MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Violin

Alfred Morang's Violin will appear in the Morang and Friends exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

When Alfred Morang was a teenager he took to the nightclubs of Boston with his trusty violin. He had been a sickly child, bedridden and unable to attend school, but his mother and uncle recognized his fiery creativity and hired private music and painting tutors. Morang grew from a talented tot to a full-fledged young Renaissance Man, and his passionate musical performances earned him enough money to thrive. It was the beginning of a lifelong artistic journey.

A century later, Morang’s fiddle launched yet another adventure. Santa Fe art collector Paul Parker was researching Morang’s life when he came upon a letter by the artist’s longtime wife Dorothy. After Morang’s tragic death in a studio fire, Dorothy was having a hard time finding an heir to his worldly possessions. She’d finally contacted a distant relative, and was arranging the shipment of a few things collected from the ruins of Morang’s Canyon Road casita.

Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang Playing the Violin- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang playing his violin

The letter was Parker’s first clue in a treasure hunt that spanned the nation and stretched to the farthest branches of the Morang family tree. At the end of the trail was a treasure trove that connected the dots of Morang’s life, from his early years as a celebrated musician and writer to his time as an iconic Santa Fe artist. Morang’s well-worn violin, blackened by the fire, is perhaps Parker’s most striking find. It will appear alongside Morang’s artwork in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS.

We interviewed Parker about his search for the fascinating artifacts that will anchor our exhibition to this legendary Santa Fe master:

Paul Parker Inspects a Painting by Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog Paul Parker inspecting a painting by Alfred Morang

 

 How did you first get interested in Alfred Morang?

I came to Santa Fe in the 1990’s, and met Jim Parsons in Taos not long after. He had a little booth with a rack of prints and drawings and things, and he had a pile of books called The Art Fever. We hit it off and just talked and talked, and I bought a copy of his book. I took it home and read it, and realized who I was talking to.

There was a time when Jim Parsons was the most powerful person in the Western art business. Back in the day, he had a little art gallery in his Denver apartment. He convinced Philip Anschutz to start a Western art collection, which is now the largest and most prestigious collection of Western art in private hands in the world.

Jim was a giant Morang fan, and he showed me his work. I became instantly fascinated with Morang’s story. I had seen his paintings in El Farol but didn’t know anything about him until Jim told me.

Tell me about Morang’s childhood.

He was born in a little town called Ellsworth, Maine. There’s still a Morang Chevrolet in Ellsworth that his father owned with another partner. He and his mother had a very close relationship.

Even as a child, Morang was something of a polymath.

 Yes, he learned from Carrol S. Tyson and other American Impressionists. He was also the youngest-ever solo violinist to play at Jordan Hall in Boston. I mean, he was a very accomplished musician. His wife Dorothy was a member of the music conservancy in Boston. That’s where he met her.

Alfred Morang- The Artist's Studio Portland Maine- Pen and Ink- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alfred Morang, Artist’s Studio-Portland, 1932, Pen and Ink

 

He and Dorothy lived in Portland, Maine before his tuberculosis forced them to move to Santa Fe in 1938. Morang had a successful a writing and painting career back East. What are your thoughts on his early work?

I’ve seen some of his work from back then. Like a lot of artists, when Morang came to New Mexico and saw the color and the light and everything, it inspired him. I think that’s the biggest thing.

It’s almost akin to my life. I thought I enjoyed art, but until I moved to Santa Fe, until I drove by 100 galleries every night on my way home and everybody that I associated with and talked to was in the business in some way, shape or form, something about that was really inspiring.

Artifacts of Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang to Appear in December Exhibition- Matthews Gallery BlogSanta Fe New Mexican columnist Lorraine Carr covered Morang’s memorial service in February, 1958

 

How did you start hunting for the box of Morang’s possessions?

I was writing a story about Morang, and I went to the library to find out what the newspaper said when he died in 1958. I was reading all of the articles and eulogies and things, and I thought, ‘This is an amazing man.”

After I went to the library that day, I realized I needed more research, so I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art and searched their archives for anything I could find in Alfred Morang’s folder. That’s when I found Dorothy Morang’s folder, and saw her letter. It said that she had sent this box of Morang’s possessions away to Carrie Morang Robinson in Atlanta, Georgia. All I had was the name Carrie Morang Robinson and this address in Atlanta. I did my research and found out that she was deceased. I couldn’t find any relatives, and her former house had a different owner.

