FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Be a Voyeur, Detective, Surrealist, Humanist!

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

  Untitled, Unknown

“A photograph is usually looked at—seldom looked into,” said Ansel Adams. When it comes to the pictures in our upcoming show, there’s no other option but to dig a little deeper.

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography, opening Friday, May 16, is not your typical Matthews Gallery show. The artists who created our collection of found photographs never got the recognition that Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec or Renoir did, but there’s no denying their aesthetic sensibilities.

That’s what has kept us digging through estate sales, thrift shops, antique stores and attics for years. We’ve amassed quite the collection of vernacular photographs, also known as “found” or “orphan” photos, and we’re not alone in our scavenging habits. Our friends on social media understand the great allure of the hunt.

Looking at so many old and found photographs I often think that, ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,'” writes Paul Jackson, who maintains the Flickr group Found Photographs.  “The person behind the camera has seen these things, lived that life..you know, we can sometimes almost taste it.” We asked several other photo finders what they love about the pursuit, and they all had equally passionate answers.

Vernacular photography presents unique challenges to the viewer, asking us to shift between different roles to grasp what we’re seeing. Our first impulse is often voyeuristic. We can’t resist a peek at someone’s intimate moment, and we swiftly draw conclusions about what’s going on. In the image above a baton girl gawks open-mouthed at a band boy, but he looks resolutely away. Is this a tale of unrequited love?

Society often slaps us on the wrist for our voyeuristic tendencies. In his brilliant essay on found photography Dr. Barry Mauer of the University of Central Florida says this instinct is something we should indulge.

“At first sight, most of these pictures are hilarious or tragic or both,” writes Mauer. “Voyeurism allows me to experience these reactions from a comfortable distance.” However, Mauer cautions against stopping there. Voyeurism often comes hand-in-hand with judgment and categorization. Stereotyping these mysterious individuals cuts us off from a rich world of visual mysteries. Time to pull out the magnifying glass.

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

 

Untitled, Unknown

If we act as detectives, this simple portrait holds a lot of hints about the bicyclist and her photographer. Did you notice the bandages on her knee and arm? If those are recent wounds, perhaps she’s just learning how to ride. It’s difficult to tie a forearm bandage on your own. Maybe the person behind the camera is her teacher and medic? On the other hand, the bags on the handlebars hint at a different adventure. One of them looks like a canteen. Could the other hold snacks for a picnic?

Teasing out these details is invigorating. To take it one step further, note the composition of the photograph. The front wheel is cut off and part of the path is visible behind the girl. This perspective, when combined with the subject’s bent posture and excited face, lends the photo a sense of forward movement. Our mysterious photographer has imbued a picture of a static bike with surprising dynamism. Was that his or her intention?

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

Untitled, Unknown

Of course, in the end we’ll probably never know if our inferences are correct. Who better to help us surmount our fear of the unknown than the surrealists? André Breton and his friends were inspired rather than daunted by impenetrable mysteries. They sought out fragments of culture, watching films from between their fingers to try to catch discreet details and writing stories based on dreams they had about real experiences.

Both techniques allowed them to focus on details they otherwise would’ve ignored. In the photo above, our interest in the group in the foreground distracts from the odd figure standing in the far background. Cropping the photo brings up a whole array of new questions.

Found Photograph Detail- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

Detail of previous photo

In a broader context the entire photo is a fragment. The man in the foreground’s stern expression stands alone, isolated from what happened before or after. Perhaps he cracked a smile a moment later, but this short glimpse of his day at the pool has a foreboding air to it.

“The surrealists used fragmentation as a means to knowledge, discovering significance in the fragment that had been concealed in the contextualized whole,” Mauer writes. It’s not hard to trace the progression of this thinking to Marcel Duchamp’s use of found objects, or to the Dada artists’ repurposing of vernacular photos in collages (more on all of that in an upcoming blog post).

In the end analyzing and relating to the “characters” in these photographs helps develop our skills in another field: humanism. It’s amazing how connected we can feel to a person we’ll never meet, and how powerful our feelings of empathy and sympathy can be when we exercise them. Look long enough, and you’ll start to imagine that these familiar strangers are looking right back.

Step into the shoes of a voyeur, detective, surrealist and humanist at FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography, opening Friday, May 16. Also, make sure to check out our fascinating interview with four found photography collectors and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for more gallery news!

