September 18, 2019

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


In this issue:

Rubens’s Exciting, Upsetting, and Shockingly Current Paintings
New in Town: Art supply store opens in REO Town Marketplace
How One Artist Helped Invent a Paint That Can Be Used to Detect Cancer, Diabetes, and High Blood Pressure
A shipping truck painted by Banksy is expected to sell for over $1 million at Bonhams.
Seller beware: how to avoid being duped by an artful dodger
The Rivalry Between Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Sister Ida
Monumental Veronese painting—once cut into 32 pieces by Austrian soldiers—to undergo fourth restoration
Restaurants Waste 150 Million Crayons Each Year. This Charity Is Donating Them to Classrooms
Inspired by Bob Ross, Michigan state parks are being repopulated with thousands of Happy Little Trees
Art Recovery International calls on Icom to step in and investigate 'stolen' Reynolds painting on show in Japan
Day-Glo masterpieces are fading. A conservator and her team are racing to save them
Extraordinary Paintings of Ordinary Birds
New art store aims to fill Mish Mish closure void


 

 

 

 

Rubens’s Exciting, Upsetting, and Shockingly Current Paintings
Much of Rubens’s Baroque bravura feels timely in its grappling with violence, terror, power, sex, and coercion.

Early Rubens at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor museum offers a rare opportunity to see Baroque paintings of a quality and quantity not usually found in the Bay Area. Peter Paul Rubens might be considered the Andy Warhol of his day, with his own factory churning out art in 17th-century Antwerp. But unlike European museums overflowing with Rubens (or Rubens-adjacent) paintings, such Baroque abundance on the West Coast is uncommon.

On the whole, visitors might be predictably more interested in the actual Warhol show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) across town, but as the San Jose Mercury News points out, “If the prospect of five galleries filled with Old Master paintings sounds as exciting as a mandatory field trip, you’re in for a surprise.” The surprise being that rather than the visual equivalent of eating your spinach, Early Rubens is a feast of sex and violence on a grand scale. Exciting, upsetting, and even shockingly current.

Visitors to the show are greeted by three massive paintings: “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” (c. 1614–1616) in the center, flanked by “The Boar Hunt” (ca. 1615–1617) to the right, and “The Flight of Lot and His Family from Sodom” (ca. 1613–1615) on the left. As paintings go, they are as immersive and engaging as movie screens. In the Legion’s low-ceilinged lower galleries, they fill the wall.

“Daniel in the Lions’ Den” is probably the most reproduced work in the show — on posters all over town, in advertisements for Early Rubens, and in articles about it. The lion’s share of the press, you might say. Who can resist sharing a great cat picture? These big cats are fabulously observed, painted with Rubens’s trademark pulse of blood beneath the skin and filled with individual personality and character.

“The Boar Hunt” beside it is likewise filled with animal grandeur, this one complete with blood and fangs, tooth and claw, spear and sword, in a maelstrom of energetic assault between man and beast while pale ladies tucked into the upper right of the canvas look passively on.

Given such obvious excitement as lions and boars, it’s maybe no surprise that the painting overlooked has been the quietest of the three, “The Flight of Lot and His Family from Sodom,” on the left. As depicted by Rubens, Lot is not so much fleeing (per title) but reluctantly moving on. Lot looks back, casting sad eyes at his daughters, who carry family treasures, and unlike the Bible story, it’s his wife who looks ahead, in the direction an angel is leading them, away from a doomed city.

If museum goers of all ages who were around me are any litmus test, most people don’t know the story of Lot from the Bible, so a thumbnail: Lot is a “righteous man” in the wicked city of Sodom, where two angels disguised as travelers find shelter in his home. When a mob threatens to rape his visitors, the good host Lot offers his virgin daughters to the crowd instead. The gathered Sodomites refuse his offer and rush Lot’s home, at which the angels strike them blind and tell Lot to flee because God is going to destroy the evil city. The angels warn the family not to look back, but Lot’s wife casts a single backward glance and is instantly turned into a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters go on, finding shelter in a cave, where the daughters, fearing their father is the last man on earth, get him drunk to have their way with him and become pregnant, which they do.

It is, obviously, a disturbing story, though that’s not so apparent here, where Lot’s family group with angels is a vision of plump drapery, shimmering reflets, fat bare feet, and a centrally held basket of gold vessels. It all feels far less dramatic and dangerous than the wild animals of the adjacent paintings.

Similarly, while sex and violence course through Early Rubens like a ridable wave, an early room of Rubens portraits might be the very thing reluctant exhibition-goers fear — solemn burghers in black — with the notable exception of his “Portrait of Isabella Brant” (ca. 1620–25), Rubens’s first wife, who he depicts with enough saucy vitality as to be downright suggestive. His depiction of Isabella feels fresh and forward-looking, both in his swift, sure brushwork and in the way her frank gaze takes on ours.

Even Rubens’s most, well, Rubenesque works in the show — large, dramatic, multi-figure canvases — feel surprisingly current. Maybe because he also lived in a time of repeated wars, with names reflecting their tenaciousness: the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War. Rubens’s family fled Antwerp when it became Catholic under Spain, and returned after the death of his father. The young artist left again to study in Italy for years before returning home to a country on the brink of the Twelve Years’ Truce. The economic prosperity in his homeland fed Rubens’s thriving career, but religious warfare was always a grim reality.

Even more than other Baroque artists who revel in scenes of high drama, Rubens is unflinching in holding our gaze on horror. His “The Massacre of the Innocents” (ca. 1611–1612) is as gory and terrifying as a horror movie, with graphic depictions of bloody, dead and dying children, and their mothers under assault. You want to look away, but palpable human anguish draws you in. Rubens’s riveting details of unthinkable violence — blue skin, a bloody pool, hear-tearing grief — feel less like dramatic indulgence than a sincere willingness to witness the terrible.

Near the end of the show, Lot appears again. Unlike “The Flight of Lot and His Family from Sodom,” here the scene is plenty sensational — “Lot and His Daughters” (ca. 1613–14) stopped me cold. Lot being plied with alcohol to facilitate incestuous relations isn’t uncommon in Baroque art, but Rubens’s boozy, leering Lot is uncommonly shocking. Unlike most depictions of this scene, Rubens implicates Lot in the sexual exchange. Lot has his eyes fixed on one naked daughter as she pours him wine, while the other, clothed, seems to urge him on. Compare his version to Artemisia Gentileschi’s, for example, or a version by her father Orazio, a follower of Caravaggio. While the Gentileschi paintings are suggestive, allusive to the sex within the story, Rubens leads with it. With Rubens, flesh feels like flesh: pulsing and alive. In this context, it’s disturbing.

Much of Rubens’s Baroque bravura feels timely in its grappling with violence, terror, power, sex, and coercion. So Early Rubens requires zero interest in Old Masters to appreciate what it has to offer. Not because it’s yet more spectacle for us to ogle, but because Rubens drills down on human horror and makes us look. It’s uncomfortable to linger there, but that’s still what art is for. Hyperallergic

 

New in Town: Art supply store opens in REO Town Marketplace

Lansing lost its last dedicated art supply store in 2014. Since then, artists had to make do with ordering goods online or traveling to other cities for fine art supplies. Casey Sorrow, the owner of Odd Nodd Art Supply, aims to change that.

