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Month: September, 2014

W.T.G.A.: Da Vinci vs Goya

da vinci vs goya

One of them painted the most recognizable image on the planet, while the other painted images once seen you will never forget. Leonardo Da Vinci and Francisco Goya were both artists ages ahead of their times. They were both forward thinkers whose explorations and innovations preceded and anticipated the movements that came after them. In the case of Da Vinci; some of his theories were centuries away from being realized. At this time, Goya is being reassessed by art historians and scholars as the first truly Modern artist. Da Vinci used art as a tool to help unravel the mysteries of the universe while Goya used it in part to explore the darkest recesses of humanity. Leonardo Da Vinci is a household name and Goya is revered by all who know of him. Art was transformed by their hands, but who is the greater artist?

Da Vinci Vitruvian Man 1490

Da Vinci Vitruvian Man 1490

Leonardo Da Vinci was a man that had so much to do during his lifetime that it ultimately divided his energies; resulting in only a precious few of his 1000’s of ideas being fully realized. His genius was a constant distraction. He had a hard time devoting all his focus to only one thing, especially when there was still so much stuff to explore. I believe this explains why we have so few of his finished paintings. Who has a 100 hours to slave over some canvas when you have helicopters to invent? By all accounts Leonardo was a master painter who loved his craft, but found no time to do it. We are left with a scant 15-16 paintings with a few more whose provenance is uncertain. It’s in Da Vinci’s drawings that we really see the breath of his work. Inventions, explorations into human anatomy, architecture and the pursuit of beauty are all represented in his sketches. His eye was honed and his technique was impeccable. Leonardo dared not only to depict the surface of his subject but also what’s at its core. He wanted to pull back the physics and take a look at the gears.

Goya The Dog 1819-23

Goya  The Dog 1819-23

Goya on the other hand didn’t have much use for helicopters. His figures could effortlessly levitate into the air whenever he wanted them to. Goya wasn’t confined to the rules of the natural world that Leonardo so tirelessly tried to document. Goya’s scalpel was meant for the psyche rather than the body. Goya penetrated our fears and insecurities like no other artist has before or after him. Both Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali could evoke vivid nightmares filled with monsters but I argue that neither of them created a picture with as much helpless dread as Goya’s The Dog. Painted as part of his Black Paintings we see a powerless dog slowly being pulled down into what we can interpret as quicksand while his eyes scan the heavens for some sort of salvation that will never come. This painting is devastating in both its modern approach to painting along with its universal theme of feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances. Goya has a way of knocking the wind out of you.

Da Vinci Lady with Ermine 1489-90

Da Vinci  Lady with an Ermine 1489-90

The Mona Lisa may get all the suitors, but for me, Lady with an Ermine makes my heart skip a beat. Painted in his trademark sfumato style using newly adopted oil paints; Da Vinci depicts 15 year old Cecilia Gallerani  (the mistress of the duke of Milan) holding a stoat in her arms. Not satisfied with her simply sitting straight forward, Da Vinci twists her body into a dynamic pose with her gaze travelling to something outside the picture plane. Like the Mona Lisa her expression is both complex and mysterious. Da Vinci places her in an inky black background then picks the shade up again with her hair tie and necklace. The over-sized hand stroking the fur of the weasel draws you in by its pronounced gesture. The stoat is a symbol of fertility or pregnancy which adds another layer of intrigue to the painting. Lady with an Ermine demonstrates Leonardo’s mastery of paint and portraiture revealing the beauty of his sitter but eluding to a larger history.

Goya Third of May 1814

Goya  Third of May 1814

Goya depicts actual events with unflinching drama and gruesome detail in The Third of May.  In the painting:  faceless Napoleonic soldiers are executing the Spaniards who participated in an uprising the day previous and the bodies are piling up sparing no one not even a friar. Even though the central figure would be far too tall if he stood from his kneeling position we can forgive Goya’s artistic licence to cement his allegory. His martyrdom is complete in gesture and illumination. The painting hangs in the Prado beside its companion The Second of May. We are left stunned by their reality and horrified by our misdeeds. Goya famously depicted The Disasters of War in a series of horrific etchings that serve as a cautionary tale that reminds us that war can bring out the worst in mankind. It is that ugly mirror that Goya can reveal to us all that cements not only his greatness but his importance as an artist.

