The Mitchell Gallery

The Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery

Donatello’s Baptistry

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The Feast of Herod. Donatello. 1427. From the Baptistry in the Duomo of Siena, Italy. 

The Baptistry of the Cathedral of Siena; inside, the baptismal fountain, and on it the relief bronze of the presentation of St. John the Baptists’s head, by Donatello — Once the christians figured they should depict, visually, a familiar story by placing what happened first farthest to the left and what happened last furthest to the right; later Michelangelo would paint The Last Judgement as a complete scene, but a still where what occurs on the left or bottom is at the same time as what is right or top. In-between these two cultural moments there is this relief by Donatello. Like the earlier Christian artists, Donatello wants to compress time into one static image; within this relief we get not only the presentation of the head, but in the background The Baptist is being beheaded. But I am not interested in this phrase “compressing time into one static image” (what it seems the two paintings share), rather the relationship between earlier and the later.

To a modern viewer, this relationship probably seems like a kind of playfulness. Those older Christian works, being read from left to right, immediately lends itself to be compared to a book, or the written words, which are similarly read left to right. Donatello plays on this by creating a kind of play on words (in the English language) between past, present and background, foreground, where it is required to actively look to remember the past (as you must strain to see the background) but the present is almost totally, easily available to the sight. This image of Donatello’s arrives, historically, in the middle of the revolution of perspective in the Western visual arts. Donatello uses this new science in the depiction, perhaps as a way to fit that same narrative element into the new realism in the arts. The effect of this is the surprise that comes when the viewer sees, first The Baptist’s head in the foreground, and then, in a kind of looking back into time, seeing the same man having his head removed. In non-realistic painting (those which do not attempt to recreate what the world looks like to us in the day-to-day) we may not be surprised this left-to-right narrative within the work, but if we turned a corner and at once saw the same man dead in front of us and picking an apple a little farther off, then time, for us, we be broken.

—William Harrington, SJC Student, Abroad in Roma

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Pleasures of the Pantheon

 

 

 

I wrote the following letter for a very different kind of audience. One could call it more academic, though I wouldn’t claim that. But I thought the question of please was deserving of a blog like this.

A work of architecture can be thought of as the creation of an artificial space within a natural space—with very large works of architecture this is more easily seen. The architect chooses a location, a part of the city, and that space, once formed by nature, is then reformed for the architect’s vision. In the Pantheon, this vision forms a representation of the natural space as seen through the intellect of man. The first sign that we are viewing some representation of the heavens is from the immensity of the dome which makes up the pantheon—like the night sky it is impossible to take all of it in at once. One must move their eyes constantly to see the whole thing. The second sign is the oculus, it’s design, that let’s the light in with precision so that every year on a specific day and hour the sun will strike some one of the coffers; and on the spring equinox the light shines through the doors into the portico. Standing inside the pantheon, there is a playfulness which can be felt when we see these two signs mixed into the architecture. The architect would model the heavens in his rotunda, yet show that one may understand the motion and appearance even when one cannot see all at once. This seems, on a personal note, to be the origin of the beauty of the Pantheon: the mixture between the vastness of construction, and signifying of accuracy in the representation of the heavens.

On a side-note, which I have not tried to fit into the paragraph:

I call this mixture “intellectual” mainly in contrast to the Primavera Bedroom we saw at the Palazzo Massimo. There the representation and aesthetic style is rooted in the accuracy of technique to create an illusionistic painting, I assume the goal being to make nature and that painting indistinguishable.

 

—Will Harrington, SJC Student (A20)

Interview with Sofe Cote

 

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Sofe Cote, Self Portrait

 

I’m a big fan of Sofe Cote’s work and thoughts on Art-work; and we regularly talk about art (when we do talk at all). This interview was a way to get both of those on display. Unfortunately the exhibit where her two pieces were displayed has ended, but I found the conversation worthwhile enough to still post it—to show what kind of artistic talent we have here at St. John’s.

 

So how did you get started in Visual Art?