Taking its namesake from nicknames of the Eckert Station smokestacks, Wynken, Blynken and Nod, Odd Nodd Art Supplies will carry printmaking, sculpting, ceramics, calligraphy, bookbinding, painting supplies and more.

An aromatic amalgam of fresh wood, pencil shavings and paint greets visitors upon entry like any art supply store should.

“We’re hoping to fill a niche that isn’t really being filled,” Sorrow said.

A veteran illustrator and printmaker, Sorrow’s work gained attention in Greater Lansing while he attended Michigan State University as co-founder of “Fetus-X,” a controversial comic strip that eventually was banned from the State News and later reprinted in the Detroit Metro Times.

More recently, he illustrated James Joyce’s formerly unpublished work “The Cats of Copenhagen,” which was published internationally in eight languages. Sorrow further illustrated author Peter Trachtenberg as the subject of the Sunday Book Review in the New York Times.

Opening an art supply store was always a goal, Sorrow said.

“It is really cool to open up a new pen and see how it feels, what marks it makes,” Sorrow said. “I love the moment when you open up a new paint and see how it flows across the paper, how it feels and how it displays. Anybody who works with art supplies will have a good appreciation for the different types.”

One of the standout items Odd Nodd carries is Black Wing pencils, the favorite writing instrument of greats like John Steinbeck, Truman Capote and Vladimir Nabakov. The pencils are made of California Cedar and Japanese graphite. They are noticeably different from a regular pencil as each is armed with a heavy-duty square eraser — fine-tuning the prose of the next great American novel can get messy.

What sets apart Odd Nodd from a big retail art store is expertise and quality of goods, Sorrow said.

“I’m a printmaker and illustrator, and I’ve been in art supplies for 20 years. Also, my wife is a bookbinder and does a lot of other paper craft works,” Sorrow said.

The couples’ knowledge on multiple mediums is what Sorrow thinks will set them apart from a larger retail store. He added that they will carry a number of “much nicer” items at a lower range which will fit in with the neighborhood’s eclectic buzz.

“This is an area we want to be a part of. We’re excited to see what happens next year between the breweries and restaurants opening just a few blocks away.”

Artist-led workshops will be happening in the future, but getting the store up and running for returning Michigan State University students to get their art supplies is a top priority, Sorrow said. CityPULSE

 

How One Artist Helped Invent a Paint That Can Be Used to Detect Cancer, Diabetes, and High Blood Pressure
Joseph Cohen spent years in a lab experimenting to create the high-tech paint.

Not every artist can say that his or her work is helping in the fight against cancer. But over the past several years, Joseph Cohen has done just that, working to develop a new, high-tech paint that can be used not only on canvas, but also to detect cancers and medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

Sloan Kettering Institute scientist Daniel Heller first suggested that Cohen come work at his lab after seeing the artist’s work, which is often made with pigments that incorporate diamond dust and gold, at the DeBuck Gallery in New York.

“We initially thought that in working with an artist, we would make art to shed a little light on our science for the public,” Heller told the Memorial Sloan Kettering blog. “But the collaboration actually taught us something that could help us shine a light on cancer.”

For Cohen, the project was initially intended to develop a new way of art-making. In Heller’s lab, he worked with carbon nanotubes, which Heller was already employing in cancer research, for their optical properties. “They fluoresce in the infrared spectrum,” Cohen says. “That gives artists the opportunity to create paintings in a new spectrum, with a whole new palette of colors.”

Because human eyesight is limited, we can’t actually see infrared fluorescence. But using a special short-wave infrared camera, Cohen is able to document otherwise invisible effects, revealing the carbon nanotube paint’s hidden colors.

“What you’re perceiving as a static painting is actually in motion,” Cohen says. “I’m creating paintings that exist outside of the visible experience.”

Art Supplies—and a Diagnostic Tool

That same imaging technique can be used by doctors looking for microalbuminuria, a condition that causes the kidneys to leak trace amounts of albumin into urine, which is an early sign of of several cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Cohen helped co-author a paper published this month in Nature Communications about using the nanosensor paint in litmus paper tests with patient urine samples. The study found that the paint, when viewed through infrared light, was able to reveal the presence of albumin based on changes in the paint’s fluorescence after being exposed to the urine sample.

“It’s easy to detect albumen with a dipstick if there’s a lot of levels in the urine, but that would be like looking at stage four cancer,” Cohen says. “This is early detection.”

What’s more, a nanosensor paint can be easily used around the world, even in poor areas that don’t have access to the best diagnostic technologies. Doctors may even be able to view the urine samples using an infrared imaging attachments on their smartphones.

Paint on Canvas

But developing a carbon nanotube paint that adheres to canvas and to other materials was no easy task. It took Cohen three years of trial and error to discover the right of materials to mix with the nanotubes.

“Imagine having a clump of lapis lazuli,” Cohen says. “It needs to be broken up and made into a paint.” From there, the materials need to be further refined by separating the liquids in a centrifuge, which Cohen compares to mining for gold. “You’re continuing to break up the material and sift out what you want.”

The final step is adding a binder, like linseed oil in oil paint. The resulting paint has incredible potential. Unlike oil paint, carbon nanotubes will not degrade over time.

“They are structurally sound, which is much different than any other artist material,” Cohen says. Further, carbon nanotube paint adds another layer for conservators to test a painting’s authenticity.

The paint has other potential applications: it could be used, for example, in the construction of buildings or bridges in earthquake-prone parts of the world. Were one to hit, a strain in the paint could indicate problems with structural integrity.

The next hurdle, however, is bringing down the cost of production.

“A 1.5 milliliter thing of the paint probably [costs] $100,” Cohen says. “My paintings run from $10,000 to 20,000—which is pretty cheap when you look at the material cost!” artnetnews

 

A shipping truck painted by Banksy is expected to sell for over $1 million at Bonhams.

Amid Aston Martins and Bugattis at Bonhams’s forthcoming car auction, sits a 1988 Volvo FL6, a 17-ton shipping truck. The truck, an early artwork by Banksy dating back to 2000, is estimated to sell between £1 million and £1.5 million ($1.3 million to $2 million).

The truck, titled Turbo Zone Truck (Laugh Now But One Day We’ll Be In Charge), is painted in its entirety by Banksy and is “signed twice in stencil” according to the auction house. Bonhams is calling it Banksy’s largest artwork ever.

The artist painted the truck at a New Years party in Spain and continued to work on it for two weeks. The truck then toured Europe and South America with the Turbozone Circus, an extreme circus company known for its pyrotechnics. It bears images and phrases that would later become Banksy trademarks, including the phrase “Laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge” and the image of flying monkeys.