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LOR’S LORE: Introducing Artist Lor Roybal

Lor Roybal- Dodge's Disbelief- Matthews Gallery

Lor Roybal, Dodge’s Disbelief, acrylic on paper
When Lor Roybal‘s big blue van pulls up in front of the gallery, we’re never quite sure what’s in store. She’s a blur of swirling textiles as she bursts through the door with something bright and colorful in tow. Her specialty is portraits, usually of characters from dreams or her vivid imagination. Sometimes she carries a box packed with miniature paintings and other times she holds a large frame in her hands. Once she brought by a loose stack of old sketches and wild free verse poems.

Lor is a familiar face in Santa Fe’s art community, but no one seems to know much about her. She lives somewhere along the Pecos River north of Santa Fe. Her two-room house is off the grid so she heats it using firewood in the winter. Her dog is her closest companion and painting is her favorite pastime. She is a scholar of art history.

“When I first started showing people my little paintings, I would say, ‘Here’s my treasure chest of gems,'” Lor once told us. There’s definitely something precious about Lor’s colorful faces. Each subject has a name and thorough biography. There are daring circus performers and pensive poets, gossipy grandmothers and mischievous little boys, cherubic elves and long-departed spirits. Some of the figures are intelligent riffs on other artists’ styles, from Picasso to Chagall to Renoir, but all possess a wild twist of Lor’s style.

Lor is now officially part of our stable, and we couldn’t be prouder to represent her. As you’ll see in her latest batch of acrylic paintings on paper, the artist is truly one-of-a-kind. Check out some of the work below, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for continued updates.

Lor Roybal- Posi- Matthews Gallery

Lor Roybal, Posi, acrylic on paper

Lor Roybal- Emiles Incredulity- Matthews Gallery blog

Lor Roybal, Emile’s Incredulity, acrylic on paper

Lor Roybal- Stendhals Boat- Matthews Gallery blog

Lor Roybal, Stendhal’s Boat, acrylic on paper

Lor Roybal- Young Clown Lujo- Matthews Gallery blog

Lor Roybal, Young Clown Lujo, acrylic on paper

PICASSO GETS BURNED: 5 strange facts about the Vollard Suite

Pablo Picasso- Personnages Masques et Femme Oiseau- Matthews Gallery blog

Pablo Picasso, Personnages Masques et Femme Oiseau, aquatint and etching

When it came to marketing himself, art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was a pro. He had a knack for scouting out young artists with rockstar potential and he wasn’t afraid to ask for favors later on. Vollard gave Pablo Picasso his very first gallery show in 1901. By 1930, Picasso was world-famous and Vollard enlisted him for a special commission. In exchange for paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, Picasso would create a series of 100 etchings ending with three portraits of Vollard.

What better way to immortalize yourself? Picasso completed the Vollard Suite over the next seven years, and it would become one of his most famous print suites. The first etchings in the series are in the neoclassical style and show a sculptor in the studio with his beautiful muse. As World War II set in, Picasso turned to darker subject matter culled from Greek mythology. A friendly minotaur appears, but soon grows agitated and violent. By the end of the series the minotaur has lost his vision and wanders aimlessly.

At Matthews Gallery we have the 24th print from the series, titled “Masked Characters and Bird Woman“. In our research on the print, we’ve discovered some pretty weird facts about the Vollard Suite. Five things you (almost surely) didn’t know:

1.  Armed Art Critics Attack! 

Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey tear down Picasso's Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Spanish paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey on the march

Aside from Steve Wynn 0r Olga Dogaru, Picasso’s most violent critics might just be fascist paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey. Picasso finished the Vollard Suite in 1937, but Vollard’s untimely death in 1939 and World War II prevented the prints from going on the market until the 1950s. In the 1970s, the series starred in a short-lived exhibition in Madrid. In protest of Picasso’s political views on the Spanish Civil War the Guerrilleros stormed the show, tore down the prints and burned them with acid. Ouch.

2. Death by Foot

Honore de Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece inspired Picasso's Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Image from Honore de Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece

Sometimes, art kills. Scholars have tied the Vollard Suite to Honore de Balzac’s short story “The Unknown Masterpiece.” The tragic tale chronicles an artist’s frustration at his inability to capture a model’s supreme beauty on canvas. He manages to paint her foot, but soon gives up and commits suicide in despair. Picasso explores similar themes in his etchings. His lover Marie-Therese Walter appears throughout the series, at first as his adoring model and then as a girlish guide to the blind minotaur. The artist has lost his power to capture his model in his art, and now she nimbly leads him toward death.

