A comprehensive look at Betty Merken’s signature approach to Printmaking in her Seattle studio.
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Kykuit Japanese Garden Tour
On October 16th, members of the Japanese Art Society of America (JASA) toured the Japanese Garden at Kykuit, part of the Rockefeller Family Estate and the former country home of John D. Rockefeller, now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in Pocantico Hills, NY. The tour was hosted by JASA Board Member Cynthia Altman, Curator of the Kykuit collections.
The Garden was designed by Messieurs Ueda and Takahashi under the supervision of landscape architect William Wells Bosworth. Mr. Ueda and Mr. Takahashi trained at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in landscaping and architecture. “A brook with stone and mortar bed flows 2200 feet, re-circulates and catches overflow from the fountains and pools of Kykuit’s gardens. An estate road divides the garden into two sections. The lower portion, with a pond surrounded by flowering cherries, clusters of azaleas, pines and thread-leaf maples, is typical of a hill and pond garden. The upper section is more densely landscaped, and the brook and divergent paths form a stroll garden. Low spreading juniper and grasses cover the steep easterly bank. Shrubs and ornamental trees merge into the main lawns along the western border.1
The first Teahouse completed in 1909 (now called the Shrine) is of mahogany and originally had a thatched roof. The one large room can be divided into two sections with fusuma (sliding panels). The outer mahogany walls on three sides slide into pockets to reveal shoji (translucent latticed panels) covered in glass and silk. The shoji also slide open for viewing the surrounding gardens. In 1922 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. authorized the replacement of the thatched roof with an ornate copper roof.1
In the early 1960’s Nelson A. Rockefeller commissioned David Harris Engel to redesign the upper portion of the garden. Engel had studied in Kyoto in the 1950’s under Tansai Sano, a master landscape architect. The first Teahouse was moved and a new Teahouse was built on the site. The Teahouse was designed in the tradition of Sukiya-shoin style by the eminent Tokyo architect, Junzo Yoshimura (1908-1997) who had previously designed the “House in the Garden” at the Museum of Modern Art.1
Yoshihiro Terazono and Tomoko Urabe
During the tour, a demonstration of Tea was given by Tea Master Yoshihiro Terazono of the New York City Urasenke School with the expert assistance of Tomoko Urabe at the Garden Teahouse.
L. to R. Tomoko Urabe, Yoshihiro Terazono, Judy Blum and Cynthia Altman
The Japanese Garden at Pocantico Hills – Published by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Tarrytown, NY
Robert Kipniss Exhibition and Collection Addition
The painting, “Summer Morning V” (above left), by renowned artist Robert Kipniss is part of an exhibition at the Heckscher Museum in Huntington, Long Island. The show is called “Recent Acquisitions” and is comprised of 24 works acquired by the Museum since 2010. The show opens Saturday, August 17, and runs until November 24.
Also, two of Mr. Kipniss’es mezzotints and the two plates they were pulled from are now in the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Peri Schwartz: ‘Painting Is Like Breathing for Me.’
by John Seed Professor of Art and Art History, Mt. San Jacinto College
Huffpost Arts and Culture, August 7, 2013
Peri Schwartz, whose work is currently on view in the three-person exhibition “Dwellings” at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, is a formalist and a seeker of harmonies. Schwartz’s compositions get their rigor from the implied presence of a grid, which she offsets and punctuates with painterly gestures and harmonies of color and value. Her most recent oils — studio interiors and still lifes of translucent bottles and jars — have the expressive vitality of perfectly executed chamber music.
I recently interviewed Peri Schwartz and asked her about her background, her development, and her artistic values.
John Seed Interviews Peri Schwartz
Peri Schwartz: Photo by Donna Callighan
Peri, tell me something about your family background. Are you the first person in your family to take an interest in art?
Yes, the first in my immediate family but I have a lot of cousins that are artists.
My mother has a great eye and is one of my best critics. She also encouraged me from a very early age to pursue my passion. Her house is filled with beautifully framed drawings, paintings and prints from every stage in my development.