Bonhams describes the work:

"The uniquely hand-painted 17-ton truck is a mobile testament to Banksy's longstanding, breakthrough vandalism of art's old-hat approach to painting on canvas and paintings in galleries. Taking the vehicle of the laborer, the workman and the blue-collar employee as his blank canvas, the present motorcar and work of art revels in Banksy's raw and unfiltered wit; a masterclass of the artist's satirical humour and impressive dexterity with spray-paint."

The work will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Banksy’s handling office Pest Control, and whoever purchases the artwork will be pleased to know they can take it for a drive—the Volvo FL6 remains in perfect running order. Artsy

 

Seller beware: how to avoid being duped by an artful dodger
Timothy Sammons misled clients over sales of works by artists including Picasso

In the culmination of a high-profile, multi-year larceny case, Timothy Sammons, 63, pleaded guilty to fraud and grand larceny in the New York State Supreme Court in July. “Timothy Sammons had lying, scamming and stealing down to a fine art,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said after sentencing the British art dealer to four to 12 years in prison.

Prosecutors alleged that between 2010 and 2015, Sammons misinformed clients in the UK, US and New Zealand about the timing of certain sales, used works entrusted to him as personal collateral to secure millions of dollars in loans and redirected proceeds of sales to pay off other victims of his Ponzi-like scheme. The prosecution also claimed Sammons occasionally failed to tell collectors that their works had been sold and, when they demanded their return, he either asked for their patience or ignored them altogether. Works of art named in the case include Pablo Picasso’s Buste de Femme, Marc Chagall’s Reverie and Paul Signac’s Calanque de Canoubiers.

Charming, privately educated and with an office in Mayfair, Sammons looked and sounded the part. Gregor Kleinknecht, a partner at Hunters Law, which acted for a client who lost a valuable painting through Sammons, says it was easy to be deceived by the dealer, even if someone carried out due diligence and asked around before entrusting works to him. Clients also waited too long to take action., he says.

“The art and the money were gone and Sammons and his company had insufficient funds to satisfy judgments against them,” Kleinknecht says. The lesson to be learned? Act and obtain advice immediately as soon as you suspect something is awry. “At least some of Sammons’s customers may have been able to retrieve their works had they acted earlier and applied for an injunction,” Kleinknecht says, adding that registering a work with the Art Loss Register as lost or stolen can be a less radical alternative than going straight to court.

Kleinknecht urges sellers to consider whether they really need to use an intermediary but, if a broker is needed, he cautions to avoid letting them take possession of the work or handle the sale proceeds. “The intermediary could then arrange viewings but would not be entitled to retrieve the work without the seller’s consent,” he says. “The old saying still applies that ‘possession is 9/10 of the law’.” Instead, consider placing the work with an art logistics company with viewing facilities.

Becky Shaw, a senior associate at Boodle Hatfield, stresses the importance of a comprehensive consignment agreement, including terms such as the period of consignment, method of sale, minimum price, commission, communication of offers, liability for loss or damage, responsibility for insurance, payment terms, passing of title, return of the work if unsold, provisions for early termination, liability for expenses, liability for VAT and/or any other taxes arising on the sale and, potentially, confidentiality provisions.

If the agent is based overseas, “advice should be obtained from a lawyer qualified in that jurisdiction”, Kleinknecht says.

In some cases involving Sammons, the sellers of paintings did not even know when a painting had been sold, let alone for how much. A dealer may not be willing to disclose the identity of a buyer or the terms of a sale for confidentiality reasons but, as a minimum, “the dealer should provide a statement showing the amount for which the work was sold and any deductions for taxes and expenses, and the amount due to the owner,” she says.

But Kleinknecht says it is legitimate to ask the intermediary for the details of the buyer and, in the EU at least, “under the new money laundering scheme to be implemented pursuant to fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive [to be introduced in the UK and EU next year], this is information on which the intermediary will need to have carried out client due diligence in any event”.

One final, fundamental point: never release a work of art until you have received cleared funds and, Kleinknecht urges prospective sellers, payments should be handled through an escrow arrangement. The Art Newspaper

 

The Rivalry Between Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Sister Ida

What if you were Georgia O’Keeffe’s sister, and you wanted to be an artist? Could you empty your mind of her work to create your own original images? A show at the Clark, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, tries, sort of, to separate the sisters, though the title gives away the game: “Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow.”

Georgia was only two years older than Ida, but they were light-years apart in their characters. Georgia headed straight into her career, like a diver going off the high board. She went to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York, and Teachers College, at Columbia. She studied technique, perspective, shading, charcoal, oils, watercolor, the virtuoso brushstroke of William Merritt Chase—the craft and mechanics. She plunged into new philosophies and new ideas, swimming in the radical currents of the first decades of the twentieth century. When she left New York, for a women’s college in South Carolina, she took with her the new ideas and her own fervor. During the Christmas holiday of 1915, she—isolated, intent—created a series of abstract drawings that was the first to define her as an artist. A friend showed the drawings to Alfred Stieglitz, the art dealer and photographer at the center of the New York art world. Famously, he said, “At last, a woman on paper.” Georgia had known Stieglitz through his gallery, but Stieglitz had never been aware of her until that moment. He met her through her work: it was that which gave Georgia O’Keeffe gravitas and importance.

By contrast, Ida was dilatory and undecided. Like her other sisters, she took art lessons in school; afterward, she took drawing classes. By 1913, she was teaching drawing at elementary schools in Virginia, but, in 1918, she changed careers. She moved to New York to get a degree in nursing. The O’Keeffe sisters were close, and Ida saw Georgia often. Stieglitz, now Georgia’s husband and dealer, took to Ida. He tried for a flirtation, but Ida sensibly insisted on friendship. In the company of artists, in 1925, Ida decided to become a painter, though still supported herself as a nurse.

An artist’s life requires discipline and intention: if she doesn’t believe in herself, no one will. Her work must be paramount in her daily life. She must find her ideas urgently compelling, because she must convince the world of their importance. By 1925, Georgia had been living with that urgency and discipline for nearly twenty years; Ida never had her sister’s steely commitment. In Ida’s nursing school, the superintendent of nurses noted that she “will never make a well-balanced leader. Will work best under direction.” Perhaps Ida found direction in her sister’s work. In 1927, Georgia curated a show at the Opportunity Gallery in Manhattan, including works by Ida. Two of these works were still-lifes of magnified flowers and fruit, done with a smooth, immaculate brushstroke. Although Ida would often show her work under her middle name, Ten Eyck, everyone knew who she was: an O’Keeffe.

In 1931, Ida continued her advanced studio work at Columbia Teachers College, where she studied under Charles Martin. He taught the theory of dynamic symmetry, in which geometric lines are superimposed on realistic shapes to produce architectonic images. These allude to classical prototypes of harmony. Under this influence, Ida produced a series of lighthouse paintings. These are semi-abstract, composed of geometric lines and curves, using a limited palette. The best are clean and powerful—austere images that use contrasting beams of light and shadow to create powerful, brooding compositions. They are unrelated to Georgia’s work, and Ida steps forth boldly as herself. But other contemporary works by Ida vividly recall her famous sister—a magnified mushroom, a carved Native American pipe, and a smooth-barked tree against low mountains. The radiant, simplified forms, the luscious paint, and the subjects all suggest Georgia.

