July 26, 2017

The Palette is available to all interested with an e-Subscription

In this issue:

Divine Restoration: Vatican Conservators Identify New Figures Painted by Raphael
Spanish Artists on Road Trip Across the U.S. Paint Mural at CCEMiami
Art Walk nurtures Edmonton’s finest art creators
Fake Indian art threatens native livelihood
A First-Grader’s Picasso-Like Painting Is Now Hanging At The Met
Art exhibit in Poland shows Auschwitz through inmates’ eyes
Remembering My Friend Andrew Wyeth on His 100th Birthday
He’s blind in one eye. So at silhouetting, he’s a natural
Translating Sight into Paint
Art for positive change
Maybe Michelangelo: Is living room painting a masterpiece?




Divine Restoration: Vatican Conservators Identify New Figures Painted by Raphael
The two allegorical figures in the Hall of Constantine were previously attributed to his workshop, but a recent restoration revealed them to be the master’s work.

Painted by Raphael’s workshop, the frescos in the Vatican Museums’ Hall of Constantine tend to receive less attention than those in the three other famed Raphael’s Rooms executed by the Renaissance master himself. Although Raphael had designed the entire room, he died prematurely in 1520, leaving behind his sketches for students to follow. New findings, however, reveal that he actually did leave his mark on the hall, in the form of two allegorical female figures portraying the virtues of Friendship and Justice.

As the Vatican Television Center first announced, the discovery occurred during the hall’s restoration, which began in March 2015. The figures are easy to overlook, both positioned at the fringes of frescos, away from any main action. Friendship, who wears a blue gown, is tucked into a corner of the hall, perched to the left of a seated portrait of Clement I, which occupies the edge of the Vision of the Cross. The sprawling fresco centers on the emperor Constantine receiving word that he would emerge victorious from his forthcoming battle against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. Justice appears next to the sprawling fresco that depicts that historic fight, leaning against the painted red curl of a trompe l’oeil tapestry, staring at her scales.

Raphael would have painted the figures shortly before his death, leaving the rest of the room to be completed by his students, chiefly Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni. As art historian Arnold Nesselrath explained to the daily La Stampa, 16th-century sources had noted that Raphael had painted two figures in the rooms; experts, though, were unable to confirm the works until the recent restorations, which showed that “they are of a much higher quality than what’s around,” according to Nesselrath.

The Hall of Constantine was one of the four grand halls Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael and his workshop to decorate, and it represented the final phase of the project, only finished in 1585. Alongside the Vision of the Cross and Battle of Constantine against Maxentius are more dizzying depictions of scenes from Constantine’s life (hence, the room’s name). Although the last to be painted, it is the first of the reception rooms that visitors enter, followed by the Room of Heliodorus, the Room of the Signatura, and the Room of the Fire in the Borgo. Hyperallergic


Spanish Artists on Road Trip Across the U.S. Paint Mural at CCEMiami 

MIAMI, FL: It’s the journey, not the destination, for two artists and a photographer from Spain who have embarked on their biggest project yet: a 45-day mural-painting journey across the United State called Survibe. From San Antonio to New York, Barcelona-based artist Joan Tarragó, street muralist Alberto Sabek of Madrid, and photographer Elliot Alcalde of León, will travel more than 4,000 miles in a 1992 van to paint huge murals, collaborate with local artists, and create pop-up exhibitions in cities. Last week, one of the stops on their Survibe tour landed right in the heart of downtown Miami, at the Centro Cultural Español de Cooperación Iberoamericana (CCEMiami).

Since June 12, the artists have been following a hand-drawn route from San Antonio to Atlanta, Atlanta to Miami, Miami to Richmond, Richmond to D.C., and D.C. to New York. At each stop, the group has prearranged a street mural, a pop-up exhibition, or both, at sites they call “stations.” Thanks to a partnership with the Wynwood Embassy, Survibe collaborated with CCEMiami to create something that reflects the artists' styles, but with a Miami twist, on a large wall facing NE 15th Street.

“This is our second collaboration during our journey,” Tarragó said. “We try to mix both of our styles as much as possible. Sabek is going to do large animals, and I’m going to do more of the background part, which is very organic and watery. I’m going to try to pay tribute to Miami, so it’s going to resemble the heat and the waves of the ocean.”

June 26 through July 2, Sabek and Tarragó worked tirelessly outside CCEMiami to make their large mural come to life, as photographer Alcalde documented the experience. Though the two artists, who met about five years ago at an art festival in Mallorca, have two very different styles (Sabek is a grand-scale muralist, while Tarragó is a more detailed-oriented painter and graphic designer), their collaboration is a match made in art heaven. “We’re both from Spain, but he’s from Barcelona and I’m from Madrid. He’s not that far, but it’s very different,” Sabek said, making them both laugh.

There may be an obvious Spanish tie between CCEMiami and the artists, but there is no Spanish influence on the mural on 15th Street. “We’re just using our art and making sure to connect it to Miami,” Tarragó explained. “It’s a pretty solid collaboration.”

Though their collaborations are solid, their journey has been anything but. Although key players on the art scene are sponsoring Survibe, the trio has already encountered minor bumps along the way, including a badly sprained ankle by Tarragó and some mechanical difficulties with their transportation. “We have a 1992 van called 'La Chucha,'” Tarragó said with a laugh. “It’s pretty old. We had to do a lot of mechanics inside because it didn’t work. I mean, the first time we got it, we tried to leave San Antonio and we lasted only one hour because it suddenly stopped in the middle of the highway.”

