picasso. Hockney's careful observation of Picasso's methods raises the question of just who is the "artist" and who is the "model" referred to in the work's title. Although Hockney's nudity suggests his role as model, it is the elder artist who serves as a subject and muse for the younger.

Maynard Dixon: Painter of the Desert

Catalog of American Portraits

Artist as a Wreck

National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian Artist Leon Kennedy

Smithsonian Institution
In 1997, the Smithsonian Institution purchased 200 significant works from the renowned Rosenak collection for an undisclosed sum estimated around $2M. This acquisition included a bed-sheet by Kennedy. The Folk Art Messenger, Vol. 10, No.3, reports the acquisition makes the Smithsonian American Art Museum "the world's preeminent repository for American self-taught art." "It is our desire to see them as part of the history of 20th-century American art," said Chuck Rosenak. Mentioning self-taught Kennedy, the article notes these works were the first American collection exhibited at the Collection de l'Art Brut, Switzerland, which "testifies to its quality and uniqueness." The Leon Kennedy masterwork now resides at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, while photos of Kennedy and other materials of Kennedy's are available for study at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Kennedy is a spiritual painter, moved by God. While Howard Finster preaches religion through his many of his works, Kennedy's works are sublimely religious: soulful, meditative and giving praise. There is no hell in Leon's work, only heaven on earth. Through his paintings Kennedy emanates God's love. For Kennedy, each work speaks a message direct from God; a divine inspiration. The spiritual fervor is sublimated through wonderful painting technique and symbolic poetry. Kennedy is a painter's painter; with beautiful raw brut figuration, a Van Gough color sensibility, original technical approaches and compositions--each painting a totally new exploration. This is why the Smithsonian picked his work to form the cornerstone collection of the American Art Museum (formerly the National Museum of American Art.) Kennedy's works are authentic and inspired manifestations of the spiritual experience in the urban landscape through the eyes of an intuitive African American master. Permanent collections 1997 Smithsonian American Art Museum (then the National Museum of American Art) acquisition. 1990 The House of Blues, multiple acquisitions. Tryworks Collection Rosenak Collection NOHO Modern Ames Gallery, Berkeley Bomani Gallery, San Francisco Solo Exhibitions 2009 A440 Gallery, San Francisco, CA 2005 Kings Gallery, San Francisco Unitarian Universalist Church 2000 Oakland City Hall, Oakland, CA 1996 Good Samaritan Baptist Church, Oakland, CA 1995 La Pena Cultural Center, Berkeley, CA 1992 West Berkeley Senior Citizens Center, Berkeley, CA 1988 Richmond City Hall, Richmond, CA Group Shows 2009 New York Outsider Art Fair 2007 Revolving Museum, Lowell, MA, "Race Class Gender" 2006 American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, "Race Class Gender" 2005 Robert Cargo Gallery, PA, "The Dream Lives On" 2005 Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA 2003 Black Box, Oakland, CA, "Absolute Reflection" 2000 San Francisco Arts Commission "Extraordinary Artists," curated by Bonnie Grossman, The Ames Gallery 2000 SOMArts Gallery, San Francisco, CA 1999 Visual Aid's "Big Deal" 1997 Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland 1996 Sheppard Art Gallery, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, "Memories and Visions: Self-Taught and Outsider Artists West of the Rockies" 1994 African American Museum, Dallas, TX 1994 Skyline College, San Bruno, CA, "Emerging Talent: African American Artists of California" 1992 California State University, Hayward, CA, "Vernacular Art" 1992 2000 (annually) Berkeley Civic Arts Commission, Berkeley, CA (Windows Project) 1991 Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland, CA, "The Gospel Connection" with Louis Estape Bibliography Contemporary American Folk Art: A Collectors Guide. ROSENAK, CHUCK and JAN ROSENAK, New York: Abbeville, 1996. The Folk Art Messenger. Vol. 10, No. 3, Spring, Summer 1997. Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art. Betty-Carol Sellen, (McFarland & Company, 1999). Black Creation: A Quarterly Review of Black Arts and Letters. Vol. 4 (Fall 1972). Beauford, Fred, ed. The Black Artist in America: An Index to Reproductions, THOMISON, DENNIS. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1991. Slotin Auction Catalogs National Archives in Washington, D.C. artknowledgenews(dot)com/Revolving_Museum.html

William Glackens with students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts [photograph] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Copy negative by Peter A. Juley & Son of a photograph by an unidentified photographer.