In late 1932, the Delphic Studios in New York showed work by some of the O’Keeffe women: Georgia’s younger sister Catherine, and their grandmothers. Catherine was a gifted amateur who’d started painting with Georgia in Wisconsin, in 1928. She, too, followed in her sister’s footsteps, rendering Georgia’s subjects in Georgia’s style—lush, magnified flowers in dreamlike colors. In March, 1933, Delphic showed a few of Catherine’s paintings, and in April the studio gave Ida a solo show. With her lighthouse paintings, Ida had moved with assurance into territory uninhabited by her famous sister. Georgia had painted stylized architectonic forms, but never using the vocabulary of dynamic symmetry, never interlayering the geometric forms and the actual shapes. Ida was becoming an established artist in her own right: it was a moment of triumphant exhilaration for her. It happened during a passage of devastating defeat for Georgia.

In 1927, Stieglitz had begun a public affair with the beautiful, dark-eyed Dorothy Norman, who was younger than Georgia. She volunteered at his gallery and posed for his camera; in early 1932, a new show that Stieglitz put on was full of Dorothy’s face. Georgia, whose sybilline image had become nearly as famous as her paintings, had been deposed as muse. That spring, Georgia was invited to create a mural for Radio City Music Hall. As her dealer, Stieglitz expressly forbade it. O’Keeffe flatly disobeyed him, and accepted. Publicly, he raged about her professional betrayal of him, while, privately, he continued his matrimonial betrayal of her. Georgia ignored the affair and persisted with the project. It was plagued by delayed construction, despite having a fixed deadline for the art. Finally, in November, Georgia was able to begin work. The day she arrived to start, the canvas began slowly peeling off the wall. It seemed like a message from the universe: every path she took was blocked. It seemed that she was being erased, as an artist and as a woman.

Georgia began to slide into depression. She was unable to eat or sleep; she developed a fear of water; she imagined buildings collapsing on top of her. In February, 1933, she was admitted to a hospital for psychoneurosis. Stieglitz, who had played a part in her collapse, was only allowed one weekly visit.

Georgia had always been the leader of the sisters. “She was the queen. . . . and we all loved her,” Catherine said. The younger sisters had been loyal subjects, but now, it seemed, they were claiming her throne. Georgia had earned her place as an artist through years of study, the solitary investigation of ideas, the difficult struggle to find her own voice. She had created her own style and vocabulary, of luscious shapes and dreaming colors. Her sisters had earned none of this, yet, suddenly, they were presented as her equals. Georgia had been betrayed in her marriage, by her husband, and now she was betrayed in her field, by her sisters. They were like the marathon runner who takes the shortcut by subway: suddenly her sisters were running by her side.

Blisteringly, Georgia raged at them. She cut off communication with Catherine for four years, before sending an apology letter. Singed, Catherine would eventually stop painting forever. Ida refused to stop painting or showing her work, but she did get out of Dodge. After a few years of intermittent visits and a few shows, she left New York to her sister forever. The two never reconciled. Nor did Ida ever recover the clarity and strength she’d expressed in the lighthouse series. For the rest of her painting life, Ida shifted through different styles and media. She lived in small towns throughout the Midwest, working as an artist-in-residence, art teacher, designer, sometimes as a nurse. She showed her work locally; once she won a blue ribbon at a country fair. In 1938, she painted the intriguing grisaille oil “Stargazing in Texas.” A flattened, vertiginous perspective and an illuminated sky unsettle the viewer. Strange frozen figures, as though struck by lightning, create a mysterious, emotionally charged mood. But Ida never found a style that held her focus. She was energetic and talented, but timid and indecisive. She never faced the challenge of exploring her own ideas or finding her own voice.

Ida was said to have claimed that she’d have been famous, too, if she’d had her own Stieglitz—but, though other dealers had shown her work, it never received the powerful response that Georgia’s did. Ida’s supporters suggest that the incessant moving and her demanding day jobs interfered with her creative work—but Georgia also had day jobs in the hinterlands and continued to produce. In fact, it was while in the hinterlands that she had made some of her most original work. She was never painting for local art shows but for the New York world of the avant-garde. The difference between the sisters was not one of circumstance but of essence. Stieglitz gave Georgia her start, but it was the work that made her successful. Her original, heartfelt, hard-won images overwhelmed many viewers. She was dedicated to the expression of her singular ideas, and to her formidable work ethic. Throughout her long career, Georgia rarely faltered in her dedication, producing more than two thousand works.

Who can say? Ida might have been successful if she’d been her own true supporter, as Georgia had been. An artist can only rely on herself; the world may disregard her. She can never afford to lose her focus on the goal. Ida seemed never to recover the certainty with which she painted the clean, strong forms of the lighthouse. During that long, shining moment, she was working on her own. She’d been focussed on those beams of light, deeply and intently, fully herself. The NEW YORKER

 

Monumental Veronese painting—once cut into 32 pieces by Austrian soldiers—to undergo fourth restoration
Work on the battle-scarred 39 sq. m Papal feast scene, housed in a monastery in Vicenza, should be completed by early 2021

Recovered after Napoleon’s Italian art raids only to be slashed into 32 pieces by Austrian soldiers during the 1848 First Italian War of Independence, Paolo Veronese’s banqueting painting for the monastery of the Madonna of Monte Berico in Vicenza has had a turbulent conservation history.

The Feast of Saint Gregory the Great (1572) depicts Pope Gregory I dining with a dozen poor pilgrims, including Jesus in disguise at his right-hand side. It is the only one of Veronese’s series of monumental supper scenes still displayed in its original setting, the friars’ former refectory. There it will be analysed and cleaned from September to early 2021, in a restoration sponsored by the Italian banking group Intesa Sanpaolo. The bank describes the collaboration as a “birthday gift” to the city of Vicenza, where Intesa Sanpaolo’s art conservation programme, Restituzioni, was launched in 1989.

Veronese’s painting technique “has not been studied in this pure way before”, says Valentina Piovan, the conservator overseeing the treatment on behalf of the local heritage authorities. The battle-scarred 39 sq. m canvas will this month be removed from the wall so specialists can work on it.

An initial analysis in 2017 revealed a “thick layer of discoloured varnish” which currently “compromises the integrity of the entire depiction”, Piovan says. But before the surface dirt and old varnish can be cleaned away in the new year, her small team will use non-invasive infrared and ultraviolet imaging to reconstruct the phases of Veronese’s creative process.

X-ray fluorescence and gas chromatography will further help conservators understand the chemical composition of the pigments, binding agent and “mestica” (primer), used by the artist.

A key challenge will be distinguishing between Veronese’s hand and the work of the painting’s past restorers: Antonio Florian in 1817, Andrea Tagliapietra in 1858 (financed by the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I, by way of compensation for his troops’ vandalism) and Antonio Lazzarin in 1973. “My aim is to pinpoint who did what, to decide whether to remove it or leave it be,” Piovan says.

