I hate the way the story of art is more about mythologies than it is about the paint on the palette. All too often the elites tend to buy into one story because it fits into an annointed narrative, while other wonderful artists can be overlooked. Now that Egon Schiele is lauded widely it is easy to forget that for most of the 20th century it was more a case of Egon Who? Like with Schiele, Tamara de Lempicka is having a second life as her paintings are being rediscovered by the current generation.
Tamara de lempicka has always had her loyal band of admirers (I count myself as one of them) but the greatness of her creative achievements has also been undercut by an art mythology that placed the steps to abstraction as the journey to take notice of and a mere portraitist like Lempicka would be regarded in the best light as a creative side road or at worst sneeringly regarded as artistic fluff.
Double Standards In Art History
It didn't help that lempicka was the first female art superstar. She lived her life of glamor as if it was a canvas to be painted with a flamboyant hand. In an age that valued compliant and moral wives Lempicka chose to be very different. The dazzle of her high society lifestyle was always surrounded by scandalous stories. it was almost expected for the male artists of her time to be a superstar, and have a history of dubious morality, but no female artist before her had had that level of audacity. How dare she!
For a male artist to be gay barely raises a mention, it is as if sexual experimentation is expected for the male creative person. Reviews of exhibitions by David Hockney or Andy Warhol do not focus on sexuality at the expense of discussion of the artwork. Why should Lempicka be treated any differently?
The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same
Even in today's more liberated times reviews of her Paris retrospective seem to discuss her lesbian notoriety as much as the pictures. This seems such a disservice. The importance of Lempicka's many female painting subjects is less whether or not the artist lusts for the sitter than in the sensuality which the artist conveys to the viewer. Sometimes I think that artist's biographies should be left at home when looking at pictures because the pictures need to be simply allowed to speak their language of brushstrokes without gossip getting in the road.
The Artist As A Strong And Confident Woman
To me Lempicka's iconic self portrait 'Tamara In A Green Bugatti' sums up all that is important to know about her - here is a modern woman with the strength and talent to paint her own way and to do it with confidence and style. Whether in her painting or her beguiling self portrait drawing she has nothing to prove. Her talent is up there with the best and her work is worthy of our full attention.
Tamara de Lempicka Self Portrait drawing
Tamara de Lempicka Paris Retrospective
The Pinacotheque in Paris is hosting a retrospective of Lempicka's work until the 8th of September. It is one of those times when I wish I could be in Paris. Unfortunately Paris is almost exactly half a planet away from Sydney and an artist's income doesn't allow for journeys around the world. It is a frustration for an artist not to be able to see so much of the world's great art. We tend to learn from the artists we most respect. Reproductions in books are a pale shadow of the real thing. Only up close can we see the subtle marks that give us an understanding of what the artist was doing and the thought processes that brought the artwork to fruition.
I have been lucky in my life because I have had the privilege of seeing fifty of Rembrandt's paintings up close but I have only ever seen one Lempicka. I know how big an effect those Rembrandt's have had on my art technique and insight. Sadly I will probably never have the chance of finding out just how much effect the wonderful Tamara de Lempicka might have on my art. For now Tamara can only live for me in my dreams.
When living on the 12th floor there are limitations on cooking outdoors. No wide open spaces for campfires here but I still manage to do a significant amount of cooking on the balcony. Fortunately winters in Sydney are not as cold as many places. About 8°C (46°F) now at 3am but earlier when cooking it was about 12°C (53°F) outside.
I had real warming winter fare tonight. I made rissoles with beef, rice flour, breadcrumbs, rosemary, oregano, paprika, and peppers. I cooked onion and tomato with the rissoles and had it with potatoes pumpkin and cabbage and a dark rich gravy. The sort of old fashioned food that gets me through the night. Yum!
It is a bonus that I get to enjoy the glorious view of the city while I cook. I feel very fortunate.
Gypsy Nights by Tony Johansen digital painting 2013
Gypsy Nights is a digital image painted in Photoshop. It started life from my need to create an image that I could use on my Twitter profile. My first inspiration was the paintings and etchings of Gypsy's dancing by John Singer Sargent and Lionel Lindsay from a hundred years ago. I then found a painting from the 19th century depicting a daytime scene of a Gypsy woman dancing for a local lord which formed the actual starting point. For my picture I wanted a fire, more people, and a caravan
Even though it is a hundred years later I remember many nights under the stars with a campfire raging and caravans gathered around the edge. I have spent many years living in caravans. For a Gypsy it is the most natural thing in the world and it is the living in houses that seems a bit strange. As a result the sort of scene depicted here is very real to me.
Gypsy Dance by Lionel Lindsay (Australian) Etching 1919
This is my journey as an artist, the context within which my creative world thrives.
There was a time when all an artist did was paint or sculpt, mostly for powerful people who used art to cement their place in religion and history. Now we make art for reasons of our heart. That feels better but it sure don't pay the bills and being an artist is as much struggle as it is joy.
Now we have the internet and the artist is free to connect with people outside the bubble that culture becomes when elites control it.
This digital flux mixes inside me with my Romani Gypsy heritage. I experience a cultural soup full of rarely combined flavors. I have traditions reaching back into time that speak to me every day and are as real to me as the technological here and now.
Opportunities online and in software are matched by new problems. Some see it as a crazy art world that bears little similarity to what comes out of an oil paint tube. The computer is a creative medium that calls into question the traditional ideas about what it means to be an artist.
I love the new ideas. I love that you and I are sharing the journey that is life for an artist in the early 21st century. Thank you for coming with me these few steps.