When I was young my mom thought that art was a big part of what people should learn, or what is a good skill to have—that it’s an important way to express oneself. So I was basically drawing forever; and we did a lot of those really sweet pieces where you wet watercolor paper and then you can just can go to town, and no matter what you do it just comes out beautiful. So I did a lot of that as a child. Then later on I did some summer art programs for myself. I wasn’t really into it to the extent that I wanted to go to school for it or pursue it as a career but its always been something that I love very dearly.

So it’s more of a passion for you

Yeah; I don’t really think about commodifying any of my passions or any of the things that I pursue—that’s just not something that really occurs to me.

I guess I’m thinking that some people can start out in art—like where I was going to school painting was emphasized as an important part of education—but there was a point where I just realized that that wasn’t for me. So how did it happen that you started doing it regularly? Did you just start so young that it became second nature to you?

Well I think that that would be placing it in the realm of something that I just do for the sake of doing it. But that’s not how I view it. I think it is something that’s still valuable to me as a method of creating things, or expressing what or how I’m feeling, or making concrete a period of my life through visual representation. I was really bad at writing when I was a kid so I would just draw—it was a lot easier for me—and even now when I journal half of it is drawing, because I find visual representations of things easier to portray than written or spoken.

So you have these two pieces in the gallery—and it’s hard for me even to understand visual arts (I’m much more of a literature person). So the thing I noticed about them (and I’m sorry I’m going to talk to an artist about their art in this way, it feels wrong)—

No, go crazy

Alright—well it feels like the pieces are very sparse in this way—you know it’s just a figure with very nice colors on this white paper—but what is the process of going from the personal to creating that object with that form?

Are you asking what my process is for those particular pieces?

I guess. I think I’m trying to ask more about your experience. What is it like to visualize a personal experience?

Well those are both self-portraits. And for those I felt–I guess lonely, isolated, to an unhealthy extent when I was making them. And I felt something like a lone figure in a corner of a page, with the white not simply as empty space but something that’s overwhelmingly empty, overbearingly empty—it felt to me like it was in some way capturing how I felt. As for the colors; I’ve always been really interested in colors, and for those I was experimenting a lot with emphasizing the natural shades and colors of shadow and highlight that are, I guess, not usually noticed, but trying to bring out that contrast. I kind of locked myself in my bedroom to make those, which I guess is also funny in terms of isolation.

It’s interesting because it sounds like you have a lot more emphasis on seeing that art as a kind of experience to be had. So the white isn’t really representational but you’re supposed to see the figure in isolation on the page.

Well I think the white— it’s at least important to me to understand that the empty space can still be a fundamental part of something. Or how a lack of something is still a something I guess. So having an empty white space not only draws you down to where the figure is but also conveys a lack. I think that was intentional. So I think something like white space can be very powerful in art.

Well there’s this idea— Do you know the poet Wallace Stevens?

Not really.

Well there’s this idea in one of his poems, Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction, where he describes any poem as being a fictional world into itself, separate from any other poem the poet has written, completely contained within itself. (And I guess I just keep wanting to talk about effects). So I could ask: when you see these things do you have to sit there and think about it or does it come to you like a dream would?

Well, I guess that in the same way that a story, when you’re writing it, seems to progress even when you don’t have the whole thing laid out, and I feel like a visual piece can be the telling of a story like that. You create as the work goes, and it’s easier to see what the effect might be once you see it in a state of semi-completion. Then you can make decisions and place intention in the, say, lack of background, even if you weren’t going to originally. And I think one thing naturally follows the other when you’re working. I don’t have full plans laid out. And even when I attempt to do something like that it never works for me; so I try to make it unravel in a more natural way.

I guess the only other thing we ever talk about it colors. So what is with the colors; I don’t remember what you say about them, but I remember that there’s a certain effect with colors that you talk about, which is actually why I wanted to interview you today. What is your relationship to colors?

