The Mitchell Gallery

The Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery

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.

 

Angiography by Norman Baker

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Norman Baker, Angiography, 2013, Digital photomicrograph (x60)

If I have a purpose in writing these blogs, specifically during this exhibition, I believe it is only to deepen the confusion about these works. My question still stands, what makes these works art? For we’ve taken these pictures from the lab, placed them in a gallery, and called them art, with no real objection from anyone. I do not wish to object either, for there is a kind of artistic beauty in what I see.

The common objection thrown at these pieces is that there is a lack of artistic control in how the piece is created. We may find a nice rhythm or our eye drawn to what we may call the movement of the piece, but these seem to have emerged by chance and not choice. If this is true, and we understand the work in this way, the viewer is given a large advantage for their understanding of art.

For we have in front of us art which, in our understanding, has no real composer behind it, but still can be viewed aesthetically. The viewer in here can use this work to determine something of their own artistic sensibilities. What in these natural works draws our attention? What do I find most pleasing? When we view these works as artist-less, they become a platform for us to sound out our own natural sensibilities.

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, 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: Art Things, Inc. and Up.St.Art Annapolis Magazine.

Sponsored by:

CMI Logo 300

—Will Harrington, SJC Student (A20)

Agar petri dishes by Norman Barker

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Norman Barker, Agar petri dish, (detail), 2013, Digital microscopic photography

What is the beauty behind medical science? When viewed as a work without context, the closest analogue to a picture like the one above is some picture from one of the abstract movements which deal purely with shape and color—take an example from Rothko or Josef Albers. But, of course, while the content can be taken this way, giving a short thought to what’s being represented (or not) will help the differences shine through. We can leave aside for now the question of the beauty of abstract art, though it is certainly of some importance to considering this work. When looking at this work for what it is (a photograph of some petri dishes), a good question to may be: what is beautiful about the objects of medical science?

If I say anything more than this, I will no longer remain comfortably within the realm of what I think I understand, but I want to stress the importance of the question. One of the distinguishing marks of the work of art is what we can call choice (or aesthetic choice). By this I only mean that—and here let us think about the abstract painters mentioned before—what is created is created by a couple decisions with their eye towards an effect on the individual: what specific color to use, where it is positioned, how much space it gets, and what it is paired with (these considerations are of particular importance to Josef Albers). And, of course, this idea can become complicated in examples: Jackson Pollock, for instance, seems to rely on chance in his method. Nevertheless, the scientific photograph is meant to convey something different. The objects of the photo are meant for the scientist to observe and gain knowledge. The arrangement and choice of subject serve to show differences or reveal patterns; or, to observe what cannot be seen with the naked eye. This is what I see as the difference: the one has its eye on beauty and one on understand.

No matter, I still hear visitors come into the gallery and say “my, this is beautiful.” All my headiness aside, I still take pleasure in viewing these photos. So, as it seems to me, the question still stands: what is beautiful about the objects of medical science?

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, 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: Art Things, Inc. and Up.St.Art Annapolis Magazine.

Sponsored by:

CMI Logo 300

—Will Harrington, St. John’s Student (A20)

A Fountain in Moonlight by Carl Gustav Carus

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Carl Gustav Carus, (1789-1869), A Fountain in Moonlight, ca. 1854-1857, Charcoal with white opaque watercolor on blue paper, Thaw Collection, Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2017.24

It was a spur of the moment decision to write on this Carl Gustav Carus piece. Some of the others in the gallery may have stood out more due to their size or oddity, but in one glance I could tell that the Carus piece would make an excellent end-piece to the blogs on this exhibition.

Carus made his living as a physician, and was a landscape painter by passion. He was involved with many from the Romantic movement in art. Both Goethe and Franz Liszt were friends (in fact this painting was given to Liszt as a gift); and he studied under Casper David Friedrich, the renowned landscape painter. In this way he stands among many of the other painters we have in this exhibition: a skilled enthusiast. But the draw that I found towards this painting had more to do with the scene depicted.

When I think of “The Lure of Nature”, it is odd to see this painting. A depiction of a more metropolitan scene stand out from the rest of these paintings. The most obvious object we would call natural, the trees, are depicted as shadow, making the man-made object stand out more. Immediately I thought of our own fair city, and how little nature there seems to be, how much it too could be said to be in shadow. But what, then, attracted Carus to this scene? He could have painted an almost architectural drawing of the fountain alone. But no, we get a night scene. And there I think we have the connection to our city. Carus focuses most on the effect of the moonlight on the scene. That is the nature he is focusing on. And can we not go out, either in day or night, and take joy and observe the effects. This is really the underlying nature we experience in our everyday life, and what we can’t escape from even when we brick over the grass or cut down the trees. So come in and examine what weather is like in the paintings, and then run out and see what you attentions is drawn to in our fair city.

This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw  Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers        Charitable Trust.

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

“Cloud Study” by Johann Georg von Dillis

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Johann Georg von Dillis, (1759-1841), Cloud Study, ca. 1810-1820, white chalk on blue paper, Thaw Collection, Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2010.132

I’ll take up another von Dillis piece this week, but take another tack and focus more on the external circumstances of the work. For the two von Dillis pieces (I wrote on the other last week) on display for this exhibit reflect two related ideas about man’s relationship to nature. Both involve the nature we find in our backyard, and the Cloud Study especially reflects that. It was one of 150 that von Dillis completed in his lifetime, most of which were drawn from clouds seen outside his office window.

The artistic interest in clouds began just after the publication of Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modification of Clouds, a work of early meteorology in which Howard set out the classification system for cloud types and brought into it the Latin names we still use today. The work was championed by the poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote introductory verses for the essay. Quickly, the essay inspired painters to begin to take a greater interest in cloud forms, seen in the large number of cloud studies both von Dillis and, his contemporary, John Constable completed over their lifetimes.

What distinguishes the Cloud Study from the other von Dillis work is the lack of composition. There is no careful placement of a figure among the trees, no careful choice of color emphasize elements. What we are given is a series of light white marks on blue paper: a light and thin cloud, most likely a cirrus. Though I find it difficult to pull meaning out of the painting, as I can from the Forrest View. In the Cloud Study von Dillis is not acting as the painter composing for us a scene showing are relationship to nature, but he is working through his own relationship to nature. He is painting his immediate experience of nature, and that is what is presented to us. In a sense, von Dillis is the woman in the trees.

This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw  Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers        Charitable Trust.

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