Sunday, August 30, 2015

Journey To The Son

Dick Waterman's portrait of Eddie "Son" House, 
in the early 1960's

GEVA Theatre:  Here in Rochester, New York, an unusual event has taken on a festival atmosphere and it centers on a musical phenomenon called "the blues" and a particular exponent of this musical genre and that was the guitarist and vocalist Eddie "Son" House ( 1902 - 1988 ).  This was one of those rare moments that was years in the making - an event that was part music history, part theatre, part concert, and part exhibition.  I went for the music and stayed for the exhibition.

The musical part of this festival is a homage to the legendary blues master Son House, and on the night I attended, John Hammond, Jr. was on stage giving the audience an encyclopedia of blues songs and riffs on his guitars and harmonica.  He was stellar, and John Hammond, Jr. is no spring chicken, he has been around the block and the program for the evening mentioned the 4000 performances he has given since starting his career back when Son House was re-discovered.

GEVA Theatre had a condensed history of Son House

Son House came to live in Rochester in the 1940's, and he was one of thousands leaving the south in hopes of finding jobs and better odds in life.  There were benefits like good schools and an active church life, perhaps less stress and room for advancement.  Son House was a blues musician, but more than that - he was there at the beginning of this musical movement, then went into obscurity for years, and was re-discovered by a trio of guys who were bent on bringing blues music to a wider ( and more hip ) audience.

Dick Waterman was on hand Saturday evening to recall stories about his role in not only finding Son House living in an apartment building in the Corn Hill section of Rochester, but also about getting the man a guitar, and taking him out on the road to sing his songs and tell his truth.

It wasn't long after Waterman had connected with Son House in 1964, that he became the musicians' manager, and once they went out on the road to play gigs, people like me were shocked and surprised to learn that such a talent had been dormant for so many years.  I heard Son House play and sing outside of Bryn Mawr in 1965 and later that year he came to play a concert at my parent's house in Jericho, Long Island, at the request of my father, Arthur Singer.  My father was a jazz and blues collector, and we witnessed the rebirth of the blues.  We had Son House recordings from a period of time in the early 20th century when people like Samuel Charters made field recordings of the blues singers down in the Mississippi Delta region.  Son House would rise again.

In the center, Son House sings the blues
in Jericho, New York
I am seated at the right - winter 1966

Dick Waterman's photos were taken along the way at recording sessions for Columbia, and a festivals and dates around the northeast like the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.  Eddie "Son" House was a handsome, thin man, who ordinarily was very quiet, some would say shy, but not when he got his guitar on and his voice up to speed.  He had a slide guitar technique when paired with his National Steel guitar which would command your attention.  He was the real deal.

Dick Waterman had an exhibition of select photos at GEVA Theatre in Rochester, N.Y.
Here is Son House with the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, circa 1965

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

You Are Now Experiencing Perception

The disillusionment of dreams by Bradley Butler
Geisel Gallery in the new Legacy Tower
former headquarters of Bausch & Lomb in Rochester, NY

“We dream, we wake on a cold hillside, we pursue the dream again. In the beginning was the dream, and the work of disenchantment never ends.”
― Kim Stanley RobinsonIcehenge

All points bulletin for sentient beings:  You are now experiencing perception.  Just think of all the forces that have to come together in just the right way for you to even read this page!  We don't even know the half of it - but we will gain some clues from science and medicine along the way - and it will still be a mystery.  The point is we take perception for granted - and we are reminded of all this by Bradley Butler in his new show of paintings at The Geisel Gallery in the newly named Legacy Tower in downtown Rochester, NY.

a poetic fragment without a credit line
helps set the stage for this show

This is your chance to see a body of artwork that is all of one piece - each of the twenty-five or more works support one another and this represents a moment in a young artist's career when he can put together a show without fear, or having to fit into someone else's categories.  That is a very good thing for Bradley Butler, because categories will not do justice to this artwork - which is too poetic to fit neatly into a box anyhow.