My cousin, Gary Schwartz, lives in Holland. He has written numerous important books on Rembrandt and other Dutch artists. One of the best memories I have was the first time I visited him and his family in the lovely town of Maarssen. He took me to the Rijksmuseum and pointed out Saenredam, an artist I had never heard of. Saenredam does magnificent paintings of church interiors and is an artist I frequently return to.
Maggie Painting, 1970, 23″ x 19″, oil on board
Tell me about your art education in Boston. What mentors made an impact on you?
Boston University’s School of Fine Arts was a very serious place and I was in bliss. Our training in drawing and painting was traditional and very rigorous. Joseph Ablow taught composition and it was my favorite class. He had studied with Albers at Yale and was brilliant in demonstrating how a painting is constructed. He introduced me to Morandi, an artist that continues to inspire me.
Sometimes BU could be a bit too traditional. I was fortunate to be at a summer program BU had at Tanglewood. There I studied with Robert D’Arista, a terrific painter and teacher from American University. Unlike the teachers at BU, he wanted us to work quickly and intuitively. It shook me up quite a bit and I did some of my best student work that summer.
Studio, 1975, 52″ x 44″, oil on canvas
You think a bit like Vermeer: you like to turn your studio into an entire world. Tell me about that tendency and how it evolved.
I have two very vivid recollections of using the studio as a subject. The first was when I was at BU. It was dusk and I was alone in the drawing studio. I saw the easels silhouetted against the windows and did a charcoal drawing. The second time was when I had my own studio as a graduate student at Queens College. It seemed to be the perfect subject with a mirror, stool with pad on it and other painting materials. In that painting are all the things I continue to use in my studio interiors.
Yes, I look at Vermeer a lot and am especially interested in how he used the architecture of the windows as verticals and diagonals. Often the proportion of the painting or wall hanging is echoing the dimensions of the canvas. I find it fascinating that Vermeer was a strong influence on Mondrian, whose paintings are like skeletons of the Vermeers.
Studio Self-Portrait, 1998, 68″ x 40″, oil on canvas
You have said that the “grid is not a restriction.” Can you expand on that?
I don’t begin with a grid, the grid emerges. For example, in my Bottles and Jars paintings, I randomly set up the bottles and jars on the table. In trying to find the middle of the composition I measure where that will be. From there I divide it again and this is how the grid comes into play. It’s a tool that helps me find the intervals. Often I will draw a line that is part of the grid, confident that it belongs where I drew it. As the painting progresses I inevitably move the bottles or jars and paint over part of the line. When the painting is done there are grid lines that weave in and out of the composition but are never uniform.
Studio XVIII, 2007, 56″ x 44″, oil on canvas
Many artists are afraid of rulers, but you aren’t. Do you have a background in drafting?
No, but at BU we were taught how to use a plumb line when drawing the model. As my work developed I became more and more interested in how things lined up on that horizontal or vertical line. Instead of using a pencil I began using rulers. When I started drawing corresponding lines on the tables, floor and walls in my compositions, I needed more rulers that were longer.
Bottles & Jars V, 2009, 20″ x 32″, oil on canvas
How do you know when a painting is finished?
For me, finishing a painting is a balancing act. I want to retain the freshness of the paint and at the same time get everything in the right position. The painting is usually finished when I can’t bear to move one more object.
Roy II, 2012, 28″ x 20″, monotype
Although you are mainly known for still life imagery, you have done some wonderful monotype portraits. Do you plan on doing more work with the figure?
Thank you. I spent many years doing self-portraits. The portraits that I do are from people I know whose faces are interesting to me. I work directly from life and it takes me several hours to do a drawing or print. That makes it difficult to get someone to commit to posing. I am sure I will do more portraits but the timing has to be right for me and my subject.
Studio #13, 2012, 30.5″ x 28″, charcoal and ink on mylar
In addition to your paintings, you create numerous black and white drawings: tell me about the importance of drawing to your artistic practice.
It has always been essential in my development to alternate between drawing and painting. There is a wonderful sense of rediscovering the materials after you have not used them for a while. I imagine drawing is like writing a poem or short story- the limitations lead to a certain kind of freedom.
Bottles & Jars XXI, 2011, 22″ x 26″, oil on canvas
What forces are pulling you towards abstraction in your work?
