AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO BOHEMIAN PARIS

Dominican Artist Jaime Colson- Self-Portrait- Matthews Gallery Blog

Jaime Colson (1901-1975) was a teenager when he left his homeland of the Dominican Republic to study art in Spain. The talented young painter landed smack in the middle of the Spanish avant-garde, rubbing elbows with Salvador Dali and befriending Rafael Barradas and other artists. Colson lived there for six years and developed a surrealist style. His next move was to perhaps the only place that could be stranger than España surrealisto: 1920’s bohemian Paris.

Colson arrived in the City of Lights in 1924, at the height of Gertrude Stein‘s reign as a powerful salonnière and premiere champion of modernism. In Paris, Colson met Picasso and Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Leger. He soaked up modernist innovations—and quite a lot of absinthe—like a sponge. Four years later, as a full-fledged Parisian, Colson painted the latest addition to our collection:

Jaime Colson- Cubist Still Life- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

Colson’s Cubist Still Life offers an essential review of the original vie bohème, a painted guide to the colorful, booze-soaked existence of the Lost Generation. Its skewed lines and wild patterns capture all the dynamism of a moveable feast, and the pall of the “green fairy” hangs over its heart. Without further ado, here are seven details that set the roaring scene…

Jaime Colson- Detail of Cubist Still Life- Matthews Gallery Blog

Colson painted Cubist Still Life in 1928, the same year Rene Magritte made his famous Ceci n’est pas une pipeThe pipe that appears near the center of the composition is at once an homage to Magritte’s French surrealism and a nod to Colson’s Spanish surrealist past.

Jaime Colson- Cubist Still Life Details- Matthews Gallery Blog

Pernod Fils was the reigning brand of absinthe in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The anise-flavored, bright green spirit was formulated in Switzerland, and its distillery in Pontarlier, France churned out as much as 30,000 liters of absinthe per day. Knock-offs abounded (Pernot, Perriot and Parrot among them), some of which contained toxic substances and were cheap enough to appeal to many a town drunk. In 1910, the French consumed 36 million liters of absinthe in a year, but by 1915 the drink had been demonized and banned.

After World War I, Pernod Fils introduced a new, lower-proof liqueur d’anise, which is the drink Colson would’ve encountered during his Paris years. However, the famous absinthe pictures by Picasso, Lautrec, van Gogh and the like hail from the golden age of the beverage, before the ban. Perhaps the ghostly bottle of Pernod Fils and the empty glass below it are Colson’s tribute to a madcap age that his contemporaries remembered with longing.

Jaime Colson- Cubist Still Life Details- Matthews Gallery Blog

A cubistic guitar and a trompe-l’œil glimpse at the French newspaper Le Journal refer to modernist art forms Colson was exposed to in Paris. In 1912, Picasso began experimenting with collage, incorporating scraps of fabric and other materials into his oil paintings. Picasso’s Still Life with Chair-Caning, one of the first fine art collages ever made, is on an oval canvas and features a scrap of furniture material. Picasso’s close collaborator Braque soon followed suite, using glue to attach wood-grain papers to his cubist canvases. Colson replicates similar patterns and textures using oil paint in Cubist Still Life.

In late 1912, Picasso made artworks using clippings from Le Journaland also created three dimensional collages called art assemblages, including a cardboard guitar. These are Colson’s strongest references to his modernist contemporaries in the painting, directly addressing Picasso’s tendency to weave real-world events into his works and distort objects in groundbreaking ways.

Colson lived in Paris until 1934. After a short stint in Cuba and another stay in Europe, he returned to the Dominican Republic with a head full of revolutionary ideas. He began blending his European influences with Dominican subject matter, creating images of the rich central American culture the likes of which had never been seen before. Along with Yoryi Morel and Dario Suro, Colson is known as one of the founders of the modernist school of Dominican painting, and is considered one of the great Latin American masters of the 20th century.

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SPRING OF MODERNISM: Paul Burlin

Paul Burlin- New Mexico Modernist- Matthews Gallery Blog  As our SPRING OF MODERNISM exhibition approaches its closing date on March 31st, we’re sharing the incredible stories of 20th century artists who shook the foundations of the New Mexico art community. This week we have Paul Burlin, who battled blindness to create his magnum opus. 

Paul Burlin (1886-1969) was born in New York City and had a difficult childhood that he preferred not to discuss. He completed his early education in England before returning to New York at the age of twelve.

He left home at 16, and studied part-time at the National Academy of Art and the New York Art Students League from 1900 to 1912. During that time, he worked as an illustrator under Theodore Dreiser and frequented Alfred Stieglitz‘s 291 gallery. At 291, Burlin developed a taste for Picasso‘s ‘primitive’ artwork that lead him to study African tribal art and, later, the art and culture of the Southwest Pueblos.