Glackens seated middle row, second from left. Parrish seated middle row, third from right.

Gerdts, William H., "William Glackens," New York: Abbeville Press, 1996, pg. 13.

Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

William Glackens, American painter and illustrator, 1870-1938.

Maxfield Parrish, American painter and illustrator, 1870-1966.

Glackens, Ira.

A Tribute to a Great Artist: Steve Jobs

Smithsonian Magazine

Steve Jobs, who died October 5 after resigning in August as CEO of Apple, the company he co-founded, had many talents. But what set him apart from other computer wizards was his artistic sense. He continually used the word “taste” in explaining what was ready to be manufactured at Apple, and what wasn’t ready yet—what he had to reject. The Apple computer, the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod are all strikingly beautiful objects; the clarity of their visual design matches the way they function. It’s clear that Steve Jobs was an artist and that his artistry worked at many levels: it was a visual sensitivity that extended outward to a way of thinking about how things worked and how different variables could interact with each other in a pleasing harmony. Where did this ability come from?

Jobs gave some credit for his success to a seemingly unlikely source—a course on calligraphy that he took as an undergraduate at Reed College, a course established by a maverick professor named Lloyd Reynolds and continued by Father Robert Palladino. In fact, Jobs was not the only “genius” to benefit from Reynolds’ teaching. Other notable students have included the poet Gary Snyder, the poet and Zen master Philip Whalen and the entrepreneur Peter Norton of Norton Utilities, who became a major patron of contemporary art.

Reynolds began teaching calligraphy at Reed College in 1938 as a no-credit course (it became full-credit in 1948) on the third floor of a building that had just been vacated by the chemistry department. Reynolds’ art credentials were almost nonexistent; he had actually gone to Reed to teach in the English department. His interest in calligraphy went back to 1924, when he had worked briefly for a greeting card and sign company, and largely through self-teaching he had become one of the masters of the art. Reynolds’ calligraphy class eluded simple description. It focused on mastering a hand skill—writing letters—and for that reason was always viewed with suspicion by the rest of the college faculty, since it seemed to them more like calisthenics or lessons in ballroom dancing than a college-level course that involved thinking. But for Reynolds, the skill of writing letters was all-embracing and mystical, and it took thought. To do it properly required a total understanding of the art and culture that gave rise to particular modes of writing. As one of his students, the type-designer Chuck Bigelow, has explained, in summarizing Reynolds’ teachings:

“When you write in an italic hand, you are making the same kinds of motions that Queen Elizabeth I made when she practiced Chancery Cursive as a teenager; the same motions as Poggio Bracciolini, a fifteenth-century chancellor of Florence; the same motions as Michelangelo. And if you write in a Carolingian hand, you are making the same moves as the notable scribes that Charlemagne assembled in his court in the late eighth century: Alcuin of York, Peter of Pisa, Theodulf the Visigoth, Paul the deacon, and Dungal the Irishman.”

Consequently, as Todd Schwartz has commented, in an excellent article about Reynolds in the Reed Alumni Magazine: “Reynolds’s classes were never simply about the thing—they were about everything.” Reynolds’ three greatest enthusiasms were the “Three Bills”: William Blake, the poet and painter of mystical visions; William Morris, the master of Arts and Crafts; and William Shakespeare. But his enthusiasm for “The Big Three” was mixed in with religious interests—he was fascinated by Zen Buddhism—and also tied into leftist politics of some sort: he was once called up in front of the Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities.

Learning to write well, for Reynolds, was a key to achieving a mystical, spiritual harmony with the universe as well as to attaining such social goals as ending poverty and racism and achieving world peace. As the graphic designer Michael McPherson, who studied with him, recalls: “He’d jump from Michelangelo to William Blake to Zen Buddhism effortlessly, and it all made sense.” In essence, Reynolds was encouraging his students to think about what’s good and significant and why, in a way that cut across the traditional boundaries between academic fields: to learn to exercise good taste. It was a mode of thinking that would profoundly influence Jobs, who provided us with an interesting definition of taste: “Taste is trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then trying to bring those things into what you are doing.”