From the beginning of my art education, I have been interested in the compositions of great paintings, particularly Degas, Morandi and Diebenkorn. What interests me most is how they take a subject and use it to make a brilliant composition. I tend to seesaw back and forth with paintings that are more and then less abstract. Because working directly from life is so essential to me, I can’t imagine doing a painting or drawing where the viewer is left without a sense of real space. Being on that edge is where I want to be.
Studio XXXIV, 2013, 54″ x 44″, oil on canvas
What are your interests outside of art?
Listening to classical music, especially small ensembles, is vital to me.
I go to concerts frequently and aside from getting emotionally involved in the music, I like to watch how the musicians communicate with each other. When I am back at the studio, the relationships between my still life objects remind me of the communication I observed between the musicians.
If you could tell someone in a single sentence why you paint, what would that sentence say?
Painting is like breathing for me: I couldn’t live without it.
Topophilia- Ma and Ki
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Two interesting videos of Jean Gumpper recounting her recent experience during an artist residency in Death Valley last April.
Painting at 99, With No Compromises
Joshua Kristal for The New York Times
“The old masters are still alive after 400 years, and that’s what I want to be,” the artist Will Barnet, 99, says.
New York Times Article, October 26, 2010
By Robin Finn
Published: October 26, 2010
Propelled by a scholarship to the Art Students League, Will Barnet, an aspiring artist with a portfolio heavy on seascapes and family cat portraiture, left Boston for New York City in 1931 with $10 in his pocket. It was summer, it was hot, and besides the Depression-era garbage rotting in the streets, the air was ripe with raucous political protest. He rented a room for a $1 a night, gorged on cheap baked beans at the Automat and started sketching the forlorn and angry faces he saw on every corner. He was 19 and “radicalized” by possibility.
“I felt like Gary Cooper,” he recalled, “like a cowboy in a Western movie.” He roamed the city the way his idol, Honoré Daumier, had wandered through Paris; it was his muse. His style: stark, brooding social realism.
Eight decades later, hard of hearing but still tart of tongue, Mr. Barnet continues to paint every day — abstract forms, oddly hued and, as ever, deeply felt. His evolution as a modern American painter is on display this month in “Will Barnet and the Art Students League,” an exhibition that honors his centennial year and his influence on generations of artists, and includes works by renowned league students and colleagues like Louise Bourgeois and James Rosenquist.
“I’ve seen it all but I want to see more,” said Mr. Barnet, who lost the use of his left leg two years ago after a fall. “I have no opinion on what it means to be 99 except that it’s different from being 19. I used to work 8, 9, 10 hours a day,” he said. Now he paints three or four hours despite his inability to stand. “I didn’t compromise, ever,” he added. “The old masters are still alive after 400 years, and that’s what I want to be.”
Mr. Barnet, whose art career began with his painting self-portraits in his parents’ basement in Beverly, Mass., “according to the way Rembrandt worked, with the light coming over my left shoulder,” is a symbol of 20th-century American inimitability. He’s the guy who abstained when the establishment went gaga over abstract expressionism (“Most of those paintings felt like accidents”). But his major works from the 1950s to ‘70s — abstract and figurative, Byzantine and Indian Space — now sell for up to $400,000. He has had 80 one-man shows, the most recent this spring at the Alexandre Gallery, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney all have his work — usually in storage. (“They don’t show artists of my nature; the Whitney hasn’t shown my work in 30 years,” he said.)
“He took a very independent route, often in contrast to what was the popular or easy direction, but it was the art world that was contrary, not Will,” said Robert Kane, an expressionist colorist painter and former student of Mr. Barnet’s whose work is included in the retrospective. “There’s a quote of Picasso’s that is, to me, the secret of Will: ‘Some people make a red dot and it’s the sun; other people make the sun and it’s just a red dot.’ ”
A fan of Picasso, Ingres and Cezanne, Mr. Barnet wanted to be a modern American painter in a 20th-century American city: the league was a Mecca for modernists. Neither his parents’ indifference (his father was a machinist in a shoe factory) nor the suicide of Jules Pascin, who was to be his first teacher at the league in 1931, deterred him. “I had to be an artist and not sacrifice myself for anything but art,” he recalled.