Paul Burlin- Untitled New 1951- Matthews Gallery Blog

Burlin visited New Mexico for the first time in 1910. Paintings from this visit were received warmly in New York and exhibited in 1911. As a result of his early success, he was the youngest artist (at 26 years old) to participate in the 1913 Armory Show.

The same year, Burlin moved back to Santa Fe to develop a new body of work, and continued to exhibit in New York City. With the images and ideas of the Armory Show still prominent in his mind, Burlin was impressed and moved by what he described as the ‘primeval, erosive, forbidding character of the landscape.’ His early works in New Mexico were genre paintings of the Pueblo Indians in a realist style, but he soon developed a colorful abstract vocabulary ruled by symbols both ancient and modern.

Burlin’s time in New Mexico had a profound impact, not only on his own work, but on the development of modernism throughout the Southwest.  From University of New Mexico art historian Sharyn Udall:

Burlin was the first Armory Show participant to reach New Mexico, and that fact, coupled with his confident handling of local subject matter, made a definite impression on newcomers [Marsden] Hartley and B.J.O. Nordfeldt… It is clear, moreover, that Burlin’s stature as the first modernist painter in New Mexico was unquestioned; his was the pivotal role in introducing fauve and expressionist modes to the art of New Mexico (Udall 1984; 28).

Paul Burlin- Untitled Pivot 1952- Matthews Gallery Blog

Though he moved away from New Mexico in 1920—living in New York and Paris for the rest of his days—Burlin’s artistic evolution in the Land of Enchantment influenced his work for the rest of his life, as evidenced in these canvases from the 1950s. Not long after he made this work, Burlin began to lose his sight. His final series of paintings, completed while he was legally blind, were exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1971, two years after Burlin’s death.

From Burlin:

We live in an age of treacherous, harrowing notions of mutability, death and decay…All of the old realities have dissolved…all rigidities of form disappear and enter into a new metamorphosis.  This metamorphosis of form and reality is manifested in shape and color, which destroy visual reality and…shape themselves into a reality of their own.

Learn more about Paul Burlin on our homepage, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

SPRING OF MODERNISM: The Circle

Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O'Keeffe- Matthews Gallery BlogMabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O’Keeffe

If you visit our SPRING OF MODERNISM show this month, two things will become abundantly clear about the 20th century artists in the exhibition. Firstly, they’re all linked, in one way or another, to the 1913 Armory Show in New York City. Secondly, they are all tied to each other. In fact, the modernists of the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies are so intertwined that we tried and failed to create a chart of their relationships. There are so many connections, it reminds us of Gertrude Stein’s Paris! Here’s just one line of the friendship chain, which begins with Stein herself:

Jan Matulka- Surrealist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog
MATULKA
Jan Matulka (1890-1972) was born in Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic. He moved to New York City in 1907 and enrolled at the National Academy of Design soon after. A Joseph Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship enabled him to visit the Desert Southwest in 1917, where he was inspired by the cultures of the Pueblo Native American Tribes. He maintained studios in Paris and New York during the 1920s, befriending Gertrude Stein, Andre Lhote and Max Weber.
DASBURG
Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979) also knew Stein. He was born in Paris and emigrated to New York City in 1892. He studied at the New York Art Students League and spent time in Paris with Stein, Henri Matisse and Morgan Russell as a young man. In 1913, he exhibited Lucifer (above) at the Armory Show, and was later invited to New Mexico by Mabel Dodge Luhan. He moved to Taos in 1921, and was part of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz’s circle here.

 Cady Wells- Taos 1947- Matthews Gallery Blog Cady Wells, Taos 1947, Ink and Watercolor on Paper

WELLS

Cady Wells (1904-1954) knew Luhan and O’Keeffe and studied under Dasburg. He grew up in Southbridge, Massachussets and traveled extensively as a young man, studying music and the visual arts before deciding to become an artist in his late 20s. He moved to New Mexico in 1932, where he found an enthusiastic mentor in Dasburg and drew inspiration from the rich culture of the Desert Southwest. The Smithsonian American Art Museum writes:

Portraying the Southwestern landscape in watercolor, Wells moved through various modernist idiots. His early work incorporated gestural, calligraphic lines suggestive of Chinese ideograms. Later he investigated the structure of natural forms [and the] pattern-like appearance of the landscape. Influenced by Dasburg, Raymond Jonson and Georgia O’Keeffe, Wells developed a personal semi-abstract style that brought considerable praise from his peers.

