A little Velasquez

12 May

Looking to listen to a little info on Diego Velazquez while you do some corona virus house cleaning or while you go on your social distancing run?

I’m here to help out… take a listen, and the time will fly…

www.pscp.tv/w/cYjnMTF4TlFheU5tbGFRYmR8MXJtR1BBQWxFWlZKTlP3aWBv-2YAyfMejI5qr56XwO0yt0P-y4g6iv0S0XzL

Diego was such an interesting man in his day – super talented & focused artist who also achieved a significant position in the court if Philip IV of Spain. This is the discussion of the early part of his life & career.

https://painting-planet.com/images/3/image624.jpg

He studied under two different master artists & while his time under Herrara was very brief, it was stylistically the most important. It would have been in the middle of his contract as apprentice to Pacheco ( his future father in law…) and it was the time he picked up the use of long bristle brushes – which really affected his technique, as well as his move to a more intense & vibrant style.

Quarantini Blog: Sheltering in Place with Martinis In Front of Graham Norton, Deepak Chopra & Martin Freeman.

26 Mar

With work completely cancelled and shelter in place measures a Groundhog Day reality, cleaning out the pantry & prepping my taxes will only occupy my time so far.

What to do with the other 23 hours in a day during this unprecedented time of individual isolation during the corona virus’ latest Covid 19 Incarnation, aside, of course, from the obvious and all important past time of day drinking?

Well, this is what I was up to yesterday: binge reading Letters from Artists- a great freakin collection of letters written by artists to their friends, family & colleagues. Michael Bird has included various insights into the background behind each letter, spanning time & place, and purpose in a really engaging manner.

Two days ago I was binge watching Breeders. Martin Freeman isn’t just hysterical & brilliant in The Office (the original U.K. Office…) and sharp & tight as Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, he’s also insightful, funny and dead-on brilliant as the creator, exec producer & co-lead in Sky’s Breeders (on FX in the US). Have kids? Love them, would die for them, but seriously want to shoot them sometimes? Have to deal with aging parents who need just as much care as your little ones? Breeders sympathizes. In fact, it relates so well the stresses, angst, and emotional demands of being part of the in-between generation, that it’s appeal demographic is really anyone with either a heart or a brain : no spouse or child is necessary.

I’ve been watching Graham Norton ever since my friend Rita Moore, nurse extraordinaire & Irish to the bone, brought back one if his comedy DVDs. Made me a fan for life, so while binging his chat show isn’t anything new for me, it ‘a importance in making me laugh has increased markedly these past few weeks. Why? TGNS is a veritable six- course entertainment feast – starting you off with an intro from the Irish funnyman himself, leading into a main course period of guided, unscripted, often surprising antics from drinking celebrities brought together on a couch with a musical act as the side veg & the opportunity for said celebs to flip over storytelling audience members in a red velvet chair as your final, calorie-free, guilty-pleasure dessert.

Where else can you see Meryl Streep kiss Mark Ruffalo and a gentlemanly Matt Damon proclaim being in Graham’s show was the most fun he ever ever had on a talk show?

And finally, ever night to get me to sleep at the end of these anxiety ridden, toilet paper deprived days, I’ve relied on short meditations by Deepak Chopra. His voice was so familiar – Mike Myers nailed it in his role in The Love Guru. He was channeling Deepak Chopra ( and not “deep skillet chopper” as my auto correct keeps insisting), and his impersonation stands! I saw The Love Guru & I cringed at quite a bit but, that said, I also laughed at the premise. Many people, whether strong willed or gullible, have a deep-seated need for spiritual guidance, maybe now more than ever. I loved Myers’s tightly created character but it’s not ’til lately, when I find myself falling asleep to guided meditations every night by Deepak that I get the extra added bonus of giggling every time at how good Myers’ vocal impersonation is of the world-respected spiritual guide.

Politically incorrect, probably, but it’s still a funny impersonation.

