Hannah Holliday Stewart: The Messengers

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Candid shots of the secretive artist with her sculpture “Survivor“, Hannah Holliday Stewart archives

At last Friday’s opening for Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered, art enthusiasts who saw the press coverage for the show came armed with a diverse array of questions.

“What was her family like?”

“Where did the full-scale models in those photos end up?”

“What’s ‘Ockum’s Razor‘ ?”

“Who’s Brad?”

Of course, the most frequent question was also Stewart’s most impenetrable mystery: why did the sculptor abruptly leave Houston, the launching point and epicenter of her nationally renowned artistic career? In our explorations of Stewart’s archives over the past few weeks, we’ve stirred up as many questions as answers.

Stewart was resolutely private, preferring to tightly focus on her artwork in interviews, exhibition materials and even her diaries. A catalog for her 1975-6 solo exhibition at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum provides little more information on Stewart’s personal life than a birth year and a brief sketch of her educational history.

“Hannah was a very private person with a lot going on in her head,” close friend Dayton Smith told us. “I learned when to be around her and when not.”

Many of Stewart’s works, on the other hand, were always in the public eye. Kids lounged in the crook of her 11-foot sculpture in Hermann Park, students at St. Thomas University studied under her concrete-and-steel work on campus, and politicians were often photographed beside her “Libertad” fountain as they passed through the courtyard of Houston’s World Trade Center building.

For this week’s blog, we’re taking cues from Stewart’s ghost and focusing on the rich universe of her sculptures. Look below for new insight on five artworks, with behind-the-scenes materials from the artist’s files.

Hannah Stewart- Atropos Key Sculpture with Preparatory Sketch and Full-Scale Model- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

 Preparatory sketch for ‘Atropos Key’ and full-scale plaster model in Stewart’s studio

Atropos Key’ remains Hannah Holliday Stewart’s most well-known sculpture in Houston. Our maquette’s monumental counterpart stands on a hill in Hermann Park, measuring at 11 feet tall and 1,200 pounds. It debuted to much fanfare in 1972. From the Houston Chronicle’s August 11, 1972 edition:

“Out on the hill beyond Miller Theatre the blanket lollers who tune in to night concerts and shows from a horizontal position will have fresh ‘company.’ Overlooking the stage, now, is a bronze vertical figure.

‘Atropos Key,’ the title of which derived from one of the three fates in Greek mythology, was given to the city by Mrs. Patricia S. Woodward of Houston.

Strollers in the park may well stare at it and wonder what it all means…. Miss Stewart’s piece, in its new location, deserves the looking at, the ‘experiencing’ and the consideration of its meaning for you. Is it birth and, more encompassing than that, renewal?”

Hannah Stewart- Messenger Sculpture with Preparatory Sketch- Matthews Gallery BlogPreparatory sketch for ‘Messenger’ dated August 1973

Stewart’s ‘Messenger’ appeared on the cover of Houston Arts Magazine’s performing arts edition in October, 1982. Stewart was a fan of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, and often listened to classical music in her studio.

A blurb inside the magazine traces the musical roots of ‘Messenger’:

“Sculptor Hannah Stewart… sees her work as an artist’s shorthand using symbols to communicate complex and abstract ideas— like a composer uses the symbols of musical notes to convey a spiritual idea in a sensuous form.

In Messenger… Stewart sees a parallel between the structure-strength-shapes interplay of her work and compositions played by Nathan Milstein and Bella Davidovich.”

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Ockum's Razor Sculpture with Original Typewritten Label- Matthews Gallery BlogOriginal typewritten label for ‘Ockum’s Razor’

Stewart was known for her mythology-inspired artwork, but that was far from the only subject she explored.

“Her studies in literature, mythology, metaphysics, esoteric philosophy, religion, science, astrology, dance and yoga suffuse her output, revealing in form and textures,” wrote Stewart’s friend Dayton Smith in a letter to the gallery.