But Reynolds’ very successes—huge student attendance, teaching and art awards, even a television show—also attracted enemies, who viewed all this hoopla as proof that what he was doing wasn’t academically rigorous. Each year he had to do battle for the survival of his class against an ever-growing coalition of enemies. Reynolds bowed out when his wife became terminally ill. To continue his legacy he chose a singularly spiritual figure, a former Trappist monk and monastery scribe, Father Robert Palladino, under whose benevolent care calligraphy remained the most popular elective offering at Reed. But Palladino, who had spent much of his life under a vow of silence, had no grasp of how to handle faculty politics and faculty arguments. In 1984, six years after Reynolds’ death, the art department pulled the plug on the calligraphy class, ostensibly because it didn’t fit with the new mission of focusing entirely on “modern art.”

Though seemingly irrational, this pattern of faculty politics is familiar to anyone who has worked in a university. It comes from a love of following the regulations, and inventing new regulations if old ones aren’t already in place, to make teaching tidy, measurable and predictable. The philosopher Plato, who viewed artists as dangerous renegades, wanted to banish them from his ideal Republic, and real artists seem to always exist with the threat of banishment hovering over them—or worse. When the course on calligraphy was eliminated, Reed College was diminished. “There was never another course quite like that,” one of Reynolds’ former students, Georgianna Greenwood, has commented.

Image by Courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College. Lloyd Reynolds, background with glasses, established a course on calligraphy at Reed College. (original image)

Image by Apic / Getty Images. When designing the first Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs remembered his calligraphy course at Reed College and built it all into the Mac. "It was the first computer with beautiful typography," said Jobs. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College. Robert Palladino taught for 15 years and briefly continued Reynolds' calligraphy course at Reed College. He had Jobs as a student and the two worked together years later on Greek letters. Jobs also introduced him to the Apple mouse. (original image)

Image by Bruce Forster Dorling Kindersley / Newscom. Jobs gave some credit for his success to the calligraphy course he took as an undergraduate at Reed College located in Portland, Oregon. (original image)

Image by Fred Wilson / Reed College. Jobs returning to Reed College to accept the Vollum Award in 1991. The award was created to recognize exceptional achievement of a member of the scientific and technical community. (original image)

Jobs and Calligraphy

Jobs entered Reed in 1972 and dropped out after six months. But he continued to audit classes for another year, while sleeping on the floor of friends’ rooms, collecting Coke bottles for survival money and getting free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple. The most inspiring classes were calligraphy. As Jobs recalled in his 2005 Stanford commencement address:

“Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. … I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.”

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”

From this statement, it’s clear that the stylish graphics we now take for granted on computers might never have taken hold without the calligraphy class. Indeed, Jobs made comments about this many times. For some reason, it’s a thing in which he took particular pride. But I’d like to propose that what Jobs learned from studying calligraphy went deeper than nice typography.

Typography is a peculiar art, which operates with unusually tight restraints, but is also amazingly free. The basic forms of the letters have stayed pretty much the same for centuries, and the order in which they go is generally fixed by the text. But within those seemingly rigid parameters there’s room for seemingly endless variations of shape and spacing, of shifts from delicate to bold, and of many other things. Seemingly modest changes can completely change the overall effect for good or ill, and can make the letters trigger entirely different emotions. There’s even a bit of time travel involved, since different letter forms evoke different historical periods. Most of all a great piece of typography needs to work as an ensemble. One wrong mark can throw off the entire effect. And a little accent can sometimes lift something that’s harmonious but dull to the level of a masterpiece.

Visual thinking has properties that are a little different from thinking in language. One of its most attractive qualities is that it encourages us to move out of a strictly linear sequence and to take in many variables at once, including variables that are mobile and that exist in shifting configurations. By developing mastery of typography, Jobs developed mastery of design: the ability to think about how hundreds of different variables can coalesce to create a harmonious effect that seems “perfect.” This is the skill that he practiced at Apple, transposing it from the realm of letter forms to that of product design. Jobs explained in an interview with Businessweek in 2004: “Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe.”

What pulls it all together, of course, is art. As the great architect Alvar Aalto once stated: “Nearly every design task involves tens, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of different contradictory elements, which are forced into a functional harmony only by man’s will. This harmony cannot be achieved by any other means than those of art.”

Significantly, Jobs always thought of himself not as a manager but as a leader—an artistic visionary. After the fashion of a great artist, Jobs ultimately based his decisions not on the recommendations of committees or focus groups but on his own intuition—often on factors not easily expressed or analyzed in words. Perhaps most important, at some level, his mastery of visual skills was transposed to another level as well. Visual harmony became a sort of metaphor for what happens when everything works well together: when at a glance we can instantly understand a large field of variables, and see that everything coordinates with everything else and they all work together with a unified purpose.

