Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thomas M. Thomson

Molly, Thomas M. Thomson.
I'm not in the habit of highlighting living artists. I consider them to be the human equivalent of a "work in progress." Likewise, I don't see it as my duty to promote the careers of living artists. Yet, every so often I come across the work of a young artist which, for one reason or another, I find fascinating (often for undefined reasons). Likewise, by dwelling primarily on artists from the past (sometimes inferior to those of the present), I run the risk of relegating this space to a home for dead and dying artists. Thus in keeping with the theme of "Art Now and Then," let me now present a very "now" artist by the name of Thomas M. Thomson.
Springtime, Thomas M. Thomson, reminiscent of
Jean-Honoré Fragonard's 1767 The Swing. I was tempted
to label it "Springtime Swingtime."
I think I should mention from the start that this artist should not be confused with the Canadian landscape painter, Tom Thomson. This Thomson, Thomas M. Thomson, is young, paints figures, portraits, and wildlife exclusively and, at the risk of comparing pears and pomegranates, is the better artist. His work is charming, exciting, colorful, thoughtful, exotic, sometimes erotic, not to mention simply beautiful. He's also very prolific and, for some unknown reason, does not have his own Website. Yet his work is readily available in some depth in several online galleries.

The video at the bottom demonstrates the painting
of this self-portrait.
When I said Thomson was young, I was speaking relative to most other living artists of his obvious experience and skill. He's only forty-nine. (Any artist youthful enough to be my son I consider young.) One of the problems in writing about young artist living today is that they seldom have much in the way of a biography. Thomson has never been deprived, depraved, criticized, ostracized, demonized, or lionized. He's too young, perhaps too unrecognized, for any of that. He was born in Rota, Spain, in 1968, and exposed to art from early childhood. He attended Florida State University, where he focused on the fundamentals of composition, perspective and figural accuracy. He has pursued an exciting career in art following his graduation in December of 1993. Thomson's mediums of choice are Oil on Canvas and Pencil on Paper. That's about all his official biography (probably an autobiography) has to say about him.

Queen Takes Night, Thomas M. Thomson
That being the case, I shall have to let his artwork speak for him. Perhaps I should do that more often in that many artists have more to say through their work than any posthumous praise merchant's parsing puff piece.

Restrained, yet meaningful, Thomson's progressive series
offers insights into his painting techniques and working methods.
Thomson's celebrity portraits not only display his skill in rendering an exceptional likeness, but whether in action or repose, offering insights into his subjects' profession, personality, and lifestyle. In many ways, this skill is equally important as simply capturing the subject's appearance.

Thomson seems to be at his best when "faced"
with a portrait commission.
I like an artist who's not afraid to startle his viewer.
Whether painting the very old (below) or the very young (below that), Thomson is equally adept at capturing the essence of his subject. Will Thomas M. Thomson make his mark in the highly competitive world of Realism and portrait art or simply be one of many equally talented purveyors of painted pulchritude? I have a feeling art history a century from now will be kind to him. Yet, it's hard to say. That's one of the risks inherent in writing about famous artists of the future.

Not exactly "painted pulchritude," but profound in exhibiting the artist's drawing skills an insight into the geriatric genre.
I wonder if either of them speak Mandarin.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Andy Warhol's Homes

