Tiger

(Sorry about the poor quality; the museum does not have an image available online and the painting was encased with glass, hence the reflection) Shen Nanpin China Tiger Ink and pigment on silk The thing that caught my attention was … Continue reading

Ceramic Souls: The Anthropocene in Art

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Adrian Arleo (U.S., b. 1960)
Lead (Woman with Two Horseheads), 2002
Ceramic
Gift of Mark Landrum, 2013
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma

Adrian Arleo’s sculpture Lead (Woman with Two Horseheads) effectively uses lines and curves to draw the viewer’s eyes across the whole painting, starting from any of the three heads and moving to the others. I found that my gaze sometimes started at the woman’s head, drawn to its priority as the highest head, and then moved along her frame to those of the horses and sometimes moved in the other direction, drawn first to the horses’ shiny eyes. This phenomenon seems to put the woman and the horses on the same level, giving both equal primacy in the sculpture. The woman and the horses were also sculpted with the same striations and with no structural division in between, uniting them as one entity. However, the woman is finished with a brown glaze while the horses are finished with a blue one, which creates a division between the two species.

The work brings to mind for me the false dichotomy we create between ourselves and nature, and shows the oneness between us and other animals, as illustrated by the caress the woman seems to be bringing the horses into. However, it also speaks to the subordinate position we put animals in and the way we use them. This is depicted through the horses’ position as the woman’s legs, which calls to mind the way we use animals for transportation (the phrase ‘horsepower’ is conjured for me). The sculpture uses a natural-seeming medium, ceramic, combined with unnatural colors, such as blue horses, and combines natural forms in unnatural ways to bring to our awareness the ways in which we conceive of what is and isn’t natural, and in which we draw lines between ourselves and other animals that might not exist if we were to take a closer look at the world.

Demolished Light House

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Julian E. Levi

U.S. 1900-1982

Demolished Light House

n.d.

Oil on canvas

WPA Collection 1942

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma

The first thing to grab my attention when I looked upon this painting with fresh eyes was the dilapidated old light house. From there, my eyes were draw to the tallest of the two gnarled and twisted trees. At this point it became clear that my gaze was being drawn in clock-wise circular direction starting with the light house and ending on the debris in the bottom left forefront of the painting. This circular path is reinforced by the texture of the artist’s brushstrokes, particularly in the area surrounding the anchor. To my eyes, this circular rhythm gives the painting a certain symmetrical appeal. At first it seemed as if the red coloring of the light house contrasted sharply with the rest of the tones in the piece. However, upon closer inspection, I noticed that the red coloring of the light house was referenced subtly in the debris in the left forefront and in the earth surrounding the sunken anchor.

To me it seems that the forms within this painting combine to give the piece a general impression of loss. I find it telling that although the artist chose for the focal point of the piece to be a light house, the only visible piece of the ocean is inauspiciously peeking above a sand-dune on the right hand side of the painting. The destroyed light house, the sunken anchor, and the gnarled windswept trees give the impression that the surrounding area had witnessed some sort of biblical calamity. This piece was painted shortly after the Great Depression, and to me it is apparent that the artist bore the mental scars of that turbulent period. He presents a representation of the Earth that seems bleached and sun-scorched almost to the point of no recovery. I believe that this in some way represents a resigned and mistrustful view of the natural world. If I was forced to summarize in one sentence what the author was trying to say in this piece about the changing relationship between the Earth and humanity, it would read something like this: “We bit the Earth, and the Earth bit back”.

 

 

“Entrance to the Grand Canal”

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Thomas Moran

England 1837-1926

“Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice” c. 1905

Oil on Canvas

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. University of Oklahoma. Norman, OK.

 

Thomas Moran’s “Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice” is a visually stunning piece of artwork depicting the city of Venice. The city is seen from the perspective of the water (most likely one of the many channels that crisscross the city) and focuses the viewers’ attention to the sunset near the center of the painting. Moran uses the technique of linear perspective to create depth while the boats in the foreground help create the perception of height of the buildings. The large, dark, basilica in the very back of the painting helps the viewer to comprehend how much of the city is encompassed by the painting. The focal point is obviously the sunset which is created with bright, vibrant colors contrasting with the cooler blues of the water. Though Moran meant to represent Venice as a “…sinking, dying city (Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art)…,” I think he accomplishes the opposite. The painting, with its bright colors, shows a Venice that is full of life and activity.

While I doubt that Moran knew anything of the Anthropocene, he captures the essence of the term perfectly. This painting is the perfect example the relationship between humanity and nature. The city, connected by numerous waterways and bridges, illustrates humanity’s ability to adapt to their environment. The Venetians were able to build a thriving metropolis, even in the midst of a lagoon.