I hear Deepak’s voice say, “ok” and I immediately see Myers Guru in my head, I laugh, I relax & then….I fall asleep to Deepak’s voice.

While the reading & binge watching contribute to enlighten & distract me a bit during the day, it’s really Deepak & Myers’ who are serving a major function at night. Thanks to both of them for unintentionally, unknowingly, coming together to make me forget about the craziness, the danger, the insane reality that is the world pandemic we are living through and making me first laugh, then relax enough, to actually sleep a little when the moon rises and the night falls.

Dark Water: Bringing Cinematic Clarity to Evil Corporate Murkiness

23 Nov

I was fortunate enough to see an advance screening a few weeks ago with Todd Haynes, Mark Ruffalo, & lawyer Rob Bilott of Todd Haynes’ tour de force drama Dark Waters.

This dramatic exposè of Bilott’s decades long battle against chemical giant DuPont stars Bill Camp, Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, and Bill Pullman in incredibly emotional performances.

While Mark Ruffalo clearly dominates the screen in this intense war with a corporate giant whose pockets are bottomless, Bill Camp’s no-nonsense portrayal of Wilbur Tennant, is so perfect it seems as if he was a farmer plucked out of the fields and given his shot on screen.

Tennant’s beautifully crafted, flawless portrayal of Tennant- a hard working, quiet man of few but strong words, is so evocative that I would be surprised if he was passed over for a best supporting actor nod. Trained at Juilliard, Tony Award winner ( 2016’s The Crucible) Camp hits all the emotional notes that bring to life Tennant’s struggle. We see the anger, frustration & perseverance that Tennant, life long farmer & owner of the cow farm that had been in his family for generations, experienced during his journey to get Bilott to review and then accept his case. The case centered on the dumping of toxic chemicals on his farm , which leached into the soil & water supply by corporate monster DuPont. Dark waters, literal & figurative, indeed.

Ruffalo, doing double duty as producer & lead in the film, brings in a solid performance as a harried young lawyer defending corporate chemical giants, who is faced with a life changing choice when he realizes the enormity of DuPont’s egregious actions. The character arc that Ruffalo follows, the incredulity that plays out on his face as he is confronted by the cold- hearted, ruthless behavior that DuPont exhibited for decades, is a wonder to behold. Ruffalo said that he made certain character choices regarding his portrayal of Bilott, and you can see the physical progression, that Bilott becomes more appealing, as he grows more certain in his convictions throughout the film.

Director Haynes Haynes ups the ante with strong imagery & story development in this pressure-cooker of a movie.

Following the film, Haynes, Ruffalo & Bilott walked into a standing ovation from an industry-only audience, & I have to say, the minute I saw Rob Bilott walk into the theatre, I was on my feet.

His bravery in pursuing DuPont & making them own up to their responsibility for the carcinogenic effects of Teflon and the havoc it wreaked on the communities where it was dumped as well as on the workers who came into contact with it in the factory setting, is truly epic.

In fact, according to Bloomberg reporters Jef Feeley & Michael Leonard, the effects of Bilott’s heroic actions against DuPont continue to play out in court after DuPont merged with Dow Chemical in 2015. The merger prompted a spinoff of Chemours, which shares liability for damages from Teflon related claims. Teflon & Chemours are currently in a heated legal battle, which DuPont tried & failed to keep secret, about shared responsibility for the claims, with over $631 million (and rising) settled to date.

During the q & a that followed the screening, director Hayes mentioned that while he was familiar with the results of the DuPont Teflon lawsuit, he hadn’t realized the extent to which Teflon has infiltrated people’s lives: ” …it’s in cookware, paint, carpets.” he mentioned that its uses are so ubiquitous in daily life that scientists observe that almost every living being on the planet has some amount of Teflon’s active, permanent molecule, C-8 (PFOA), in their system.

