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.
A friend of mine, a former student and a very talented painter, Ryan Daffurn has recently been in Russia and sent me a link to the work of a Russian artist he rather admired. His exact words were "there are painters, then there are painters!". I have to agree, this guy can paint - his tone, observation, color are all superb. His subjects are very simple - mostly busty nudes, and they often display a bit of humor.
I have heard some people describe his work as "its only illustration" as if that makes it somewhat unworthy to be taken seriously. I have heard the same thing said of the work of John Singer Sargent and if more people in the Anglo Saxon world knew of Joaquín Sorolla (a Spanish painter I admire and a contemporary of Sargent) I am sure I would hear the similar comments.
I never have figured out what the great difference is between us visual artists, illustrators, designers, photographers, cinematographers, musicians etc is. We are all artists. It is true that some have a particularly beautiful heart or poetic vision that we might find easier to relate to than with some other artist, and there are some who have better skills than others. In most of the arts great skill is regarded as fundamental. The more skillful a guitarist is the more we clap and cheer. It could be argued that the greater the skills, the easier it is for an artist to convey the feelings and thoughts behind the performance.
Mel Freedman has been coming to my sketch club for more than 10 years. He is from Glasgow and his happy Glaswegian accent and his passion for drawing are well known in the studio. This year he did the big tour of Europe and naturally did lots of drawing while there. He was happy to let me video him showing the art class his drawings from the trip and afterwards I asked him a few questions about his artistic adventures and why he draws so much. This is the result.
What a week full of surprises from friends. Firstly Saul visited, then yesterday Phil Aspden arrived just after class. Phil is the other of my closest friends who I met when I was 20 and living in Jake's Monastery. Phil was the one responsible for me moving into the monastery. (in case you are wondering the monastery was not a place of monks - it was an old rooming house full of artists, writers, poets, musicians, writers and other bohemians. I met Phil at an exhibition we both were in just 3 weeks after I moved into the Cross (again - not a religious institution, just the common name for Kings Cross used by locals). He was living in the monastery and let me know a few days later that a room had become available. Saul moved in a few weeks later.
Phil is a very valued friend but he lives a long way away and so we don't see each other very often, although it would be more often if I wasn't such a workaholic. Last night I had a lot of work to do too - I had to do the covers for the sketchbooks for the hens this weekend. But we went up to the Kings Cross Hotel and had a drink at the cocktail bar on the 5th floor. Many years ago Phil had lived there when the hotel was run down. Afterwards I worked on the sketchbooks until 7:30am.
I couldn't sleep. The change in weather does that, but I had also suffered from nightmares. I was in a car being driven by a woman I did not know and she decided to commit suicide by driving at high speed into oncoming traffic. I don't think her death wish had anything to do with me - I was just the unwitting passenger who couldn't do anything to stop events unfolding. Hate that and especially hate that a dream like that stops me from sleeping.
I had had about 2 hours sleep at most but since I couldn't sleep I started to do emails and catch up on some things. It was fortunate really because ordinarily I would have been asleep at the time, but being up I heard a voice from the street calling out to me. It was an old friend from up the country who had come into town unexpectedly. It was Saul Munro and it was wonderful to see him and have him in the studio for a few hours. Friends are such a reassuring aspect of reality after nightmares have earlier been unwelcome guests.
I have known Saul since I was 20 years old. He is a sculptor (very talented) and with an admiration for Zadkine and ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Over recent years he has dealt with the digital revolution by ignoring it. After all clay and stone are timeless materials that existed long before modern electronics and will continue to exist long after humanity has morphed into something else and things digital are long gone. Can't argue with that - it's true.
It is almost a year since my last post, a very emotional year. Sometimes dealing with the ups and downs of life requires a little privacy, or in this case a lot of privacy. Hence my blogging has taken a back seat for a while.
Not that it has been a year without good things. Some of them have been very good. I went on an extended holiday to Queensland with my boys in a mini-van so they could have Christmas with their grandparents. It was very special. It was also a big year for computer purchases with 2 computers for my boys, and an Axiotron Modbook for myself. There has also been the joy of the iPhone and most recently making iPhone videos to upload to YouTube. Over the next few weeks as I get back into making regular diary posts I will intersperse them with posts under the general heading of "The Lost Year" to detail some of the major happenings so we can catch up better.
Recently I returned to Facebook after an absence of several months. It was wonderful to catch up with all my friends. I know that this diary has a good readership so to all of you - it is a good feeling to be back. I love social media and the way it has revolutionized life.
Already it is the second term of art classes and sketch club. It hardly seems possible that time could go so fast. The classes are busy and have a wonderful buzz about the artists who come along. Some are just beginners and some are very experienced, but they all feel like part of a family. They probably don't realize that the principal reason I hold the classes is simply because of the joy I feel in seeing artists gathering with the model and each discovering their personal triumphs and frustrations as they take charcoal and chalk and pencil, watercolor and ink, and make marks on paper (whether perfect or imperfect) that reflect that deep human need to make sense of our world through making pictures.