The guiding philosophy, however, will be for a “minimum of intervention”, she says. Nineteenth-century repairs made with oil-based pigments are not only difficult to reverse with modern water-based solvents, but can now be considered “a coherent part of the work” in their own right.

The delicate final phase of the project will involve retouching in such a way as to “imitate the granular texture of the painting”, Piovan says. “If it’s [too] smooth, you will see all the lines of the cuts in the light.” The Art Newspaper

 

Restaurants Waste 150 Million Crayons Each Year. This Charity Is Donating Them to Classrooms

When most people think of restaurant waste, they picture spoiled produce and uneaten leftovers. In a single year, the restaurant industry sends roughly 11.4 million tons of food waste to landfills [PDF]. But Sheila Michail Morovati had a different type of restaurant waste on her mind when she took her then-toddler out to eat nearly 10 years ago. Like many places that cater to families, the eatery they went to gave out brand-new boxes of crayons for coloring kid menus, and when the check was paid, Morovati left the barely used crayons behind to be disposed of along with the food scraps.

"I noticed all the tables around me were doing the same thing, and kept thinking: there are budget cuts in education, teacher spending has skyrocketed, [and] there’s no art education left," Morovati tells Mental Floss. "So I just decided to ask some restaurants to start collecting the crayons kids leave behind.”

That initiative she took nearly a decade ago has since ballooned into an international operation. Today, Crayon Collection works in nine countries and all 50 states and has been formally recognized by both the U.S. Congress and Buckingham Palace for its achievements. The organization's goal is simple: salvage crayons in good condition that are destined for the trash and provide them to classrooms in under-served school districts. To date, it has led to the donation of more than 13 million crayons.

Crayon Collection aims to chip away at the 150 million crayons thrown away by restaurants each year, but its impact goes beyond the environment. When school budgets are cut, art classes are usually the first programs to go. And if those schools do have art supplies, teachers are often paying for them out of pocket. But if schools have a family restaurant in their community, they may already have a source of free, practically new crayons at their disposal.

“We’ve been able to completely support [teachers] not just in one area of the classroom, but we’ve also raised awareness about why it’s so important to not put this pressure on teachers,” Morovati says. “It’s just such a sustainable and great win-win.”

The organization sources most of its crayons from restaurants. Because the crayons handed out at eating establishments are only used for a few minutes—if at all—there’s little difference between them and crayons that are bought new from the store. But anyone can donate any gently used crayons they have at home to a collection site. Crayon Collection’s Color Kindness program encourages kids with leftover crayons at the end of the school year to pack them up in bundles and send them to underfunded schools with a handwritten note. Not only do recipients benefit from the gift, but the kid senders get a lesson in paying it forward.

Crayon Collection’s progress shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, the organization broke the Guinness World Record for most crayons donated to charity in 8 hours by collecting more than 1 million crayons for Los Angeles schools. One of the nonprofit’s most recent projects is a collaboration with Penguin Young Readers. The publisher designed special collection boxes branded with characters from the kids’ book The Day the Crayons Quit to send to 3000 restaurants around the country. Anyone can get their community involved by becoming a crayon ambassador and recruiting local restaurants to request a box and save their old crayons for donation. You can also donate to the organization directly through PayPal.

Morovati is confident that if you reach out to your neighborhood restaurants about Crayon Collection, they’ll be receptive to the idea. “Back when I first started, I talked to different restaurants and kept trying to explain the whole process," she says. "Now they understand right off the bat like, 'Oh we’re already on it.' I want this to be a societal norm that people don’t throw away good stuff like these crayons. I hope that that’s a symbolic shift in behavior toward many other things. Plastic straws are one of them, plastic water bottles—virtually anything that still has life to it that could be used.” Mental Floss


Inspired by Bob Ross, Michigan state parks are being repopulated with thousands of Happy Little Trees
The state has partnered with the artist's estate to rename its prison grow program after one of his famous catchphrases

When Bob Ross joined the Air Force at the age of 18, he enrolled in his first painting class at the U.S.O. club in Anchorage, Alaska. He fell in love with the physical act of painting, but found himself frustrated by his instructors’ focus on art theory. “They’d tell you what makes a tree, but they wouldn’t tell you how to paint a tree,” Ross told the New York Times.

Ross is best known as the soft-spoken creator and host of The Joy of Painting, a low-budget, instructional art program that aired on PBS from 1983 to 1994. Ross died just one year after the show ended, but he’s become a pop-culture icon in the years following as new people discover his soothing show (he’s especially popular with devotees of ASMR). His likeness is on t-shirts, underwear, crock pots, coffee mugs, and greeting cards. There’s a Bob Ross Chia Pet, Bob Ross cereal, and a toaster that imprints Ross’ face—and signature hairdo—onto a slice of bread.

Ross not only helped teach America how to paint “happy little trees,” but thanks to a new partnership between Bob Ross Inc. and Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Ross’ likeness and memorable taglines are now helping to promote the planting of actual trees. To celebrate the state parks system’s centennial anniversary year, the DNR has renamed the state’s prison grow program “Happy Little Trees” in Ross’ honor.

The joy of nature

Every year, inmates in three of Michigan’s correctional facilities help grow about 1,000 trees, according to Michelle Coss, volunteer and donor coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Parks and Recreation Division. The new trees are used to replace those in state parks that have been lost to disease or have been irreparably damaged—intentionally or not—near campsites and trails. This year, 22 out of Michigan’s 103 parks will receive trees grown in correctional facilities from native seeds collected by the DNR.

The prison grow program comprises people who have been successful in the Department of Corrections career and technical education program. Participants learn practical horticultural skills while they nurture and care for the growing trees. Ross more than understood the healing power of nature—the walls of his house were covered by idyllic landscapes created by others—he built his career around it. A large part of Ross’ appeal is that viewers really feel the joy in The Joy of Painting.

He once explained: “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”

Happy parks

For a man known for anthropomorphizing his landscape elements (almost anything in Ross’ world could be “happy,” including skies, clouds, and of course, trees), repping a nature conservation and tree restoration program makes much more sense than crock pots and underwear. Coss agrees: “I was thinking about trees leaving prisons and going to a campground and that they’re happy and it came to me: ‘happy little trees,’” she says.

The DNR reached out to Bob Ross Inc. about a potential partnership, and they were immediately on board, replying, “We love anything that has to do with helping the environment and trees. Bob would’ve loved that.”

As part of the Happy Little Trees initiative, which launched on Arbor Day, Ross’ likeness appears on signage throughout the parks (indicating “Happy Little Trees Ahead”) and on volunteer t-shirts. “When we came out with the program, we put a call out to volunteers and said, ‘If you help us replace trees in state parks, you get a happy planting t-shirt,’” Coss says. “We had over 500 people sign up to help us plant trees.”

Next, Coss has plans for a 5K run, and people outside of Michigan are encouraged to participate wherever and whenever they can. There are always more trees to be planted. “We do most of our plantings in May and June in the lower peninsula and we still have trees that need to be planted in the upper peninsula,” Coss says. Those interested in volunteer opportunities can sign up on the DNR’s website—and even if you’re not able to help out in person, Happy Planting shirts are available for purchase (all funds raised go back into the tree planting program).