After watching the struggle that Tennant experienced to get someone to take his claims seriously, and the fight that ate up so many decades of Bilott’s personal & professional life, I was floored at the commitment of Bilott in bringing DuPont to justice as well as the honesty & skill that Haynes, Ruffalo, Camp et al, brought to the overwhelming task of bringing their fight to the screen.

One final note: Needless to say, as soon as I got home, I got rid of every single piece of teflon in my kitchen, as well as the carpet in my living room… at least it’s a start…Dupont’s famous line “better living through chemistry” doesn’t hold anymore -at least not in my kitchen.

No traditional art, just Carson…

19 Jun

Just a quick post: insomnia leads to weird stops on the web but these two clips just begged to be shared. The first clip, which came up while I was searching for info on whether or not the auto train was dog friendly, is of Steve Martin performing a set for dogs on Johnny Carson just crept up on me & had me laughing out loud. He plays a mean dog whistle, and his terrier crossing the road bit had his canine audience in tears. His card tricks are even funnier, and it just reminded me how Steve Martin pushed everything into a different direction.

Steve Martin on Carson

…and by the way, nope… the auto train does not allow dogs.

YouTube then cued up Jonathan Winters & Robyn Williams on Carson from 1991, when Robyn was promoting his film the Fisher King & Jonathan had just won an Emmy for the tv sitcom Davis Rules. The rapid fire pace of both men just pulled me through so many thoughts. Robyn’s rant on The Supreme Court Justice appointment & the Ollie North hearings reminded me how politics just recycles itself – same impossible game with different names.

Both Williams’ & Jonathan Winters’ machine gun speed through different characters & commentary, along with quick side comments about Prozac, therapy & drug & alcohol indulgence had me thinking about both men’s struggle with depression and the questions as to why great genius ( whether in art as I discuss in class, or in comedy) seemingly often has a connection with depression, addiction and mental illness. Brilliant minds like Robyn Williams, Winters and Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce move in a different manner: think of their visual arts counterparts (Van Gogh, Pollock, Goya, Munch, Modigliani, etc.), as well as other literary, musical, scientific and mathematical game changers. How much can your head & your heart take, when it sees the world in such a radically different way than everyone else?

( side note: I worked at the Improv when I first got to LA & comics dreaded when Robyn was around because he was tremendous at seeing a bit & then taking it, running with it and making it infinitely better, funnier, sharper, crazier. Their ideas became the skeleton that he would flesh out like a Caravaggio, Rubens & Da Vinci all rolled into one, and they would never ever get credit for the spark they created that he would inevitably blow up into an inferno of observation & laughter.

Also I was very lucky to meet Jonathan Winters on set when I first moved out to LA, and he was so generous of his time, even while rehearsals and shooting were quite time consuming that week. His subdued brilliance shone through during our conversations, and I was quite thankful that he shared some of his wisdom & experiences in the business with me, a very young thing, completely new to the machinations of Hollywood and the industry. )

Ahhh, but I digress. Back to Williams & Winters on Carson. If you have a spare 30 minutes, it’s well worth your time. Don’t let the vintage army uniform throw you…

Williams & Winters on Carson

Wanna buy a Burchfield?

24 Jan

So it was quite a full class this evening for my lecture on the art of American watercolorist Charles Burchfield. Like the great glass artists Pino Signoretto, Lino Tagliapietro and Livio Seguso, who all pushed the art of glassmaking in a radically different direction, Burchfield explored expression with his watercolors to the max.

He had quite an evocative style and varied images with an interesting use of tone and color as well as beautiful skies, often so moody and cloud filled, reminiscent a bit of Turner & maybe calling to mind a touch of Canaletto. His loose brush strokes evoke movement and comparisons to the Impressionists in general and Van Gogh in particular. 