In ‘Ockum’s Razor’, Stewart turned to science for inspiration. The title refers to a problem-solving principle devised by 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347). The principle states that “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” In other words, the simplest path to an answer is the best one.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Maquette and Full-Scale Survivor Sculptures- Matthews Gallery blog

 

 Maquette and full-scale versions of ‘Survivor’

An article about Stewart’s work appeared in the local paper of her childhood home of Birmingham in 1994. In the story, Stewart explains the inspiration for ‘Survivor‘. From the August 1, 1994 edition of the Birmingham Post-Herald:

“I was teaching welding at the university, and I’d go to the welding studio and talk to friends of mine, and there were a lot of men coming down from Detroit who’d lost their jobs, and they were so tense and angry about having to reform themselves, to learn to do welding or something else at the age of 55, after having been an auto worker. I reacted to that force within them, and the drastic changes people have to make to survive.”

 Hannah Holliday Stewart- Einsteins Song and Polaroid of Hannah Holliday Stewart working on the sculpture in her studio- Matthews Gallery blog

Polaroid of Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Albuquerque studio working on ‘Einstein’s Song’

Stewart was 80 years old in the Polaroid above and still hard at work on her bronze forms, though she never exhibited again in her lifetime.

Here’s an excerpt from a typewritten artist statement Stewart wrote a year later:

“For me, the image should be an intellectual and emotional symbol plucked from the fringe of the imagination, it should suggest a classic truth and not be confused with social comment. The image at its most successful strikes a common chord of sensations in every viewer, and yet leaves each viewer with his/her own particular interpretation.”

See Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered through July 18, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information on the artist.

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NOT A POP ARTIST: Five Sides of Jim Dine

Jim Dine Rainbow- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

78-year-old artist Jim Dine has earned his place in any good post-war art history textbook. Picking exactly when to spotlight the artist must be a difficult task for scholars. The painter, sculptor, illustrator, printmaker, stage designer and performance artist has a way of diverging from the status quo and ending up at the forefront of new art movements. Just when things get established, he’s off on his own again.

A mixed media drawing  by Dine recently found its way to Matthews Gallery, so we took the opportunity to explore 5 manifestations of the chameleonic artist:

Fluxus Performer

Dine grew up in Cincinatti and got his BFA from Ohio University. When he arrived in New York in 1958, the art world was fixated on a type of work you couldn’t sell in a gallery. Some critics called them “wacky nightmares“, others described them as “a three-ringed circus with undertones of group therapy“, but Dine and his friends Claes Oldenberg, Allan Kaprow and John Cage dubbed their performance art pieces “Happenings”.

Happenings were designed to be as ephemeral and unpredictable as day-to-day life—but a little weirder. Battles between ballerinas and roller-skaters, reenactments of the Lincoln assassination, bikini stripteases and blue ice cream feasts were all passionately performed, often in rapid sequence. Whether you call it though-provoking or senseless, the Fluxus movement was one-of-a-kind. For Dine, all the world was a stage until…

Pop Progenitor

Jim Dine- Robe Diptych- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

Jim Dine, Red and Black Diptych Robe, 1980

In 1962, Dine’s paintings appeared alongside work by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and others in the Pasadena Art Museum’s show New Painting of Common Objects. Curated by Walter Hopps of Ferus Gallery (site of Warhol’s first solo show), the exhibition was a seminal moment for a new movement: Pop Art.

Dine’s inclusion in the exhibition made perfect sense at the time. He was experimenting with serial imagery of familiar objects and symbols like bathrobes, hearts and tools. However, the artist’s expressive style and often tender subject matter clashed with the postmodern angst of other Pop progenitors. Soon enough, he was plotting his escape…

Modernist

Jim Dine- Paris- Matthews Gallery Blog

Jim Dine, Paris Smiles in Darkness, 1976

Dine moved to London in 1967, a strange decision considering his controversial history with the United Kingdom. A year before his solo exhibition at London’s Fraser Gallery was raided by police and the owner was fined for showing “indecent” images.