Coss says: “It’s been a really cool program to unfold and see how much people are trying to get on board to help us.” Roadtrippers

 

Art Recovery International calls on Icom to step in and investigate 'stolen' Reynolds painting on show in Japan
The portrait was allegedly stolen from the home of a menswear magnate in 1984

Art Recovery International (ARI), a company that tracks missing art, is calling on the International Council of Museums (Icom) to intervene in a case of a portrait by Joshua Reynolds housed at Tokyo’s Fuji Art Museum, which according to Christopher Marinello, ARI chief executive, was stolen from a UK residence in 1984.

Icom members, which include the Fuji Art Museum, are meeting this week in Kyoto (1-7 September); ARI subsequently claims that in refusing to return the painting, the member museum is in violation of Icom’s Code of Ethics. Icom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Art Recovery International alleges that the painting—The Portrait of Miss Mathew, later Lady Elizabeth Mathew, sitting with her dog before a landscape—was stolen from the home of the menswear magnate Sir Henry and Lady Price in Newick, East Sussex, in 1984.

While there is no suggestion that the museum was aware that the painting was stolen when it was bought in 1990, Marinello criticises the institution for failing to conduct proper due diligence. The disputed work is labelled A Young Girl and Her Dog at the Fuji Art Museum, and is dated 1780.

In 1988, the painting was sold at Sotheby’s to a member of the art trade who sold it on to the Fuji Art Museum in 1990, says Marinello, who represents two grandsons of Henry Price hoping to recover the work.

“Our position is that while the Fuji Art Museum may have acquired the Reynolds in good faith pursuant to the laws of Japan, we are not willing to call them ‘good faith purchasers’. The crime took place in the UK and the sales were all in the UK. The dealer who sold it to the Fuji [after purchasing the work at Sotheby’s] was a London dealer,” Marinello says.

“The museum should have and could have done more research in 1990 as required by Icom guidelines,” Marinello says, adding that the provenance details provided by the Fuji Art Museum match the provenance of the allegedly stolen work. Fuji’s documents show that the work was owned by Viscount Lee until 1947 with no account thereafter; the Prices bought the work from Lee the same year, Marinello says. “How do they explain that 43-year gap in the provenance?”

Haruhiko Ogawa, the lawyer representing the Fuji Art Museum, tells The Art Newspaper that “we do not believe that Mr Marinello has successfully established without a doubt that the painting we own is the same one that was stolen from his clients.”

In fact, the Fuji Art Museum is seeking compensation for the work. “The museum has never refused negotiating with Mr. Marinello. We just asked his availability to consider a fair compensation. We have never asked him to make any payment in advance,” Haruhiko says.

He also points out that the painting was put up for auction at Sotheby’s in London where Marinello’s clients resided. “The painting was on the front page of the auction catalogue,” he says, adding that the museum purchased the work from a respectable art dealer.

A spokeswoman for Sotheby's says: “We have had no contact from Art Recovery International, or anyone else, regarding this suggestion so we currently have no evidence to suggest that there is any truth in it. We would welcome any further information the relevant parties can provide.” The Art Newspaper

 

Day-Glo masterpieces are fading. A conservator and her team are racing to save them

Deep in a basement laboratory at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, conservator Kamila Korbela peered at the moon-cratered image on the screen of her microscope, searching.

It was a speckle of paint that outwardly appeared no different from a half-dozen others in her portfolio. But the museum’s sophisticated laser microscope told a different story.

Instead of magnifying the sample, it measured the vibration of its chemical elements. The readings showed that this fleck of color was unlike the others.

For the crusading conservator, this was a clue to unraveling an urgent mystery that is as much about art as it is physics and chemistry.

Korbela is trying to save “Bampur,” a migrainous color-block behemoth painted in 1965 by the influential modern artist Frank Stella — on view for the first time since 1980 in a LACMA retrospective. Like her paint speckle, it vibrates. At least, it used to.

“The yellow has definitely faded at a faster rate than the pink or the blue,” which are still so unnaturally bright that Korbela could work on them for only a few minutes at a time before getting a headache.

“Yellow is particularly difficult,” she said. “You can’t replicate it unless you replicate the constituent dyes. And it’s all secret.”

This secret is called Saturn Yellow.

It is the trademarked name of a fluorescent chartreuse — think caution tape or a high-voltage sign — that conservators say is among the most photochemically complex paints ever made by the Day-Glo Color Corp. of Cleveland .

Day-Glo still makes Saturn Yellow, although conservators say the modern formula is significantly different from the one used by trailblazing modern artists in the 1950s and ’60s.

Korbela said she hoped to get the company’s help in restoring the work — to secure a copy of the formula, or samples of dry pigment for conservators to test — but after months of trying unsuccessfully to reach them, she gave up.

But it didn’t quash her ambition. Rather, it set in motion a laborious effort to reverse engineer the hue’s midcentury formulation, and her nearly two-year quest has drawn interest from prominent figures in art conservation.

“It’s not just to treat this one painting that happens to belong to LACMA. … I think the outcomes will be a lot more significant,” said Margaret Holben Ellis, chair of the Conservation Institute at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. “There’s a lot of Day-Glo out there. It’s in every kind of artwork imaginable.”

The company said its current paints work well for restoration purposes but that it would not divulge proprietary information. Tom DiPietro, Day-Glo’s vice president of research, put it this way: “It’d be like giving you the formula for Coke.”

But after The Times described the LACMA team’s efforts, the company agreed to provide Korbela’s team with pigment samples and a data sheet with some limited details about their composition.

The future of some well-known works of modern art could hang on Korbela’s research, experts said. If the Day-Glo shades can’t be replicated, many fear that renowned works such as “F-111,” James Rosenquist’s 86-foot long protest piece, and Andy Warhol’s “Flowers” could literally disappear.

“These paintings contain a glowing ghost that cannot be captured on a photograph,” said Stefanie De Winter, a Belgium-based conservator who is an expert on fluorescent art. “I think that if we wait for another 50 years, they will be milky-colored ruins, which will have lost their original effect and meaning.”

As novelist and merry prankster Ken Kesey told the Daily Telegraph in 1999: “Nothing looks worse than faded-out DayGlo.”

Nothing.

You’ve seen the work of the Day-Glo Color Corp. even if you don’t know you’ve seen it. The company’s shades are a packaging staple, the secret sauce that gives a Tide box its sparkle. Its pigments have long been popular in public art, from murals in Miami to the protest graffiti painted on the Berlin Wall.

What makes the company’s colors so revolutionary is that they radiate in sunlight, while ordinary “neon” pigments glow only with black lights in the dark. This atomic innovation is what drew artists and industrial designers to the medium. Day-Glo paints are intrinsically technical, a truly Space-Age material.

“Nothing like this exists in nature — these are man-made colors,” said Ellis, who is president of the American Institute for Conservation, a nonprofit based in Washington. “They look very alien, and that’s one reason Frank Stella liked them.”