Burchfield’s early work designing wallpaper in a sense parallels Grant Wood’s forays into textile design, and we can wonder at his influence on later artists (perhaps Hockney’s images of rural England and his Grand Canyon series…)

Burchfield was an extensive journal writer, putting down his notes on what he saw on location as well

as writing on how inspiration took him while he worked. Whether he was working in watercolor, gouache or even the occasional oil, he brought an emotional depth to his work that touches each of us in a different manner.  How can you not be impressed by an artist who surrendered himself so much to his painting that at one point he wrote that “the picture took the lead and I had to follow as best I could”?

An artist who explored many styles before truly finding his voice, Burchfield was quite prolific, leaving a treasure trove of thousands upon thousands of drawings (over 25,000 of his drawings are archived at the Burchfield Penney in Buffalo), numerous journals, and many nuanced watercolors behind. 

Once he signed with Rehn Galleries in New York in 1929, he was off and running. I thought you might be interested in one of the paintings the Rehn sold in 1960, and that passed down by descent until the last owners decided  to sell it at auction in May of 2018.  Dated “1917-45” with a note that the original study, made over ninety years ago May 22, 1917, was “incorporated in picture”, this painting, CHERRY BLOSSOM SNOW is definitely a much kinder and gentler snow than we had here in New York last weekend. 

With lovely brush strokes invoking the wind, blowing spring’s white blossoms off the tree and bending the heads of dandelions down below, CHERRY BLOSSOM SNOW has that beguiling contrasting sky in the background. It’s no wonder that this work surpassed Christie’s pre-auction estimate of one to one point five million dollars to sell for $1,812,500.

See you next time….

Italian history month continues…Artemisia Gentileschi

18 Oct

So my daily nod to Italian History month & Strong Italian Women continues with a look at today’s DAILY DAME – Artemisia Gentileschi, born in Rome on July 8, 1593.

One of the most talented of the Caravaggisti painters, her paintings had an incredible realism & frankness to them at a time were independent female artists were not easily given the recognition and respect they most definitely deserved.

The first female member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, Artemisia, often painted images of strong-willed, heroic women. Twice victimized, first by her father’s colleague when he raped her, and second when she was subjected to a brutal trial ( where the accused was protected and the victim was raked over the coals), Artemisia was unfortunately a very early member of the #MeToo movement.

Artemesia’s painting of Susannah & the Elders, from 1610, when she was only 17 years old. The biblical story focuses on the voyeuristic actions of the old men in watching Susannah bathe, & their attempts to blackmail her & tarnish her reputation if she refuses to have sex with them. No wonder Artemisia was so vested in this image.

Back from Italy & into the Borgias

13 Oct

Just back from taking some of my art & film students & friends on my 4th annual tour through the Italy ( this year we hit tremendous food, wine, art & history spots in the South of Italy) & as always, I still can’t get enough of Italian history, culture, politics, etc.

My art & film lectures in NY this month focus on Italian heavy hitters (Art : da Vinci, & Donatello, Verrocchio & contemporary Italian artists & film: The comedy Buon Giorno, Papà, starting heartthrob Raoul Bovamaster and master comedic storyteller Leonardo Pieraccioni’s Al Paradisdo all’improvviso, in addition to poignant Margherita Buy starrer The Red & The Blu) and somehow I feel that my reading is the perfect companion to this month’s lectures.

What am I delving into while I take a break from planning next year’s tour to Italy as I sip my new liquid love, the velvety smoothness of Souther Italian winery Polvanera’s Aglianico? Why, The Borgias, by G.J. Meyer, of course.

Meyer, who wrote an incredible compendium on the Tudors, takes us through the Borgia dynasty & the political tumult, upheaval & intrigue of over 240-odd years leading into and through the Renaissance that propelled them into power.

Meyer brings the individuals to life in compelling detail, emphasizing the dangers of various political threats throughout Europe and the Middle East, while also explaining the nuances of diplomatic relations & royal egos at a time when 5 months was considered lightning speed to get a military action in place, and Twitter was just what the birds did.

