Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Place Under The Sun - Paintings of Walter Ufer & E. Martin Hennings at the DAM

How appropriate that the Denver Art Museum currently has an incredible exhibition showcasing the paintings of Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Taos Society of Artists in which both these men were members along with other favorite artists of mine; Sharp, Blumenschein, Couse, Dunton and Higgins.  
German- American artists, Ufer and Hennings were life long friends.  Both were among the hundreds of foreign students who attended Munich art academies between 1910 and 1915.   They first met in Chicago as aspiring young painters.  After Munich, they established their careers in New Mexico.
When Chicago and New York critics first saw the works of the Taos artists, they criticized them as being unrealistic and overly exaggerated.  They were not aware of what the light and landscape were like in northern New Mexico with its vivid colors, brilliant blue sky, earthen adobe architecture and Pueblo and Hispanic cultures.
Their Audience by Ufer (1919) is the first painting that grabbed my attention when we went into the gallery.  Ufer painted in the alla prima style. Wet-on-wet or alla prima (Italian, meaning at first attempt) is a painting technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previously administered layers of wet paint.  This technique forces the artist to work quickly.  It is interesting that Ufer did not make any sketches of his models first but rather put all his energy into the painting.     
I love the bold colors, the floral borders on the rebozas (shawls) and the gorgeous sky.     
Announcements by Hennings (1924).  He carefully planned his works by making several sketches, orchestrating its composition, the placement of color, the lighting...  Once completely designed, he goes to work on the canvas with his models.  Hennings painted in a German version of Art Noveau called Jugendstil, a style of art that is inspired by natural forms and structures in flowers, plants, trees and curved lines. Great bold colors against the late afternoon shadows on the mountain behind the men.  Hennings probably painted this as a response to the government's attempt to take over the Pueblo people's land and outlaw their ceremonies.
Ofreta para San Esquipula by Ufer (1916).  Soon after he arrived in Taos,  he began adding elements of the region's Indian and Hispanic culture into his landscapes. Above is the sanctuary of Chimayo, outside of Santa Fe.  The darker line where the adobe walls meet the earth makes the Sanctuary seems to have risen from the ground.
Her Daughter by Ufer (1917).    A portrait of the two women and the landscape shows great detail in their dress, the landscape and particularly the designs on the pots that the women carry on their heads, a bold statement that Ufer recognizes the pottery as works of art.  This is one of my favorites of his.
Going East by Ufer (1917).  This is one of the most important pieces that Ufer painted of a group of people making their annual pilgrimage to the sacred Blue Lake.  The sky is spectacular.  That afternoon lighting with the shadows really emphasizes a forward movement, a group on a mission to their pilgrimage.  Congress had just announced that they were declaring war on Germany.  This pilgrimage is symbolic of the US troops heading east to Europe.  In 1918, he later wrote, "Art is dead in Taos this year.  Nobody doing much. War is in the air."  Not only did the war effect his work, the Spanish Flu reached Taos that summer.
Hunger by Ufer (1919).  It was rare that Ufer would explain the symbolism in his art but he did for Hunger.  He wrote, "Has nothing to do with Indian life but means the world at large."  The title refers to the hunger caused by World War I, mentally, spiritually and physically.  This painting was awarded the first Altman prize at the National Academy of Design.
Luzanna and Her Sisters by Ufer (1920).  Being a plein air painter, this interior scene is very unusual.  Young sisters sitting in and around the window with a view through the window of the landscape with a wagon and horse.  Also, the wallpaper is very uncharacteristic of the area.  It's like looking through a peep hole into the life of these young girls.
Near the Waterhole by Ufer (1921).  I like the perspective that Ufer used in composing this painting, an elevated view with another figure that has a pot on her head in the lower right corner.  The way he painted the sand, rocks and sage brush makes them really come to life.
The Fiddler of Taos by Ufer (1921).  This fiddler with the one leg was well known to the Taos community.  The bold sky sets off the grim face of the fiddler as the two children peer over the wall.
Luncheon at Lone Locust by Ufer (1923).  He won his second Altman prize for this painting.  Interesting texture on the adobe wall with the shadows of the pergola.
Bob Abbott and His Assistant by Ufer (1935).   Ufer had diminished finances, a dependency on alcohol and emotional instability, his work began to suffer considerable. By 1924, his painting lacked the luster of his earlier works.   But in the winter of 1935, he did produce one of his greater works.  It is a sort of a self-portrait.  His car, like Ufer, had seen better days but with hope that it might run again. 
In New Mexico by Hennings (1917).  A conversation takes place with the woman in the doorway with the man on the far left, Frank Samora, his favorite model, handyman and honorary member of the Hennings's family.
By the Stream by Hennings (1917).  The riders and horses are set in a tranquil setting with the large cottonwood trees in the winter light.
A Friendly Encounter by Hennings (1922).  Magnificent Aspen trees are just glittering in the sun.
Through the Greesewood by Hennings (1922) is one of my favorites that truly captures the radiant landscape of New Mexico with the way the afternoon lighting illuminates the greesewood and how the mountain range has taken on a deep purple with the voluptuous winter sky above.  And then there are the Indians on their horses peacefully making their way through the brush.
The Twins by Hennings (1923).  He began painting local characters of the west, portraying them as larger-than-life figures.  Brothers Jake and George Baumgartner were a perfect example of "pioneers of the west".   This was a new direction that Hennings was taking in his paintings, a bolder less pastoral or romantic view of the southwest.
The Goat Herder by Hennings - 1925-1927.    The shapes of the goats are complimented by the rolling mountains behind them as the sheep herder looks on.  There is a certain softness and serenity to this scene.
Mexican Sheepherder by Hennings - 1925.  Magnificent use of back lighting with this large stature of a man with his shotgun cradled in his right arm.  His direct gaze seems to draw the viewer right into the painting.  
The Rabbit Hunt by Hennings (1925).  He selected a more modern group of men for his hunting scene, not hunters dressed in buckskin clothing bearing bows and arrows.    The rider is wearing a sweater and tie along with his traditional moccasins.  He preferred to portray contemporary life, not imagined scenes from the past.  Great composition from the Pinto's coloring, to the softness of the sagebrush to the striped blanket draped on the back of the one Indian.
The Rendezvous by Hennings - 1925.  Interesting on how the gnarly trees, nature, supersedes the Indian motif.  This particular painting reminds me of Ernest L Blumenschein's painting, Landscape with Indian Camp - 1920.  Both painting where the trees dominated the scene.
Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings in Paris, 1913.  
It is interesting that in this photo to see the woman in the background between the two men is dressed in a corseted outfit where the woman walking towards the men on Ufer's side is dressed in a loose fitting suit, an influence by Coco Chanel.  A sign of the times, things were changing.  Chanel was credited for liberating women from the constraints of the corseted silhouette and popularizing a sporty, casual chic attire. 