Further adding to the pressure, Sabek, Tarragó, and Alcalde are following a tight schedule across the country — a country with which they are unfamiliar. “We have to complete each station in exactly 43 days, so everything is sandwiched,” Tarragó said. Yet it’s challenges like this that make the experience more exciting. According to their official website, “The purpose of [Survibe] is not only connecting with the street art community and its temples, but also exploring new places and getting lost along the route. Discovering uncharted grounds, jumping into abandoned buildings, and wherever else the wheels bring them.”

And those uncharted grounds have already revealed some pleasant surprises for the Spaniards. According to Tarragó, he couldn’t believe how nice people were in San Antonio and how willing they were to help. “My perception of Texas has changed so much once I experienced San Antonio,” he explained. “Everyone was so nice, almost like family. Everyone was helping; everyone was trying to help make it better for us.”

Joked Sabek: “We were thinking they’d be like, ‘Get off my property!’ but they weren’t."

Once their journey is completed, their work will have only just begun. “We want to make a book and incorporate a cool video after we’re done,” Alcalde said. “It’s definitely a big collaborative effort.” Miami New Times


Art Walk nurtures Edmonton’s finest art creators

EDMONTON, AB: Graffiti, pop, surrealism, art nouveau, impressionism, and just plain cool looking items and artifacts are why the Art Walk is worth bringing a pair of comfy shoes for. Art Walk has been a Whyte Avenue tradition since 1995, and festival producer and owner of the Paint Spot, Kim Fjordbotten, has been there since the beginning.

“Art materials became my passion, for sure,” says Fjordbotten. “It’s one thing to make art. Some people look at a sunset and say ‘I want to paint that’, and I open up a jar of red paint and go ‘wow, how can I use that?’ My passion is more for materials. Making art, and helping people make art is all part of it.”

Twenty-two years ago, Edmonton’s first Art Walk was put together in a mere three weeks and featured 35 artists. There were 65 the following year, then 90, and 300 by the fifth year. Now, Art Walk boasts 450 unique artists from the city and parts beyond. It’s quite the challenge to cram that much culture down an already busy avenue.

“When you do that whole lap, it’s four kilometres,” says Fjordbotten. “If you were to take the festival of Art Walk … [it would contain] the entire parking lot of West Edmonton Mall. Both sides of the street.”

Encouragement and opportunity are a big part of what draws crowds and artists to the festival. Artists usually have to turn to either the online storefront, or just hope for a gallery show, Art Walk provides a space for everyone to equally display the fruits of their labour.

As the city has become bigger and more diverse, so too has the festival. Fjordbotten stresses the openness and accessibility of the festival for not only new artists, but new Edmontonians as well.

Artist Justine Smith, who focuses on collage, remembers her first festival.

“It was very welcoming,” says Smith. “It was the first art event I participated in while in Edmonton and it just got me eager to participate in other goings on in Edmonton in terms of art. … It made Edmonton very welcoming artistically, which it is, but I was new to the city and didn’t know that.”

First time stories like Smith’s seem to be the driving force behind all the blood, sweat, and municipal red tape that goes into organizing the event.

“The magic point for me in the festival is the first-time artist meeting the first-time patron,” says Fjordbotten. “I think people, when they buy their first piece of art, it’s just as exciting as the person who sells their first piece of art and I love that connection. Sure, you come out and you think you’re buying something that might match your sofa, but you’re falling in love with a piece.”

Fjordbotten hopes someday in the near future Art Walk won’t just be for a weekend in July, but for the entire summer. She makes a strong case—it’s an important part of the community. It takes the art from out of the studios and the closets and the garden sheds and brings both the work and the artists to where the people are.

“I call myself a mother bear sometimes, because I think art often gets relegated to frivolous or looked at as the first thing we can cut because it’s not that important,” says Fjordbotten. “For those of us in the arts to articulate why it is important is really hard. People see it as it’s nice, or it’s enjoyable, or it’s stress relieving. To me, it’s the cornerstone of our society.” VUEWEEKLY


Fake Indian art threatens native livelihood

SANTA FE, NM: The recent spread of fake Native American art and jewelry has shown the need to update how the federal government protects tribal artists from fraud that undercuts the value of their work, according to two U.S. senators who gathered suggestions for reforms on Friday.

New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich convened a hearing in the American Indian arts hub of Santa Fe, where federal law enforcement officials and leading Native American artists described a disheartening influx of counterfeit jewelry, weavings and contemporary art knock-offs.

"We've got a serious problem on our hands," said Udall, vice chair of the Senate Indian affairs committee, summarizing three hours of testimony. "Fake Indian arts and crafts are flooding the markets right here in Santa Fe and across the country and this is having an effect of destabilizing the Native Art market. It's forcing Native Americans to quit their crafts."

Udall said he hopes to propel efforts to modernize the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to cope with sophisticated international jewelry rings that copy Native American designs and police online sales. The act makes it a crime to falsely market and sell art as Native American-made when it is not.

A 2010 amendment to the Indian Arts and Crafts Act broadened provisions to allow any federal law enforcement to conduct investigations, while a 2012 agreement put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the forefront of pursuing violations.

William Woody, the top law enforcement official at the Fish and Wildlife Service, warned that counterfeiters may easily write off economic sanctions, calling the current $250,000 maximum fine a "pittance."