Contemplating Alternate Realities, painting on canvas, 2014
Bradley Butler

Brad was one of our gifted students in a recent graduate painting program at R.I.T.  I had the pleasure of seeing his painting begin to evolve from something more quotidian to a more abstract and lyrical approach to the application of his rather somber colors.  But Brad has a way with these few colors that cranks up the mystery and emotions that go along with it, and a viewer can go and get lost in this work.

"Unraveled and Dislodged "
by Bradley Butler

Brad's paintings range from the intimate in scale to something a little larger and most of these paintings were made in the last two years.  The colors can remind one of the ocean ( in rough weather ) and I see traces of Turner's sea battles in the lyrical approach to his compositions.  Sometimes Brad can lapse into a more representational mode where you can see skeins of wool unraveling or a whale surfacing, but these are interesting metaphors to employ, and they work like hooks in a pop song - they keep you coming back to look at them.

I particularly like the allusions to floating and such that these poetic paintings seem to conjure up.  I would say on the whole this is a very satisfying show to visit, and you may want to come back for more.

"The disillusionment of dreams...
Bradley Butler
August 5 - 29th, 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Round Up, My Grand Tour, Part Six

Albert Paley's "Epoch"
Washington, D.C.

Across the street from The Smithsonian American Museum of Art I saw large scale sculpture by Albert Paley, but I had a difficult time finding a name plate or any description of the piece, until I went online to identify it.  On another corner I found an equally large work by Roy Lichtenstein, from his series of art deco heads.  Both sculptures have character and command attention.

Roy Lichtenstein "Modern Head"

After viewing the exhibition of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, I went down the hall for a little look at the collection of American art, which includes a large room of folk art featuring a prominent installation titled: " The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation's Millennium General Assembly" by James Hampton.  The work took him nearly fourteen years to assemble in his garage and it highlights his attempt to express his faith and determination through furniture and other objects covered in foil and augmented with lightbulbs all of which signify his deep religious ideals.

Installation by James Hampton
at The Smithsonian American Museum of Art

The differentiation of folk art from mainstream contemporary art has become tenuous.  The high regard we hold for installations today in galleries and museums by artists like James Hampton seems to incorporate ideals that are associated with fine folk art and a kind of obsessive focus on aspects that bring it close to high baroque.  

On my way back to Baltimore, I made it my business to stop and see The Walters Collection in the Walters Art Museum which was just downstairs from my hotel - how convenient was that!  Even though I had been in Baltimore a few times, this was a well kept secret, and so early one day I walked in and I was so surprised!  The Walters Collection was started in the late 1800's by William Walters and his son, Henry who had built a fortune in the distillery business.  They amassed a collection that looks like a miniature Metropolitan Museum of Art - an encyclopedia of works that bring the world's cultures into focus from armor, to paintings, from stain glass to portraiture.

From my hotel I could see the Walters Art Museum
lower left corner, Baltimore, MD

Upstairs  at the Walters Collection I found an interesting assortment of French paintings including a wonderful Dominique Ingres Odalisque and a version of Oedipus and the Sphinx.  This is a kind of classical figuration that I grew up with when I was an art student years ago, but I still am interested in this even though my artwork is light-years away.  Great painting holds my attention, and Ingres is terrific here.

Dominique Ingres
Early version of Oedipus and the Sphinx
at the Walters Art Museum
Baltimore, MD

An interesting facet of The Walters Art Museum ( aside from the fact that entrance to the museum is free ) is that they have a window on a room where there is a conservator at work restoring old paintings and other artifacts.  You get to see the tools of the trade and that is part of their educational mission.

Conservator's room at The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum includes some of the grand volumes that were part of their book collection and it seems that there is also a large amount space set aside for Italian painting,
and for the Islamic arts and even a sampling of Asian art.