Andy Warhol in his Lexington Ave. townhouse living room.
Over the past several months I've been exploring the lives of well-known artists through a closer look at the places they've created for themselves to live, work, and play. Very often an artist's native habitat has a great deal to do with the art which they've produce. In most cases that involves only one major home (as with Monet's Giverny), and seldom more than two, as with Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch and her "town" home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. This morning I noticed that Andy Warhol's former retreat in the Hamptons (Long Island, New York) had recently sold for a cool $50-million (the original asking price had been $85-million). It wasn't long before I realize that the artist's Hamptons estate was only one of five homes he had owned or occupied during his career in New York. That piqued my interest. Although many artist eventually become comfortably well-off, even for a Pop icon such as Warhol, homes in the multi-million-dollar price range signify a lot of green (and I don't mean the pthalocyanine hue).
Warhol's estate in the Hamptons. The main house is in
the foreground overlooking the cliffs, while the recently
added horse stables are at the back of the property.
Andy Warhol died in 1987 so he never lived to see his 1972 investment of $225,000 skyrocket to the stratospheric figure the 30-acre oceanfront compound recently garnered (a 70-fold increase). Warhol purchased the remote Montauk estate (which had once been a fishing village called Eothen) as a means of escaping the New York City party rat-race only to import the same party celebrities such as Mick and Bianca Jagger, Jackie Onassis Kennedy, her socialite sister, Lee Radziwill, Jerry Hall, Julian Schnabel, Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon. Andy Warhol, almost single-handedly made Montauk chic. Besides the main house the compound included six guest cottages, to which have now been added a horse stable, extensive riding trails, a swimming pool, and tennis court, to complement the breathtaking ocean views.

Andy Warhol's birthplace, the right half of a two-family duplex.
It sounds trite to say, but Andy Warhol came from humble beginnings--Pittsburgh, 3252 Dawson Street, in the city's South Oakland neighborhood (above). Born in 1928 and raised in Pittsburgh, Warhol began as a successful commercial illustrator. After exhibiting his work in several local galleries in the late 1950s, Warhol began to receive recognition as an influential and controversial artist. He began exhibiting his work first in New York City during the 1950s. He held exhibitions at the Hugo Gallery and the Bodley Gallery in New York. In California, his first West Coast gallery exhibition came in 1962, at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. The exhibition marked his West Coast debut of Pop Art. Andy Warhol's first New York solo Pop Art exhibition was hosted at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery in November, 1962. The exhibit included the works Marilyn Diptych, 100 Soup Cans, 100 Coke Bottles, and 100 Dollar Bills. At this time, Warhol was sharing bedrooms with the 1930s dancer Franziska Marie Boa on the second floor of a 1865 era converted firehouse (below). His roommate was the figure painter, Philip Pearlstein. They lived there until they were evicted.

The old firehouse at 323 West 21st Street, would appear
to have been extensively updated since the days when
Warhol and Pearlstein crashed there. It can now be
rented for $33,000 per month.
As Pop Art took hold in the New York art world, during the late 1960s, Andy Warhol took hold of Pop Art. Warhol's painting of a can of Campbell's soup cost $1,500 while each autographed can sold for $6. The American Supermarket, a show held in Paul Bianchini's Upper East-Side gallery, was one of the first mass events that directly confronted the general public with both Pop Art and the perennial questioning of the very definition of art. Warhol's bank account ballooned and with it his need for adequate living quarters, which he found in the 16 1/2-half-foot-wide, five-story townhouse, at 1342 Lexington Ave. between 89th and 90th Streets. He was at the height of his career, in the years 1959 through 1974. It’s where he created iconic works such as his Campbell’s Soup Can designs, some Marilyn Monroe silkscreens and the dollar bill paintings.

Warhol's dining room and studio at 1342 Lexington Ave.
A look at the Lexington Ave. floor plan gives some indication
as to what $60,000 would buy in 1959. The Warhol estate
sold the townhouse in 1989 for $593,000.
Even as Pop Art faded into art history during the 1970s, Andy Warhol's fame and fortune never wavered as he plunged into moviemaking, publishing, music, photography, and other art media. He quickly outgrew his Lexington Avenue home/studio in favor of what was known as the Decker Building, a six and a half story townhouse on East 66th Street(somewhat wider than his previous abode). This studio came to be known as "The Factory," which indeed, it was, turning out Warhol art with the help of assistants at a prodigious rate.