He and a representative from the Department of Justice said lawmakers should consider bolstering criminal forfeiture provisions as well.

Pressed for an estimate on how much of the U.S. Indian art market is made up of counterfeits, Woody said "it could be as high as 80 percent" but cautioned that confirmation is impossible.

Federal prosecutors in New Mexico are preparing for two trials in an ambitious investigation that traced falsified Native American art from manufacturers in the Philippines to galleries across the United States, from Santa Fe to Virginia and Alaska.

Officials on Friday said the targeted networks imported jewelry with a declared value of $11 million. They said the jewelry would have fetched at least twice that price through retail sales.

Meridith Stanton, executive director of the Interior Department's Indian Arts and Crafts Board, said her office already works with legal departments for online sellers including Amazon, eBay and Etsy to confront vendors of fake Indian artwork.

Her office also attends events such as Santa Fe's summer Indian Market to educate shoppers and brokers about avoiding fraudulent Indian art.

"You can speak or pass out brochures, and do workshops and seminars, but you still have to have the law enforcement aspect, you have to have the hammer," Stanton said.

Joyce Begay-Foss, a Navajo weaver and director of education at the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, said both Indian artists and befuddled shoppers are frustrated by the influx of counterfeits. She called out Navajo-baskets as fakes that were used as decorations for the Senate hearing.

"The federal law does not protect you as a buyer," she said.

In October 2015, federal agents raided Indian art galleries in Albuquerque, Gallup, New Mexico, and Calistoga, California, to seize counterfeits and evidence.

Authorities have accused Nael Ali, owner of two Indian art galleries in the Old Town neighborhood of Albuquerque and another in Arizona, of attributing jewelry to specific Navajo craftsman when it was actually made in the Philippines.

Ali and art supplier Mohammad Manasra are scheduled for trial in August on fraud charges under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. They maintain their innocence.

Subsequent indictments against four people trace Filipino-made jewelry to Indian-art galleries in Santa Fe and San Diego. The defendants could get maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Houston Chronicle


A First-Grader’s Picasso-Like Painting Is Now Hanging At The Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is giving NYC public school students the opportunity of a lifetime.

On Tuesday evening, a group of students ― pre-kindergarteners to 12th graders from New York public schools in all five boroughs ― converged at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The young people were not gathering for some sort of field trip, but rather to welcome visitors at the landmark museum to the opening night of their group exhibition.

For the past 10 years, The Met has hosted a group exhibition entitled “P.S. Art,” featuring artwork from a variety of media highlighting the innovation and skill emerging from public art education programs in and around New York City. On opening night, the young artists were given lanyards to distinguish them from the hundreds of visitors clamoring to get a glimpse of the work. Visitors were encouraged to approach any and all lanyard-wearers, providing the ever-rare opportunity to discuss an artwork on display at The Met with its maker.

“One of the most powerful parts of the show is the moment when the young people realize their ever first show is happening at The Met,” Sandra Jackson-Dumont, the Museum’s Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chairman of Education, told HuffPost in an interview. Jackson-Dumont oversees programming at the museum geared toward teaching and learning, from coordinating lectures and artist residencies to managing accessibility programming for museumgoers with vision loss or dementia.

Every year, Jackson-Dumont explained, over 1,000 students submit their work to a jury comprising art world figures and staff members at The Met. The works are judged in comparison to others in their age group, though the criteria is inevitably subjective. “They’re looking for youth voice,” Jackson-Dumont said. “Even at that age, we encourage them not to copy. We want them, as artists, to use their own creative impulses and let that guide the process.”

This year 103 artworks were selected, including a first-grader’s Picasso-like depiction of the Statue of Liberty and a 12th-grader’s wildly realistic sculpted bust titled “Self As Alexander.” Jackson-Dumont recalled hearing multiple comments in the vein of “Michelangelo should watch out” uttered in in the vicinity of the work at the opening.

The show is a galvanized grab-bag of subjects, media, styles and skill levels, the work a visual reflection of the artists’ heterogeneity. “People make assumptions about who is featured in a show like this,” Jackson-Dumont said. “But we’re really looking at the full spectrum of education in New York public schools. We show work by every kind of student, including students with special needs.”

When asked if there were any salient themes tying the sundry works together, Jackson-Dumont responded: “There are a lot of portraits in the show, which I think communicates a sense of self-realization.”

This year marks the 15th iteration of “P.S. Art” and the 10th housed in The Met’s hallowed halls. As the tradition continues and evolves, Jackson-Dumont hopes to expand upon the number of works selected and exhibited. Currently approximately one out of every 10 artists is selected; she hopes to see that ratio grow over time.

“It’s a matter of expenses,” Jackson-Dumont added. “This isn’t treated like a throwaway project. All the works are framed and arranged like they would be in any other Met exhibition. The labels here are the same as the labels upstairs.”

Another longterm goal is building awareness of these kinds of exhibitions ― those that value local community and the universality of artistic expression as opposed to the fabled genius of the dead, white chosen few. “It’s not as if these projects haven’t been happening all around the country,” Jackson-Dumont said. “And yet you can probably count on your hands the number of times you read about something like this. People, I think, are now realizing that when you nurture young people in this way, you are nurturing the next generation of young innovators.”