An illustrated book on anatomy in the Walters Collection

At the moment I am reading Sue Roe's new book on Montmartre, so I was right in tune with a wonderful little Manet painting that portrays a bit of Parisian cafe life.  Quickly painted ( or at least that is the impression it gives ) we get a whole bit of culture in just a few square inches of canvas, another wonderful find at The Walters Art Museum.

Manet The Walters Art Museum
Baltimore, MD

On the way back to Rochester, we took a detour through West Virginia, and made a stop at Milton, to watch the glass blowers at work in the Blenko plant.  They have been in business making glass containers, and such since 1893.  This was a good opportunity to slow down and watch the artisans at work - and their timing was just like choreography.  The teams knew what they had to do, they were well practiced, and it was educational as well as entertaining.

Glass Blowers at work making mold made containers
in Milton, West Virginia

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Salute To Baltimore, Grand Tour Part Five

George Washington Monument in Baltimore, MD

Against a backdrop of racial tension earlier this year, I planned to arrive in Baltimore for the BRIDGES exhibition and conference and found a convenient place to stay in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood.  I loved walking around Baltimore's Washington Monument ( designed by the same people who created the Washington Monument in D.C. ) and I also found some surprises including great wall murals and the fascinating Walters Art Museum just across the street from my hotel.

One of many wall murals I found walking in Baltimore

I salute Baltimore for the strength of their cultural institutions and the access people have to their museums.  The Baltimore Art Museum and the Walters do not charge a visitor to see their collections.  Since I was last in the city three years ago, there is a new contemporary art wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and anyone visiting will want to see that and the new arrangement of the Cone Collection.

Henri Matisse: "The Yellow Dress"
oil on canvas, 1929

In the early 20th century, the Cone sisters ( Clara, and Annabelle ) bought Matisse paintings by the yard but they were very discerning in their choices.  Two of my favorites were hanging including "The Yellow Dress" from 1929, and a later painting "Pink Nude" from 1935 just before WWll.  Both paintings have the characteristic Matisse fluidity of brushwork, and the simplification of essential form and color that he is known for.  If you want to check more deeply into the life and work of Matisse, I suggest this link to a new site devoted to the artist: <>


Henri Matisse, Pink Nude, 1935

 The Baltimore Museum of Art has a wide range of art on view going back into history.  I found a remarkable Botticelli and several other masterworks on view in the upper floor, and I was pleased that the galleries were not crowded with people like the National Gallery in Washington when I visited earlier this month.  The Botticelli had the most ornate frame for a round painting on wood, and it featured a Madonna, and children  ( his children all seem to come from the same family - maybe he used one as a model for all ) .

Botticelli  at Baltimore Museum of Art

There were so many new finds in the Baltimore Museum of Art, I wanted to see it all, but I came for the contemporary art and so I had to move on.  I really enjoyed seeing  the famous little dancer from Degas, and also an absolutely terrific Paul Cezanne painting of Mount St. Victoire from Bibemus Quarry with its gorgeous color and structure - this painting is so rewarding to see.

Degas ( The Little 14 year old Dancer ) , circa 1881

Paul Cezanne's " Mt. St. Victoire from Bibemus Quarry "

In the new section of the museum, they had the winners of the Sondheim Prize on view and the permanent show of contemporary art had representative examples of minimalist art including paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, and Frank Stella.  In the entry I saw a trio of works including an austere painting by Elizabeth Murray ( a painter I met when she came to Rochester, to speak to my class ) and also works by Yayoi Kusama, and a floor sculpture by Carl Andre.

Left to right: Kusama, Andre, and Murray

Walking home I found many wall murals and art in the open spaces that really creates a wonderful destination for a visitor like me.  I had the benefit of a beautiful day to walk down North Charles Street, and I am really glad I made it to Baltimore this summer.  In my final post for the Grand Tour, I will review my new find: The Walters Art Museum, I can't wait..