Andy Warhol's fabled "Factory" was also Party Central
for the New York art World.
Actually, the Decker Building on East 66th Street between Madison and Park Avenues was only the first of as many as six other Warhol studios each bearing the same designation. Warhol bought the Decker building in 1974 for just $310,000. After his death in 1987, records show the property remained part of his estate until it was sold in 1991 for $3,000,000. The buyer made a handsome profit, later selling the property for $6.5-million. Today, Andy Warhol's modest-sized townhouse has been listed with a not-so-modest asking price of $38.5-million.

Look what just $38.5-million will buy when a famous artist
has a red informational plaque by the front door. A silvery
statue of the artist (below) just across the street
helps boost the asking price too.
The Andy Monument, 2012. The
shopping bag is from Bloomingdales.

Andy Warhol's library.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sears and Roebuck Homes

Sears Modern Homes catalog from 1922. During the 1920s
sales ranged from 125 to 324 units per month.
If someone wants to build a new home in 2017, first they either pour through dozens of home planning magazines from which they may order blueprints, or they hire an architect, depending upon the depth of their pockets. The architect will draw up something truly unique, while purchasing plans from magazines or online will get you something usually quite conservative and conventional, though not necessarily cookie-cutter as to style and design. The difference is about half the price--sugar cookies or gourmet soufflé.
In the 1920s, "modern" meant central heating, electricity, asphalt shingle roofing, modern plumbing, porcelain fixtures and bathrooms (though they remained optional).
At a time when Sears and Roebuck is closing its retail outlets around the country about as fast as they can locate the door keys, it's thought provoking to realize that about 110 years ago, you could choose a "house kit," from their famous mail-order catalog, have it shipped to you in a railroad car, ready to be unloaded, trucked to your site, and nailed together by friends and family, or if so inclined, become the ultimate do-it-yourselfer. That's what Frank Nixon of Yorba Linda, California did in 1922, though just which company he ordered from remains uncertain. One thing for certain, it wasn't Sears or their perennial rival, Montgomery Ward. What he built is probably the most famous kit-built house in the world. His son, Richard, was born there, and is today buried nearby at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library.
"The house my father built."
From 1908–1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold between 70,000 and 75,000 homes through their mail-order Modern Homes program. Over that time Sears designed 447 different housing styles, from the elaborate multistory Ivanhoe, with its elegant French doors and art glass windows, to the simpler Goldenrod, which served as a quaint, three-room and no-bath cottage for summer vacationers. (An outhouse could be purchased separately for Goldenrod and similar cottage dwellers.) Customers could choose a house to suit their individual tastes and budgets.
More pricey than most Sears offerings, The Carlton offered
a nod toward Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style homes.
More choices than
a Chinese menu.
Sears was by no means an innovative home designer. Instead, they were able followers of popular home designs but with the added ad-vantage of modifying houses and hardware ac-cording to buyer tastes. Their Carlton model (above) was not the norm. Individuals could even design their own homes then submit the blueprints to Sears. The company ran their own lumber mills. Once custom cut, they would then ship off the appropriate fitted materials, putting the home owner in full creative control. Thus, Modern Home cus-tomers had the freedom to build their own dream houses, while Sears helped them realize these dreams through quality custom design and fav-orable financing.
A Magnolia recently sold for $90,000.
The process of designing a Sears house began as soon as the Modern Homes catalog arrived at your doorstep. Over time, Modern Homes catalogs came to advertise three lines of homes, aimed for customers’ differing financial means: the top of the line Honor Bilt, their medium-priced Standard Built, and a low-cost Simplex Sectional. The largest and most expensive Sears model was the Magnolia (above). Only seven Magnolias are known to still exist. There are, however, "fake" Magnolias (below) which are virtually indistinguishable from Sears models.
During the height of Sears homebuilding venture, architects and
builders alike freely "borrowed" from (as in copied) one another.
To make matters more than a little complicated, there were at least eight other companies marketing pre-cut homes, including Aladdin, Bennett, Gordon-Van Tine, Harris Brothers, Lewis, Pacific Ready Cut Homes, Sterling, and Wardway Homes (Montgomery Ward). For instance, both Sears and Wardway offered a model each called The Lexington, (below). Sears was a standard colonial style while Wardway's Lexington was Dutch Colonia. However, Sears offered a nearly identical Dutch Colonial they called the Puritan.
Sears' version of the Lexington (above), Wardway's
version can be seen below.