 Raymond Jonson- Oil Number 12- Matthews Gallery BlogRaymond Jonson, Oil No. 12, 1958, Oil on Canvas

JONSON 

Wells’ friend Raymond Jonson (1891-1982) was born in Chariton, Iowa and grew up in Portland, Oregon. He attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Chicago Art Institute as a young man, but his true artistic breakthrough came when he attended the 1913 Armory Show and saw the artwork of early abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky.
Jonson traveled to New Mexico for the first time in 1922, and moved here two years later. Here he founded the Atalaya Art School and took a teaching position at the University of New Mexico.
Along with his friends Emil Bisttram, Agnes Pelton and others, Jonson formed the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG) in 1938. The collective was inspired by early abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, as well as Theosophy, Zen Buddhism and Dynamic Symmetry. The TPG only lasted a few years, disbanding in 1942 because of World War II. However, the collective’s influence endures in the Southwest and beyond. Some consider the group an heir to Russian Constructivism, Gino Severini and the Bauhaus.
Emil Bisttram- After the Blizzard- Matthews Gallery Blog
BISTTRAM 
Jonson’s friend Emil Bisttram (1895-1976) was born in Hungary and immigrated to New York City with his family at 11. It wasn’t until his mid-30s that he visited Taos, but he fell in love with the area and would become a major player in the art colony when he moved there a year later.In 1933 Bisttram helped open the first modern art gallery in Taos and in 1938 he co-founded the Transcendental Painting Group. He promoted the ideas of the collective through the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism, where Janet Lippincott was one of his students.
Janet Lippincott- Llano Ridge- Matthews Gallery Blog
LIPPINCOTT
Bisttram’s student Janet Lippincott (1918-2007) was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and spent part of her childhood in Paris. There she learned about the aesthetic innovations of Picasso and Matisse. Back in New York, she took classes at the New York Art Students League as a teenager.During World War II, Lippincott enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and was wounded. She pursued art studies in Colorado and San Francisco on the GI Bill, and also attended the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism in Taos in 1949 and the Alfred Morang Academy of Fine Art. In 1954, she moved to Santa Fe permanently and lived here for over five decades.Lippincott was considered part of a “second wave” of New Mexico modernists, who ventured to the Southwest after WWII. She is known as an abstract expressionist, but her early modernist influences in Paris stuck with her, as evidenced in her career-spanning series of figurative prints.

Alfred Morang- Blue Mountain Yellow Sky- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, Blue Mountain, Yellow Sky, Ink and Watercolor on Paper

MORANG 

As a young man, Lippincott’s teacher Alfred Morang (1901-1958) suffered from tuberculosis. He left his home in Portland, Maine in 1937 and came to New Mexico to recover in a dryer climate. The reports vary, but when Morang got off the train he was met by Randall Davey or Raymond Jonson, two of the city’s most established modernist artists. Morang’s bohemian manner quickly charmed the Santa Fe art world, and the City Different became his permanent home.

Late in his life, Morang moved to a Canyon Road studio just behind Claude’s Bar. Just across the street was an artist and writer’s compound run by Agnes Sims.

 Agnes Sims- Dance Rattles- Matthews Gallery BlogAgnes Sims, Dance Rattles, Watercolor on Paper

SIMS 

Morang’s Canyon Road neighbor Agnes Sims (1910-1990) was born in Devon, Pennsylvania. She managed a marionette theater and worked as a textile designer in Philadelphia before moving to Santa Fe in 1938 and founding a Canyon Road artist’s compound. In New Mexico, she took an interest in the ancient petroglyphs of New Mexico’s Native American Pueblos, and received a grant to study and sketch them. Her archaeological work inspired a series of paintings and sculptures in which she developed her own semi-abstract symbolism.

Sims’ longtime partner was the literary editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and helped popularize Truman Capote‘s work. Capote was friends (and sometime enemies) with Georgia O’Keeffe. And so the circle comes back around to Andrew Dasburg!

We could do this for ages, but you get the point. The New Mexico art community was a western frontier of avant-garde innovation, forged by a group of passionate friends whose efforts gave birth to the Land of Enchantment of today. And thank goodness for that!

Click here to see all of the artwork in our Spring of Modernism show, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for daily gallery news.

MORANG AND FRIENDS: Alfred in Paris

Alfred Morang Portrait- Morang and Friends Exhibition- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, 1952

“After Morang’s death, all of a sudden people started to realize that he was a great artist. People regretted that they didn’t pay enough attention to him,” Santa Fe art collector Paul Parker said at the end of our interview last week.

As Parker will tell you, Alfred Morang’s death in a Canyon Road fire in 1958 was the end of an era in Santa Fe. From his arrival in 1937, Morang had helped cultivate a vibrant art scene in the City Different. His house parties of the 1930’s and 40’s earned him a reputation as “one of Santa Fe’s… most colorful Bohemians,” as the Santa Fe New Mexican dubbed him in his obituary. Morang was a masterful painter who drew inspiration from the French Impressionists, and a talented teacher who passed his knowledge to the next generation of Santa Fe artists. He was a great writer, musician and radio broadcaster.