Conversations about exhibitions like “P.S. Art” often end up in a similar space, discussing the indispensable impact of an arts education on a young and growing mind. “The work speaks to the quality of arts education we want to see erupting,” Jackson-Dupont said. “I continue to be blown away by the commitment teachers and educators have shown to include arts education — not as something that is ancillary but a part of the basic education system.”

For those skeptical of the effect an artistic education can have on a young person in flux, Jackson-Dupont recommends stopping by an opening of a “P.S. Art” show and watching a third grader hardly big enough to reach a microphone proudly explain the motivations behind her work. “This is a space for young people to share their voices,” she said. “To live out loud as themselves and be celebrated, not scrutinized. When we provide a space for them to be their best selves and they show up that way.” The Huffington Post


Art exhibit in Poland shows Auschwitz through inmates’ eyes
‘Face to Face’ collection features clandestine as well as commissioned drawings and paintings by Jews, Poles and other citizens

WARSAW, POLAND: A new exhibition in southern Poland shows the brutality of the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz through the artistic work of its inmates. Some of the artworks are being shown publicly for the first time.

The “Face to Face: Art in Auschwitz” exhibition opened last week at the Kamienica Szolayskich (Szolayski Tenement House) of the National Museum in Krakow to mark 70 years of the Auschwitz Museum. The museum’s task is to preserve the site in the southern town of Oswiecim and to educate visitors about it. More than 2 million people visited the museum last year.

The curator of the Krakow exhibit, Agnieszka Sieradzka, said Wednesday it includes clandestine as well as commissioned drawings and paintings by Jews, Poles and other citizens held at Auschwitz during World War II.

“These works help us see Auschwitz as the inmates saw it and experienced it,” Sieradzka told The Associated Press. “We stand face to face with the inmates.”

The Nazis sometimes ordered talented inmates to make paintings for various purposes. One such painting is a portrait of a Roma woman that pseudo-scientist Josef Mengele experimented on. Mengele ordered portraits like this from inmate painter Dina Gottliebova, a Jewish woman from Czechoslovakia.

The task helped Gottliebova survive. After the war she traveled to the US and started a family. She died in 2009 in California under the name Dina Babbitt.

Among the clandestine art is the so-called Auschwitz Sketchbook by an unknown author. It has 22 drawings of scenes of beatings, starvation and death. It was found in 1947, hidden in a bottle in the foundation of a barrack at Birkenau, a part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex. It is the first time it is being shown to the general public. It is housed at the museum and only shown on request.

Also being displayed is the original “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free) gate top that was stolen and retrieved in 2009 and is now kept under guard at the museum.

From 1940-1945, some 1.1 million people, mostly European Jews but also Poles, Roma and Russians, were killed in the gas chambers or died from starvation, excessive forced labor and disease at Auschwitz, which Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland. The Times of Israel


Remembering My Friend Andrew Wyeth on His 100th Birthday
In the ebbs and flows of an art career, one learns to trust in other artists who lead by example.

Today, Andrew Wyeth would’ve celebrated his 100th birthday.

In 1991, I was 35 years old and coming off of a successful show at PPOW Gallery when on the next to last day of the exhibition art critic Roberta Smith wrote a negative review of the work in The New York Times.

I had a strict rule of not reading any of my reviews good or bad. But Wendy from the gallery encouraged me to go out and buy the paper and read the review, because, she said, I would need to “be aware of what people would be saying about the work.” Reluctantly, I did as my gallerist instructed. Although it stung, I didn’t really care about the review at the time. But, the following months shed a different light on the negative ramifications of bad press. Several scheduled articles dried up. Sales slowed to a trickle. I found myself in need of appreciation and resources.

It was at this moment that my life took an unexpected turn. A catalogue from my exhibition had made its way to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and into the hands of Betsy Wyeth, wife of the most famous living American artist at the time, Andrew Wyeth.

Rumor had it that she had read the review in the Times, and being a proponent of American Realism, she had invited me out for a visit. Betsy Wyeth was full of encouraging words about the work. Perusing the exhibition catalogue she noticed in my bio that I’d been to film school at NYU. She asked me if I’d help her make a film about her husband. I’d been out of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for over 10 years and had never had a day job since graduating, but, this seemed like a fortuitous proposition.

One of the reasons I’d moved to Pennsylvania from my native Georgia 15 years earlier was to try to study privately with Andrew Wyeth. Upon arriving in Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s I’d spoken with him on the phone and he let me know that he didn’t accept private students. So I entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and through a broader lens of American Art learned my own way of interpreting the world in paint. I had been taught at PAFA to stay away from “illustrators” and “draftsmen” like Wyeth. We were taught that such artists weren’t “painterly” enough and that their “handiwork” was just “skill” and “craft,” words shunned at the time as not “Modern” enough to be taken seriously by the Art World.

I had bought wholeheartedly into my art training, and when invited out to the Wyeth’s, I was honored but skeptical. Obviously, I knew more about art than this regionalist who had made it no further in his education than first grade, but circumstances dictated that I needed to take the job, so I began to help Mrs. Wyeth make a film about her husband.

Over the next four years I spent every day with the Wyeth’s — from 9am til sunset. We became fast friends. Not only did I have a secure paying job, but the Wyeth’s loved my work and were very supportive, buying paintings and encouraging me in my endeavors every step of the way. This praise and encouragement certainly was a salve that washed away the sting of an art critic. During these years I began to de-program myself from my art school training. Slowly, the scales were scraped from my eyes and I saw clearly what I’d once known, that the best paintings of Andrew Wyeth were indeed masterpieces, and each piece was a unique representation of his experience. He painted his own backyard, literally, in Maine and in Pennsylvania. He didn’t care if it was “abstract” or “realistic,” he didn’t make such useless distinctions. He didn’t come up with an idea and illustrate it. He would walk out of his house each morning and with eyes wide open he would experience the world, like a zen master, he would just look and be.