Outside of the railway station
on North Charles Street, in Baltimore

Thursday, August 13, 2015

BRIDGES in Baltimore, Grand Tour Part Four

Washington Monument in the Mt. Vernon section of Baltimore, MD

I drove into Baltimore to participate in BRIDGES, an international conference about Art & Mathematics.  Prior to our arrival, the art on view ( including two of my recent works ) was being exhibited at Towson University just north of the city.  Taking part in the proceedings, I went in to learn more about this interesting confluence of mathematical knowledge as it applies to visual art.  There are certainly landmarks in this genre for me, including Albrecht Durer's print Melancholia,  M.C. Escher's art, and more recently Sol Lewitt, who is one of my favorite contemporary artists.

Artwork at BRIDGES including
my prints - Fireworks and  Response
at the center

When I first arrived at the conference they were still unpacking the art, and I found my two works still sitting on the floor.  They were among the larger works in the show and since we were in the Law School of the University of Baltimore, they were not equipped to give a show of visual art a proper venue, so visitors negotiated around tables filled with works of art on small easels.

Stellated geometric model

The BRIDGES conference and art exhibition engages artists and mathematicians to different degrees.  Both art and math rely on different kinds of analysis for their success - in the visual arts it is traditionally more intuitive and mathematics is more logical ( thus provable ).  For visual artists the proof is in the painting or sculpture and the path it takes to make a work of art is more internal and subjective.  Math strives for objectivity - something even eternal - especially if you consider Einstein and his equation E = mc^2.

Reza Sarhangi's Kokabi Stars
Tiles, 2015

I try to bring math and art together in my artwork and I know it is a hard sell for some people - but wait - there is a lot of beauty found in the functions of mathematics - consider the symmetry of a flower, or the ripples in a pond ( a physical effect governed by mathematical rules ).  I come at a study of math through my love of nature, and the path that leads me is influenced by the process of using a computer - a process that is applied mathematics for visualization.

At the BRIDGES site in the Law School, there were many rooms set aside where you could sit and get a lesson in the structures of tiles, or the use of mathematical functions to create forms that would then materialize through the use of 3D printing techniques.  In the BRIDGES exhibition over a hundred artists were represented and many of the artworks were about some form of symmetry.

Art by Jean Constant
Cayley Cubic, mixed media on canvas

I enjoyed talking with Jean Constant, an artist who employs mathematics in a similar way to my experiments over the past ten years.  We are both discovering form, and the paths towards building new and unexpected shapes which we can call algebraic or implicit surfaces ( see the image above ).

In the exhibition I also found a image that reminded me of my early explorations using mathematics to determine 3 dimensional form, and it was a collaborative piece by Roice Nelson and Henry Segerman ( see below ).

Roice Nelson and Henry Segerman
Hyperbolic Catacombs
Digital Print

Maybe for the next conference the organizers could strive for a better balance in the presentations.  I realize that a goal for visual artists is in their exhibitions, and the goal for mathematicians is the publishing of their papers - all of which requires study and practice.  You can not be complacent if you expect to get anything out of this mixture of art and math, you can't be passive, you have to actively engage - or  otherwise the art just looks like overly detailed handiwork.  This artwork reveals itself slowly, it is deep and there are many layers with which to engage.

Baltimore monuments

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Falling For Fallingwater, The Grand Tour Continues...

by Frank Lloyd Wright
in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania

Rhododendrons were dripping with moisture as we rounded the bend toward the visitor center in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.  We were going to see the Frank Lloyd Wright house known round the world as Fallingwater.  Under our umbrellas as we walk up the gravel driveway, we hope for some sunshine to dry us out as we wait for our tour to start.  It is a slow day and there will only be about 70 groups of about a dozen people going into the house today; we are tour number 15.  While we wait, I look over an exhibition of gifts that the Kaufmann family ( who commissioned the Frank Lloyd Wright design ) had received and read about their history.  The Kaufmann family owned department stores and in fact one of them was in Rochester when we first moved here from New York City.

We will be walking through a structure cantilevered over a waterfall in the Laurel Highlands, a rolling hill country southeast of Pittsburgh.  You wouldn't expect the world's most famous 20th century house to have been built during the Great Depression, but that is what we have before us.  Making a pilgrimage to Fallingwater should be on everyone's bucket list, because it really is that good.

