Saturday, April 30, 2011

Frederick Gladstone Gray

This painting should be familiar
to anyone who has been a a member of the Palette and Chisel
over the past 80 years.

It was done by Frederick Gladstone Gray (1881 - ?)

You should also recognize this one
even if the reflections off its glass frame
make it difficult to see.

The subject is another member of the club, Leo Marzolo.

The P&C newsletter indicates
that it was exhibited in the
36th Annual Exhibition
(which must date to something like 1931,
and then both paintings
were exhibited in the 1945
50th Anniversary Show
at the Art Institute.

The newsletter also tells us that:

By 1932 Gray's debt to Joe (the cook) was more than $150, and the club was forced to consult with its attorney, Charles Selleck, about the "legal procedure necessary to attach money Mr. Gray would realize from pictures in hands of Chicago Galleries Association for the purpose of satisfying the debt he owes Joe Haynes, the Club caretaker." Gray's paintings didn't sell, and the club booted him out in 1932.

Sources on the internet tell us that:

"Frederick Galdstone Gray (American, 1881-1930) was a California/Missouri artist known for figure, genre and portrait painting. He studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and in Paris at Academie Julian under Jean Paul Laurens. Except for 1909 when he resided in New York City, he was a resident of his native city until about 1917.

But obviously they are mistaken about when he died.

Here are some of his other paintings

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Making Art" by Jack Beckstrom

Frank Holme

Among the ambitious projects for this site
has been the creation of a membership bibliography

As it turns out, however,
our members have been too prolific
for me to keep up with them.

A few, like Frank Holme (1868 - 1904)
printed their own limited edition books of art.

Several others, like Carl Krafft (1884-1938) made instructional manuals.

(and more recently we have William Schneider,
Richard Schmid , and Ted Smuskiewicz

Most illustrated the books of others,
though a few illustrated their own,
like Cyrus Baldridge's "I was there with the Yanks in France" , and at least one, Oskar Hansen, wrote a a fantasy novel

But perhaps the most unusual publication of all
is the above guide to "Making Art"
recently self-published by the
Academy's current vice-president, Jack Beckstrom.

Issues of composition or “the magic”
(as Richard Schmid puts it)
are dismissed as "artsy nonsense",
and the only technique discussed
is how to digitally photograph
a model upon a rotating platform.

Leaving this to be
more like a book of art theory,
one that addresses the question of:

"How to make art that lasts"
"How to facilitate long term notoriety"

based upon the author's
interest in evolutionary biology.

(the text in color are direct quotations)

As such, it is more open to debate
than an instructional book based
upon a respected practitioner's taste and knowledge.

So let the debate begin!


"Behavioral scientists tell us that public opinions concerning ideal human forms are tied to deep seated reproductive and survival considerations."

But how do scientists account for the wide variety of idealizations? over the centuries and around the world?

Venus of Willendorf

The oldest art pieces we know of (around 20,000 years old) show round little female figures, with pendulous mid-sections and breasts; tight, patterned hair or head coverings and no facial details. These features were likely sculpted due to primitive copying skills and the fertility enhancing purposes of the little figures. It is unlikely that people of that time thought such features were the attractive female ideal of their day.

Why so unlikely? (other, of course, than the fact that they may not appeal to you)

Aren't various "enhancing purposes" involved in the creation of almost every everything people make - and why assume that the sculptor of the above piece was trying (and then failing) to copy a model?

In the center of Florence, Italy, there is a statue by Michelangelo of "David" --one of the most admired statues in history. No one can know, of course, the specifics of what the Biblical character David looked like. The anatomy of the statue strikes us as it did viewers in Michelangelo's time as (male) beautiful. This work is no small part of the sculptor's reputation as one of history's greats. In that same Florence square, a stone's throwaway, is a fountain of Neptune, a fictional god of the sea, by Ammanati. Neptune is depicted by a male figure comparable in size to the
David. There has been a lot of negative criticism of the Neptune fountain. You might well agree that it is not very "good." The male figure is rather heavy-muscled and uninspiring. I wouldn't be surprised if it looks very much like the model Ammanati used. Notice that the subject, Neptune, is mythical so the sculptor could have made the statue look like whatever. . . Had he been able to use the same model Michelangelo did it is likely Ammanati would have gotten more credit as a sculptor than he has.

