Category Archives: Painting

Christina’s Andrew, 1917-2009

Andrew Wyeth was the first real artist I found for myself. I had Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Rafael, and the like thrust on me either at school or at home (my father disliked art but thought a “rounded education” meant I ought at least to be able to recognize a renowned masterpiece when I saw one) but Wyeth I found for myself when an English teacher made a passing reference to “Christina’s World” as a painting done by an artist who lived part of the year in Maine. I lived in New Hampshire, as un- if not anti-artistic a state as exists. Mississippi thinks more of artists than New Hampshire and Maine where they were considered flakes, bums, drug addicts, and wastrels dodging a decent day’s work. The idea that one of these despised ones had actually chosen to live surrounded by the people who despised him was fascinating. I went to the local library and looked him up.

christinas_worldThere was a full-color, two-page repro of “Christina’s World” in an art book and I spread it in front of me on the empty library table and stared at it for a long time. I think I must have been expecting a Norman Rockwell-ish sentimentality but there was nothing sentimental about Christina. A cripple, she made her way around her run-down farm and dilapidated house by pulling herself along with her hands, her useless legs dragging behind her.

She was 55 at the time, an aging recluse who stubbornly refused any kind of aid, glorying in her pain and privation as if it somehow proved her worth. The picture Wyeth painted was generally considered to show her courage, determination, and independence. It doesn’t really, at least it doesn’t show those things any more than it shows her overweaning pride, her satisfaction in playing victim, or her vicious puritanical streak. All it shows is, as the picture title says, her world – as much of her hardscrabble farm as her strong if scrawny arms could get her across and then back to her house again in a single day.

It is – and was then – an extraordinary picture to me precisely because it looked unflinchingly at Christine yet made no judgments about her or her world except for the most important one: how limited they were. Christine’s world was the world of her farm, a world to which she was content to be chained, modern contrivances like wheelchairs be damned. It is the bleak, restricted world of people who live bleak and restricted lives and don’t see any point to changing them. Many assumed Wyeth admired them, but if so why aren’t they fleshed out, their joys lit next door to their fears, their hopes as much a part of the picture as their despair?

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Jolie Madonna, Children at Your Feet

I like art.


I’ve been to museums…several times. More than once anyway. I like Rembrant





and Leroy Neiman


I don’t have any trouble understanding any of them. But sometimes I run across something that’s just…baffling. This is one of them.

(Blessed Art Thou by Kate Kretz)

Can somebody help me out here? Here’s a bit of the artist’s description in case you need help (it didn’t help me).

This painting addresses the celebrity worship cycle.

The what? Continue reading

Bush Admin Endangers 1000-yr-old Paintings for Energy Corp

Further proof, if you needed it, that corporations don’t give a damn about anything except the bottom line.The Bill Barrett Corporation, a Denver gas exploration and development company, wants to set off 5000 explosions in an attempt to find ‘images of natural gas’ under Nine Mile Canyon in Price, Utah. The inconvenient fact that Nine Mile Canyon happens to contain caves with 1000-year-old Anasazi drawings on its walls like these–

–is of no importance for them. But it is to Blaine Miller.

PRICE, Utah – Blaine Miller, a quiet, slow-talking 57-year-old archaeologist, has made a career of studying the haunting scenes of net-wielding hunters and sinuous horned snakes on the smooth rock faces of Nine Mile Canyon near here. His colleagues consider him a leading expert on the 400- to 1,500-year-old images etched and daubed on the canyon walls. But Mr. Miller’s bosses at the Bureau of Land Management barred him from evaluating recent proposals for natural gas exploration around the canyon after a gas company executive complained about his work.Mr. Miller said he had sought more stringent protections for the rock art than the government eventually required. His bosses said he had the appearance of a conflict of interest.

‘Conflict of interest’. Right. His interest in preserving an irreplaceable archeological site ‘conflicted’ with Barrett’s interest in blowing it up to–maybe; they’re just ‘exploring’–make a buck.

Last July, the manager of the Price field office of the Bureau of Land Management sent out a memorandum saying that the evaluation of an energy exploration proposal for Nine Mine Canyon by the Bill Barrett Corporation, a Denver gas exploration and development concern, was its “No. 1 priority.”

Mr. Miller was not allowed to participate in the seismic evaluation after his work on an earlier Barrett project was called into question. The Price office of the agency, where Mr. Miller has worked for two decades, is divided over his treatment; outside archeologists are concerned. Kevin Jones, Utah’s state archaeologist, said in an interview: “If the person who knows the most is taken off the project, it sends the message that perhaps he knew too much. Perhaps they didn’t want to hear what he had to say.”Duane Zavadil, Barrett’s manager of government and regulatory affairs, said Mr. Miller had been an obstructionist, overestimating the impact that the company’s proposals would have on the art, which the government is required by law to protect. Mr. Zavadil said the art, in places, had been “highly compromised from its original condition” by vandals long before Barrett arrived. He said Barrett had already taken steps to protect it, for example suppressing the dust on the dirt road through the canyon.

“I was uncomfortable with not only his performance but his attitude, his opinion about oil and gas,” Mr. Zavadil said. “It was very clear what his opinion was and that he was deeply, personally interested in those resources and really didn’t have any objectivity.”

Ah, yes–‘objectivity’. Mr Miller wasn’t willing to risk the destruction of ancient Native American art that belongs to all of us for the sake of furthering private corporate profits belonging only to Mr Barrett, so Mr Miller is therefore ‘not objective’.