Mr. Barnet knew no one in New York, but he arrived with a letter of introduction from a friend at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston who had an Armenian uncle in the city, the surrealist artist Arshile Gorky. Mr. Barnet hiked downtown to his studio unannounced. Standing on the sidewalk, he heard shouting. He knocked anyway. Turned out Mr. Gorky was infuriated because overnight, mice had destroyed a collage that included cheese among its media.
After calming down, Mr. Gorky took Mr. Barnet for an instructive stroll, at one point stopping outside a shoe shop with a fancifully painted business sign. “Young man,” he said, “there’s the future of art in America.” Mr. Barnet kept his mouth shut, but he has never been a fan of what would become known as Pop Art. The closest he came to being a commercial artist were the poster editions of his 1970s prints (“Woman Reading” is the best known); some editions sold for $300,000, but there were no sequels or variants.
Over the years, Mr. Barnet’s work morphed from social realism to a nuanced abstraction that used flat planes of color to convey emotion and depth; in his prime, he segued from pure abstraction to pure figuration and back. As a teacher, he elevated printmaking to an art form and emphasized to painters the difference between fine art and the transfer of object to canvas.
“I never wanted to repeat myself,” he says. “And that drove some art dealers crazy. I love moving on and finding fresh ways to use color and form. That’s been my excitement.”
He was appointed league printer in 1935 for $15 a week, and taught art there from 1942 to 1979 (Mark Rothko was his printmaking student in 1951). No canvas left his studio unless he had spent at least three years getting it absolutely, obsessively right.
“I had seen some of his paintings on the wall outside the classroom and thought, ‘Here’s someone who sees something no one else sees,’ ” said the urban muralist Knox Martin, whose work is also included in the exhibition, at the league’s gallery on West 57th Street. “He was the first human being I ever met who could communicate what art was.”
Mr. Barnet said he once painted Gypsy Rose Lee’s portrait for rent money, though he has forgotten what she paid: $20, or maybe $50. His 1934 lithograph “Cafeteria Scene” was purchased by the league for its permanent collection. Philip Alexandre, who owns the gallery that represents him, said that over the past decade Mr. Barnet and his work have begun to experience a pleasant art establishment phenomenon — “a reassessment of value,” noting: “Younger artists are discovering him, and that’s key.”
Mr. Barnet and his wife of 58 years, Elena, moved in 1982 from the Upper West Side to a duplex at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park that includes his first genuine studio.
It has a full wall of two-story windows facing north. The other walls display paintings, some 15 feet high, like the austere winter portrait of his and Elena’s daughter, Oona, and grandson, Will, on ice skates in Maine, circa 1980. The original pencil sketch for “Woman Reading” — a 1970 oil painting and later a popular poster — depicting Elena and their cat, Madame Butterfly, hangs in the living room. The reason for the bald spots on the walls: he lent several paintings to the league and to a show being presented at Montclair State University, where his son Peter teaches painting. Another son, Richard, is a sculptor who teaches at the league, and a third son, Todd, is a lawyer; all three were born during his 10-year marriage to Mary Sinclair, a painter.
Mr. Barnet mixes colors himself, and keeps a sheet of waxed paper over them to assure freshness. He sits beside his canvas in the wheeled office chair he relies on to get around the studio. A gigantic 150-year-old wooden easel looms behind him, unused; the wall, more accessible, now doubles as his easel. Hundreds of paintbrushes are guarded by a stuffed raven he refers to as “the early bird.” He cannot climb stairs anymore, so he sleeps on a daybed in the studio; when he leaves the apartment to go out to dinner or to a gallery, he begrudgingly uses the wheelchair parked in the hall.
Mortality is on his mind.
“Let me tell you a story,” he said, digging into a saucer of frozen Georgia pecans (his other favorite snack is 72 percent dark chocolate, which he discovered 50 years ago, way ahead of the curve). “My grandfather was 96 years old, and one foggy night in Beverly, Mass., he went walking and was hit and injured by a drunken driver.
“He was lying in bed dying of a fractured skull, and my father took me at the age of 6 to say goodbye to him. And I’ll never forget what he said: ‘Do you think it’s easy to die at the age of 96?’ ”