In short, through mastering calligraphy, Jobs learned to think like an artist. It became the skill that separated him from other computer geniuses and business leaders. It enabled him to move out ahead of the pack, to build out of almost nothing one of the world’s largest corporations and to revolutionize modern life. We usually think of art as essentially a recreational activity: as something that stands apart from the serious business of life. But art does matter. When all is said and done, it’s the thing that makes it possible to have a world that holds together and is beautiful and makes sense.

Genius can never be reduced to a single trick. But let’s take note of the fact that one of the keys to Jobs’ success, to all that he achieved, is that, years ago, at the outset of his amazing career, he took a controversial and inspiring art class.

(Editor's Note, October 7, 2011: We have changed this article from its original version to clarify two errors in the description of Reynolds' and Palladino's careers at Reed College.)

Gentlemen's Committee on the Fine Arts

National Portrait Gallery

How One Artist Learned to Sculpt the Wind

Smithsonian Magazine

“I am starting to list the sky as one of my materials,” says sculptor Janet Echelman who produces aerial, net-like sculptures that are suspended in urban airspaces. 

Her pieces, created from high-tech fiber developed originally for NASA spacesuits, are described as “living and breathing” because they billow and change shape in the wind. During the day, they cast shadows and at night, they are transformed by computer-controlled lights into “luminous, glowing beacons of color.”

Echelman is one of nine leading contemporary artists commissioned to create installations for the inaugural exhibition titled "Wonder" at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

For the Renwick’s historic Grand Salon, Echelman created an immersive piece, called 1.8, that incorporates her first ever textile carpet, made of regenerated nylon fibers from old fishing nets, as well as a hand-knotted rope and twine sculpture suspended from the ceiling.

“The piece aims to show how interconnected our world is, when one element moves, every other element is affected,” Echelman says. (Todd Erickson)

“I wanted the visitor to be within the work,” she says with a faint southern lilt that hints at her Florida roots. Seating is sprinkled throughout the gallery to enable visitors to observe the swelling and surging of the net, which will be caused by artificial wind gusts manufactured by Echelman’s creative team.

“Outside, it’s very much about responding to the environment, but for this exhibit we get to sculpt the air currents to choreograph the movement,” she explains.

According to Echelman, her sculpture is inspired by data supplied by NASA and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, measuring the effects of the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Tohoku, Japan in 2011. The shape of the net is based on a 3D image of the tsunami’s force created by Echelman’s team.

“The piece aims to show how interconnected our world is, when one element moves, every other element is affected,” she says.

Echelman has been widely recognized for her innovative art form. She won a Guggenheim fellowship for exceptional creative ability, received a Smithsonian American Ingenuity award, and gave a TED-talk in 2011 that has garnered nearly 1.5 million views.

Visual art, however, was not Echelman’s first passion. She grew up playing the piano and attending summer camp at the Tanglewood Institute, a pre-professional program associated with the Boston Symphony orchestra. She also won a prestigious regional competition that earned her a coveted soloist spot with the Florida Orchestra.

“Music taught me the patience to take things apart and improve each component, but for my professional day job, I like a blank canvas rather than the job of reinterpreting someone else’s work,” she explains.

While an undergraduate at Harvard, she took her first visual art classes; and one assignment—to write about an artist’s entire body of work—unwittingly set her on her current path. She wrote about Henri Matisse and traced his trajectory from painting to the paper cutouts he developed at the end of his life when he was wheelchair bound.  

“That’s the way I want to live. I want to be responsible for defining my medium,” Echelman remembered thinking.

Following college, she was applied to seven art schools and was rejected by all of them, so she decided to move to Bali to become a painter on her own. Echelman had lived in Indonesia briefly during a junior-year abroad program, and she wanted to collaborate with local artisans to combine traditional Batik textile methods with contemporary painting.

For the Renwick’s historic Grand Salon, Echelman created an immersive piece that incorporates her first ever textile carpet, made of regenerated nylon fibers from old fishing nets, as well as the sculpture overhead. (Ron Blunt/ Renwick Gallery/ SAAM)

Echelman says that her parents had differing opinions of her unorthodox plan. “My father, an endocrinologist, asked whether any of my college professors had told me that I had talent and should pursue art. The answer was no,” she admits. “But my mom, a metal smith and jewelry designer, thought it was a fine thing to want to do and gave me $200 to buy supplies,” she recalls.