But could the boyish figure of Michelangelo's "David" have expressed the cruel, relentless power of a Neptune?

And if most viewers over the centuries have disliked the Ammananti fountain -- why hasn't it been moved away from the center of Florence in 500 years?

Perhaps because the casual, ignorant opinion of the tourist or man-in-the-street has never been a deciding factor.

This might explain why the central piazzas of historic Italian cities do not resemble an American theme park.

A solid standard of measurement was lost when verisimilitude (does it look like the subject?) was increasingly ignored or discarded. Nothing solid and objective has replaced it. Much of modem art is "decorative." We can all agree on that. But that concept is about as non-objective (in the eye of each beholder) as a term can be.

But when was precisely measured verisimilitude to a model (which is the only kind that can be considered objective) ever used as a standard?

And if “virtually every adult human is an expert on the human anatomy", why are so many adults (including the author) not concerned about the excessive size of "David"'s head and hands?

Is any modem art "fine" in the sense that term was used before the 19th Century? If someone in the art world tells you he has the answer to that question, don't be taken in. No judgmental standard exists here. And, the art professionals do not have some aesthetic judgment gift that you do not. That is the truth. How do I know? How do you prove a negative? How do you prove that something is not there? If it were there, couldn't we assume that really intelligent people with healthy senses would know it?.

I cannot do better here than to refer you to the person with apparently the highest I.Q. in the world, Marilyn vos Savant. She said, in the year 2000, that experts who extol the talent of what she calls impulse artists (her example: Picasso) will one day find themselves in the position of the entire adult community which was deluded into thinking that the emperor was not naked in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes."

What if sensitivity to the quality of art is learned through experience - just as it is to the quality of wine or coffee?

Some very intelligent people are interested in art, others in handicapping horses. and many are just interested in themselves.

So what can we conclude? I suggest that each one of us should have unabashed confidence in our own ability to appreciate art. This is not something learned at universities or from gallery owners or "art expert" writers. If you like what you see, say so

And yet, the author finishes his book by telling us:

If you found the writing easy to read, we can thank my concentration on English literature in college and my stint as an editor of a law journal"

So why is education and experience important in the ability to write, but not to draw, paint, or sculpt?


To summarize the rest, the answer to
"how to make art that lasts"
is to make it realistic enough to satisfy
"virtually every adult human who is an expert on human anatomy regardless of formal education"
, and to use subject matter of
"near universal appeal"
that will catch attention, while avoiding
"politics and social controversy"

This man-on-the-street kind of realism,and nonchalance towards subject matter and style, accounts quite well for the author's own work, especially the piece in the Palette and Chisel's own front yard, but it doesn't go very far towards distinguishing the kinds of thing that have been cherished, collected,and protected by people who didn't make it themselves.

(the only work in the Beckstrom art museum was made by Beckstrom himself, while no other museum has yet to collect him)

The author also fails to distinguish the visual difference between a live model and a photograph of one.

Apparently that difference is as unimportant to him as the difference between the "impulse art" of Picasso and everyone else, or the difference between a passport photo
and a portrait by Rembrandt.

Laredo Taft - Charles Mulligan - Albin Polasek

The Palette and Chisel has a long tradition of satirical humor,
and hopefully "Making Art" was written in that spirit.

But otherwise, it is willfully ignorant
of the great tradition our members have studied, taught, and practiced
as exemplified by the three sculptors shown above
who led the sculpture department at the Art Institute
from its beginning until the middle of the 20th Century.

(note: Taft wasn't actually a member of the Palette and Chisel,
but since it began in his studio in 1895,
he deserves some credit for our existence.)

In addition to his many monuments.
Taft also wrote a great deal about
the history and principles of sculpture
(hint: it's not about copying a model)
some of which can read here , here , here, and here .

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Exhibit: Kishio Takeda


These flowering trees
are so extravagent,
they seem like some kind of
benign alien life form
that has come to planet earth
to help humanity advance
to a higher level.

According to Wikipedia,
in Japan, cherry blossoms are:

"an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese cultural tradition that is often associated with Buddhistic influence, and which is embodied in the concept of mono no aware. The association of the cherry blossom with mono no aware dates back to 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality"

In his last exhibit
Kishio took us to a variety of
scenic places.