A Place Under the Sun is a magnificent exhibition!

A Place Under the Sun
Denver Art Museum
The exhibition ends on April 24, 2016.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A little Christmas Nostalgia

It has been a busy month and I was inspired by my friend (and Carter's very good friend), Paul Markow on how he posted some of his old family Holiday cards on his Facebook page that his father, also a great photographer like Paul, had created.  So I thought I would include a few of the ones that my Dad created when Carter and I were young.
The year was 1953 and this was the first house my parents built.  It was outside of Minneapolis in a deeply wooded area called Timberglade  built around a large pond.
A very cool, contemporary house with cork flooring.
 Carter was 3 and I had not entered the picture yet.
 Year 1954, I was a little over six months old.  I still have the frame to this butterfly chair along with another one on my patio.
 Skipping ahead to 1959.  It was a busy year.
I don't think Carter was in Cub Scouts very long, he got in a fight with the cub scout leader's son.  Pretty funny or at least Carter thought so.  Don't you just love my little spit curls.  This house was in Long Lake, outside of Minneapolis that had a lot of acreage that butted up to a big forest with streams that Carter and I would explore endlessly.
In 1962, we moved from Minneapolis to Scottsdale and the adventure began.  Riding more horses, camping and hiking in the desert.
 1966, I was 12 and Carter was 16, both of us going to Phoenix Country Day School.
One of my best years was 1967 when I got the best horse, a Quarter horse that was small but one of the fastest horses that I had ever rode.  She and I were inseparable.   

If Carter were here today, I could just hear him say, "Hey Rob, thanks for posting those dorky pictures of me."

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas full of precious memories, new and old.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A visit to the Textile Museum in Oaxaca