Oh! Color is my best friend. So for the two I had in the gallery, there is a natural law that Goethe talked about in his Theory of Colors, which I’ve been reading recently, and it was something that I had never really thought about very much or very deeply, which was that for whatever color the light is, the shadow will be that complementary color, and that shadows are never gray or black. I guess I was thinking about that and it didn’t seem real for a little while; but the more I tried to play around with it and emphasize that distinction I realized it was very—not only very real, but interesting and could create a powerful effect. Some of the colors of shadows seem very counterintuitive but I think that it’s an interesting observation to make. I don’t feel like people really think about shadows as having colors to the extent that they should. I was even looking at a Matisse where half the woman’s body was green based on the light. And it seemed very natural the way he painted it, but to look at it up close it didn’t feel like a real skin or a real person. Even so, I think it conveyed a more natural effect of complimenting the light.

I didn’t expect you to talk about colors like that, because I remember in the past when we’ve talked you would talk about

How it feels?

Yeah, you have the emotional aspect.

Well I think that that’s also a very important aspect. AS you know I’ve been doing some studies on Orange recently. I thinks it’s really interesting to see how the color makes people feel in isolation (versus the color in context)—and a lot of what I do when I’m searching for the emotions related to a color is try to find them in isolation, because I think that it’s a lot weirder to look at a color by its lonesome. Something like those drawings—the colors there compliment each other in a way that seems natural. But a color is isolation never seems natural. And I think that’s why it can have such a powerful effect on people and the way that they feel about it. In those drawings I tried to create a lot of depth with the darker colors— which pulls the eye towards a specific part of the page. I think it’s a lot harder to place emotional emphasis on colors when they’re in conjunction.

Yeah, I know certain artists—like Munch—had whole systems for colors where each related to a concept. I think I get caught up in that because it feels unnatural, but not in the way you’d say a piece of art is unnatural. Rather that it doesn’t have an eye towards effect, even if it works sometimes.

I’m reading this really good book right now called Color and the Soul. It talks about various effects colors have, and how they relate to various emotions. I think the author referenced Munch in that. But I guess I don’t really feel like I have a full enough grasp to say “I’ve placed these colors in this relation to get this effect.” Partially because the effect that any piece of work has on a viewer, especially in terms of color, is personal because people have such personal relationships with colors. Like a very red background could have vastly different effects or emotions for different people. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that I placed the colors with a view to make people feel some kind of way.

Is there a way though that you could draw out those emotions through the effects of different colors in conjunction? I mean, the white background is a good example because it is literally isolates the colors in the absence of color. So there might be a kind of artistry which can draw out emotions through this kind of joining and relating.

Yeah through the joining. I mean, you can create very dissonant effects through colors I think. I also think tonality and intensity of colors, not necessarily correlating specific colors to specific emotions, but how those colors manifest themselves can have a kind of equally powerful effect on people. Like pairing a pastel with something that’s incredibly bright, or something incredibly vivid, can have a certain effect no matter what the color is. So something like tone and value is a fundamental way that we view color.

 

—Will Harrington (only in part), St. John’s Student

Two Views of Art

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Robert Indiana, ART—White/Red/Blue, 2017, Silkscreen in colors on triple primed canvas, Edition: III/III

This basic design of this piece was originally used for a sign commissioned for the New York World’s Fair. It was an electric sign, with flashing lights. People mistook it for a sign for a diner, and they crowded about it to find something to eat. If we take that same image but replace the word on the sign with “ART”,  does the whole idea transfer, and Robert Indiana is trying to advertise art? And if we agree, what do we make of art—is it something commodified? That view would almost diminish art by making it a commodity. Yet this is out of the spirit of Indiana’s work. So what happens when we advertise art?

***

In what spirit did this gallery decide to set up poets with typewriters around Annapolis, allowing anyone off the street to commission their own poem? Like the Indiana piece at the World’s Fair, we were advertising art. The one station I stopped at, the poets were swamped, and the people were crowding. Did they crowd for novelty? Not every man gets to be a patron of the arts—and this was in a way that opportunity. But to commission a poet is to bring custom beauty into your life. On some theme you give, you are represented in the art of the poet. That is in the spirit of Indiana’s work.