However, towards the end of Morang’s life, he and his wife Dorothy divorced and he became increasingly isolated. He spent most of his time fervently painting in his Canyon Road studio. Santa Fe artist Bill Tate had this recollection of a frigid winter in the 1950’s:

Oh my, it was cold! The snow was pouring down unmercifully and as I walked into Alfred’s tiny studio, I pushed paintings aside to make a path, then found them sliding in behind me as I penetrated the cache of completed canvases. It appeared that paintings were everywhere. There in the middle was Alfred, happily painting away, bundled up like a Siberian monk—galoshes, muffler, sweater, heavy top coat which came to his ankles, and a woman’s hat pulled snuggly down over his ears and neck.

The studio had a sky light, but where the glass was supposed to be, there was none. Alfred had hung an old muslin sheet over the opening to shut out the falling snow. Evidently Alfred had let the fire go out in the small space heater. Or maybe had forgotten to pay his gas bill. I don’t know. But it was awful. I had been there just a few minutes when the muslin partially ripped loose from the ceiling and began flopping in the wind. Snow dumped all over Alfred as well as the canvas.

Alfred never looked up, never stopped painting. His blue-cold hands kept mixing painting and dabbing it on the canvas. Occasionally, he would lean back to assess the effect, but throughout, he was totally oblivious to my presence… or the muslin that danced in the bitter breeze.

I attempted to speak, but only a chatter came out. I retreated to the warmth of my own studio. To the day he died, Alfred never knew I was there.

This somber image of an artist in the winter of his life is not how Parker likes to think of Morang. Soon after he first visited Santa Fe in the 1990’s Parker developed a fascination for the Santa Fe icon that has taken him on many adventures, including a national treasure hunt that inspired our latest exhibition. The artifacts Parker discovered will appear alongside artwork by Morang and his contemporaries in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS, evoking an era full of crackling creativity. Morang stood at its warm heart.

In the story below, Parker captures the Santa Fe zeitgeist before and after Morang’s death, and travels to Paris to complete a mission in Morang’s memory:

 Alfred Morang- Santa Fe Hillside 1949- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, Untitled (Santa Fe Hillside) 1949, Oil on Canvas

HUNTING FOR ALFRED MORANG

by Paul Parker

I had been thinking about this mission for a long time and I finally find myself in the library seated in front of this antique microfilm viewer the size of a small refrigerator and I have loaded the reel containing the early 1958 issues of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

I was not sure why I had this unremitting need to know more about Alfred Morang. I had first seen his work painted on the adobe walls across from the bar in El Farol on Canyon Road and in Maria’s on Cordova, but I know the real inspiration came from my good friend Jim Parsons in Taos. Jim was an art dealer and appraiser forever and a friend and mentor for 20 years. When he mentioned that Alfred Morang was one of his favorites I knew I needed to pay attention. It was like Willy Wonka telling me about one of his favorite chocolate bars.

It helps that Alfred was such a compelling man, so well versed in music and literature as well as painting. He was the youngest person ever to perform a solo violin concert in the prestigious Jordan Hall in Boston. He was also an accomplished writer. The London Times once called him one of America’s leading non-political short story writers. Erskine Caldwell was a friend of his and he often visited Alfred and his wife Dorothy in Santa Fe.  Alfred’s short stories and poems were published alongside Frost, Poe and Mark Twain. I do know the main reason I am so drawn to him is that his art touches me. Behind that art is Alfred’s story, his life experience and that is what drove him to create the art that Jim and I and many others enjoy so much.

Alfred Morang- Untitled Portrait of a Woman 1950- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, Untitled (Portrait of a Woman) 1950, Oil on Board

There is a very sad part to his story and it is that part that drew me to the library. Alfred Morang died in a fire in his Canyon Road apartment studio on a cold January night at the age of 56. I had wanted to come here to the library and read the January 29, 1958 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican for some time. I wanted to know the details, I wanted to read what people said, I wanted to know what page it was on and how big the article was. I was scrolling through the microfilm and as I started approaching the day he died I realized I was reading the papers that he probably read unaware he only had days to live.

The closer I got to the issue of the paper I had come to see the more time I took reading the articles and I even started reading the ads. I lingered the longest on Tuesday’s edition dated January 28, 1958. That was the last paper Alfred could have read.

There was an article on that day that I am sure must have caught Alfred’s eye and the headline read, “French Ballet loses Backing”. Alfred never made it to Paris, but his heart was there. His heroes were the French Impressionists and he considered himself to be one of them. Monet and Bonnard were his favorites. The article explained that the French Education Ministry had withdrawn the government subsidy for the production of Francoise Sagan’s ballet “The Broken Date”. The ministry’s action followed a storm of protest. Apparently one dance was performed in a bathroom setting designed by painter Bernard Buffet and was described by some critics as scandalously erotic. I would like to have gone to Paris with Alfred and attended that performance. A French ballet with a bathroom setting designed by Bernard Buffet coupled with scandalously erotic, I am sure we both would have enjoyed that.