When he saw something that excited him he would reach for pencil and paper and do a quick sketch. If it continued to interest him he would do a more finished drawing. If his interest was not yet quenched he would grab his watercolors and add color. And if he had not thoroughly investigated what was before him, if his curiosity of his subject still wasn’t sated, he would get a panel and start a more detailed tempera painting. It wasn’t about “making Art,” he was just painting his life, recording his world.

He didn’t even title his paintings. His hunger to get it down was voracious and the resulting work was veracious. There was no intention whatsoever of pandering, not to a public, or a dealer, or a critic. He painted for himself and for his wife, Betsy. (And in later years, to Betsy’s chagrin, he collaborated with his model and muse Helga Testorf.) But in the end, it was a solitary act. Andrew Wyeth taught me what art is all about. I may have learned “how” to paint somewhere else, but I learned “why” to paint in Chadds Ford with Andrew Wyeth.

After a long day of working on the film — which became the documentary SnowHill (1995) — with Betsy, she’d invite me back over to their home, the Mill, and we’d all spend long evenings together eating, drinking, drawing, and talking art.

Andrew Wyeth had a vast knowledge of art, all art, ancient, classical, traditional, realism, abstract, modern. He enjoyed learning of new younger artists that he wasn’t familiar with, and he introduced me to artists with whom I was unfamiliar. We loved these exchanges. We drew one another. I asked him once how he stayed motivated over his long career, and in natural Wyeth obtuse fashion, he answered, “I’ll be going along and I’ll see a piece of barbed-wire with a piece of horses mane stuck on it, and it’ll just get me going.”

It is hard to imagine in these fast-paced internet times anyone slowing down enough to get excited by a piece of hair on a piece of barbed-wire, but this was the modus operandi of Andrew Wyeth. He painted what excited him. It was that simple. Andrew Wyeth had great courage. He didn’t let others dictate his path for him. He was true to himself. We were best friends right up until his death in 2009.

I’d last seen him in October of 2008, I was working on a small documentary film (SEE) and he’d agreed to have a little cameo. We enjoyed a meal together at Farmer’s Market in Tenant’s Harbor Maine — just me, my wife (artist Betsy Eby), Andy, and Helga. We filmed the whole meal. We talked shop and other artists and our latest paintings and our health and our life. We all assumed that there would be many more meals to share in the future. He was 92 but as sharp, playful, and chipper as a twelve-year-old boy. The very next week, he had been sitting for long hours painting outside when he stood up and had a serious fall. Medical complications in the following months led to his death. The world has not been the same since his passing. Just ask anyone familiar with Midcoast Maine or Pennsylvannia’s Brandywine Valley and they’ll tell you some magic is missing.

Andrew Wyeth was my artistic father, my mentor. I think of him everyday. I am grateful for our time together. I think of him as I make studies or plan a painting. I think of him as I paint. I think of him as I meet and encourage students and younger artists. The last time I saw him, outside of Farmer’s Market, the camera was still rolling as we said our goodbyes. We hugged and he waved back laughing. His last words to me were, “Keep yourself free!” In these times of uncertainty and cooption, may this last charge be an empowering mantra for us all. Hyperallergic


He’s blind in one eye. So at silhouetting, he’s a natural

Sit still. Karl Johnson needs just 90 seconds. That’s how long it’ll take him to capture, cut, and complete a perfect likeness of your profile.

Johnson, 52, is a professional scissor artist and third-generation silhouettist. And he’s coming to Colorado to render your shadow portrait in a quick, $30, five-minute session.

His mastery of visual arts sprung with an unlikely source: blindness, in one eye.

“I see two-dimensionally, without binocular vision,” he said. “So I render well. It’s a two-dimensional art form, and I see in two dimensions. I took to it like fish to water.”

What began in 1975 as a childhood hobby with his father, also a professional, slowly evolved into a full-time calling in the mid-80s as a “starving art student” at the Art Institute of Atlanta.

“My goal when I entered art school was to do art advertising,” Johnson said. “This was 1985, pre-computer. But silhouette work always paid the bills, and it ended up being something I could live on.”

He’s since made a highly-successful career capitalizing on inborn adversity. Since launching his craft professionally in 1986, he’s silhouetted children, couples, families, pets and celebrities. His star-studded list of former clients includes Tom Cruise, Alicia Keyes, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Johnson has received praise from Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey, been a guest at Jennifer Lopez’s 40th birthday party and Reese Witherspoon’s wedding, silhouetted the cast of How I Met Your Mother and American Idol, and highlighted more bar mitzvahs, charity galas, fundraising dinners, state fairs, and toy stores than he can count.

His tools: old surgeon scissors and a single sheet of black paper. No computers, software or anything digital — just steady hands and an exacting eye.

His process: a look over his subject, with the zeal of an undergraduate in lecture. Then he cuts. No sketches, trial runs, measurements or fuss.

Two minutes later, he’s produced an original, one-of-a-kind work of art that customers can take home on the spot.

