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Showing posts from June, 2008

BORIS CHALIAPIN

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In a different country, in another era, Boris Chaliapin (1904-1979) would have been a "fine" artist and portrait painter, selling his paintings in art galleries. The son of Feodor Chaliapin, the great Russian opera singer, Boris was raised in a highly cultured environment. He received classical art training in Russia and Paris. He painted a series of portraits of his father and other luminaries from the world of classical music.



By the 1920s Chaliapin already had a considerable reputation as a portrait artist in Russia. But the market for classical painting was dwindling, and Chaliapin ended up exhibiting his work in the foyer of the London Covent Garden Theatre.





Like most born painters, Chaliapin learned to adapt to reality so that he could continue to create art. Making his way to the United States, he earned a living in New York City following the path of many 20th century artists with technical skill: he became an illustrator, painting more than 400 cover portraits for Ti…
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Paul. Classroom study in oil.
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LUNATICS AND BUREAUCRATS

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In 1985, Rembrandt's "Danae"-- surely one of the most beautiful paintings in the history of the world-- was attacked by a man who slashed the painting with a knife, then doused it with sulfuric acid.



As the New York Times reported, the acid turned Rembrandt's lovely colors into a "dark, bubbling, foul-smelling mass that trickled down to the bottom of the the frame and from there onto the floor."

In 1972, an unemployed geologist attacked Michelangelo's Pieta with a hammer, crying, "I am Jesus Christ — risen from the dead!" He knocked off the Virgin's arm at the elbow, broke off a chunk of her nose, and chipped her face.



Then there was the man who walked into an Amsterdam museum and repeatedly slashed a masterpiece by the painter Barnett Newman. The man spent 5 months in jail for his crime, then returned to the same museum and slashed another painting by the same artist worth about $12 million.

And let's not forget the time in 1975, when a f…
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Jenny
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JIMMY SWINNERTON AT THE DAWN OF COMIC STRIPS

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In the earliest days of comic strips, all kinds of strange personalities gravitated to the new field. Perhaps none was stranger than Jimmy Swinnerton (1875-1974).



Swinnerton ran away from home at age 14, traveling with a minstrel show as far as San Francisco. There he found work drawing borders around photographs for a local newspaper. Swinnerton's greatest talent seemed to be entertaining employees with impersonations of the newspaper's owner, William Randolph Hearst. One day, Hearst caught Swinnerton and was so amused that he took Swinnerton under his wing. The two became life long friends.

Swinnerton's supervisor scolded him not to get "too original" with his rectangles, but Hearst recognized that there was a better use for Swinnerton's talents. With Hearst's patient sponsorship, Swinnerton tried one project after another. By age 20, Swinnerton had developed into a successful newspaper staff artist: a lying, womanizing, gambling drunk who dressed in flas…
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Rajive. Watercolor on heavyweight craft paper.
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ARTISTS IN LOVE, part 14

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The poet Dante famously fell in love with Beatrice the first time he saw her, at age ten. He later wrote:At that very moment, and I speak the truth, the vital spirit, the one that dwells in the most secret chamber of the heart... spoke these words: Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur mihi. ("Behold, a deity stronger than I; who coming, shall rule over me.")Dante only met Beatrice once more before she died at a young age, yet he devoted most of his life to writing poetry in her honor. She was his inspiration for La Vita Nuova and he gave her a starring role in his epic masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, as the person who guides him to Paradise.


Dante and Beatrice at the gates of Paradise, by Dore

The artist Henry Darger (1892-1973) led an agonized childhood. Born in poverty and orphaned at an early age, he was sent away at age 12 to the Asylum for Feeble Minded Children in Lincoln Illinois, a brutal place where children were abused and mistreated. At age 16, he escaped t…
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Class demo. We were looking at making a quick, simple statement of a costumed figure with shape, value, color and composition.
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In February, the FBI seized the inventory of a Chicago art gallery accused of selling tens of millions of dollars worth of fake prints by Picasso, Miro, Dali and Chagall.


Photo by Richard Chapman / Chicago Sun Times

The copies looked exactly like the real thing. (Local newspapers reported, "Even the experts are amazed at how good the stuff is.")

Each print was sold with an impressive looking "certificate of authentication." These certificates made no difference to the appearance of the art, but they made a big difference to the customers, who apparently did not buy art for the way it looks.

Perhaps they were seeking the wrong kind of authenticity.

Certificates of authenticity also play a key role in the financial empire of marketing genius Thomas Kinkade, who claims to use "DNA technology" to authenticate his mass produced art.



Again, Kinkade's certificates don't affect the quality of the art (which is hilariously awful) but they do prop up the prices f…