That Tuesday the Lensic was showing “Pal Joey” starring Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. Kaune’s was having a sale featuring Pork Chops at 59 cents a pound and Swanson’s Pot Pies at four for a dollar with your choice of chicken, turkey or beef. Cherry Motor’s at 607 Cerrillos Road had an ad for the new Rambler American for $1789. The ad proclaimed that one had been driven from New York to Los Angeles using only 80 gallons of gas averaging over 30 mpg. I remembered that time. One week before this ad ran I had celebrated my 12th birthday and becoming a teenager was in sight. Unlike today I was looking forward to getting older and that was the time I began thinking about cars. Chevrolet had just introduced the 283 V-8 a year earlier in the now iconic 1957 Chevy. The fuel economy push left over from the war was fading fast and the Plymouth Hemi and the “Little GTO” were on the horizon. The economical 6 cylinder Rambler American never had a chance.

IMG_0474Alfred Morang, Pecan Grove, Oil on Panel

I read every bit of that Tuesday’s paper. It was as if I felt that Alfred would be okay as long as I did not turn the page, but I knew it was time to see what I had come to see. I took a last look at the classifieds and marveled at an ad for a 2-bedroom adobe with wall-to-wall carpet “close in” for $16,500 and then I hit the button and watched the microfilm reel turn slowly.

The first thing I saw positioned on the top left side of the front page of that Wednesday edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican was a large photograph of a cat crouching on the corner of a charred mattress. The rest of the bed was strewn with papers and tubes of paint. Underneath the right half of the photo was a caption “Mourning for Her Master…This lonely cat was found wandering through the charred ruins of the home of her master Alfred Morang who died in the fire early this morning. The cat is on the bed where he died.” Morang’s friends had commented on his love of cats and noted that he often went hungry himself so he could afford to feed them. Two other cats perished in the fire with him. Unfortunately I discovered that the cat on the mattress in the picture had to be put down because it had extensive lung damage. There was also a picture of Alfred. A cigarette in a holder was hanging from the corner of his mouth dangling over his scraggly beard and he was wearing a black hat with a brim that was tilted slightly to the left making him look decidedly like an artist and decidedly French. The story next to the photo read “Well Known Artist Dies In Home Fire… Alfred Morang, 56, one of Santa Fe’s best known and most colorful Bohemians died at about 1:30 am last night in a tragic fire at his home in the 600 block of Canyon Road.”  Friends reported they had last seen Alfred in Claude’s bar around midnight. His apartment was just up the alley out back.

Five days after the fire the New Mexican noted…“Funeral services were held Saturday at the Fairview Memorial Park Crematorium in Albuquerque for Alfred Morang, widely known Santa Fe artist, writer and critic who was burned to death early Wednesday morning in a fire at his home here. The body was escorted to Albuquerque by a group of close friends, including Randall Davey, Will Shuster, Harlan Lizer, Walter Dawley and William Currie. Alfred was transported in a Spanish Colonial coffin made by Abolonio Rodriguez, custodian of the art museum.”

IMG_0505Alfred Morang, Guadalupe Plaza 1947, Oil on Board

Alfred was born in Ellsworth, Maine in 1901 and came to Santa Fe in 1937. Like many who came here he suffered from TB. He immediately became a fixture in the Santa Fe art scene. He wrote a weekly column for the newspaper and he produced a weekly radio program for 17 years on KVSF called “The World of Art with Alfred Morang.” Most of all he was famous for his enthusiasm for art and his ability to teach and many benefited from “The Morang School of Fine Art”.

Walt Wiggins authored a book published in 1979 appropriately titled “Alfred Morang…A Neglected Master”. Walt uncovered several quotes during his research for his book and my favorites include the following.  “When Alfred Morang’s life came to a tragic end in January of 1958 nothing before or since has so shaken the New Mexico art colony. Some say it was a sense of guilt that struck the community for not having shown a greater sense of appreciation for one who, by destiny, was different.” One Santa Fe artist reasoned, “Why shouldn’t Santa Fe be stunned with the loss of Alfred?  After all, he taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see.”

The February 10th 1958 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican carried the report of the local memorial service for Alfred in Lorraine Carr’s column “It Happened in Old Santa Fe”. Dr. Reginald Fisher, director of the Art Museum spoke first. “Friends this is not a funeral, we are simply gathered here for a creative expression of merit and appreciation of a spirit that has been active in an activity that we in Santa Fe like to call art. Alfred was an inventive, searching and daring spirit as French as Lautrec, yet he never saw Paris. Last week his restless spirit found peace.”

Painter and close friend Randall Davey was next. “I have known Alfred since he arrived back in 1937. He was a kind, a gentle and a humble soul and in all those years I never heard him speak unkindly of his fellow man. He was a great painter; many of you did not think so, because often he sold his work for a mere pittance through necessity. Nevertheless it was great art and the happiest work I have seen in New Mexico. He had a love and a delight for painting and I doubt that anyone will surpass him in this field.”