Da Vinci The Last Supper 1495-98

Da Vinci The Last Supper 1495-98

By all accounts we shouldn’t still have Leonardo’s Last Supper with us. You can find it at the Convent of  Santa Maria della Grazie in MilanThe painting began to deteriorate in his own lifetime. Da Vinci tried an experimental method of painting oil paint and tempera directly on the dry wall as opposed to the common fresco method that was used at the time. The wall itself can be found in a dining hall where the monks ate their meals directly on the other side of the kitchen. The moisture and fluctuating temperatures caused by the kitchen started to play havoc on the painting immediately after its completion. The condition was so bad that by 1692 no one thought twice about cutting a doorway through the wall removing Christ’s feet amongst other things. If the natural deterioration wasn’t bad enough, the convent was hit by a bomb during World War II destroying the other walls of the dining hall exposing the painting to the outside elements. It remained vulnerable to the weather for months. Disastrous attempts at restoration over the centuries also added to its appalling appearance. Finally in 1978 a team was committed to bringing it back to its former glory. The project took 21 years and many of the lost details have now been filled in using watercolours. The Last Supper is one of the most iconic images in human history. Da Vinci’s composition utilizes the linear perspective of the room in which it is painted creating a vanishing point behind Christ’s head accentuated by a window that forms a halo. Along with the use of perspective, Da Vinci directs our eye using all the body language and hand gestures motioning toward the focal point of Christ. Da Vinci also broke from tradition by placing Judas on the same side of the table as the rest of the apostles to complete his composition proving again his innovation.

Since I started this series of posts I would have to say this one has been the hardest to call. The artist in me leans more towards Goya, but the art historian in me can’t deny the contributions of Leonardo. Goya leaves me gob-smacked every time but then I look at the expression of miss Gallerani and am drawn into her visage. Ultimately, the scarcity of Da Vinci’s works only make them more desirable. The fact he could do so much with so little to show, just reconfirms his genius.

Winner: Da Vinci

related: W.T.G.A.: Duchamp vs Da Vinci

W.T.G.A.: Rothko vs Goya

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Last Days of Summer

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This September 22nd marks the Fall Equinox and the official end of summer. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here a cold wind has started to roll in and bring a chill to the evenings. Fall is upon us, which suits me find; I’m a sweater person. Winter is coming on the other hand and don’t get me started on Winter. Anyway I digress, we’re here to talk about summer, summer movies specifically. We didn’t go see a ton a movies this summer, in fact we even missed our annual Woody Allen summer ticket (Magic in the Moonlight will just have to suffer on our small screen at home when it comes out). Truth be told, not too many offerings this summer looked up to snuff; case in point, not 1 but 2 Michael Bay movies. The latest Transformers made an obscene amount of money around the world, but like an astute critic of the first film stated ‘ I’d rather have my head duck taped to a dryer full of pots and pans on full for two hours than sit through that again.’ It also feels like a lifetime ago since a comedy was actually funny. I found 21 Jump Street immediately forgettable and the sequel looked like it just offered up the same stuff: pass. The new Spiderman seemed to suffer from the ‘too many villains’ plight that brought the original trilogy down. Too many of the movies this summer were just aiming for the low hanging fruit.

Looking at the box office results, I feel many people shared my sentiments about our choices this summer. It was the lowest grossing summer since 2006, falling almost a billion dollars short of last year. We ultimately shape our movie culture with our pocketbooks. This is a very scary prospect, because only the movies that bring in the big numbers will get the green light regardless of how formulaically vacant they are, so that means  there are more TMNTs in our future. The reason we have so many super hero movies is that for the moment they make money. I fear audience fatigue will soon set in and burnout is eventual. We need more original ideas and intelligent scripts to fill those seats.

godz2I did actually make it to four flicks this summer; one made me question my humanity and the other three made me feel like a kid again. Godzilla kicked the summer off with a  stylish reboot of a monster movie  icon. When I was a child nothing felt more like winning the lottery than turning on the television to find a Godzilla movie. The kid in me smiles every time I hear his roar, so I was very pleased/relieved  to find his hallmark  sound was intact. The brilliance of this movie is we have to wait  a while before we get our first full glimpse of the big guy and for the rest of the movie you are left with the feeling of wanting more. It’s a satisfying slow burn. Brian Cranston is underutilized and the design of the other monster didn’t do it for me, but overall Godzilla satisfies.

 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes just left me confused. I didn’t know who I was supposed to root for: the apes or the humans?

06082014_guardians-of-the-galaxy_feat

The first movie going experience I can clearly remember was going to see Star Wars when I was six years old. I went to see it another three times that summer and gauge every summer blockbuster that has come after it against it. Guardians of the Galaxy definitely had that sci-fi lived in vibe with plenty of Han Solo homage going on- which I liked. Guardians works best because we like the characters. They’re a funny dynamic group of lovable scoundrels and their throwback soundtrack was a nice touch. Where Star Wars leaves them in the dust however is; Guardians doesn’t have a strong enough villain to foil against our new favourite team. A super hero movie ultimately succeeds or fails by its choice of bad guys.

The movie highlight of the summer for me was definitely Richard Linklater’s BoyhoodFilmed over twelve years, we literally get to watch an entire cast grow and age over the span of the main character’s adolescence. It is both over the top ambitious and understated performance and drama in equal measures. It is like no movie you have ever seen and it is a great watch.

Overall, not really much to report on a pretty lackluster movie season but I would recommend all four of the films I saw this summer.