More often than not, the colors are used as highlights, but the 9-foot-tall “Bampur” is 100% fluorescent paint. Viewing it for more than a minute is ocular agony, the visual equivalent of an overdose.

“When I started out with ‘Bampur’ [a colleague] was giving me different gray cards to rest my eyes on,” Korbela said. At times, she said, examining the painting at 10-times magnification was unbearable.

The pain of looking at “Bampur” is a function of photo-physics — electron-level exchanges of energy that convert invisible energy to visible light, creating colors so vibrant they scream.

“It’s literally electrons jumping from high to low energy levels,” Korbela said. That’s how all colors work — it’s just that the electrons in fluorescent pigments have more skips in their step.

This subatomic dance is what gives fluorescents their astral glow. They shimmer on the horizon of visible light, close to the limit of the human eye and far beyond where most cameras can see.

“You’re seeing something that cannot be captured, and you don’t know why it looks the way it looks, but you know it looks different,” Ellis said. “Your eye is seeing something that you don’t understand. That’s why they’re so effective.”

Day-Glo’s original paints were formulated in Berkeley in the 1930s, and were widely used by the American military in World War II on aircraft and in uniforms. Its pigments are up to four times brighter than traditional shades, and can be seen faster and from farther away.

In postwar America, Day-Glo quickly transitioned from the military to the counterculture, and through culture to art.

“In the mid- to late 1950s, Stella turned away from oil paints and started using mediums like acrylic, enamel, epoxy paints and also fluorescents,” said Katia Zavistovski, who curated the LACMA exhibit. “There’s still little understanding of how that fluorescent paint changes over time.”

What’s long been understood is this: The old shades of Day-Glo fade quickly. Pop artist Keith Haring was so distressed by this phenomenon that in the early 1980s he painted over a Day-Glo mural he’d finished just months earlier.

The ’60s-era chartreuse is particularly delicate, conservators say. But what makes Korbela’s quest especially urgent is a fungal infestation in “Bampur’s” canvas, one she has since identified in several other Stella works.

“We wanted to in-paint the little fungal speckles” to disguise the pattern made by the mold, Korbela said. Little did she know how difficult that would prove to be.

The first problem is that Saturn Yellow is a mix of both conventional color and fluorescent dye. Both types of pigment lose their brightness, but in different ways. While color fades, fluorescence is more correctly said to “extinguish” — its ability to transform invisible energy to visible light exhausted through prolonged exposure.

Finding a color match for each of these complex components is a critical step in the process of developing a usable paint. But it’s just the first step.

“When you want to retouch the painting, you must artificially age the pigment,” De Winter said.

Recent fluorescent pigments have a reformulated composition and don’t extinguish as quickly as the older ones, “which makes it impossible to match them with the old paint layer,” she added.

So Korbela spent months degrading samples of fluorescent paints that are currently on the market — a process she will begin anew with the dry pigments the company recently agreed to supply.

“I basically started to artificially age them,” she said, using the same bands of ultraviolet radiation that give you a sunburn.

The UV chamber in LACMA’s basement laboratory looks like a large toaster oven, and functions much like the light machines used to harden gel polish at nail salons.

The next step will be to tease the chemical mystery of Saturn Yellow from the polyvinyl alcohol primer that lies beneath it, a process so complicated the team can attempt it only with help from the wider Los Angeles art world.

Korbela will take tiny yellow samples — dribbles collected from the edge of the “Bampur” canvas — to the lab at the Getty Conservation Institute. There they will be tested using a gas chromatic mass spectrometer — a machine that more commonly looks at chemical weapons and stardust. The next stop will be UCLA, where the samples can be analyzed using an electron microscope and other sophisticated devices to produce images at the subatomic level.

“It’s very, very rare that there is the funding for that,” Korbela said of her science. “That’s so cutting-edge it’s only happening at a couple of institutions.”

When she began chasing Saturn Yellow, Korbela still worked full time at LACMA, splitting her days between Stella’s pieces and works by Yayoi Kusama, Joan Mitchell, John Singer Sargent, Rufino Tamayo and Pablo Picasso.

Now, she runs her own conservation company, LA Art Labs, and must wait for grants and squeeze tests in on the side — a process that will probably take months.

Even after all of that, the hunt for vintage Saturn Yellow might not be over.

“We will have to do more analysis to find those perfect matches,” Korbela said. “It’s a field that’s very much still in its baby shoes.”

The team plans to apply for a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which seeks projects that “address critical needs of the museum field.” But once they crack “Bampur’s” chemical genome, “we will have a lock-and-key principle solution for thousands of paintings,” the conservator said.

Still, actually applying it to Stella’s painting presents another challenge.

The perfect mixture, if it can be achieved, would then have to be applied to the painting with a brush made from just one or two hairs.

“If it’s too dense a layer, [the paint particles] will cast shadows on each other, and appear darker,” Korbela said.

All of which raises the question: Why labor for years to preserve an effect that is fundamentally unpleasant? Couldn’t viewers still appreciate “Bampur” if it didn’t hurt when they looked?

“Absolutely not,” said De Winter, the Day-Glo scholar. “When you cancel out the Day-Glo of the paintings you would lose the self-referential quality, the often-disturbing eye-catching effect,” and other elements the artist considered integral to his work.

Ellis was even more pointed.

“There’s many works of art done in Day-Glo hanging in our museums that no longer glow,” the expert said. “They’re still great works of art, but they lose their pow factor. If it loses that ability to hurt your eyes, it’s no longer effective.” Los Angeles Times

 

Extraordinary Paintings of Ordinary Birds
Ann Craven’s painted birds, set against a soft-focus background, have a kitsch quality, but with a provocative edge.

Birds have a long and varied history in art, ranging from works such as Giotto’s “St. Francis Preaching to the Birds” to van Gogh’s crows over a wheat field, and from natural history to fanciful, symbolic, and abstract renderings — for instance, Louise Nevelson’s “bird forms” or Brancusi’s aerodynamic “Bird in Space.” Birds are artists’ winged muses. Boston-born painter Ann Craven, who maintains studios in New York City and Cushing, Maine, has focused on birds for more than 20 years. Her current show, Birds We Know, at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art presents a plentiful selection from her career, nearly 40 oils on canvas ranging in size from 10 by 14 to 90 by 72 inches.

Craven’s creatures are common birds — nothing too exotic. Bluebirds, cardinals, canaries, crows, finches, woodpecker, and owls are among them. While identifiable, her depictions are neither naturalistic nor loose. They sometimes evoke the work of Alex Katz, and that’s no coincidence: Craven was his studio assistant early in her career.

The two light pink birds in “Big Pink I’m Sorry, 2008-2011” (the titles all include the date) perch on matching limbs, their cuteness partly offset by amorphous white and black clouds blooming in the background. Delicate tree branches bisect the space horizontally and vertically, dividing it into four quadrants. The paired birds’ positions — one of them facing us, the other turned away — creates a sense of communication, like a couple having a heart-to-heart. The sentiment and composition repeat in “I’m Sorry (on Black with Cherries), 2019,” this time with cherries dangling in the background.