IMG_0495Alfred Morang, Untitled (Mountain Landscape), Oil on Board

I hope Alfred enjoyed himself on that Tuesday. I hope he spent some time with friends and some extra time petting his cats. I hope he wrote another poem and put the final touches on his most recent favorite painting before he headed down the alley to Claude’s that evening.

Claude James ran the well-known Canyon Road bar where he often spent time and, as legend has it, her rowdy spirit was just what was needed to run that place. I would love to have met Alfred there that fateful night for a few drinks. I’m sure we would have talked through the evening about art and life as we cast occasional glances at the ever present ladies that were often the subject of his paintings and when Claude said “It’s midnight, would you fellows like another one?”  I would nod and say, how about a couple of shots of your best cognac. I would love to take a sip, lean back and turn to him and say “Alfred I know you often say that you don’t believe in art for art’s sake, but you believe in art for people’s sake. Can you explain to me what you mean by that, and please…take your time?”

A few weeks after I finished writing this story I found myself engrossed in the details of planning a trip to Paris. I was not sure why, but suddenly it came flooding over me with incredible clarity. Human life really is very fragile and it really is all going to come to an end someday and we do not know when. I knew then I needed to go to Paris and I needed to go now. Unfortunately most people have that epiphany too late in life. They start thinking about the things they never got to do after it’s too late to do them. I knew then that this sudden obsession with Paris was a message from Alfred. Paris was his promised land, but he never made it there and I was going to go for both of us.

I told a friend in Santa Fe this story and he said, “You should do something for Alfred in Paris.” It was a great idea, but what would I do? I had been in Paris 5 days when I suddenly knew. I found an image of a Morang painting on my laptop. I printed it and wrote a bit on the back about Alfred and headed off to the Musee d’Orsay. This time as I enjoyed the paintings I was also searching for a repository for Alfred’s work and I finally found it. I can tell you that a fine example of the genius of Alfred Morang now has a home in Musee d’Orsay on the banks of the Seine and it will take a jackhammer to find it. He is close to Monet and Bonnard, the masters he so admired. Alfred, you finally made it.

Source: Bill Tate’s tale first appeared in the 1979 book Alfred Morang: A Neglected Master by Walt Wiggins.

OUTSIDER/INSIDER: Abstract Expressionism at Matthews Gallery

Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell at Matthews Gallery Boxer (left) and Motherwell

It was Mark Rothko’s 111th birthday this Friday, and the occasion has us pondering one of the 20th century’s most polarizing art movements: abstract expressionism.

Three artworks by renowned abstract expressionists have recently landed on our walls. The first two are heavily impastoed oil paintings by Stanley Boxer, who resolutely clung to the far fringes of the movement. Determined to defy labels, he was furious when art critic Clement Greenberg called him a color field painter, and yet the arc of his creative explorations closely paralleled that of his abstract expressionist contemporaries:

In the manufacture of my art, I use anything and everything which gets the job done without any sentiment or sanctity as to medium. Then, too, I have deliberately made a practice of being “visionless”… this is, I go where my preceding art takes me, and never try to redirect the future as to what my art should look like. This is a general credo and foundation for everything I have ever done and stands firm in its solidity as this is written.

Boxer, who died in 2000, would have loved Grace Glueck’s New York Times review of a 2004 exhibition of his late works. She notes that he was “never part of a movement or trend,” but rather driven by paint’s “physical possibilities without script or program.”

Abstract Paintings by Stanley Boxer- Matthews Gallery Blog Atriumofashreddednight  (top) and Crisppitchofsigh, Oil on Linen

Glueck ends the piece with a brief analysis of Boxer’s titles, lyrical lists of words that are jammed together in unbroken strings. The works in our collection, for example, have names that read like fragments of beat poems: Atriumofashreddednight and Crisppitchofsigh. Glueck writes, “As Boxer joked in his titles, these canvases, more than most, do not really lend themselves to verbal exposition. They live for the eye, to which they bring deep satisfaction.”

Boxer’s titles provide a link to Robert Motherwell, the other abstract expressionist represented in our collection. Unlike many “abex” artists who labeled their canvases using dates or arbitrary numbers, Boxer and Motherwell were unapologetic in their wordplay.

That’s where the similarity ends. While Boxer considered himself an isolated frontiersman of abstract painting, Motherwell was an eager icon of abstract expressionism. He coined the term ‘New York School’ to describe his revolutionary circle, which included Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and acted as a spokesperson for the movement in the world of academia.

If Boxer’s titles were little more than impressionistic quips, Motherwell, who was a scholar before he became a “serious artist” and wrote numerous essays on aesthetics, chose names that have inspired endless analysis. His most famous series of paintings, Elegies to the Spanish Republic, chronicles the Spanish Civil War in bold strokes of black and white and subtle passages of ochre, blue, green and red.