The Sears version of the Dutch colonial style they
called the Puritan (below)
The Sears Dutch colonial Puritan. This home above
was probably built with the plan reversed.
It's not unlikely that you could drive through residential neighborhoods in most communities and see a dozen or more homes quite similar to those featured in Sears' mail-order catalogs from the 1920s. Few of them would be authentic Sears homes however. Some of them would be fairly attractive by modern tastes, some quite old-fashioned looking, and some we'd find downright ugly. Sears Alhambra (below) falls into the latter category. Fortunately few were built, still fewer remain, and no builders copied Sears homeliest home.

Alhambra's Moorish architecture was a total mismatch
for most American families and neighborhoods.
Catalogs such as Sears also offered several variations on churches, which were shipped in large sections for assembly. You wanted brick walls? Cedar shingles? You could order them. Fancy stained-glass? Plain windows for a cheaper budget? Just check the right box. I searched for Sears churches and could not find any references to authenticated examples, but there were plenty of illustrations involving barns, garages, outhouses, even chicken coops. I've heard it said of one of today's retail mega-stores, if you can't find it at Walmart, you don't need it. It would seem that line may have originated long ago with Sears.
Call in the neighbors, we got a barn to raise.

Sears' garages were all designed for
1920s vehicles. Virtually all of them
still in use have had to be enlarged.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Max Klinger

Work, Welfare, Beauty, 1919, Max Klinger
If I were to mention the name Max Klinger the first face to come to mind would be that of Jamie Farr who played Corporal Maxwell Klinger on the long-running TV series M*A*S*H (1972-83). But some 115 years earlier (1857), there was born another Max Klinger in Leipzig, Germany, who is now remembered as an outstanding painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer. Don't worry about confusing the two, other than the same name, they had virtually nothing in common. Max Klinger the artist was a tall, portly man with a long beard. Max Klinger the Corporal was a weasely little Arab-American of Lebanese descent who was totally fictional, and partial to heels, hose, and hilarious hats.  
See, he looks nothing at all like Corporal Klinger.
Max Klinger, the artist, was one of the last great "artist princes" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He began his studies i\In 1874 at the Grand Ducal Baden Art School in Karlsruhe, then move the following year to the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. Klinger completed his studies with the evaluation "exceptional" and a silver medal. At that time his role model as an artist was Adolph Menzel. Klinger first exhibited his work publically in 1878 at the 52nd Academy Exhibition in Berlin. A year later Max Klinger opened a studio in Berlin, where he soon became a member of the Berlin Artists' Association. In 1883 Klinger received his first large commission, the decoration of the vestibule of Julius Albers' villa. That same year Klinger acquired a Paris studio so as to devote himself to study Goya and Daumier in the Louvre.