Humans, Our Environment, and Expression

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Martha Walter

U.S. 1875-1976

The Blue Umbrella

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

n.d. Oil on canvas

  As with all human experience, humans’ relationship with the environment has been documented in a wide variety of art forms. This work, painted by Martha Walter in the early 20th century, explicates a narrative about our idealistic expectations of nature.

  Like many other impressionist works, most of the story is told with color. Only a subtle change of hue distinguishes the sand of the beach from the dismal overcast sky. Even the bright tones of the women’s and children’s clothing are muted behind a haze of gray.

  The figures in the scene huddle under a blue-made-black umbrella, which stands hopefully over the company waiting for any ray of sun to fulfill its purpose. But the ray does not come. Instead, a chilly breeze off the sea forces children into their mothers’ laps, and mothers into a tight circle. Though some try to make the best of the trip by idly sculpting sand, this day on the beach is irreversibly gloomy.

  Here Walter testifies to the discrepancy between humans’ expectations of nature and its actual character. When we plan our week around a trip to the beach, we expect sun, waves, and a warm breeze.  But the natural world doesn’t care about my schedule or yours. In the place of the woman in the sun hat at the focus of the painting, I might call the day a wash and gather up the children to retreat home out of this gray hellscape. But instead the party resolutely huddles under their useless parasol, because “if we’re going to go to the beach, we’re going to get the beach experience.”

  People see the world as their oyster: ready to have the pearls plucked from it, and if there are no pearls to be plucked, the oyster isn’t doing its job. The world may be an oyster, but that doesn’t entitle us to its pearls. We should appreciate the world for what it has to offer but realize that it is not a manicured, romantic garden, but an unpredictable, precious home.

The Grand Canal

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England 1837-1926

“Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice” c. 1905

Oil on Canvas

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. University of Oklahoma. Norman, OK.

 

The “Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice” by Thomas Moran (1905) is a glorious view of Venice at sunset. A vibrant, bright sky meets calm, welcoming water, as they pull boats and viewers alike into the setting sun and out to sea. From use of a linear perspective to the symmetrical balance of paint and color, both top/bottom and left/right, or even the lack of objects placed in the water along the central channel of the painting; literally everything in the painting is arranged to reinforce this effect. This is done by Moran in order to “[allude] to the notion … that Venice was a sinking, dying city” (Fred Jones Jr. Museum).  A victim of its own location, Venice, as in the time of Moran, is still a sinking city. A relationship that defines the lives of Venetians daily. The citizens of Venice first began to notice dramatic shifts when installing artesian wells beneath the city, tapping the aquifer beneath it. The lack of fluids resulted in the city’s foundation occupying the newly available space. Today, many older buildings with ground floors sporting canal access are now flooded, making the floor useless. (Wikipedia) Perhaps it was Moran’s intention to bring the attention of Venetians to the inevitable problems they were facing while reminding them of the glory of Venice that doesn’t have to be compromised in solving them. Yet without the man here, the intention is in the eye of the beholder.

 

“Venice.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 June 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

Pueblo Buffalo Dancer

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Allan Houser

U.S. 1914-1994

Pueblo Buffalo Dancer

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

1991, charcoal

 

Allan Houser’s charcoal drawing, Pueblo Buffalo Dancer, caught my eye as a portrayal of a relationship between humans and the landscape, because it’s a simple, bold depiction of a Native American dancer adorning numerous ornaments obtained from nature. 

The subject of the artwork is clear since there is no background aside for light shading of swirls that empower the artwork’s tone of energy.  Also with the dancer being centered on the canvas and having extremely dark skin, made all the darker because of the charcoal, his dark torso and darker face drew my eye at first.  Although the facial features are fierce, the dancer has only basic ones with little detail given which led me to believe Houser intended for the dancer’s face to convey a strong, intense feeling while also letting it be known that the dancer’s identity is not the focus of the artwork.  Instead, far more detail is given to the dancer’s horned buffalo headdress, his shell pendant, his kilt with a depicted snake, and all other ornaments on him.  My gaze was directed to the person himself causing me to understand the tone of the art and then drawn to the surrounding details in wonder of their meaning.

I think that the contrast between the simplicity of the dancer himself and the detailed accessories on him is the key to understanding the meaning of this artwork.  In my opinion, the dancer’s ornaments were intentionally given much attention to show that the dance was an extremely symbolic act.  Native American dances are prominently known for their deep-rooted characteristics and symbolism, and wearing the ornaments must have intensified the significance.  The depiction of this dancer shows that back in the time of the Pueblo people, there was a relationship between humans and nature in which humans utilized and respected the aspects of nature.