Dawn of the planet of the Apes    B

Godzilla    B+

Guardians of the Galaxy     A-

Boyhood    A

Pop-up Arts Festival: Oshawa Space Invaders

 

Mad Love 2013

Mad Love 2013

It’s that time of the year again: the summer’s over, the kids have gone back to school and for a week in September; downtown Oshawa is transformed into a giant art gallery. Oshawa Space Invaders returns for its second year, featuring over 200 artists, 9 different artist groups in over 18 pop-up galleries. The festival runs from the opening night of Friday Sept 19 through to the 27th. Along with the art, there’ll be music, food, performers, vendors and even a craft beer show on the 20th.

I really like this show; it gives me an opportunity to experience my home town (born and raised) in a new and exciting way, catch up with some old friends and see some tremendous art. The Pop-up galleries really inject a palpable energy (thanks Steven Frank) into the downtown core and it’s great to see so many people out and about in the name of art. This year I’m fortunate to have work in two spaces. I’ll be returning to where it all began Room 118 21 Bond St.E. This Pop-up is named after the art room in my old high school O’Neill CVI that really is an inspiration for anyone fortunate to have studied there. Great art teachers are something to be cherished and I was  really lucky to have two. Craig Wildman really fanned the flames of creativity along with Wally Brighton who opened a door to the infinite possibilities of creation.  I also have some more work just up the block at 50 Bond.

Installation view 50 Bond  Hanging sculptures  Lynne Mcllvride

Installation view 50 Bond
Hanging sculptures Lynne Mcllvride

Oshawa Space Invaders runs from the 19th-27th.

 

 

Moving Pictures of Still Photography

Matt Weber 9-11 2001

Matt Weber 9-11 2001

 “In the last hour, in the world, probably more digital images have been made than in the entire history of analog photography.” Ralph Gibson: More Than The Rainbow

On average, 60 million photos are uploaded to Instagram on a daily basis. With the proliferation of phone culture,the number of people who actually have a camera on them most minutes of the day now numbers in the billions. Photography is the most popular it has ever been since its inception. People are taking an astounding number of images, but are any of them any good? Assuming that the monkeys on typewriters theory holds water, shouldn’t we have the complete works of an Ansel Adams portfolio by now? Where’s all the visionaries, where’s the art, and why are there so many damn pictures of what people had for brunch?

Vivian Maier untitled Chicago 1961

Vivian Maier untitled Chicago 1961

Sifting through the endless sea of forgettable snapshots, it is truly refreshing and inspiring to encounter the work of the Matt Weber‘s and Vivian Maier‘s of the world. Both photographers create arresting images that stop you in your tracks. In fact,the two share a lot in common: both were self taught, both use film, both practice the highest form of street photography, New York  features in both their work and they are both the subjects of their own documentaries that recently have come out on DVD. Matt Weber’s work along with a few of his contempories is explored in More Than The Rainbow and the mystery of the reclusive Vivian Maier is brought to light in Finding Vivian Maier.  Both films are wonderful introductions to these artists whose work is slowly being recognized by the insular art world.

Matt Weber In your Face 2003

Matt Weber In your Face 2003

More Than a Rainbow really excels at exploring the art and craft of photography. The candid discussions and interviews with the photographers featured reveals the insight and process that goes into capturing a successful image. There’s great observations about the differences between black and white vs colour compositions and what goes into Street photography? Street photographers  especially have to walk a fine line between being a documentarian and being aware of their subjects’ boundaries and thresholds. Over the past 25 years, Matt Weber has gotten very savvy at walking that line. Matt started out as a cab driver, this opprotunity gave him an expansive unfiltered view of New York City where he lived. The unbelievable events he would witness on a daily basis driving the streets inspired him to pick up a camera to capture what he had seen. Soon the pictures took over and his driving days were behind him. More Than a Rainbow does a great job of showcasing Matt’s work, but if I had one criticism of the film: it stumbles a little trying to put it into the context of his life.

Vivian Maier Self-portrait

Vivian Maier Self-portrait

The life of Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was nothing short of a mystery. She took an estimated 100 000 pictures in her lifetime; none of which ever saw the light of day; until a box of her negatives was purchased at an estate sale for $400 dollars in 2007. What was found in that box led to a storage unit which in turn turned into an astounding discovery of an artistic treasure trove. No one in her life had any clue that this plain french nanny was anything but. Finding Vivian Maier unravels delightfully as we learn more and more about the photographer from the people who used to employ her, along with the grown children she used to mind. Her motives were cloudy and her history even cloudier. Her future is also uncertain: a previously unknown heir has just come forward  and is contesting the rights to her artistic legacy.

The films: Finding Vivian Maier and More Than a Rainbow are excellent introductions to the world of street photography and the photographers that document them. With so many pictures being taken these days, we need visual pioneers to show us the right way to hold a camera and provide a welcome photographic blueprint in the new age of instant image makers.