Being something of a musician himself, Klinger had an enduring respect and fascination for Beethoven, which manifested itself in his work.
While living in Paris as a student, Klinger focused on the project of creating a monument in honor of Ludwig von Beethoven. He claimed he had the first ideas for a sculpture while playing the piano. Thus, the first version of the later monument was born. Klinger then realized his idea in gypsum and colored it vividly. During the decades before 1900, Max Klinger used this model to design a large-format sculpture. He unveiled it for the first time in public at the exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1902. Max Klinger also depicted Beethoven as a bare-breasted Olympic deity. In doing so, the sculptor alluded to the ancient way of depicting gods. The large coat that is wrapped around the composer's lower body and the sandals he wears were designed according to traditions of the ancient world. Beethoven sits on a richly decorated throne. At his feet rests an eagle, Jupiter's heraldic animal. Beethoven's hands are fisted, his facial expression seems concentrated and energetic.
The second etched image in the glove series Klinger titled, Action. A lost glove is found on an ice rink.
Klinger is best remembered for the ten etchings in the cycle "Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove" (above). The 1881 Glove cycle had been exhibited in the form of ink drawings at the Berliner Kunstverein as early as 1878, when Klinger was 21. There is a remarkable sense of whirling terror in these images, although they are quite static, sharp and fixed. The are based upon a series of dreams. Certainly, pictures by an artist such as Beardsley might convey hallucinatory smell of absinth or hashish, but they don't move. This and other Klinger works anticipate both the fetish theory of Freud and the psychedelic pictorial universe that emerged 90 years later.
The Plague, from the suite "Vom Tode II,"
1898-1909, Max Klinger
As a painter, Klinger believed that color images required a realism more freed from commentary, while etchings were more fit to express feelings and fantasies. In total Klinger made 16 serials, containing altogether 325 engravings. Among the most famous is, for instance, "Vom Tode", divided into two parts, the latter of which contains the nightmarish vision The Plague (above). Klinger's virtuosity is often emphasized along with his skill with not just one but a mix of several techniques. His style is realistic and fantastic to such an extent that his etchings and engravings appealed to both symbolists and surrealists. He came to influence artists as different as Edvard Munch and Max Ernst. Giorgio de Chirico admired Klinger for his special sensibility, as being one "who sees clearly into the past, into the present, and into himself."
Christ and the Sinful Women, 1884, Max Klinger
Elsa Asenijeff, 1900,
 Max Klinger
The Dresden Paintings Gallery became the first museum to buy one of his pictures (Pietà) when he was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of the Graphic Arts in Leipzig and was made a member of the newly founded Vienna Secession. The idea of the "Gesamtkunstwerk" (total work of art) formed Klinger's aesthetic preoccupation with literature, sculpture, painting and draw-ing as well as his interest in music. The graphic arts also figure prominently in the work of this versatile and extremely prolific artist. Max Klinger promoted the artistic dialogue of his day by founding the Villa Ro-mana and the Association of Annual Leipzig Exhibitions. The numerous distinctions the sculptor was awarded (being made a Knight of the Pour le mérite order, and an honorary member of the Stockholm Academy) not only attest to his success but also indicate the major role he played in introducing Modern Art to Germany. For the most part of his life Klinger was officially a bachelor, still he had a relationship for twenty years with author Elsa Asenijeff (left), whom he met when he was 41 years old. Max Klinger did not marry until one year before he died in July, 1920.

Crucifixion of Christ, 1890, Max Klinger


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ronald Bladen

The X, painted aluminum, 1967, edition of 3, Ronald Bladen.
When most artists think of Minimalist art, they picture huge canvases with nothing but highly simplified existential content (that is to say the work itself exists purely as content). Very few non-artists even think of such art if, indeed, they would actually consider it art in the first place. And nearly always, artists' contemplation of Minimalism extends not much beyond painting. Actually Minimalism was full-blown movement dating from the late 1960s through much of the 1970s, and it encompassed not just painting but architecture, music, poetry, graphic design and drama. It also included sculpture, and quite prominently that of the New York artist, Ronald Bladen.
Gallery-scale sculpture by Ronald Bladen.
Kama Sutra, 1977,
Ronald Bladen
Bladen’s signature effect is to give massive black forms an air of light, speed, and weightlessness. Sharp angles cut through the air, unzipping the space. Beams spread open. Geometric shapes intertwine but do not lock. Bladen attempted to create drama out of a minimal visual experience as demonstrated by his Kama Sutra (left) dating from 1977. Ronald Bladen has often been identified as one of the “fathers of Minimalism,” yet he came late to sculpture. During the 1950’s, prior to his turning to sculpture, Bladen created a number of paintings that in manner and form were directly related to the work of the Abstract Expres-sionists, much on the order of his Upside Down (below) dating from the late 1950s. His paint-ings involved gritty concretions protruding, sometimes as much as four inches, amid stucco or froth-like expanses. His paintings were strikingly different from his cool, reduc-tionist sculpture which followed, yet there continued to exist a soulful continuity through-out Bladen’s artistic production.
Upside Down, 1956-59, Ronald Bladen
Charles Ronald Wells Bladen was born in 1918, the son of British immigrants to the Canadian city of Vancouver. His father, Kenneth Bladen, was an expert in landscape gardening. His mother, Muriel Beatrice Tylecote, had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and, as an active socialist, had taken part in the suffragette movement. Both parents wholeheartedly supported their son’s artistic interests. During the 1920s, Bladen's family moved several times to various cities in the U.S. before returning to Canada in 1936 to live in Victoria British Columbia.