3. Sweet Art

Pablo Picasso used a sugar life aquatint technique in his Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Sugar lift aquatint from the Vollard Suite

It seems Picasso had a sweet tooth. The ever innovative artist experimented with new printmaking techniques for the Vollard commission, including dry point and aquatinting. The latter method allows the artist to create varying tones on the print using particles of rosin and an acid. Sugar lift aquatinting is a sweet variation. A layer of sugar syrup is applied to parts of the print and then burned off with acid to create dark fields on a white ground (see the dark patches in the image above).

4. Clairvoyant Pablo

Was Pablo Picasso psychic? - Matthews Gallery Blog

Picasso possessed many artistic talents, but was he also a fortune-teller? One of the Vollard prints shows a model who is a doppelgänger for Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot, though it prefigures their relationship by over ten years. Third eye or not, the artist noted Gilot’s resemblance to his archetypal female figures when he met her. It made quite the flattering pick-up line.

5. Vollarchitecture

Vollard Suite in Brazil named after Picasso Print Series - Matthews Gallery

The Vollard Suite in Curitiba, Brazil

In more recent news, the world’s first rotating building is named after the Vollard Suite. The futuristic residential complex in Brazil opened in 2001 with an exhibition of Picasso’s prints. Its design resembles a Greek pillar, a reference to Picasso’s neoclassical style in the suite (check out the bird lady’s perch in our print). The skyscraper’s $400,000 apartments turn 360 degrees every hour. It might sound dizzying, but something tells us the extravagant artist would approve.

Learn more about our Vollard print here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news from Matthews Gallery!

LET THE HUNT BEGIN…

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“Where did you get that?”

That’s a common question among Canyon Road visitors when they see historic work by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dali and other famous artists on our walls.

There’s no supermarket for art like this. Finding and authenticating it is an elaborate process, and the treasure hunt often begins where you’d least expect it. If you’ve ever wondered about the value of that painting or print on your wall (or in your attic), we might be able to help.

We’ve been in the fine art business for over 15 years, and have assisted hundreds of clients in selling their historic and vintage art. Whether you own a Renoir lithograph or an exquisite painting by a little-known American modernist, a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro or a watercolor by an anonymous 19th century artist, we’d be delighted to take a look at it.

We’re primarily interested in art from four categories: European, American, Southwest and Contemporary. It could be a single work or a collection within any price range. If you’re looking to sell or consign, we offer fair prices.

Contact us at info@thematthewsgallery.com to get the process started, and check out our website and Facebook page to learn more about us.

Matthews Art Group- Sell your historic and vintage art

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.

NEW TRADITIONS: Matthews Gallery Online Art Auction

History of the art auction- Matthews Gallery blog

The world’s oldest auction house opened in Stockholm, Sweden in 1674. Art auctions in Great Britain gained popularity a few decades later when the Earl of Oxford’s collection appeared on the block in 1742. That particular sale featured the full range of odd and valuable items you might find in a dusty old castle, from a bust of an unknown bishop (five shillings) to a series of van Dyck paintings (165 guineas).

The beat of the auction mallet has marked the rhythm of the secondary market ever since. It’s a tradition that’s full of strange pageantry and heart pumping excitement. Auction kingpins Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which were both founded in mid-18th century England, often draw the ire of art world players for their tightly controlled sales. “They know exactly how many people will be bidding on a work and exactly who they are,” wrote art critic Jerry Saltz in 2012 after a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream sold at Sotheby’s for $119.5 million. “In a gallery, works of art need only one person who wants to pay for them.”

Online auctions have meanwhile been swiftly democratizing the centuries-old process, and that’s where the Matthews Gallery decided to jump in. We launched the EUROPEAN MASTERS, AMERICAN AND SOUTHWESTERN ART AUCTION on July 25 and it runs through July 29. Come browse our virtual auktionsverk of art and, if you’re inspired, make a bid. You’ll find art by European modernists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro, Southwestern legends including Emil Bisttram and Alfred Morang, and notable contemporary artists like Jamie Chase, Eric G. Thompson and Kate Rivers among the lots. Here are some notable pieces from the catalogue:

EUROPEAN MASTERS 

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Click to see the works on our auction site:

HISTORIC SOUTHWESTERN ART

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Click to see the works on our auction site:

  •  Untitled (Landscape #1), Emil Bisttram
  • Untitled (Landscape #2), Emil Bisttram
  • Untitled (Landscape #3), Emil Bisttram
  • Untitled (Santa Fe Landscape), Alfred Morang
  • Riders at Sundown, Gene Kloss
  • Return of the Wood Gatherers, Gene Kloss

CONTEMPORARY ART 

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See more lots from the auction here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for auction updates all week!