Many of Craven’s portraits depict songbirds, reflected in titles like “Hit Song with Clouds, 2001,” which features a small orange-breasted bluebird, presumably singing a top ten tune. A similarly marked bird in “Bold as Love #1, 2007,” and “Bold as Love #2, 2007,” may be channeling Jimi Hendrix (the title references his famous album). These birds in full-throated song recall the varied thrush in the opening credits of Twin Peaks — a posed, even stiff, feathered friend.

Other images are downright charming: “Puff Puff, 2004,” features a winsome pair of wide-eyed, fluffed-up birds. By contrast, “Blue Song, 2003,” presents a blackbird, its silhouette charcoal black, in front of floating flowers on a light blue ground, while “Silhouette Birds (after Courbet), 2006,” presents two blackbirds in the show’s only winter scene. Setting the birds in many of the paintings against a soft-focus background lends them a kitsch quality, but with a provocative edge. The claws, when visible, are sometimes unsightly things—a contrast with the mostly beaming birds to which they’re attached.

The exhibition also includes two paintings from Craven’s ongoing moon series — like the birds started many years ago. In “Moon (Full Lovers Moon Again), 2007,” a hazy white orb radiates light from beyond the brush of tree branches. The image is romantic, a nocturne, but not exactly the transfigured night of the Romantic painters.

On the wall that leads from the CMCA’s lobby to the main gallery is a very large horizontal painting (60 by 384 inches), “Octaptych (Stripe, Birds We Know), 2019.”The eight connected panels are covered with irregular diagonal stripes in different hues. These are not the precision painted strips of a Bridget Riley canvas or one of Gene Davis’s formalist stripe designs. Rather, the piece seems to serve as a kind of overture to the bird pictures, providing the full spectrum of color that lies around the corner — an unusual, and nifty, transition piece.

Much of the press around the show has focused on the fact that Birds We Know is Craven’s first exhibition in Maine, where she has been painting since the early 1990s. In an interview with Portland Press Herald art reporter Bob Keyes, she referenced some of the angst she feels living in Cushing. The town’s artistic legacy, she says, is “just killing” her. Here, where Andrew Wyeth painted Christina Olson, where Bernard Langlais created his large-scale sculptures, where Lois Dodd and Alan Magee practice their formidable realism, she treads carefully. “The Maine landscape is a culprit, in a way, of this history,” she notes, “but at the same time it’s just an inspiring place to be.”

That Craven has managed to carve out her own place in this hot spot of creativity speaks to her ability to maintain focus and cultivate some engaging obsessions, including a flock of birds at once ordinary and out of the ordinary. Hyperallergic

 

New art store aims to fill Mish Mish closure void

Jessica Jones said she was heartbroken earlier this year when she learned Mish Mish, the downtown art store she called a second home, was closing after 49 years.

First, she said she cried. Then she said she questioned her future in the town. And finally she said she got to work.

If Mish Mish could no longer serve as the central hub for Blacksburg’s artists — and Virginia Tech’s freshmen in need of school supplies — then she would find a way to fill that void.

“Really, this whole thing has happened so fast, I’m just kind of playing everything by ear,” she said.

Jones has tentatively secured a new storefront on Main Street. She’s begun working with Tech professors to put together kits that include all the materials students need for various classes. She’s thought about inventory and store design.

Jones already owns New River Fiber Co. She’s planning to triple the footprint of that business, add art supplies and change the name to New River Art and Fiber.

There’s some light remodeling to be done before it can open, but Jones said she’s aiming to have something ready by early next year.

She’s sensitive to the fact that she’s building this business — at least in large part — off the legacy that Mish Mish and its owners Steve and Debbie Miller left behind.

She says she’s grateful for that and has been coordinating closely with them.

The Millers have given Jones their blessing — and a slew of old fixtures and display cases from their shuttered store.

When customers checkout in Blacksburg’s new art shop, they’ll be doing it on the same counter that sat by Mish Mish’s front door for decades.

“I’m super excited about that,” Jones said. “They were so generous with information, making introductions to different vendors, letting me come in and pick out whatever fixtures I wanted.”

The Millers hoped to reach 50 years with Mish Mish, but a confluence of rising rents and declining health made that impossible. They announced in March that they would close this summer, news that landed with a thud in the Blacksburg art community.

Steve Miller said he heard some of those rumblings as things were winding down at Mish Mish. But between local hardware stores and New River Art and Fiber, he said it looks like that void will be mostly filled by January.

“It’s good to have someone who has the knowledge on the art supplies side, rather than Michaels and Hobby Lobby,” Miller said. “They have product, but they don’t know anything about it.”

Jones, 37, is a longtime local, a knitter and experienced businesswoman.

She said she first started shopping at Mish Mish around 2001, when she was an art student at Virginia Tech. She left town when her husband took an internship in 2007, moved to New York and managed an art store there.

She returned to Blacksburg the following year and took a job at Mish Mish.

The Millers were always hands-on with the family business, but Jones eventually became a sort of unofficial store manager.

In 2017, Jones took over a different downtown Blacksburg store focused on yarn and knitting supplies, called New River Fiber Co. She ran that shop for years, and earlier this summer reached an agreement with the owner to purchase the business outright.

The yarn store sits directly behind the space that she plans to convert into the art supply shop, but an awkward hallway divides the facilities and makes it almost impossible to connect them.

So, at least for now, Jones plans to have two front doors. The fiber art community can continue to coalesce in the yarn store, while the art supplies will have a bigger space facing Main Street. The business will have one name, but two spaces sitting side-by-side.

“I was really more interested in the gallery scene than being an artist myself,” Jones said of her foray into the art word. “And then working at Mish Mish, I really kind of fell in love with retail — which was unexpected.”

Jones says she’s passionate about downtown Blacksburg and supporting local retail and manufacturing — even if that’s not always the cheapest route.

When Mish Mish closed, she felt the unmet need in her own home.

“I can’t imagine my life without a store like that,” she said. “Going to Target for my kids’ school supplies just broke my heart.”

For her new store, Jones plans to do many of the same things that made Mish Mish a Blacksburg institution. She’ll make sure she’s meeting the needs of the university’s art and architecture students, as well as local artists. She’ll make customer service her top priority and will try not to push sales on customers.

But Jones is also planning to bring some lessons from her time at the art store in New York. She wants to carry more boutique-style supplies, like hand-rolled pastel crayons from a small company she knows in New York.

“It’s hard for us to compete cost-wise with the bigger companies,” Jones said. “So customer service is where it all lands. I make it my business to know the product I carry, to be able to stand behind it, give advice on it, demonstrate how it behaves.”

Miller was a little skeptical of the plan for pricey specialty products. He didn’t rule anything out, but after nearly five decades of research he has a pretty good handle on what sells in Blacksburg.

Tech students will generate most of the revenue, Miller said. At-home artists simply don’t require enough supplies to keep a store like this afloat. The trick is keeping a balance of the two demographics.

No matter what, he’s rooting for Jones.

“Business is a risk, and she’s taking a big one here,” Miller said. The Roanoke Times