Coming into view is the house and the way it reflects the local geology and this is part of the charm of the building, and also part of the philosophy in the mind of the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Trying to be harmonious with the natural setting, and gathering visual strength from the layers and rocky ledges that this house nestles among, really has a startling effect.

John James Audubon
hand colored engraving of the Common Raven

Before I even noticed the terrific details of the interior architecture, I was greeted by a familiar image - an Audubon print I grew up with of The Raven, hanging in the vestibule as we walked up and into the house.  I was told by the tour guide that part of the estate included a bird sanctuary, and it was now all under the care and supervision of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

The ceilings are rather low in the house and this intensifies the horizontal expanse of each floor, and terrace.  The rooms have built in furniture which adds warmth as does the color scheme of Cherokee Red highlights and a light Naples Yellow for the major concrete structure.  A corner window of six stacked increments amazes me when it is opened and you realize that the structure is unique - everything is custom built and requires a lot of care.  Also surprising, was to find a copy of my father's book, "Birds of the World " under a statue of a Madonna in the Master Bedroom.

Indoors and Outdoors blend beautifully at

In places where art can be hung, there are famous Japanese prints by Hiroshige, and also works by Picasso.  Another surprise for me was to find a sculpture by Joseph Goto on one of the terraces ( I had met him once or twice before his death in 1994 ).  His brother Byron was a friend of the family.  Among the crafts in the house were South American, and American Indian pottery, and paintings by Victor Hammer, William Huggins, and Sideo Frombolutti.

Almost miraculous is the cooling effect of the moving water from below the house.  A breeze comes up the steps and into the room, and the sounds of splashing water can be heard.  The site of this house took a while to find, and the Kaufmann family who owned the house took great care in preserving its appearance.  Today you treat the property as you would a work of art in a museum.  While the tour was in progress we could not take any photos but after the tour was over I managed to take a few quick images before we returned to our car in the parking lot.

Make it your business to go and see this marvel, you will be glad that you did! 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Looking For Kuniyoshi, The Grand Tour, Part 2

"Boy Stealing Fruit" by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, 1923
from the exhibition 
The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Washington, D.C.

A few months ago at a show in New York City, I was engaged by a conversation with my friend Tom Wolf, who is an artist and art historian teaching at Bard, and he told me about a book he had written and an exhibition that was about to open in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian.  I was staying in Baltimore for the BRIDGES conference this week ( which I will write about soon ) so I decided to drive down the pike to D.C. and catch "The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi" - on view now through August 30, 2015.  If you don't see this show at The Smithsonian this summer, I am afraid you are out of luck because it will not travel to a city near you.

'Fish Kite", 1950, by Yasuo Kuniyoshi

Yasuo Kuniyoshi is a early 20th century artist ( not to be confused with a Japanese printmaker by the same last name ) and you will see his artwork in bits and pieces spread over many museums ( including a wonderful little painting titled "Charade"that I found in Ithaca, at The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art -    see my Post from April 13, 2015 ).

A fair number of the works in the Smithsonian exhibition come from Japanese collections and while I have seen many of his paintings - I have never encountered a show of Kuniyoshi this extensive before.
I had the chance to really evaluate his talent - and it is significant - I would say his circus performers and fakirs are archetypes in their own right.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi's 1924 " Self Portrait as a Photographer "
oil on canvas

I walked into the Smithsonian to cool my heels, and dig into this exhibition, and the first painting that I saw was a self-portrait by the painter of himself as a photographer - how ironic!  Kuniyoshi's eyes betray something happening ( off screen perhaps ).  Is the artist saying that despite his passion for stylization - what he is giving you here is a document of how things really look like ( a kind of willful or wishful substitution ).

I am really familiar with his brand of graphic exaggeration, because my father who was also an artist practiced the same thing and may have even been heavily influenced by the art of Kuniyoshi at a time when he was a budding artist just out of college ( late 1930's ).