(Heavenly Bodies @the Met; oct, 2018, photo:val franco c)

As a companion to the Metropolitan Museum’s recent Heavenly Bodies exhibit on fashion from design powerhouses of the 20th & 21st Century & religious artifacts from the Catholic Church, this book also serves to illuminate a segment of the far reaching influence the church held in Renaissance Europe.

March Nor’easters, Lions, Lambs & Women’s History Month…

7 Mar

Ahhh, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb… at least here in New York where everything is shut down for yet another March Nor’easter. In light of this month’s intense weather, as well as the fact that March is Women’s History Month, its only appropriate that I am teaching several incredible female artists and photographers, and lecturing on several female driven films.

Today, I’d like to mention the tortured and vibrant life of Surrealist Artist Leonora Carrington.

(Operation Wednesday, 1969, tempera on masonite,by surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington)

One of the interesting things about

Carrington was her surrealist style & her refusal to paint for the art market, instead choosing to paint for herself, regardless of whether her work would sell or not.

Born in Lancashire in 1917, Carrington’s life was quite tumultuous, including her heart-breaking relationship with artist Max Ernst and resulting mental breakdown and hospitalization.

Like numerous artists before her, her work, highly personal and symbolic, was central to her sanity & integrity. She wrote about her hospitalization in her book, DOWN BELOW, which was quite controversial at the time of its publication for its indictment of the brutal treatment she received as part of her “care and rehabilitation”.

One of the last active Surrealist painters, Carrington, died in Mexico City in 2011 after a life that took her from England to France, Spain, Portugal, the US and finally, Mexico, where she was quite politically active.

A strong-willed and passionate person, Leonora was instrumental in founding the Women’s Liberation Movement and did not shy away from the direction her beliefs took her.

(Mesens, Ernst, Carrington, & Eluard- as captured by Lee Miller (Lee Miller Archives)

Guilty snowy pleasure…

4 Jan

So, if you live in the north east your in the middle of a major snowstorm today. Hopefully you are staying warm and not over-exerting yourself shoveling.

 That said, whether you need something to do as your recover in between rounds of shoveling or if you’re not going out at all and are just staying in and reading and you want something to watch try LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT (season 1, episode 2 -ART) about art forgery, the art market, & art verification, top name sales to small museums at prices to good to be true… all subjects I’ve covered in the past few semesters with my art history students.

So if you want a guilty pleasure that combines your knowledge of forgers Beltracchi, Ken Pereny and Mark Landis with various forms of art authentication using paint analysis as discussed in my art classes, and news stories about Helly Nahmad galleries (art market collision law suits & legal disputes over ownership of art collections stolen from Holocaust victims) and Steve Martin’s bargain basement Campendonk art forgery, this is your episode. You can also catch it in Hulu & Netflix.

The episode aired October, 2011, a few months after Martin’s Campendonk forgery hit the news in June, 2011, and about a year or so after Beltracchi was busted for forgery. Martin bought his painting at a discount from a European dealer in 2004, about 3 years after authorities think Beltracchi, his wife, sister-in-law and another forget started infiltrating the international art market with their detailed forgeries. 

http://theweek.com/articles/484328/how-steve-martin-duped-48-million-artforgery-scandal

Beltracchi was the major inspiration for this episode so, of course, it’s always interesting to to go back to the source & watch the Beltracchi documentary if forgeries fascinate you. 

From Cook Pu to Oscar Nom in 5 easy years….

29 Nov

It’s been an interesting Oscar nominating season with some fantastic advance screenings & a few infuriating ones as well.

Alexander Payne just never lets me down… with films that look at the human element and the way that people relate to each other and themselves.

In his latest film, Downsizing, a kind of modern sci-fi version of Gullivers travels, he looks at a slew of issues including class, cast, power, the environment, love and people. With his choice of cast of Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, and Hong Chau, this ultimate road trip movie really worked for me.