A budding young artist by the age of ten.
By the age of ten, Bladen was drawing intensively, making copies of works by Botticelli, Titian, Picasso, and Matisse, as well as creating imaginative freehand illustrations of Greek mythology. His talent was furthered in junior high and high school art courses, in addition to private art classes under the painter, Max Maynard. A sample of his childhood work can be seen in his watercolor self-portrait (above). It was the first and only self-portrait he ever completed. Bladen was also enthusiastic about sports, a passionate dancer, and baseball and tennis player.

Bladen worked on two scales, creating larger pieces for outdoor
installation and the same item on a smaller scale for gallery display.
Starting in 1937, Bladen began his studies at the Vancouver School of Art. Upon graduating in 1939, he moved to San Francisco to continue his studies until 1943 at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), by attending evening classes until 1945. His art studies through the war years were the result of his being declared unfit for military service in 1941, whereupon he was obliged to work as a ship’s welder at the naval dockyards in Sausalito, California. For many years, this activity enabled him to earn his living as a toolmaker. These skills and aesthetic experience were to become important later in constructing his sculptures. Bladen remained in the United States after the war. He lived in San Francisco until 1956 and then moved to New York.

An early Bladen work in progress.
Ronald Bladen had his first solo exhibition in 1946 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. About the same time he was awarded a scholarship by the San Francisco art Association whish enabled him to undertake an eight week journey to Mexico and New Orleans as well as a stay several months in New York. In 1955, Bladen separated from his wife of four years, Barbara Gross. Later he got to know the poet, Michael McClure, whereupon he moved back to San Francisco into McClure’s communal household with Joanna McClure, James and Beverly Harmon, Price Dunn, and Larry Jordan. At the same time a friendship arose with the writers, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller, along with the painter, Al Held, who advised him to move to New York.

Black Tower, Ronald Bladen
In New York, Bladen continued to work mainly as a painter in the style of Abstract Expressionism with intensively colored patches of organic formations integrated into landscape-like surface forms, that were similar in color. During the 1960s, Bladen progressively restricted his painting activities, occupying himself with collages made of folded paper and his first painted plywood reliefs. As in previous years, to earn his living, as a toolmaker. In 1962, Bladen exhibited his painted plywood reliefs for the first time at the Brata Gallery and the Green Gallery in New York. The following year he made his first free-standing, colored sculptures from plywood boards with metal struts. From this time on the Bladen dedicated himself exclusively to sculpture.

Raiko, Ronald Bladen
The artist showed his first sculpture, White Z, at a 1964 exhibition at Park Place Gallery in New York. There he got to know the sculptures of Connie Reyes, who later became his companion. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts. From 1956 on, Bladen enjoyed the growing attention of the New York art scene. He was subsequently best known for his austere sculptures, developed from geometric forms, at many prominent exhibitions. He was influenced by European Constructivism, American Hard-Edge Painting, and sculptors such as Isamu Noguchi and David Smith. In turn, Bladen had a stimulating effect on a circle of younger artists including Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Lawrence Weiner, who repeatedly referred to him as the ‘father figure’ of Minimal Art.

The Light Year, 1979, Ronald Bladen
Despite his international success as a sculptor, numerous prestigious awards, and his years as a highly esteemed teacher, Ronald Bladen was a heavy smoker and drinker for most of his adult life. He died of cancer in February of 1988 at the age of seventy.