The artist defiantly continued to his relationship with Fraser and used his time in Europe to study the work of Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and other modernists. In 1971 he returned to the United States, ready to chart a new course…

Neo-Expressionist

Jim Dine- A Lady Sitting Drawing- Matthews Gallery Blog

 Jim Dine, A Lady Sitting, Mixed Media, 1975

Minimalism was en vogue when Dine arrived in New York, but the artist wasn’t interested. Instead he focused on figure drawing, refining his skills in various mediums and earning a reputation as a master draftsman. The mixed media drawing in our collection is from this period. A stunningly realistic face painted in oil is framed by confident charcoal marks and a glowing crayon color field.

In the years to come Dine’s figurative work would mark him as a founder of Neo-Expressionism, but critics could never assign the artist a particular label for long…

Modern Individualist

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Installation shot, Jim Dine: Poet Singing (The Flowering Sheets)

 Perhaps Dine’s artistic identity is best summed up by MoMA:

This commitment to a personally invested, image-dictated content and a continuing interest in the technical and expressive potential of every medium has characterized Dine’s work as a whole. Thus, Dine has often been out-of-step with the major movements of the post-World War II period and must be considered a modern individualist.

It’s a bit of a non-title, but Dine defies labels at every turn. The almost-octogenarian is still working his way into new chapters of art history.

Check out our website for more on Jim Dine, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for to-the-minute gallery news.

CURATE THIS, CURATE THAT: Place your votes!

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The selection process for our social media-curated show COLLECTOR’S CHOICE is underway, and fans on Facebook, Instagram, TwitterTumblr and other networks have placed their votes. It’s time for some tie breakers on WordPress! Check out the match-ups below and vote for your favorites in the comments section. From January 31 to February 5, we’ll unveil your selections in the gallery and online.

JAMIE CHASE

Jamie Chase- Collector's Choice- Matthews Gallery blog

ROUND 1! Jamie Chase is known for his figurative work like image #1, and also his abstracted landscapes like #2. Which one should appear in the show? Take the curatorial reins!

WILLIAM LUMPKINS

William Lumpkins- Collector's Choice Show- Matthews Gallery Blog

Do you prefer William Lumpkins‘ careful watercolor brushstrokes (#1) or experimental wild felt-tip pen marks (#2)? Read more about the influential Santa Fe modernist here before you decide…

KATE RIVERS

Kate Rivers- Collector's Choice Show- Matthews Gallery

Curate this! Should we feature a Kate Rivers book collage in the show, or one of her nests? Read about her mixed media work in this blog post, and vote for #1 or #2 in the comments.

HANNAH HOLLIDAY STEWART

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Collector's Choice- Matthews Gallery Blog

These tall, spindly bronzes might be very different, but they’re both by powerhouse feminist sculptor Hannah Holliday Stewart. Figurative or abstract? Curate that!

PAUL GAUGUIN

Paul-Gauguin-Collectors-Choice

Two Tahitian myths inspired these woodblock prints by Paul Gauguin. Which do you prefer? Read about them in this blog post, and vote now!

Thanks for participating in COLLECTOR’S CHOICE! To place your vote on other social networks, connect with us through the links on our About Page.

FOCUS ON THE FIGURE: The good, the bad and the body

Two Odalisques by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Jamie Chase- Matthews Gallery blog

Two Odalisques by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (left) and Jamie Chase (right)

No matter their preferred medium or subject matter, one of the first things young art students are challenged to do is pick up a pencil and draw from life.

“It’s only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character,” said Camille Pissarro, mentor to the Impressionists.

Of course, Pissarro had a different idea of what it meant to evoke something’s “true character” than, say, Paul Gauguin. As we discussed in our last post, Vermeer and de Kooning painted female figures in oil to highly divergent ends.