He rarely makes mistakes, but will redoes a cut when not fully satisfied. “I’m my own worst critic,” he said. “But I’m really mindful that each person that comes to me is having their first experience with the art. I take that seriously. My job is to make them smile, and give them something they can keep forever and cherish.”

The paper maestro, now based in Los Angeles, hasn’t been to Colorado since 1990, when he lived for a year in Colorado Springs. He’s now a jet-setting craftsman, traveling 10 days each month for gigs in Alaska, Hawaii, New York, Florida and Europe.

He’s cut more than a million profiles over his 30-year professional career, or a rate of roughly 80 each day. Once, at a private wedding, an unyielding bride requested that he produce a cutout for all 200 guests.

“It was Drew Barrymore’s wedding,” he said. “She was very adamant about having every guest silhouetted.”

The work can be tedious and taxing. But like a virtuoso rehearsing for a performance, Johnson finds harmony in the repetition.

“I cut at a certain tempo,” he said. “I like to work fast so I don’t overthink it too much. It’s like music to me when I’m cutting.”

Mental concentration helps him stay unruffled, even when handling difficult clients. Emily Blair Charnelle of Lomita, Calif., took her 17-month-old daughter to sit with Johnson as a Mother’s Day gift in 2016. “At first I was worried because she was having a tantrum and wanted to play outside instead of sit,” she recalled. Johnson kept his cool, snipping away while chatting easily with the young girl and her mother.

“He was so patient and kind to her,” Charnelle said. “I was so thrilled with his work because it really truly was her silhouette, bow and all. Overall he has this friendly, patient, open and kind demeanor which puts you at ease, regardless of how wiggly and grumpy your child is behaving.”

Johnson estimates that 95 percent of his American subjects are children. (By contrast, most of his European customers are adults.) Silhouetting, though, is an aging art that has witnessed a long and steady decline from peak popularity in 19th century France. Each generation loses more and more professionals. Johnson, the most publicly recognized scissor artist in the United States, knows by name every full-time silhouettist in the country — all six of them.

“It’s not something anybody aspires to, because it’s not something on anybody’s radar,” he said. “Kids don’t aspire to play glockenspiel, they aspire to play guitar.”

Still, he draws hope from his son, who’s expressed interest in taking up the fourth generation of the family trade.

“My son is welcome to do it,” Johnson said, “I’d love for him to do it. But only if he wanted to.” The Denver Post


Translating Sight into Paint
Working entirely from observation, Daniel Heidkamp’s paintings join what we see with what we feel.

In a world where the ubiquity of the cell phone camera has put the simple act of long looking on the endangered list, art that brings us back to a full-sensory apprehension of what the poet Mary Oliver calls “the summoning world” acquires new agency.

The young painter Daniel Heidkamp’s current show of plein air landscapes entitled Boston to Brooklyn at the Half Gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan offers a refreshing return to a fundamental impulse for making art: to deliver a felt response to the visible world. Encountering such tactile records fusing hard looking, mark-making, and emotional punch awakens a visceral sense of “being there” that can make us fall in love with painting all over again.

Ironically, the catalyst for the paintings in this show grew out of a digitally inspired curatorial project exploring the impact of mobile-phone cameras on photography, now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York — Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations between Artists. Twelve pairs of artists, including Heidkamp, were invited to conduct a visual conversation through mobile phone images over a six month period; Heidkamp teamed up with the painter Cynthia Daignault who also works from life.

Between November 2016 and April 2017, Heidkamp and Daignault embarked on separate road trips and made paintings of places traveled, sharing images of their work via Instagram while en route. The selection of small square paintings (reflecting the Instagram format) in the Boston to Brooklyn are drawn from 30 that Heidkamp made during his Talking Pictures road trip.

It is curious to note that the Talking Pictures exhibition, designed to focus on new art generated by cutting-edge technology has, for Heidkamp, reinforced the value of an artistic practice that predates photography. While the result of his collaboration with Daignault at the Met is an expansive wall grid of enlarged Instagram photos (of their paintings), Heidkamp was clear from the start that his objective was always to use the project as a strategy to make new paintings.

Meandering between Boston where he grew up and Brooklyn where he now lives and works, Heidkamp chose locations along the way ripe with personal meanings and, frequently, art historical references. Cityscapes, landscapes, seascapes, interiors and exteriors combined, his subjects are familiar yet tweaked to bring out their strangeness, or heightened with chromatic intensity. More poetry than description, Heidkamp’s imagery sneaks up on you: he finds unexpected ways to present recognizable subjects — the statue of the 18th century American portrait painter John Singleton Copley dissolving into the obscurity of nocturnal Boston, toy-like ferries plying the Hudson under a bright green sky, a Hopper-esque house on the Rockport coast, blown ghostly in an atmosphere of sea air and wind.

Heidkamp situates himself unabashedly within the tradition of French and American plein air painters, those who reveled in the physicality of paint and its ability to capture truths of light, mood, and weather seemingly on the fly. The nods to earlier masters are apparent everywhere. We see glimmers of Claude Monet, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery, George Bellows, Jane Freilicher, Fairfield Porter, even the living patriarch of painterly realism Alex Katz. It’s as if Heidkamp is in easy, relaxed conversation with them all. Neither refuting, mimicking, nor appropriating his predecessors, his radicality lies in an “all in,”irony-free affirmation of the enduring relevance of intense looking, combined with exuberant mark-making — and their combined capacity to snap us awake and reset our ability to see.