“It wasn’t that I had the goal to become an artist, but I wanted to be involved in the making of art everyday,” says Echelman.

For the next ten years, Echehlman painted and studied various forms of high art and artisanal crafts through a mix of fellowships, grants and teaching jobs. Along the way, she managed to earn an MFA in Visual Arts from Bard College and a Masters in Psychology from Lesley University.

“My system was to go and learn craft methods passed down from generation to generation,” she explains. She sought out opportunities to study Chinese calligraphy and brush painting in Hong Kong, lace making in Lithuania, and Buddhist garden design in Japan.

Immortalized in her TED talk is the story of how she first hit upon the idea of creating volumetric sculpture out of fishing nets. Echelman was on a Fulbright Lectureship in India in 1997 where she planned to teach painting and exhibit her work. The paints that she sent from America failed to arrive, and while searching for something else to work with, she noticed the fishermen bundling their nets at the water’s edge.

Beanbags and benches are sprinkled throughout the gallery to enable visitors to observe the swelling and surging of the net. (Ron Blunt/ Renwick Gallery/ SAAM)

Nearly two decades after those first fish net sculptures, known as the Bellbottom Series, Echelman has created scores of artworks that have flown over urban spaces on four continents. Her first permanent outdoor sculpture was installed over a traffic circle in Porto, Portugal in 2005. The work, called She changes consists of a one-ton net suspended from a 20-ton steel ring. Only five years later, high tech materials had developed so quickly that she could now attach her sculptures to building facades without the need for the heavy steel ring support.

Maintaining her permanent sculptures is serious business. These pieces, which float over such cities as Seattle, Washington, Phoenix, Arizona, and Richmond, British Columbia, undergo regular maintenance protocols to ensure they are safely airborne. Protecting wildlife is also a priority for Echelman. The artist’s website maintains that her sculptures do not harm birds because her nets are made of thicker ropes with wider openings than those used to trap birds.

For each new work, Echelman consults with a cadre of architects, aeronautical engineers, lighting designers and computer programmers throughout the world.

“I don’t have a deep knowledge of all these disciplines. But I consider myself a collaborator,” she says. “I have an idea, a vision and we work together to realize it,” she continues.

Echelman also gratefully acknowledges that she has realized the twin goals she set for herself as a fresh-faced undergraduate in an earlier century. She has succeeded in defining her own medium and she is happily involved in the making of art every day.

Janet Echelman is one of nine contemporary artists featured in the exhibition “Wonder,” on view November 13, 2015 through July 10, 2016, at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Echelman's installation closes on May 8, 2016.

Watch this video in the original article

Gavin Jantjes, A South African Artist

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
A curriculum resource providing background information on Jantjes as an artist and his inspiration in South African mythology. Includes suggestions for integrated classroom activities to accompany the material.

Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture with Artist Elizabeth Peyton

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Elizabeth Peyton uses rich, gem-like colors and masterful graphic precision to create visually arresting portraits of fellow artists, friends, and cultural icons. She is widely recognized for bringing new dimensions to figurative painting in the 1990s and is among the most celebrated painters of her generation. Her works reflect intense emotional fascination with her subjects, while contemplating the modern nature of fame and celebrity. In 2011, she was featured in solo exhibitions at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis; the Opelvillen Foundation in Rüsselsheim, Germany; Gallery Met in New York City; and the Gagosian Gallery in Paris. She has shown extensively in exhibitions worldwide, and her works are included in major public collections such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and MoMA in New York City; Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; SFMOMA in San Francisco; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Peyton was born in Danbury, CT and lives and works in New York City.

Why this 14th-Century Chinese Artist Is Having a Rebirth

Smithsonian Magazine

In June 2011, a hanging scroll sold for $62.1 million at Poly auction house’s spring sale of ancient calligraphy and painting in Beijing, setting both a new world record for Chinese artwork at auction and the record for a painting by the 14th-century artist, Wang Meng.

The ink wash, Zhichuan Resettlement, ca. 1350, was attributed to Wang Meng, a Chinese literati who lived from 1308 to 1385 and is still revered as one of the renowned “four masters of the Yuan dynasty” (1271 -1368). The painting depicts a famous Taoist medical scientist of the East Jin dynasty (317 – 420 AD) moving his entire household on horseback across rocky terrain to the sacred Mt. Luofu to make elixirs and practice alchemy. (To this day the mountain is a forested park dotted with Taoist temples and tributes to the fourth-century scientist.) The painting, which also boasts seven poems by scholars, painters and poets, had been handed down for six centuries.