—Will Harrington, SJC Student

 

This exhibition is generously supported by Annapolis Subaru.

Additional support provided by Mark Baganz and Laura Salladin, Deborah Bowerman Coons and Jana Bowerman Sample, Anna E. Greenberg,Tara Balfe Clifford/ Cliftara Bed ’n Breakfast, and an Anonymous Donor.

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs.

We thank the following for their continuous funding and support: Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Chesapeake Medical Imaging, City of Annapolis, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

Gifts in kind: Annapolis Home, Art Things, Inc., Kathleen McSherry, Up.St.Art Annapolis, and What’s Up? Media.

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The Sign Painter as Artist

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Robert Indiana, “A Complete Unknown,” from the Like a Rolling Stone series, 2016. Silkscreen on canvas. Courtesy of American Image Art.

“Some artists are subjective, some objective”; which is a nice sentiment that some man with more time and understanding would unpack for meaning. But I write blogs (so have little time) and never felt that I understood too much of anything; rather, when I speak, I feel that I am only trying not to mess up too much So if I take the phrases objective artist and subjective artist to use as I please, and thereby risk obscuring their original use for the benefit of my view, I would ask you to understand what I meant above and ask forgiveness.

Robert Indiana said of himself that he fits into the traditional american art of sign painting. Yet if we group his work with the signs that we see in the everyday, we lose an aspect of Indiana. These pieces certainly carry the aesthetic values of design—well spaced lines and a pleasing look, and with a focus on typeface. However, Indiana has taken these techniques and recreated the normal effects of signs through the use of his own artistic sentiments.

Take a sign that we would see regularly. It is used to indicate—cigars or alcohol or food. In the print A Complete Unknown we can recognize the form being similar to signs: the attractive, modern typeface; the contrasting black and yellow which attracts the eye; and the use of negative space, which is broken by the design in the center, and the words “LIKE A ROLLING STONE” across the bottom. But, again, the effect is different.

I want to trace this back to the words, colors, and the center-shapes used. But, for space, will only really address the words and numbers. The words from the Bob Dylan song are critical of a certain kind of person. They are angry, and it seems Indiana wants us to associate that with the US, and Satan. It isn’t exactly a commentary, for there are no real ideas that are fully formed here. But it is a kind of view of the country: Indiana’s view. In this way Indiana should be considered as a kind of subjective artist. For he does not sit comfortably in the traditional form of sign painting. He rather uses the techniques that have been cultivated by that art in order to express his view.

—Will Harrington, SJC Student, A20

This exhibition is generously supported by Annapolis Subaru.

Additional support provided by Mark Baganz and Laura Salladin, Deborah Bowerman Coons and Jana Bowerman Sample, Anna E. Greenberg,Tara Balfe Clifford/ Cliftara Bed ’n Breakfast, and an Anonymous Donor.

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs.

We thank the following for their continuous funding and support: Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Chesapeake Medical Imaging, City of Annapolis, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

Gifts in kind: Annapolis Home, Art Things, Inc., Kathleen McSherry, Up.St.Art Annapolis, and What’s Up? Media.

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Technical Exercise

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Warrior Jagatai, Misch Kohn, 1954, wood engraving on chine volant; edition, lower left in pencil: 20 imp

I am going to run with an idea in order to exercise it. I wrote in the last blog that representation has the effect of mooring the artwork in front of the viewer to whatever real-world object we can recognize from our experience. And the art of Joan Miró is a project to free (at least his own artwork) from that anchor. I liked this idea well enough that I wanted to use it against an artwork that is not wholly unrepresentational. The exercise goes like this: to analyze the work as a standalone object, using—but apart from—what it is representing. I have an intuition that through this I can see whether Miró was showing us anything really new in his own work, which we should take to heart when we view other works.