I found the strongest paintings to be those with the most redolent atmosphere of unplugged longing. Heidkamp does dusk with aching poignancy, in part due to a penchant for a haunting blue (Prussian blue? Phthalo blue?) that saturates oddly compelling, off-kilter compositions. It’s an affecting strategy — conjuring that fleeting hour of the day when the world puts on its most dazzling performance just before the stage goes dark.

In “Windsor Terrace” (2017), a foreshortened trellised archway in the foreground acts as a gateway into the darkening horizon, while above, fiery pink clouds are ignited by the sun’s last rays. Even if you didn’t know, as I later learned, that just beyond the distant row of trees lies Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery (the subject of an earlier body of work), the painting delivers a subtle foreboding sense of life as a briefly illuminated passageway en route to its final destination.

The empty twilight interior “Boston Library” (2017) — its dark vaulted reading room drained of its purpose, its staff and readers gone home — is filled with strange night lights dimly lit along the walls, while the crepuscular gleam of sky, painted a deep, heart-stopping blue, is glimpsed through the windows. A white flag stripped of stars and stripes — a startling detail — hangs limp outside. Is it going too far to suggest that this image, painted in the crucible of these troubled political times, can be read as a site of knowledge and truth lying idle, waiting for the dawn of a new era when people will care about such things again?

Especially moving is “JSC Blue” (2017), the statue of John Singleton Copley in its eponymous Boston square deserted at nightfall. The scene is suffused in a deep azure haze, the painter’s heroic posture reduced to a dark generic silhouette, the palette and brushes in his hand barely visible. Whatever remaining dignity left to Copley is further diminished by the gentle mockery of a bird perching on his head. Heidkamp must have felt a sense of identification with his subject, a fellow artist, sharing a plein air moment together, the contemporary one finishing his painting, the historical one consigned to plein air in perpetuity, while history moves indifferently on.

Heidkamp applies oil paint in a variety of ways, attuned to qualities inherent in the pigments themselves. He can make a painting seem to appear all in a breath, as in the lovely “Copley Square” (2017) in which we feel his brush flitting here and there, positing points of perfectly calibrated color, coalescing in an airy sense of place and weather. He can go thick and visceral, invoking Marsden Hartley, laying the paint on in glistening impasto, as in “Starlight West Village” (2017), in which the color sings with the kind of innocent bravado of an outsider artist. The“just rightness” of his color choices, even the quirkier ones, as well as his withholding of just enough visual information to suspend our disbelief, mimics the gauzy subjective way we actually see, and keeps the focus on his intent: to conjure an emotionally resonant atmosphere.

Taking stock of the paintings in Boston to Brooklyn in the context of Heidkamp’s work to date, one can sense an altered tone, more melancholy and subdued. It registers as more in keeping with Yankee sobriety than the jazzed, almost hallucinatory high-key color and whimsical flights of imagination animating his earlier work. Perhaps this shift has resulted in part from the structured parameters of the Met’s Talking Pictures show, and the subtle influence of the constant visual conversation with his painting partner Cynthia Daignault; or it might have been because the six month project took place during a Northeast winter — an austere season, especially challenging to a plein air painter!

But perhaps the most profound influence was that the timing of their collaboration coincided exactly with the election of Donald Trump and its aftermath. The shock and grief most artists felt caused many, including Heidkamp and Daignault (as Heidkamp confirmed to me during an informal interview), to question the purpose of making art when the country was in crisis. It was a collective moment of deep reflection and anguished soul-searching, and it shows in these paintings.

Serious plein air artists like Heidkamp, who are cognizant of 20th and 21st century shifts in the language and intent of painting, yet choose to take on the furious flux of the upwelling world, are staking out a territory that represents — in the full sense of re-presenting — an art that joins what we see with what we feel. It refutes fake news, declaring instead, “I was here, I saw this, I felt this!”It pushes back against postmodern claims there is no truth, thus reclaiming — not Truth in a monolithic sense — but the authentic truths of individual human experience.

Even the tough-minded practitioner of plein air painting Rackstraw Downes, still working from life at the age of seventy-eight with his unflinching vision of industrial blight, has written in his essay, “What the Sixties Meant to Me” about the work he does: “Do not all aesthetic judgments boil down in the end to statements of what you love?”

In Heidkamp’s case, his project carries a welcome sense of slowing time down, and a desire for sensual and psychic reconnection to our visible surroundings. Sometimes painting that speaks with immediacy and verve of attachment to this world is just what we need to see. Hyperallergic


Art for positive change

A YOUNG man from Swakopmund believes that art could be one of the keys to combating social evils and bring positive change to Namibian youth.

Jacques Pienaar (30) says Namibia needs to invest in more art centres and art classes, especially in towns outside the capital, while the subject should be given more attention in schools.

Pienaar, who is an excellent artist himself, says children enjoy anything that has got to do with art. He says they look forward to school in the morning when they know that something artistic would happen that day.

He then expressed satisfaction with the way the Namibian media has been promoting local visual artists in the past few years, as they need to be recognised and appreciated for what they do.

While some artists struggle to sell their works, Pienaar has found it easier to market his art through social media. He sells portrait pieces for N$300 each on average, but prices vary according to size and subject.

He furthermore believes art has a healing effect on people, and most importantly ploughs back into the Namibian community, especially in tourist towns like Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

The young man started drawing at a very young age when he was still in primary school.