 That must have seemed like a dead-end.

Yeah, I made several phone calls and then just kind of gave up for a while. Then something hit me a couple months later and I said, “Damn it, I’m going to try again.”

I did some more research and tried to find Alfred’s relatives. Carrie Morang Robinson was the daughter of one of Alfred Morang’s uncles because she was a cousin and had the family name. I found one uncle’s name through the Morang Chevy dealership in Ellsworth, but then I ran into another dead-end.

A couple months later I got a Maine antiques publication, and there was something about ancestors in it. I got some other names of who Carrie Morang Robinson’s father might have been. I found some members of the Robinson family, and started researching them.

You were making some headway!

 I just start calling people again, and this woman whose name was Robinson came up. I called her, and she said, “Oh, our cousin Alfred. Our mother used to tell us about him.” I started telling her a little bit of the story, and she said, “You have to talk to Gwen.” I just lit up, because Gwen was Carrie Morang Robinson’s granddaughter and lived with her grandmother in the final years of her life. Now Gwen owns Carrie’s house.

I called Gwen up, and she had all of these family stories about Alfred, that he used to go through the woods with his violin and his cats following him. “Weird cousin Alfred” or something like that. She said, “Well, if my grandmother owned the box, it’s probably still up in the attic.” Then I got excited.

You were one step away. It must have been tantalizing. 

Well, Gwen was renting the house, so she told me she’d search for the stuff the next time she was in Atlanta. A month or two goes by, and I call her up again. She says, “We’ll be selling the house, so I’ll look for it then.” A long period of time goes by, and all of a sudden I hear the phone ring one day. “Well, I found your box,” she says. “I’ve got a couple more things—a violin and a painting.”

 Paul Parker Surveys Artifacts of Legendary Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery BlogParker surveys sketches and other artifacts of Alfred Morang

 

How did it feel when Morang’s artifacts finally arrived at your door? 

It was absolutely phenomenal. It was like the biggest Christmas ever. To see that violin and just to touch it. Talk about personal.

The box was full of many different short stories and manuscripts, which he submitted to radio stations to be read as radio plays. Many of these stories were never published, and might have been lost forever.

Did this elaborate hunt make you wonder why someone didn’t try to keep the artifacts in Santa Fe? 

Dorothy and Alfred got divorced in 1950, but even then Dorothy kind of watched out for him. When he died, she knew about this cousin Carrie Morang Robinson, who was the only rightful heir to his possessions. Dorothy stepped up to help contact her, and at the time it wasn’t a big deal to send them away.

One of the stories that Morang’s adopted daughter Claire LaTour has told me is that they didn’t know what to do with his ashes. They left them in a closet in the art museum after the last memorial service. Claire came back, and somebody flew her over Canyon Road and she dumped his ashes out the window of the airplane, which was a difficult task. She told me, “I was wearing a fur coat, and I always laughed that forever afterward I was brushing Alfred out of my coat.”

Alfred Morang- Autumn in the Park- Oil on Canvas- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, Autumn in the Park, 1954, Oil on Canvas

 

Morang’s colorful personality often overshadows his artwork. Is that frustrating for you, as a big fan of his work ?

It’s the same frustration that I have now with van Gogh. I know from all my research that van Gogh was not a crazy man. He had epileptic fits that affected his life and personality, but he was a very brilliant man and definitely not insane.

It’s almost the same thing with Alfred. People like the story of a bohemian alcoholic, something that fits better with the story of Toulouse-Lautrec. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He couldn’t have done the things that he did if he were an alcoholic.

The greatest quote that I’ve ever heard about an artist is from Morang’s memorial service. It’s not attributed to anybody specifically, but an unknown artist said, “It’s no wonder that we in Santa Fe mourn the loss of Alfred, he taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see.” 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.

Coming up next week, Paul Parker digs up more mysteries of Alfred Morang’s life and travels to Paris to complete a mission in Morang’s memory. Make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily updates on MORANG AND FRIENDS.

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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

2008_JimDine_23220011

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.

HOW TO BE AN ARTISTIC GENIUS: Go bonkers.

Gustave Courbet- Self-Portrait (The Desperate Man)- Matthews Gallery blog
Gustave Courbet, Self-Portrait (The Desperate Man)

We all know that Vincent Van Gogh left this world with 1.5 ears and a (probably) self-inflicted gunshot wound in his chest, but when you go on a hunt for the craziest artistic geniuses, the fou-roux starts seeming positively rational.