Mainly, I use each color as simply symbolic: ochre for the earth, green for the grass, blue for the sky and sea,” Motherwell wrote. “I guess that black and white, which I use most often, tend to be protagonists.” In varying contexts, each color holds a universe of meanings. To fully understand the use of ochre in Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies, “You would have to know that a Spanish bull ring is made of sand of an ochre color,” the artist wrote.  Other works that feature ochre, like Western Air or Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White, would naturally spark different associations. 

Robert Motherwell- Africa 4- Silkscreen- Matthews Gallery Blog Robert Motherwell, Africa 4, Silkscreen

What to make of our Motherwell silkscreen, titled Africa 4? Motherwell completed the Africa suite in 1970, the same year he created his Basque and London suites. They were his first projects entirely devoted to silkscreens, and a divergence from the heavily layered nuances of his oil paintings. Here his black abstract forms stand crisply against their off-white backgrounds, although on closer inspection, their tumultuous edges still seem to weave in an out of focus.

“All my works [consist] of a dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis,” the artist wrote in 1944.

Motherwell first explored the concepts of automatism and the subconscious with a group of Parisian Surrealists, including Duchamp, Ernst and Masson, who had fled Europe during World War II.  Their ideas would help shape the spiritual side of abstract expressionism, a spontaneous, intuitive element that Motherwell carefully balanced with his more intellectual inclinations.

Motherwell’s connection to the Surrealists lends us a potential clue to the significance of the ‘Africa’ title. In his 1946 essay ‘Beyond the Aesthetics‘, Motherwell discusses the life of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who helped inspire Surrealism. In the final decades of his life Rimbaud quit writing and set off on an African expedition, a leap of faith that Motherwell compares to the Surrealists’ break from Dada and formation of a new movement:

Like Rimbaud before them, the Surrealists abandoned the aesthetic altogether; it takes a certain courage to leave poetry for Africa (as Rimbaud did, fh). They revealed their insight as essentially moral in never forgetting for a moment that most living is a process of conforming to an established order which is inhuman in its drives and consequences. Their hatred sustained them through all the humiliating situations in which the modern artist find himself, and led them to conceptions beyond the reach of more passive souls. For them true ‘poetry’ was freedom from mechanical social responses. No wonder they loved the work of children and the insane – if not the creatures themselves.

Perhaps Motherwell’s Africa suite represents a similar journey, a leap into the unknown that is a clear break from previous adventures. Just as Rimbaud abandoned an intellectual pursuit for one centered on travel and action, and as the Surrealists broke from the societal battles of the Dadaists to explore dreamscapes, so Motherwell’s stark Africa forms landed him in a new realm of image-making. Perhaps he sought to prove that even the most distinctly divided blacks and whites could possess endless shades of grey.

Learn more about Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for more gallery news.

FOUR CENTURIES: Monnoyer’s Mark

Still life attributed to Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery blog

We discovered this still life at the preview of a Santa Fe estate sale. It was tucked in a dark upstairs corner of the house, far from the Picasso print and treasure trove of art books on prominent display in the living room. Lawrence lingered for a while to take in the flamboyant bouquet with its rich rosy tones. There was an excited glint in his eye.

A few months later, the painting has found a home under the glowing lights of our European art room. We know a lot more about it now than when it first caught Lawrence’s fancy. It’s attributed to Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699), a 17th century Franco-Flemish painter who wielded his brush for Louis XIV. Its siblings hang in some of France and England’s most famous estates.

Our adobe art abode is a very different venue, but this 300-year-old artwork gives us the opportunity to transport gallery visitors across the sea and through the ages. Look below to chase Monnoyer through the palaces where he left his mark, and don’t miss the painting’s debut at our opening for FOUR CENTURIES: European Art from 1600 to 1950 on Friday, June 13 from 5-7 pm.

Hôtel Lambert- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery Blog

Our first stop is the Hotel Lambert on the Ile Saint-Louis, site of Monnoyer’s first Parisian commission in 1650. The artist grew up in Lille, France and trained in Antwerp, but it was the lavish estates in and around Paris that claimed his considerable interior decorating talents. Monnoyer’s floral designs in the grand mansion would delight its many owners and guests for centuries to come, from a famous Polish political salon to Voltaire, Chopin, Balzac, Delacroix and Dali. Unfortunately, the Hotel Lambert was badly damaged in a 2013 fire and is under renovation.

Chateau de Marly- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer-  Matthews Gallery Blog

 

Artist Charles Le Brun, who painted a series of renowned ceiling frescoes at the Hotel Lambert, brought Monnoyer along for a commission at Louis XIV’s Chateau de Marly. The (relatively) small country estate was the king’s escape from the more rigid world of Versailles, and aristocrats fiercely battled for a chance to stay there. Alas, the twelve pavilions that flanked the water and their intricately adorned interiors are long gone, but the commission launched Monnoyer into a new stratosphere.