“I started experimenting on days when I was bored, or when we had nothing else to do in class. It was just fun, and kept me out of trouble. I did not have any formal training for what I do; I taught myself how to draw. After seeing my finished works, I inspired myself to do even better,” he adds.

His family always encouraged him to explore better techniques, but not to make it a full-time career as it is hard to make a living out of art.

He nonetheless expressed the hope that in five years' time, the arts industry will prosper and inspire young people to become full-time visual artists.

Pienaar changed to portraits in high school, and sketched a portrait of his principal, who was very impressed. His portraits have since become popular among the coastal communities.

“Many people ask me to draw portraits of themselves and their families. When I walk into someone's house and see my painting hanging, I feel proud of myself. Art for me is awesome and amazing,” he beams.

A regular customer of Pienaar, Benneton Jacobs, told The Namibian why he keeps coming back to buy more art pieces.

“I think Jacques' drawings are breathtaking; his drawings are beautiful. God gave him a talent which he is using correctly. There is a story that comes with each drawing, whether it is about a person's life, or just nature. I see happiness in everything he draws”, adds Jacobs.

Pienaar plans to hold an exhibition in the near future, and says help is always welcome, especially with regards to buying art materials. He currently only works with the pencil and charcoal medium, and keeps a bunch of portraits in his apartment at Swakopmund. Requests for Pienaar's artwork can be mailed to jacquespienaar046@gmail.com The Namibian


Maybe Michelangelo: Is living room painting a masterpiece?

TONAWANDA, NY: Martin Kober is convinced the painting of a dying Jesus that hung above the mantel in his upstate New York childhood home is the work of Michelangelo. Getting experts to agree remains the $300 million hurdle.

That's the potential value of the 19-by-25-inch (48-by-64-centimeter) work that Kober's family affectionately calls the "the Mike," a one-time living room fixture that occasionally got dinged by a thrown tennis ball and once fell from the wall while being dusted.

Kober has for the last 15 years taken his Michelangelo suspicions to the art world and gotten a mixed bag of scholarly opinions. For now, the circa 1545 family heirloom that was given to Kober's great-great-grandfather's sister-in-law by a German baroness remains in an out-of-state vault while he seeks the elusive validation.

"It's tormenting now," said Kober, a retired commercial pilot who grew up in the Rochester suburb of Greece. "I'm nobody, I'm not connected. I don't know if that's it."

The wood-panel painting depicts a dying Jesus supported by two angels in the lap of the Virgin Mary. Doubters view it as simply not good enough to be by Michelangelo or believe it's another artist's painted version of a much-copied Michelangelo drawing. Some question whether the then-70-year-old artist would have had time to fit the painting in between the Last Judgment fresco at the Sistine Chapel and another fresco at the Pauline Chapel.

Supporters of Kober's claim cite written historical references and forensic evidence that includes Michelangelo's preferred paint type, small brush strokes and mid-work changes visible by infrared testing that they say indicate an original, rather than copied, work.

Burundi robotics team missing after competition in DC Ex-Penn State officials on work-release part of jail terms Dad arrested for speeding to hospital with wife in labor In this Wednesday, May 3, 2017 photo, Tyler Goodson of the hit podcast "S-Town" stands at the grave in Green Pond, Ala., of friend John B. McLemore, who is also featured in the serialized show. A judge has set an Oct. 16 trial date for Goodson, named in a mulit-count indictment related to an alleged theft linked to events in the popular story. Goodson has pleaded not guilty to a multi-count indictment alleging he took lumber, old vehicles and a laptop computer from the property of his friend John B. McLemore, the main character in "S-Town." Trial date set for case linked to "S-Town" podcast Mother of boy found dead on porch to remain in jail

"Unfortunately, the world of attribution is never a definitive affair," said Michelangelo expert William Wallace, who is not surprised a consensus has yet to emerge. Assigning any work to a master is almost always a matter of waxing and waning scholarly opinion, he said, and pieces tend to fall in and out of favor as opinions change over time.

Kober says the museums and experts that have resisted his painting have not examined the piece or fully considered the historical and scientific evidence, much of which is spelled out in a 2014 book, "The Ragusa Pieta: History and Restoration." The book documents the philanthropic Rome Foundation's cleaning and diagnostic analysis of the painting in Italy beginning in 2011, before it was displayed there as part of a Renaissance exhibition.

Wallace, an art history professor at Washington University in St. Louis who saw the painting before it was restored, hasn't ruled out that it is by Michelangelo. But he believes it was more likely painted by a longtime friend and contemporary of the artist, Marcello Venusti, with Michelangelo's blessing. In Renaissance times, Wallace said, the painting and others like it still would have been considered Michelangelo's because they were based on a Michelangelo drawing and done at his behest.

Among the biggest obstacles to its acceptance are differing interpretations of written references to the work dating back to the Renaissance, and whether they refer to a drawing, as was long thought, or a painting.

One of the painting's strongest champions is Italian art historian and restorer Antonio Forcellino, who has examined the painting and wrote about it in "The Lost Michelangelos" in 2011.

Compared to European scholars, "the coldness of American institutions is unexplainable to this painting," Forcellino said in an email.

For now, a frustrated Kober can't understand why such positive opinions have not generated more buzz among scholars. He's now willing to turn over his quixotic verification quest to an artistic or philanthropic organization with more clout.

"This painting can be poked and prodded all over again if that's what it takes, but the results will be the same," he said. "It's a Michelangelo!" Houston Chronicle