Don’t you just love the way these guys define everything they want, no matter how destructive or venal, as an ‘objective good’ and everything that gets in the way of their profits as ‘non-objectivity’?

Miller is doing the job he was supposedly hired to do.

Mr. Miller’s employer, the Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the Interior Department, is charged with balancing the need to exploit energy and mineral resources against the need to preserve cultural and environmental bounties. The bureau’s approximately 200 archaeologists must inventory and decide how to protect cultural resources. They also assess whether a site merits inclusion on the federal government’s National Register of Historic Places. Nine Mile Canyon’s archaeological complex is a candidate for this designation.

Oops. Once the canyon is on the register, which it inevitably will be, resource exploitation will be off the table. Barrett is engaging in a simple swindle, using the political power he can buy for a song in an ultra-conservative state like Utah to sneak in under the wire and do what he knows he will soon be forbidden to do: blow the place up for the natural gas he thinks may be under it. There is, after all, a lot of money at stake.

Barrett’s financial appraisal of the area’s gas reserves, whose initial development will cost it an estimated $80 million by the end of this year, suggests there are 50 billion to 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas in the 57,500-acre project area. In April, Barrett registered a $172 million initial pubic stock offering; the more proven gas reserves a company has, the higher the value investors are likely to assign to it.

With that much loot hanging in the air, the BA took the case over in March.

Official interest in Barrett’s project has been palpable. In March, a top official in the Washington office of minerals, realty and resource protection inspected the site. A bureau spokeswoman said that the inquiry into Mr. Miller’s possible conflict of interest was largely handled in Washington.An Interior Department spokeswoman, Tina Kreisher, said the agency could not comment on the specifics of the case. But a department ethics official said that if a government employee or a close relative helped run such an organization, the employee’s work should not involve issues of concern to the outside organization without special dispensation.

The ethics inquiry began in June 2003 after the field office rejected an environmental assessment of Barrett’s first proposal for drilling seven wells.

The explanations for the rejection vary. Some bureau employees, who would not speak on the record for fear of retaliation, criticized the Barrett environmental document’s overall quality.

Patrick Gubbins, the bureau office manager, said, “There was a myriad of reasons that I didn’t feel comfortable going forward with it.” (emphasis added)

Note that ‘Washington’ was only interested in Barrett’s accusation that Miller had a ‘conflict of interest’, not in the bureau office’s accusation that Bartlett’s environmental ‘study’ was seriously flawed. They were apparently not concerned about that.

Once again the Bush Admin proves where its priorities are:


Abu Ghraib Painting Provokes Violence

In America we tend to honor art more in theory than in fact. It is, we think, a fine-sounding idea, but faced with the reality we usually turn to the NASCAR channel and pop a beer. We like art that’s distant from our own reality, either geographically or temporally–‘100 years and 1000 miles away’ is more or less our rule of thumb for ‘acceptable’ art. The term ‘contemporary art’, on the other hand, seems to carry an image of combined difficulty and insult. While we don’t seem to be able to fathom how it could be that van Gogh only sold a single painting in his lifetime, we think Robert Mapplethorpe should be strung up by the heels and drawn-and-quartered for daring to print ‘lewd’ images and De Kooning should have been put in a Rest Home with bars on the windows and guards on the doors because he was obviously ‘crazy’.

Occasionally, though we generally ignore most art no matter where it came from or how old it is, some piece of work comes along that really gets our juices flowing, either in a good way–as in the response to the Assassins revival–or in a bad, as in this little episode in San Francisco:

The furor began on May 16 when Colwell, an East Bay artist, made an addition to his monthlong showing at Haigh’s gallery on Powell Street. Angered by the pictures he saw of Iraqi prisoners being abused, he created a black and white painting depicting three hooded and naked men undergoing electric shock torture by American soldiers. Colwell, who took down his paintings Saturday, declined to comment.Two days after the painting went up, Haigh arrived at her gallery to find broken glass, eggs and trash strewn outside her storefront. Haigh also began receiving the first of about 200 angry voicemails, e-mails and death threats.

A week ago, a man walked into the gallery and spit in Haigh’s face. On Tuesday, Haigh decided to temporarily close the gallery and began to consider giving up on her dream of owning an art gallery. Just two days later, another man knocked on the door of the gallery and then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose and causing a concussion.

Art critics.

That this is deplorable goes without saying. That it was likely Freepers or their sympathizers is a good bet (SF is a main Freeper stomping ground). That’s it’s symptomatic of a deep American..well, let’s be kind and call it ‘ambivalence’..toward art in general and contemporary art in particular and political art most especially is a reasonable conclusion given the ease with which Jesse Helms cut the NEA budget and the extraordinary difficulty arts organizations in this country have just surviving. What is surprising, in a way, is that a painting hanging in an obscure gallery could cause such a furor in this age of LCD ‘culture’.

Maybe that’s a good sign, along with Avenue Q‘s Tony win as Best Musical. If a political painting can get a gallery owner beaten up and an adult puppet show with scathing political satire can win a pretigious award, then maybe art isn’t as dead in America as everybody thought. (Assassins won, too–in every category for which it was nominated.) Poor Lori, who thought it would be fun to run an art gallery, didn’t know how dangerous art can be to your health. She, like the rest of us, was used to art being considered a harmless diversion for the 5% of the population that *wrinkling their nose* ‘likes that sort of thing’.

I’m sorry Lori had to pay the price for my learning but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that somewhere deep inside me there was an ecstatic chill I haven’t felt in a long time:

YES! Art still has POWER!

How could I have doubted it?

(Thanks to Charles Dodgson at Through the Looking Glass for the tip)