An arguably more significant work by the same artist can be seen in “Style in Chinese Landscape Painting: the Yuan Legacy,” a show currently on view at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art.

Dwelling in Seclusion in the Summer Mountains, 1354, is confidently attributed to Wang Meng. It is a relatively small piece, in ink and color on silk, remounted as a hanging scroll. Beautifully painted with several distinct kinds of brushwork, it depicts a peasant walking on a tiny pedestrian bridge over the inlet of a lake, returning home from work. Hidden from his view are his wife and child, anxiously waiting on the deck of a modest house. Not far from the peasant, a scholar stands under a thatch roof in a lakeside pavilion.

“The fellow in the pavilion is the personification of either the artist or the patron, the recipient of the painting,” explains Stephen D. Allee, a curator of Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Freer, who organized the current exhibition. “He is the subject of the title of the painting.”

The tiny buildings and figures are in the lower third of the painting; they are dwarfed by majestic, steep forested slopes in the middle ground and a range of tall misshapen, even grotesque, mountains that recede in the mist in the distance.

Landscape painting is one of the most prized traditions in Chinese culture and dates to the third century. The current exhibition focuses on the Yuan dynasty because several new key styles emerged at that time, a turbulent era when the Mongols came to power in China, the first time foreigners had occupied the country. (The conqueror was the brutal Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.)

The innovative artist Wang Meng spent years studying the affects of certain material, inks and brushes. (Freer Gallery of Art)

The great painters of the time, members of the literati class, resisted serving under the Yuan court and defiantly removed themselves to work and reside in the countryside. They exclusively painted landscapes, which they believed to be the visible key to the invisible reality, Allee says. “No longer viewed as a simple representation of the external world,” he adds, “landscape became a form of self-expression full of personal connotations for both artist and viewer.”

These artists were creating art for themselves and each other, instead of the court. “They restricted their acquaintanceships to other gentlemen scholars,” Allee explains. Wang Meng was the youngest of the “four masters” and least famous in his day, but he greatly influenced the painters of later generations—and not just painters. He has even inspired fiction. Last year John Spurling, the English writer, employed Wang Meng as the central character in his novel, The Ten Thousand Things.”


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And his life story is fascinating. The grandson of another famous painter, Zhao Mengfu, who had Song royal blood, Wang Meng “identified with Chinese culture, not the cosmopolitan Mongols,” Allee says. “This was a matter of choice at a certain level and a matter of identity.”

He was from an “artistic family of great prominence” that had produced generations of painters—and collectors. As Allee explains, “Not only was painting a family tradition, but he had old paintings that were available to study and copy. Art was part of the family ambiance. They had great status in the artistic world.”

But how did he actually learn to paint? “Clearly there was some kind of instruction going on in the house, though we don’t have clear descriptions of how it was done, just that there was a high level of exposure to art in the family.”

Wang Meng was in his 40s when he did this painting. He had spent years learning about “what effects you can get from certain material, particularly the ink, as it spreads or holds fast on the surface,” Allee says. “And he had different brushes at his disposal, with hairs of goat, deer, rabbit and sable. Some had a harder core of hair of one kind and softer hair on the exterior. Old brushes were used to create a streaking effect.”

Wang Meng used brushwork to differentiate kinds of trees: weeping willow, pine and various deciduous trees. (Freer Gallery of Art)

Surviving works by Wang Meng are incredibly rare. Dwelling in Seclusion in the Summer Mountains is his earliest dated piece, which makes it even more significant. It is also a showcase of the artist’s technical skills. “He is showing off what he can do,” Allee says. “Chinese artwork is always about the art of painting as much as anything else.”

It is a dense picture, full of nervous energy. The vertical composition is a rugged landscape dominated by craggy mountain crests that recede into the misty distance. They are formed by a technique Allee calls “hemp-fiber brushstrokes," because the long, overlapping lines resemble strands of rope. Flecks of dark ink represent boulders on the ridges. He used brushwork to differentiate kinds of trees: weeping willow, pine and various deciduous trees.

“There are five different kinds of trees, each distinct in terms of leaves and roots,” Allee points out. “Wang Meng is making things more complex, more varied, putting more definition into it.” There is a lot going on.

It is worth noting that the human element—the buildings and figures—are completely dwarfed by nature. They are quietly integrated into the bottom third of the landscape and do not immediately attract the viewer’s attention.