After all, Michelangelo was so averse to bathing or changing his clothes that his long-suffering assistant once wrote, “He has sometimes gone so long without taking (his shoes) off that then the skin came away, like a snake’s, with the boots.” The Renaissance master would wander off in the middle of conversations and refused to attend his brother’s funeral.

Gustave Courbet went a little nuts after he tangled with the French government and exiled himself to Switzerland, painting several “self-portraits” of bleeding, mangled fish. You surely have to be a bit bonkers to drive so many lovers insane, so Pablo Picasso deserves a spot in the art sanitarium as well. Then there’s Paul Gauguin, who made up romantic, insanely elaborate lies about his dismal trips to Tahiti.

Lesser-known prodigies only suffer more, it seems. French painter Leon Bonvin was found dangling from a tree after a dealer refused to show his paintings. Dutch artist Abraham van der Doort, who was Charles I’s art conservationist, thought he’d lost one of the king’s favorite pieces and offed himself. Dutch painter Herman Kruyder ended it all in a psychiatric ward, and Polish writer Stanislaw Ignacy Witkierwicz fed his lover poison and slit his wrists after the Second Army invaded Poland.

Does true artistic brilliance come hand in hand with insanity? Perhaps to see things in revolutionary ways, you have to take a trip off the edge. What do you think? Join the discussion on our Facebook and Twitter pages, or in the comments section below.

Top 10 Art Movies, Part 1

Film gives us the invigorating opportunity to see long dried canvases shine bright and wet again. Telling a beloved artist’s story to the world’s satisfaction is more than just a process of retracing her brushstrokes, though. Our first five selections for best art movie are willing to take as many creative risks as the artists they profile.

Frida (2002)– This biopic of the Mexican surrealist was stalled for years until Salma Hayek took the helm as producer and lead. Hayek and director Julie Taymor paint the story of an artist who suffered through crippling physical mutilation and bottomless heartache with the most vivid palette. That was Kahlo’s outlet and weapon, after all, even as she lay in bed while her sometime husband Diego Rivera gained global notoriety for his own work. It helps to know the story’s true ending, even if it would be a bit capitalistic for Kahlo’s tastes. It’s not Rivera’s face you’ll find in the window of every Santa Fe gift shop.

Lust for Life (1956)– A bearded, bedraggled Kirk Douglas is mesmerizing as Vincent van Gogh in this classic portrait filmed in Holland and France. It’s a career highlight for Douglas, but Anthony Quinn steals the show in his Oscar-winning turn as Paul Gauguin, who admires Van Gogh’s work but finds that he can’t stand the man himself. Some of the film’s best scenes are in its quieter moments, when the famously volatile Van Gogh picks up a brush and pours out his emotions on canvas.

Modigliani (2004)– “The future of art is in a woman’s face. Tell me, Picasso, how do you make love to a cube?” sneers Modigliani, waving a rose in the air. It’s Modigliani‘s best moment, and it really happened. The rest of director Mick Davis’ high energy film bends the truth a bit, but it all works in the way Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris did. Famous figures are always dropping by for self-aware bit parts that keep the film light on its feet. It’s the artist’s story told in the manner that Parisians must have gossiped about it just after his death at 35. All of the pieces are there, but their order gets more muddled with each delicious glass of absinthe.

Pollock (2000)– Director Ed Harris’ film is as much about Jackson Pollock’s alcoholism as his art, and though we know that the artist’s addiction will win in the end, all of the tension of his controversial rise, tumultuous personal life and tragic death in a drunk driving accident holds us captive. Harris, who plays Pollock, and Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner are so driven in their portrayal of abstract expressionism’s royal couple that when the paint starts flying, you’ll believe it’s really Pollock holding the brush.

Artemisia (1997) – Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s long, extraordinary artistic career is often eclipsed by the events surrounding her rape as an 18-year-old. Director Agnes Merlet chooses to tell only that small piece of her story in Artemisia, and fudges the details a bit by turning it into a love story. The film’s saving grace is Valentina Cervi, who plays Gentileschi with fierce passion. When Cervi’s face fills the screen, as it often does, her expressive eyes tell the whole story.

Check out our final five picks for best art film, and follow our Twitter and Facebook feeds for more art meditations.