If we take the art-object as the thing-itself, the art is not a lens through which we view the thing in the outer world. If we take the art as the thing-itself, the work takes use of the thing in the outer world to create something new. So in this piece—we know from the title: Warrior—Kohn is using a warrior to create something new on the paper. So what new has Kohn done with  his model to create something new?

As I noted at the top, the piece is not wholly representational, but leaves somethings which we would see in the “real world” out, while focusing in on other aspects. The feet, for instance, basically look exactly like feet. Make your way up, and you can see the outline and dimension of a figure, but what we notice in a real person standing in front of us (the face, hands, and arms) is left behind in this work. It focuses primarily on dimension. Notice the thick black lines which are skirted by the lighter shadows. This creates the feeling of depth to the piece; and the details make up what looks more like armor then any true person.

You see here Kohn gives us a different kind of representation. He focuses on one aspect to leave the other out. Representation is certainly present, but what he chooses to represent creates a new object, one separated from the outside world.

—Will Harrington, St. John’s College A20

This exhibition is generously supported by the Helena Foundation.

Organized by the Syracuse University Art Galleries.

 

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs. We thank the following for their continuous funding and support:

Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Mark Baganz and Laura Salladin, City of Annapolis, Deborah Bowerman Coons and Jana Bowerman Sample, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

Gifts in kind: Art Things, Inc. and Up.St.Art Annapolis Magazine.

What is it?

 

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Composition sur Fond Vert, Joan Miró, 1950-61, color lithograph on Arches wove paper, edition, lower left in pencil, 6/300

I have always found that the art of Joan Miró has a kind of freedom to it. We can see in Composition sur Fond Vert, that there are several “figures,” though what that word means here is confusing. For the figures seems to play a kind of trick on us; they remind the viewer of recognizable objects—that rounded thing in the center could be some beast, and the two flanking the beast could be people—without reminding us of any one thing specifically. They are not, however, what we’d call representational, more like gestures at representation. This is Miró freeing himself—hitching off from the tradition of western art and the “real world.”

If we say that the tradition of our western painters is to paint for representation, we should ask what we mean. A simple description would be to say that representation is taking that “real world” object over there and depicting it here on the paper; or, this object here on the paper is recognizable as some “real world” object which I can recognize. One effect that arrises—and there are certainly of few, though giving time to each is a more complicated task than a blog post allows—but just one that comes out of this way of creating art is that it ties a mooring knot on its object of representation, and keeps fixed in the mind of the viewer a link between the the object in the painting and the object which they see outside of the painting. The viewer of art may begin to ask two questions: “what is this depicting? and how is it depicting it?”

Now let this viewer be shown a painting (or print) in which the objects only play at being representative (such as my subject for this blog). They may ask, at first, “what is this depicting?” though the question can only sustain itself for a little while before the realization comes that they aren’t really representing anything. For Miró allows no real certainty of easy identification, but paints so the figures both look like something and look like no specific thing we can name. So the first question must be scrapped. Then the second question (modified) is all that is left; and we can ask, “…”. Well, to be honest I’m not sure how this question should be modified and asked. But I can’t (as long as you agree with me so far) give you all the answers. I give up at least one portion of this work for your own hands.

Perhaps this short blog does not get to the heart of this Miró piece, but it is what I see in it. The playful “representations” he creates both challenge me, and give that feeling of freedom I mentioned at the top. In breaking with the tradition of representation, Miró creates a work which must be wholly surface. The language of depiction no longer makes sense in his world, for he paints apart from what we see walking the streets of our town, or hiking into nature. It is not out of our everyday world he paints from, so we are certainly looking into his world.

—Will Harrington, Student, St. John’s College A20

This exhibition is generously supported by the Helena Foundation.

Organized by the Syracuse University Art Galleries.

 

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs. We thank the following for their continuous funding and support:

Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Mark Baganz and Laura Salladin, City of Annapolis, Deborah Bowerman Coons and Jana Bowerman Sample, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

Gifts in kind: Art Things, Inc. and Up.St.Art Annapolis Magazine.