“It’s all about identification with landscape and the simple life of the peasant as seen from the vantage point of the artist,” Allee says. “It’s part of Daoism and the yearning for nature.”

The piece is also Wang Meng’s conscious tribute to the style of the 10th-century artists Dong Yuan and Juran. “They were neglected after the Song dynasty, so Wang Meng is “rediscovering their style and reinvesting them with significance,” Allee says.

It is common for Chinese artists to look back to past generations for inspiration. Similarly, Wang Meng was not particularly admired during his own time but was rediscovered later on. “He greatly influenced later painters, but not immediately,” Allee says.

Wang Meng lived long enough to see the Ming dynasty come to power and ultimately become a victim of that reign. It is not known precisely why, but he was imprisoned for five years and died in prison. His legacy lives in incredible paintings like Dwelling that are being discovered yet again.

“Pioneered by the 10th-century artists Dong Yuan and Juran, this once-neglected style had been revived in the Yuan dynasty by Wang’s older contemporaries,” Allee writes in the exhibition notes. “The visual profusion of the composition became a hallmark of Wang’s approach and strongly influenced later generations.”

The Freer Gallery possesses one of the most important collections of Chinese painting outside Asia, with many of its works from the Song and Yuan dynasties holding near-iconic status. Many of these works are available in the Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting Collection. The exhibition, "Style in Chinese Landscape Painting: The Yuan Legacy," is on view through May 31, 2015.

Artist Jeffrey Gibson’s Artwork Activates Overlooked Histories and Marginalized Identities

Smithsonian Magazine

Artist Jeffrey Gibson, a half-Cherokee member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, takes a multidisciplinary approach to his work—he is painter, sculptor, photographer and performer. His oeuvre is an artful mashup that challenges his audience to question cultural and political assumptions. For his material, he mines his Native-American heritage, his youthful exploration of nightclub subculture and his global education in Korea, Germany, England and other countries where he lived growing up. His artistic emphasis can be said to be a collaborative embrace of marginalized identities, nonconformists and societal outsiders.

Gibson particularly resonates in this moment in time. His artwork is layered in both the country’s history of cultural erasure and its present climate of divisive politics.

“As the times have become increasingly more political, people have begun projecting more politicalness into the work,” notes Gibson, whose most recognized artwork is a series of repurposed Everlast punching bags adorned with embroidery, multicolored glass beads, fluorescent nylon fringe, metal jingles and labeled with pop song lyrics. “And then I almost am responding back,” he says. “Because I am enjoying the conversation.”

Whether geometric paintings of acrylic and graphite on rawhide or dazzling, patterned tapestries, inspired by traditional quilting and an indigenous craft narrative, Gibson’s facility across mediums reflects a profound understanding of formal abstraction. Among his influences are American and European modernists, such as Sol Lewitt, Josef Albers and Bridget Riley. His work incorporates materials such as goat fur and deer hide, as well as most recently, the crafts of Algonquian birch biting and porcupine quillwork, practiced by tribes long before European settlers arrived.

Issues of colonization— both within museum walls and beyond—never stray far from Gibson’s mind. In his 2015 American History, a multi-colored wall hanging, he incorporated the text: “American history is longer, larger, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”

Born in Colorado Springs, Gibson, 47, the son of a U.S. Department of Defense engineer, recounts moving every two to three years during childhood, alighting in North Carolina, New Jersey, Germany and Korea. Educated at the Art Institute of Chicago and London’s Royal College of Art graduate program, Gibson studied painting throughout. But he cites the punk and rave culture of the club scene he took in while in his teens and 20s as being as influential to his artistry as his formal training. “Looking back at the music that was being played in the late 80’s and 90’s, what we were dancing to in a celebratory way was oftentimes a cry for help, talking about HIV explicitly in some of those lyrics,” explains Gibson. “But I realized that there was a reason why that music spoke to me. It spoke to me as a young, queer, non-white man.”

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Demian DinéYazhi, No. 3 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Demian DinéYazhi, No. 4 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Emily Johnson, No. 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Emily Johnson, No 4 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Jackson Polys, No. 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Laura Ortman, No 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Regan de Loggans, No. 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Roxy Romero, No. 2 by Jeffrey Gibbons, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Roxy Romero, No. 3 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

This week, Gibson brings that discourse to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., with his multimedia choreography, titled “To Name An Other." The performance features drums and 50 participants, who self-identify as indigenous, Native American, LGBTQ, or as people of color, outfitted in Gibson’s elaborate handmade garments.