Our FOCUS ON THE FIGURE survey show, running now through the end of December, has us pondering the artist’s eye for the human body. History’s verdict on the success or failure of a particular depiction is often entirely based on the culture that first viewed it. Even in the hands of the most technically talented artists, the human body has a unique capacity to spark fiery controversies. Here are some notorious offending body parts:

SKIN

Michelangelo- The Last Judgment detail- Matthews Gallery blog

The Last Judgment (detail), Michelangelo

Believe it or not, that’s a woman in the image above. Michelangelo (1475-1564) had a hard time depicting feminine grace, probably because he used massive body builders as models. That’s not the reason the artist’s Last Judgment mural in the Sistine Chapel drew the ire of the church, though. Michelangelo left many of his buff bodies unclothed and the clergy was afraid they would provoke sinful titillation. After the artist’s death, fig leaves were swiftly deployed.

TEETH

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun- Self Portrait- Matthews Gallery

Self portrait, Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun

As chronicled in our blog series 10 Women Who Changed Art History Forever, even fully clothed models (with frilly collars) could show too much. When Marie Antoinette’s court painter Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842) dared to flash a smile for this self-portrait she was roundly condemned for diverging from the style of “the Ancients”. Read what one gossip columnist had to say about it here.

EARS

John Singer Sargent- Madame X- Matthews Gallery blogMadame X, John Singer Sargent

Top Paris socialite and legendary beauty Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau couldn’t resist John Singer Sargent’s (1856-1925) offer to paint her portrait in 1883. When conservative viewers at the Paris Salon were scandalized by Gautreau’s bare white shoulder and bright red ear in the painting, Sargent attempted some damage control by painting in a shoulder strap and renaming the painting Madame X. Alas, Gautreau’s reputation was forever damaged.

FACES

Pablo Picasso- Les Demoiselles dAvignon- Matthews Gallery blog

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) always referred to his seminal painting of a group of Spanish prostitutes as The Brothel of Avignon. The canvas sat in his studio for years before he exhibited it under the title Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) in 1916. Even after its rebranding, the painting caused a stir because the women’s faces—influenced by traditional Iberian art, African tribal masks and the art of Oceania—were considered savage and their postures barbaric and aggressive.

After the show, the work was rolled up and stored away for years. It wouldn’t be recognized for its visual innovations until later, when designer Jacques Doucet bought it for 25,000 francs in 1924. “It is a work which to my mind transcends painting; it is the theater of everything that has happened in the last 50 years,” Doucet said.

Our FOCUS ON THE FIGURE show features art by Jamie Chase, Kate Rivers, Eric G. Thompson, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Harold Frank, Pablo Picasso and more. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news about the exhibition.

The 10 Artists Who Changed Art History Forever, Pt. 1

Over the next two weeks, we’re paying tribute to 10 painters who changed the course of art history. Our first five picks range from Il Divino to the “painter of light”. Who do you think we missed? Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to join the discussion, and click here to read part 2!

Giotto, "The Kiss of Judas"
Giotto, The Kiss of Judas

1. Giotto (1266/7-1337)

The Italian painter and architect was most likely born in Florence, the city where he would live and work for his entire life. Legend has it that the young Giotto was herding sheep and stopped to sketch the animals on a rock when famous Tuscan painter Cimabue strolled by and took him as an apprentice. One of art history’s most passionate debates centers on whether Giotto completed parts of Cimabue’s frescoes at Assisi. Regardless, it was Giotto’s break from the traditions of Cimabue and his contemporaries that helped spark the Italian Renaissance.

In Giotto’s frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel, the stylized Byzantine figures that were popular at the time are nowhere in sight. His figures are solid and sculptural, their robes draping naturally from their frames. This is a painter who drew inspiration from what his eyes could see. 16th century biographer Giorgio Vasari wrote that Giotto started “the great art of painting as we know it today, introducing the technique of drawing accurately from life, which had been neglected for more than two hundred years.”