It is always a treat to visit the Textile Museum (Museo textile de Oaxaca) when I am in Oaxaca.  One never knows what great exhibitions will be on display.  I love the brick work in the courtyard, reminds me of a contemporary Mitla. 
The second floor gallery has a wonderful textile collection by Katharina Von Ark. Her life long project is called Historias de Ciudades, History of Cities.   She was terrified of the increasing urban sprawl of the 20th century and it is a common theme in many of her tapestries.  She visited various parts of the world such at Mexico, New York and the middle east where local artists joined her in creating these fabulous pieces.  At the age of 15, she created her first tapestry featuring her home town near Zurich, Switzerland.  In honor of her Historias de Ciudades, the Swiss government has sponsored a traveling show of this collection to be shown in Mexico and other countries.
She was a journalist and artist known for her travel writing and the restoration of the Maison du Prieure in Romainmotier, a national heritage site in Switzerland, where she lived for over 50 years until her death in 2013 at the age of 85.
It was her work in Romainmotier that inspired the piece above, Trenes que pasan...trenes que vuelan - Trains leaving, trains flying.
Nueva York en Romainmotier - 2002
The Abbey of Romainmotier was set into the cityscape of New York City.   There are sins and goodness in all cities.  The left bottom corner is the Oolala brothel with its twinkling lights not far from the beautiful Abbey.  The soaring buildings devour the sky and the sprawling city swallows up the small neighboring towns. The tree guarding the Abbey looks like an old fossil from another time.  Only the cars seem to be in slow motion, just plugging away just like the snail.
An elaborate piece on Lima, Peru.  The ladies that worked on this showed Lima as a city always on the move; people at the beach, cars on the ground, birds and planes in the air, all kinds of boats in the water, the sun illuminating the buildings and the windows reflecting the light.  With all this vitality with in the city, you will find a cemetery filled with crosses.  This little girl was fascinated with Lima, just as much as I was.
A close up of the houses on the hill.
Infinita Sed de Petroleo en el Desierto - Infinite thirst of Oil in the Desert - 2003.
There are some hints of civilization with the tents, camels and a mosque along with the big limousine probably owned by an Arab sheik. 
Perfect selection of fabrics and materials.
Cuidad Ordenada - An Ordinary City - 2005
A contrast to her other pieces, here is a city scene that is very structured and orderly, an ideal urban setting.  Housing shown in primary colors certainly reflects warmth and happiness.
Vuelan los Arboles - Flying Trees - 2012
This was a project that supported the migrant woman.  Notice how the women all have colorful outfits on where as the men are in black or darker colors.
Nos Volamos el Muro - I Flew the Wall - 2015 
Dedicated women worked on the piece which shows their small pueblo and everyday life.  At the top is the United States with its skyscrapers, flag and large airplane.  It hits on how families are divided when many had gone to the states in search for work.  The large fabric wall of green and tan represents the border.  With humor, "No cruzamos el muro, me vole el muro."  "I did not cross the wall, I flew the wall.
A small scene with the mother wondering when her son will return to his native land.
And the father asking when his son will return to see him....
Aldea de los Ninos - Aldea de los Papas - Village of the Children - Village of the Fathers 
A two sided tapestry.  This side is an imaginary village, extravagant, with buildings, trees and other objects floating above the clouds just like a big dream.  I think it is safe to say this side is the village of the children.
This side, the houses in the village take up the entire space, place suited more for the fathers.
Huamantla, Toda una Tradicion -  Huamantla is one of the Magical villages of Mexico in the state of Tlaxcala.  It is a land of Mestizo, Nahuatl, Otomi and Spanish heritage.  In 1528, Carlos V named this village, Pueblo de San Luis Huamantla.  It a pueblo of country people, who work hard.  Some who have left but have returned to live in peace.  Those who have stayed, have kept the spirit of the pueblo alive.
There is the miraculous image of the Virgin of Charity.  On August 14, there is a procession  in her honor.  The people of the pueblo carry mats decorated with flowers and colored sawdust through the streets.  This tradition is known as "la noche que nadie duerme - the night no one sleeps."  For thirty days after the procession, these artistic rugs can be viewed in the atrium of the Basilica of Charity.
A closeup of a bullfighter above the bullring.
What great texture on the horse in the corn field.
The fireworks above the basilica with its stained glass windows are spectacular.
Aldea del Corazon de Ouagadougou - A Village with Heart in Ouagadougou
This tapestry began over a visit during Christmas and New Year's Eve in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa.  A scene of an African village with houses, kitchens, buildings and palm trees.  A place full of warmth and happiness where its people and nature coexist in great harmony.
Love the jeep with the bundles of goods on top. 
Tenochititlan - Mexico - Tlateloco
For eight months, every Sunday, a group of women would meet to work on this large piece.  Some of the work was done in the house of Katrina's daughter where she lived in Mexico City.  On return visits, Katrina would bring back new material and fabrics.  
A busy city filled with cabs and buses, people, animals, historic buildings, skyscrapers, a
rainbow, clouds, mountians, a pyramid and roads. 
 Asking for justice and the truth on the killings that occurred on October 2.  "Never forget them."
 Such vivid colors and textures.
I was really intrigued by the sense of dimension that was achieved on the pyramid and the dramatic, somewhat eerie stalks of corn.

It is a wonderful exhibition and photos really do not due the tapestries justice.  You need to see these in person to fully appreciate the depth, texture and color that went into executing these creative pieces.  My last group that I took to Oaxaca last month were very impressed by this show.

The exhibition is on view through January of 2016.

Museo Textil de Oaxaca
Calle Hidalgo 917
Centro Historico