It is the latest iteration of the museum’s “Identify” series. “We’re opening up what a portrait can be,” says the museum’s Dorothy Moss, who is curator of painting and sculpture, as well as Identify’s director.

Gibson is well suited to be the tenth commissioned “Identify” artist, joining others such as the renowned James Luna, Martha McDonald, J. J. McCracken, María Magdalena Campos-Pons and Wilmer Wilson. The purpose of the project is to shine light on gaps in the museum’s early collection, acknowledging those persons that are missing, says Moss. As museums throughout the U.S. grapple with long-standing institutional imbalances, “Identify” confronts racial absence in art and American history through the lens of performance.

“I’m really hoping that Gibson’s work will give those who felt silent during this political moment a voice,” Moss explains of the 50 volunteer-performers, as well as the text Gibson incorporates into the performance. Gibson's brightly colored garments for each of the participants are paired with digitally printed slogans such as: “They Fight for Clean Water;” “Powerful Because They Are Different;” “Their Votes Count;” “They Speak Their Language;” “They Identify As She” and “Their Dark Skin Brings Light.”

The strategic use of text is a hallmark of Gibson's aesthetic and recalls the works of Jenny Holzer and HIV-AIDS activist David McDiarmid.

“He is allowing people to be visible, who have felt unheard and vulnerable in our current climate,” says Moss.

Gibson’s use of native beadwork, quilt-inspired craftsmanship and protest slogans is being recognized for propelling contemporary art and social dialogue forward. But his creation of his first iridescent punching bag, the 2011 Everlast, was a deeply personal experience. Gibson recalls, an amorphous sense of frustrationquestioning whether he even wanted to be an artistduring doctor recommended therapy. “By the end of the first session, there were lots of issues surrounding classicism, racism, homophobia, very specific to the art world in a way that was clearly the root of my frustrations,” he says. “Working with that therapist led to a physical trainer and then boxing, as a way to bring back together my mind and my body and to try to unify those things that felt very disjointed to me.”

For this year’s Whitney biennial, Gibson hung Keep on Moving (2019), a quilted flag-mural prominently in the museum lobby, above the ticket counters, with the statement: “Thank you for the space you hold. Know that you are loved. Keep on Moving. Don’t Stop.”

Visitors are confronted by the artwork’s prominent placement as they wait the 5 to 20 minutes it takes to purchase their entry passes. “It’s about saying what I think needs to be said, and what is the right thing to do,” Gibson says. “I feel it would have been irresponsible for me to not express some things with so big a platform like this.”

True to Gibson’s visual lexicon, the artist seizes the opportunity to empower viewers. Whitney Biennial co-curator and art historian Jane Panetta says Gibson's text—a powerful fusion of art and language—is as much a protest of contemporary injustice, as it is a declaration of strength against inequity and prejudice. “While always grappling with tough issues about his queerness, about his being an indigenous artist,” Panetta says, “he’s always tried to ask, how can I grapple with these issues but think about a positive voice, a productive voice.”

This month in New York City, both the New Museum, where Gibson has been an artist-in-residence this past spring, and the Whitney Museum of American Art are showcasing Gibson’s garment-like works. For his June 8 encore presentation of “To Name An Other,” taking place at the New Museum, performers will again enliven his textiles through drumming, procession and motion to mark the close of Gibson’s residency. Referencing his deep interest in issues of appropriation and narratives of conflict, Gibson titled the final work of his residency program at the New Museum, The Anthropophagic Effect, after poet Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 “Anthropophagic Manifesto,” an essay about how communities should “devour” or cannibalize a colonizer’s culture in order to reject domination. The work includes four of his garments alongside Choctaw and Cherokee dresses, and an array of materials from plastic beads, nylon ribbons, brass grommets, dried pear gourds and baskets.

Always exploring new histories of indigenous craftsmanship, during his New Museum residency, Gibson took up Southeastern river cane basket weaving, for example. “Jeffrey is somebody who is really interested in how different cultural forms are constantly, always touching one another,” says the New Museum’s associate curator Sara O’Keeffe. “A big part of the garments that Jeffrey’s been making over the last few years is to think about them activated and not simply shown as artifacts in museums across the country.”

"Identify: Performance Art as Portraiture—Jeffrey Gibson: To Name An Other" takes place May 22, 2019 at 5 p.m. at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

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