Judith Linhares writes about Marsden Hartley's painting Madawaska—Acadian Light-Heavy (1940).
Linhares observes: "The almond shaped eyes are outlined with light. This is a handsome face but the body is what Hartley wants me to focus on. His body in relationship to the frame of the painting leaves spaces that are small in relation to the mass of the figure... The paint is applied with directness and follows the contours of the form, adding to the man’s dramatic presence. Seeing version III of Acadian Light-Heavy at the new Whitney reminded me how you can know a great painting, but its presence will still surprise you... This great Marsden Hartley painting is not only a work of personal desire, it challenges social norms and contains mystery in the simplicity of its form. What is the place of the body in the imagination and what is its part in being human?"
Smith writes that "between early 1912 and late 1915... [Hartley] produced a stream of paintings that synthesized Cubism and other European modernisms, mixed in non-Western motifs and mysterious symbols and culminated in his lusty, elegiac German Officer paintings... As never before, this exhibition places Hartley squarely among the outlier mongrelizers of Cubism — like Chagall, Klee and Miró — who picked up early on Cubism, took only what was needed and repurposed it to an adamantly personal expression and local aesthetics. Hartley achieved this partly by incorporating forms of otherness, cultural and sexual... Hartley’s intoxication with Germany infuses this show. It first emerges in “Painting Number One” (1913), which he completed after meeting Kandinsky, the Russian avant-gardist, in Munich. Kandinsky’s visionary buoyancy took Hartley back to his beloved Maine mountains, albeit in disembodied form: a series of black, peaklike lines that climb the surface amid bursts of glowing color. As indebted to Kandinsky as the work may be, it is also more urgent and whole — and in its thin nervous brushwork more daring — than just about anything by the older artist."
Kherbek writes: "In these works, Hartley’s inclination towards symbolically-themed abstraction finds a concrete expression in the visual accoutrements of military insignia and national flags... From a painterly perspective, the works retain the expressionistic vibrancy of [Hartley's] Blau Reiter period, but bring a much tenser sense of colour and composition. The easy contemplativeness of his early works is subsumed by an ambivalence, even foreboding. In some ways they resemble Hartley’s Mexican landscapes and perhaps serve as a kind of preparation for them, a kind of psychogeography project avant la lettre. The personal narratives of love and loss are also profoundly realised. For paintings of medals and badges, they are supremely animated. Such disillusionment seems to have played a role in sending Hartley on the journeys of his later life, and the final room of the exhibition hints at his interest in indigenous American cultures as a possible source for the spiritual wisdom he sought."
Greenwald writes that the show is "drawn almost entirely from the museum’s holdings, displays over 100 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs that exhibition organizers say contain a search for 'American-ness.' ... 'American Landscape,' Sheeler’s iconic canvas, a highlight of this exhibition, is based on the Ford photographs. Here industrial silos, machinery, factory buildings and a smokestack are simplified into crisp geometric shapes while a cloudy sky and rippling river are soft-edged. The only figure in the painting is a tiny worker by the train tracks, easy to miss, making the active plant strangely quiet... Other scenes of an increasingly industrialized American landscape are Edward Hopper’s 'House by the Railroad,' 1925, Charles Burchfield’s gouache 'Railroad Gantry,' 1920, Louis Lozowick’s lithograph, 'Crane,' 1928, and Joseph Stella’s 'Factories,' 1918."
On the occasion of the exhibition Mexico: A Revolution in Art, 1910-1940 - on view at the Royal Academy, London through September 29, 2013 -Alan Riding writes about the influence of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) on painting and art both within and outside of Mexico.
Riding notes that: "For many Americans and northern Europeans ... Mexico’s main appeal was its sheer exoticism, the sense that beneath a thin veneer of westernism lay a country profoundly different from anything they had ever known. Here was a land peopled overwhelmingly by mestizos (people of mixed descent) and Indians, with dozens of pre-Columbian languages still spoken, syncretic religious beliefs and rituals reinforcing fatalism, with the dead seemingly more revered than the living... Yet, for all the fascination that foreign artists felt for Mexico between 1910 and 1940, their influence on the country was minimal. Forever outsiders, they took away far more than they brought. They were welcome to observe, to admire, even to participate, but never to belong. Rather, it was left to Mexico’s muralists and other artists to capture a country that was looking back in the hope of moving forward."
Smith writes: "By chance 'Legends' coincides with the Museum of Modern Art’s sweeping survey 'Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,' which traces the development of a largely geometric form of abstraction, mostly by European and Russian artists who often worked in closely related styles. In comparison the Whitney’s display might almost have been subtitled 'Inventing American Modernism, One Sensibility at a Time.' The artists here impress you as talented loners working toward diverse and much messier notions of modernity. To be sure, they take tips from European styles, but they also free themselves from such influences with highly personal responses to the sights and subjects specific to this country — the rawness of its landscapes, the tawdriness of its cities, as well as its folk art, social mores and racism. Sometimes they are working toward abstraction, sometimes not."
Altoon Sultan blogs about American paintings in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.
Sultan writes: "There is a strain in American painting that takes its essential character from the primitive, from a desire to grasp hold of things, to make them present and tangible. It's a reality that goes beyond the visual to the tactile... [I] was riveted by the colonial era artist John Durand's portrait. The color harmonies were beautiful, but it was the clarity of form that particularly interested me."
Beem writes: "Regarded as the province of vagabonds, prostitutes, witches and feral dogs, Dogtown is just the sort of place that fires the artist's imagination... Hartley's interpretation of Dogtown runs toward the Expressionist take on regionalism that defined his later work, the heaviness of both the Expressionist style and palette and of the Dogtown erratics worked out in bold, black outline. His drawings sketch the scruffy contours of the twisted and torqued landscape with particular attention to local landmarks such as the Whale's Jaw, a split pair of boulders that resemble the maw of a leviathan."
Maine Moderns: Art in Sequinland highlights the importance of Maine in the development of American Modernism. Beem notes that the "Modernists who passed through Seguinland include Max Weber, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Gaston Lachaise, and perhaps most importantly for the history of Maine art, Marguerite and William Zorach."
The Marin exhibition "focus[es] on his late work, paintings in which he translated the dynamic natural forces of Maine's bold coast into increasingly abstract compositions inspired by wind and water, waves, and sunlight."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.