Palace of Versailles- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery Blog

Monnoyer worked with Le Brun once again on the ornamentation of the Palace of Versailles. For this and other high profile royal projects, he developed a style that was far removed from his training in the subdued still life painting techniques of the Low Countries. The bold, ornamental approach is in full force in our still life, recalling the spectacular garlands of flowers he painted on the ceiling of the Queen’s pavilion at the Chateau de Vincennes. Monnoyer also made reference sketches and etchings for French tapestry workshops, greatly influencing European decorative styles for years to come.

Boughton House- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery Blog

A commission from the Montagu House in London drew Monnoyer away from Paris in 1690. He adorned dozens of panels with fruits and vegetables and painted several portraits, some of which now reside in the state rooms of Northamptonshire’s Boughton House. The artist remained in England until his death in 1699, but his distinctly French style lived on in the artwork of two of his sons.

Make sure to attend the opening of our FOUR CENTURIES exhibition on Friday, June 13 from 5-7 pm, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for daily gallery news.

BURST OF BRILLIANCE: Adolph Gottlieb’s Southwestern Epiphany

“It was like being at sea,” said Adolph Gottlieb. The artist had just spent a year in the Desert Southwest- from 1937 to 1938- and returned to his hometown of New York City with a radically altered style. “There’s… a tremendous clarity of light and at night the clouds seem very close,” he continued. This was a very different type of “sea” than the one that carried Gottlieb on his inaugural artistic journey. When he was 17 he dropped out of high school and caught a merchant ship to Europe. He spent two years there, including six months in Paris where he audited art classes and visited the Louvre every day. Back in New York, he studied at The Art Students League and befriended Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Milton Avery. Together they founded the abstract expressionism movement, working to develop color field painting and other innovations. They remained close until Gottlieb decided to strike out on his own to Tucson, Arizona. It was an endeavor that would markedly separate him from his contemporaries, even after his return to the East. Gottlieb’s New York friends called the style he had developed in Arizona simplistic, but the artist refused to look back. He distanced himself from his colleagues and focused on developing a Surrealist style. Experiments with automatism and surrealist biomorphism helped him create an abstract symbol system for his gridded Pictographs series. Finally, in the 1950’s, he started work on two series that would become his most well-known work. Both series are represented in our collection, and their very existence seems linked to the bare, elegant vistas of the Desert Southwest.

IMAGINARY LANDSCAPES

Around 1950-51… I was finally getting away from the pictographs and looking for something… So it was necessary to find other forms, a different changed concept. So finally after a certain period of transition I hit on dividing the canvas into two parts, which then became like an imaginary landscape… What I was really trying to do when I got away from the pictographs was to make this notion of the kind of polarity clearer and more extreme. So the most extreme thing that I could think of doing at the time was dividing the canvas in half, make two big divisions and put something in the upper division and something in the lower section.

The color and texture of the land mass in “Green Foreground” recalls Gottlieb’s sea simile. In this period the artist was consolidating surrealist and abstract expressionist theories by approaching the two movements as different sides of the same coin (hence a “polarity”). Our lithograph implies a fantastical landscape, but works just as well as a flat, wholly abstract composition. If we imagine ourselves exploring this terrain, it would look much like Gottlieb’s surroundings in the Southwest, albeit with a greener tint.

BURSTS

After doing the imaginary landscapes until say 1956, in ’57 I came out with the first Burst painting… There was a different type of space than I had ever used and it was a further clarification of what I was trying to do. The thing that was interesting that it was a return to a focal point, but it was a focal point with the kind of space that existed in traditional painting. Because this was like a solitary image or two images that were just floating in the canvas space. They had to hold the space and they also had to create all the movement – that took place within the rectangle.

Gottlieb’s Bursts are Imaginary Landscapes that have further dissolved into abstraction, though their compositions still root them somewhat in reality. In “Crimson Ground” two discs rise (or set) like a sun and moon from a monochrome tangle with the most ephemeral of horizon lines.

When I started doing the Bursts I began to do part of the painting horizontally. It was necessary to do that because I was working with a type of paint which had a particular viscosity, which flowed, and if it were on a vertical surface it would just run. If it were on a horizontal surface, I could control it… I was using a combination of brushes and knives, palette knives… and spatulas… I’ve tried everything, rollers, rags, I’ve put paint on with everything.

“Crimson Ground” isn’t a painting, but it still has a painterly quality to it. The edges of the discs are uneven and textured, and the forms below are as splattered as a Pollock drip painting. This further highlights the polarity between the surreal landscape and an abstract expressionist painting. One is focused on depth, the other focuses solely on the surface. Learn more about Adolph Gottlieb on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for to-the-minute gallery updates!