But this time,
the show feels like
a pilgrimage
in honor
of the cherry tree.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

East West

David Leffel, Andy Chan, Zhi Wei Tu

Mary Qian and Bo Zhang
had been bouncing around
the idea of having
an exhibition of local Chinese artists

Miguel Malagon

When Miguel Malagon
suggested the 40,000 square feet
that Murphy-Hill Gallery
has over in the
former Sears-Roebuck corporate headquarters
near Homan and Roosevelt

Mary Qian

Bo knew a group of artists who,
like him,
had studied and taught in China,
and ended up the Mid-west.

Calling themselves
the Oil Painting Society of Chinese American,
they have 15 members
most of whom teach art
in universities and community colleges
in Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin etc.

Mary Qian

While Andy Chan is at the center
of a group of traditional Chinese artists
the Chinese Artists’ Association of North America.

Bo Zhang

So the idea was
to combine those two groups,
plus some of the non-Chinese artists
whom Mary had gotten to know
in Chicage, especially from the Palette and Chisel

Bo Zhang

And finally this huge show,
came together
as the last art show
Murphy Hill Gallery
will have before their space
is taken for commercial development.

Andy Chan

Andy Chan

Andy Conklin

Helen Oh

Zhi Wei Tu

Zhi Wei Tu

Zhi Wei Tu

Clayton Beck III

Above are the members
of the Peoples Republic
of Dearborn Avenue
who participated.

Some other participants
are shown as follows:

Sherrie McGraw

Here are the non-Chinese
artists whom Mary picked
to represent
both Impressionist
and Academic styles

Sherrie McGraw

Matthew Almy
(of the Ravenswood Academy,
where many of our models also work)

Magdalena Almy

Magdalena Almy

David Leffel
(who comes to the P&C
from New York
one week a year
to teach a workshop)

David Leffel


Konstantin Maksimov (1913-1993)

One of the highlites
of the opening
was the arrival
of Moissei Liangleleben.

Konstantin Maksimov

Incredibly enough,
Moissei had once studied
with Konstantin Maksimov
who is to Impressionism in China
what St. Patrick is to Christianity in Ireland.

Konstantin Maksimov

Back in the 1950's,
the Soviet Union sent
Maksimov to teach a social-realist style
to an elite group of students in Beijing,
and many of the artists in this exhibit
were students of those students.

Konstantin Maksimov

Like all Soviet painters,
Maksimov's work is completely unknown
in this country.
(and unfortunately none of the above pieces
were included in this show!)

Li Hu

Li Hu
is a Professor of Art
in Oshkosh, Wisconsin,
and is President
of a group of oil painters
who were trained in that tradition.

Above is the kind of painting
that defines social realism

Li Hu

While here's one
that seems to define
contemporary art.
(i.e. -- I have no idea what's happening,
but it seems to be bad)

Li Hu

His quick studies are my favorite

Li Hu

Li Hu

Li Hu

Yan Shi Zhong

Here's another one of my favorites


Yan Shi Zhong

Victor Wang

Victor Wang seems to have adapted
to the contemporary artworld
better than many of the others.

Here's his website.

Victor Wang

Yingxue Zuo

Here's another one of my favorites.

Yingxue Zuo

Mary says that he's into German Expressionism.


Richard Lee

I wish he was showing more drawings like this one.

Dajiang Hu

I don't know where
this was painted,
but it feels like Wisconsin

Feng Xie

Feels a bit like Rembrandt,
but then
Rembrant's landscape drawings
feel a bit Chinese.

Li Lin Lee

I'm not sure
how this artist got included,
since he's not a member
of any of the three groups involved
and Mary's emphasis
was on realism in this exhibit.

But I'm glad he was
(and he does show his work
in a local gallery (Walsh )
that specializes in contemporary Asian)

Ruby Wang

There weren't very many
traditional ink or watercolor paintings
in this show.

This was one of my favorites.

Here's her web site.

Jialing Li

Chur Jialing Liu

Felicia King

Annie Liu

Left to right:

Yingxue Zuo, Zhiwei Tu, Mary Qian, Yan Shi Zhong, Annie Liu


This is the kind of show
that I wish
the Palette and Chisel
would begin to sponsor.

I.e. -- based on somebody's idea
of what ought to be seen,
rather than on whoever is a member.

(Especially since recently,
membership has been open
to everyone regardless of ability
to do anything other than pay the dues)