"Little Joe with Cow",  1923

"The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi"  also has a surprisingly large self portrait of the painter dressed up to play golf - not an image you associate with the bohemian life.  We should know more about this artist who never really gave up on figurative art and go into pure abstraction, even when that became the prevailing trend ( I think of DeKooning in this and an artist like Diebenkorn ).  In fact
Kuniyoshi doesn't go in for histrionics in his work, most of the canvases are modest in scale - and in fact his colors were subtle all the way until the 1950's when the palette brightened  ( the end of the wars may have had something to do with this ).

" Maine Family",  1922-23

Where Kuniyoshi is more expressive - that is in the size relationships and contrasts - we get the sense that one of his strengths is in design - and that is a word that is not often associated with mid-20th century art.  It is however,  part of the Kuniyoshi legacy - he tells a short story in his art, his art has social significance, and we root for the artist as we root for the underdog.  The artworld in the mid- 20th Century was beginning to be a very competitive marketplace.

"Strong Woman with Child ", 1925
by Yasuo Kuniyoshi

I congratulate my friend Tom Wolf for doing the work to put this show on the map.  It has garnered a lot of attention and wonderful reviews!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Grand Mid Atlantic Tour / Part One

Passer-by at The National Gallery
Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery is a cool spot in a Capitol way.  I duck in for a few minutes on a hot summer to soak up some art, and I have to sit for a second - this being a hazy humid day - and the place is ripe with tourists, and nobody stops to look at the paintings anymore, they just pause long enough to click their smart phones and move onto the next one.  Can you imagine going half-way around the world for a museum experience and then not look at the art but only at your iPhone?  There is something wrong with this equation!  This does not bode well for the art or the artists.  Can we not slow down long enough to take a long or meaningful look at the art that is presented to us?

Van Gogh paints a selfie
oil on canvas, 1889

Enough complaints, I went to the National Gallery to reconnect because I have been working on the computer too long and I forget what the touch is about, I need to see it and feel it.  As for the Cezanne, that young man in the red vest is one of my favorites in this collection of stars.  Van Gogh stares out at the viewer in constant concern for the little details.  The fine red edges of oil paint round the lids of eyes look at me from 125 years ago, like there is no tomorrow.  Did I mention that I spent the last few months reading Van Gogh's letters, and boy was that worth it - now I know why his paintings look the way they do!

J. B. Chardin, oil on canvas

Down the hall I go back in time to Chardin and gaze fondly at his young man playing a card game, his alphabet lesson, his still life, and so much more.  Chardin is endlessly rewarding, to notice the humility with which he paints women in their kitchens.  Chardin makes the commonplace look noble.  This is the magic trick that he plays, and a lot of this has to do with scale, and the interactions we have with his compositions.

The marble bust looks the other way as the artist continues her copy

Madame Moitessier looks out from her portrait as calm as you can be when you have been hanging on the wall all these many years.  She has seen it all, but now we have someone who really is looking at the painting that Ingres made so many years ago.  The copy is being made the old-fashioned way, with a value study in greys underneath, and the mixed colors on a layer on top.  When it is all done a varnish will top it off and look great into the next century.

In the American art section the viewers have to be grateful to John Wilmerding who has made some promised gifts to the museum on view now.  Among my favorites are the painters Fitz Henry Lane ( formerly Fitz Hugh Lane ) and J. F. Peto.  When I look at Peto, he is not too far from the work of Chardin, except now the articles he portrays are a bit shabby, beaten down even.  A pile of old books begs to be disposed of.

J.F. Peto  "Take Your Choice", 1885

Fitz Henry Lane takes you Down East to the coast of Massachusetts and on into Maine.  His little jewel of a painting called "Braces Rock" is an exercise in clarity, and a calm vision, and he belongs with a group you can call the "Luminists".  I feel better already!

Fitz Henry Lane
"Braces Rock"  
oil on canvas, 1864