The Matthews Gallery, Michelangelo
Michelangelo, The Last Judgment

2. Michelangelo (1475-1564) 

In contrast with Giotto, this prolific sculptor, painter, architect, poet and engineer left behind a paper trail that makes him one of the most well-documented artists of his time. Michelangelo completed the Pieta and David before he turned 30 and redesigned part of St. Peter’s Basilica at 74. In between, he completed the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, spent 40 years creating Pope Julius II’s tomb and worked on a multitude of other projects. Even in his time he was known as Il Divino, “the divine one”.

The Last Judgment fresco on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, one of Michelangelo’s final works, is the fulfillment of Giotto’s artistic legacy. His massive figures seem to press from the wall with all of the terriblita (awe-inspiring grandeur) of living giants. Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a biography of Michelangelo during his lifetime, called the artist’s works the apex of the Renaissance. They also inspired Mannerism, the movement that proceeded the Renaissance in Western art.

The Matthews Gallery, Caravaggio
Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath

3. Caravaggio (1571-1610) 

It’s no secret that Caravaggio was an unpleasant guy. A public notice from 1604 accused him of crashing gatherings armed with a sword, “ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him.” Perhaps that’s why he was swiftly forgotten after his death in 1610 and wasn’t recognized for his great influence on art history until three centuries later.

The artist was born in Milan and grew up in the city of Caravaggio. His parents were both dead by his teen years so he started an apprenticeship with painter Simone Peterzano, who was Titian’s pupil. He moved to Rome in 1592 and rose to fame as he developed the style that would come to define Baroque painting. His figures were incredibly realistic, their skin pocked, their feet dirty and their faces full of emotion. They were illuminated by high key chiaroscuro lighting. Caravaggio fearlessly placed the common people in the spotlight, a coup that would serve the Counter-Reformation well.

The Matthews Gallery, Velazquez
Velazquez, Las Meninas

4. Velazquez (1599- 1660) 

Diego Velazquez’ oeuvre mostly consists of pompous portraits of the Spanish royal family and other powerful and privileged Europeans. It was a twisty play on this genre that would secure his place in art history. Velazquez was born in Seville and educated well. He worked his way up the ranks of painters in his hometown and then hopped to Madrid, where a connection with the king’s chaplain and the timely death of the Spanish royal court painter helped him land the coveted position in 1624.

Four years before his death, Velazquez painted his masterpiece Las Meninas. The painting shows Spanish princess Margaret Theresa standing next to the painter himself, who’s working on a large canvas. In a mirror behind them are the faces of the king and queen. The sophisticated work’s bifurcating viewpoints throw its true subject into question and place Velazquez far ahead of his time. More than two hundred years later the painter’s work would inspire the Realists, the Impressionists and the Modernists.

The Matthews Gallery, JMW Turner
JMW Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed

5. Turner (baptized 1775-1851) 

JMW Turner was known as the “painter of light”, but the artist with the ethereal subject matter had a very solid impact on art history. The Romantic landscape painter was born in London to a barber and wig maker. He showed his drawings in his father’s shop as a young boy, and studied under architects and a draftsman before enrolling in the Royal Academy of Art as a 14-year-old. His reputation swiftly grew, and he had his own studio by 18. However, when he verged away from picturesque landscapes in favor of stormier subject matter, Protestant society was shocked.

In his famous oil Rain, Steam and Speed, Turner depicts a locomotive as a surging pillar of tumbling air with a black smokestack as its only identifying characteristic. As details melted away and Turner focused on the continuous flux of air and light, critics started turning against the artist. An 1802 review called his works “too indeterminate and wild”, and writers were keen to tie his chaotic paintings to radical new political and social movements. Turner became increasingly isolated from society and often refused to sell his paintings, but his work had an undeniable influence across Europe, inspiring Claude Monet and other French artists in their steps toward Impressionism.

Sound off on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest and tell us who we missed, and click over to part 2 for our last five picks.