While it’s all about Paul Safronek’s journey as portrayed by Damon, Hong Chau pulls in a solid performance as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese dissident, that at first seems like a stereotypical immigrant character. Chau’s interpretation gives depth to the role, with a nuanced, emotional and comedic interpretation.

She’s come such a long way since her tiny day player role on How I Met Your Mother 5 years ago as a Chinese student named Cook Pu in Ted’s architecture class. The role was limited to just a few words spoken by a stereotypical meek Asian female student: her character kept trying to convince Ted that she was a real student in his class and not a made up childish prank of a name – Cook Pu.

As many an actor knows, you take any gig you can when you are starting out, especially if it’s on a hit tv sitcom. You give it 100% and try to make the role as human as possible, and that’s what Chau did with Cook Pu. She does it again with the role of Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan Tran in Downsizing and I think she’s just as strong as Kate Winslet is in Wonder Wheel. Funny thing is that Winslet addressed this issue of roles & scripts a few weeks ago during the Q&A for Wonder Wheel at an advance screening I attended downtown.

During one of the most spirited and animated Q&As I’ve seen in a long time, Winslet spoke about acting in the script, and how her job is finding the character in what may or not be a great script. Both she & Jim Belushi spoke about how many times an actor has to create a role when the writing isn’t quite there ( think of Cook Pu & try to find the humanity in that…!). Winslet, Belushi & Justin Timberlake then went on to discuss how Woody Allen is an actor’s auteur, writing a script that allows the actor to create a fully-fleshed, nuanced character with depth. They all had their own hilarious Woody impersonations, but they all agreed his writing worked for them as actors, and that he would go back to the page to rewrite a scene if it wasn’t working for them.

Jim belushi’s intensity in the film really surprised me, as well. He commented on his past experience as an actor in sketch tv, and how he reached for the emptiness in his role as Humpty, comparing the character to the broken quality & emptiness of the famous egg that sat on a wall. For Belushi, Wonder Wheel felt like working on Playhouse 90. This hit the nail on the head for me, as I felt the film had a very theatrical, filmed-theatre-production vibe throughout. Belushi’s ability to let go emotionally came through in scene after scene.

Winslet, meanwhile, tore it up as a middle aged woman whose life was not what she hoped it would be. With two incredible, heart wrenching monologues about the turns life takes, I can’t see Winslet not getting an Oscar nom, even though I am quite ambivalent about the film itself.

Why is that? While I hope Winslet gets that Oscar nom, I am not bowled over by woody allen’s need to insult Italian Americans with ethnic slurs in a movie that was pretty lily white with only 1 other mention of ethnicity at all, the full name of woody’s stand in character, Mickey Rubin. He chooses to insult the ethnicity of a small time hood that he names Frank Adano ( the only other fully named, albeit unseen, character in the film) instead of insulting the character’s criminality. Allen uses the archaic but no less insulting terms “gR$&3%ball” and “gutter g*^!?#” instead of using non-ethnic choices like “gutter thug”, for example. A non-italian colleague of mine commented that the slur is appropriate since the film takes places in the 1950s but he failed to notice that there is no other negative mention of race in the film at all. Now, we’re not talking Tarantino’s pointed use of language to portray the evil of slaves owners or of nazi murderers.

we’re talking about lazy, petty writing. Can you imagine the use of k$)!, s?$3!, N:?)7&, or s>#~, by a filmmaker & writer as heralded as Allen is in referring to Jewish, Asian, African American, or Latino characters? Not in today’s world, not unless he’s looking for his films to be boycotted.

So it’s surprising that Allen couldn’t be more creative in his choice of words in describing Humpty’s unseen son-in-law. The use of other racial epithets doesn’t occur to Allen in his films, so why this lazy, glaringly isolated use of slurs against Italian Americans? We all would have been better served if he insulted the criminal & not the ethnic background of his character. Such a dinosaur, un-PC move in a very PC climate by Woody Allen disappoints but sadly, doesn’t surprise me.