Monday, September 28, 2009

K: Gustav Klimt

“I have the gift of neither the spoken nor the written word, especially if I have to say something about myself or my work. Whoever wants to know something about me -as an artist, the only notable thing- ought to look carefully at my pictures and try and see in them what I am and what I want to do." Gustav Klimt (

I was visiting the home of a friend of my brother. He wanted me to do a portrait of his wife and children for a Christmas present and was showing me some photographs to use as reference. I noticed that he and his wife had some old artwork and he showed me around. In his dining room, he had a Klimt painting. He almost dismissed it as we moved by, but I was stopped in my tracks.

That’s the effect this artist’s work has. It is so unique and powerful and distinctively his.

Gustav Klimt was born in 1862 in Baumgarten, near Vienna, Austria. His father was a gold engraver but unsuccessful in business so the family lived in poverty ( According to (which has a great multimedia experience) “from 1900 to 1918 Gustav Klimt dominated the art scene in the capital of the empire of Austro-Hungary.”

He attended the School of Arts and Crafts where his style was hyperrealistic and he learned many diverse skills and techniques. In 1899, he was commissioned to paint a mural for a rich industrialist. He painted “Shubert at the Piano.” Following that he was commissioned to decorate the Great Hall of the University where he presented “Philosophy” in 1900. Congress commissioned a poll where Klimt was accused of creating pornography in the images.

In response to this criticism, he painted “Goldfish” a painting where the main figure, a naked woman, dominates the canvas with her backside to the viewer. Apparently he intended to title this painting “to My Critics.”

At that time in Austria, all artists who wished to make a living belonged to the Cooperative Society of Artists, a very conservative organization. Klimt felt this society was keeping young artists from progressing and pulled away, forming The Secession. A poster of Pallas Athene, the Secession’s protectress, rendered in his now trademark style announced the first exhibition.

According to the website, “Klimt’s work exemplifies the encounter between the old art…and the new art of the XXth century. One of his greatest accomplishments was…the introduction of sexuality in art.”

Klimt was able to change and adjust his style to the times. He was even a successful landscape painter in an effort to fit into the Impressionist style.

I am inspired by his ability to go from a very literal artist to a very expressive one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

J: Jasper Johns

If you have never seen a sculpture or painting by Jasper Johns in person, you may have a tough time understanding the importance of his work. To view his art in the context of the Photoshop age and to judge it based on a 3” x 5” plate in an art book (or worse yet, a jpg on a webpage) would leave you wanting.

Take a trip to MoMA. That’s something that any artist or lover of art needs to do for its own reward.

When you have the ability to see a room full of Jasper Johns work—and then compare it to the original works of Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol—perhaps you can make some observations and judgments about the impact of his work.

I recently caught a video of the American Masters Series on Jasper Johns where he discussed his process and some of his most famous works. In particular he talked about creating the Balentine Beer Can sculpture and his Brushes in the Coffee Can bronze.

“There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists.” This quote by Johns is amazingly thought provoking. I am challenged by the inspiration for painting and the subject. When I attempt to paint abstractly, I struggle with putting my “ego” aside and allowing the image to come forth from within.

Perhaps further review of Johns work might inspire a direction. In particular, the work False Start comes to mind. I understand that at one time this was sold for $80 million dollars, making it the most expensive work sold by a living artist (at the time of sale). The balance of light and color and the use of text in the painting intrigues me. The strokes are bold, yet controlled.

Another work, Figure 8, also speaks to me. When I played lacrosse in college, my number was 8. I was a goalie at the time and I remember my coach thinking it was funny to put two big round targets in the middle of my shirt. My college coach was, next to my Dad, one of the most influential people in my life. So I keep that memory and joke near and dear to me. The curves of the number are so well crafted and formed by so many different lines and colors. It maintains the purity of the typography, while being as loose and abstract as possible. Your mind completes the work making it a very interactive painting.

An aside: I almost used the word “piece” here. I try to never use that word when describing a work of art. I think it is a trivialization of the effort and expense in personal terms required to make artistic expressions. I guess that goes back to hearing it used so often by marketing or sales people to universally puff up anything they are trying to sell. “This is a fabulous piece” or “This is a significant piece in the collection.” I don’t create or study just a portion (piece) of art. Usually I like to consider—or have considered—the whole work.

Suffice it to say that a virtual trip through the jpgs of Jasper Johns can provide great inspiration, but nothing compared to a walk through of the actual thing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I: Robert Indiana (born Robert Clark)

According to Wikipedia (
“Robert Indiana was born in New Castle, Indiana and later relocated to Indianapolis where he graduated from Arsenal Technical High School. He moved to New York City in 1954 and joined the pop art movement, using distinctive imagery drawing on commercial art approaches blended with existentialism, which gradually moved toward what Indiana calls "sculptural poems".

The image that most people would know him for is his LOVE image—the iconic graphic and sculpture with the two first letters stacked on the second two and the “O” slanted at an angle.

The work, The Four Winds (right) caught my eye. It uses an approach that is very common for information graphics by attaching symbols to words (in this case numbers). The winds blow in a mix, but don't loose thier identity. I like how he mirrors the two numbers to give dimension to this very flat image.

As I searched the web for images, I found a very distinctive style that made me think of the later cutout paper works of Matisse. The image at the left was a costume design for Lillian Russell that would make an incredible poster. The colors are so vivid, yet simple.
Indiana’s work addresses social and political issues of his time in a very graphical way. A twist on his LOVE theme was used to develop a tee-shirt for the Obama campaign where he configured the word HOPE in a similar fashion.