Gaullimauphry Friday: Out And Around in New York

starry night
“The Starry Night” Vincent van Gogh

I flew into New York on Wednesday to attend the 113th Annual Explorers Club Annual Dinner (I’ve been a Fellow of the Club since 2014). Tonight is the opening reception at the Club headquarters. Tomorrow night will be the dinner, which will be held on Ellis Island. Noted polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes will be the keynote speaker. The Master of Ceremonies will be joined onstage for the opening of the event by legendary actor Robert de Niro. So it’s going to be quite an evening.

In the meantime, yesterday I went to the Museum of Modern Art and walked around Central Park. It was pretty nippy, but sunny.

My main mission was to see the original of van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”, which has been one of my favorite works of art since I was a child. It’s smaller than I expected, but absolutely wonderful. I only had my iPhone with me but it did quite well.

starry night detail
Detail: “The Starry Night”

One of the major differences between seeing an original instead of a print is being able to see the dimensionality of the paint as the artist has applied it. You can see some of that in the detail photo above.

“One: Number 31” Jackson Pollock

Another favorite artist is Jackson Pollock. The museum had one of his large pieces on display, “One: Number 31″ and it also really must be seen in person to appreciate it, if only for the scale. It’s 8’10″x 17′ 5 5/8”. I was able to get pretty close to it, enough to see the layering, and how thin or thick the paint was. Interestingly, it appears that, at least in this one, he mostly followed a very traditional approach of working “lean to fat”….from thin to thick. To many people it just looks like a bunch of random drips so, really, what was the point?  But the method is clear when you’re in front of the painting itself. He started with some kind of basic idea and color scheme and then built on it, but also let “happy accidents” occur that he could build on and add to. The result is a tremendous visual rhythm that works whether you’re looking at the whole thing or just a detail. It could be cut (perish the thought) into twelve pieces and every single one would stand alone as a work of art.

Pollock 2
Detail- “One: Number 31” Jackson Pollock

I also liked this work by Franz Klein, probably because I did calligraphy with both pen and brush for many years.

“Painting Number 2” Franz Klein

And this one by Mark Rothko. Some of you who know my work might be wondering why I like and am posting abstract work, which is held in contempt by many representational artists. Maybe it’s because I was a graphic designer for many years, so I like and appreciate non-representational work that is pure design in which the subject is the paint on the surface, not a picture “of something”.

“No. 10” Mark Rothko

The usual comment is often along the lines of “What’s the big deal? I could do that.” Well, maybe you could, but you didn’t. Rothko did. There’s also a thread of envy and resentment among some artists because apparently “simple” paintings like this are assumed not to have taken long but have brought fame and fortune to the artist, which somehow doesn’t seem fair. Yet, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that simpicity is what is hard, not detail. There’s nothing wrong with either, of course, if it’s what the artist needs to do to express their vision. That’s the most important thing.

And then there’s Monet. I’ve seen his water lily paintings in other museums, but this is by far the largest. My biggest painting to this point is 36×48″ and that was a fair amount of real estate to cover. These three panels together measure 6′ 6 3/4″ x 41′ 10 3/4″. Forty-one feet long….

monet 1
“Water Lilies” Claude Monet

Here are a couple of detail photos:

Monet 2

And moving in a little closer:

monet 3

Even closer and any sense of a subject would disappear into abstract brushwork. All good paintings have a solid abstract structure underneath to hold them together. The structure is the subject, along with paint color, texture and shape, in non-representational painting.

Abstract shapes and designs can be found in the real world if you learn how to look for them.

There’s still snow on the ground from last week’s storm. South end of Central Park

Vertical trees, sun and shadow on the snow. This could be turned into an interesting abstract design of shapes and colors.

After I left the museum I walked around Central Park a bit and then south towards Times Square. On the way to the park, I stopped in the middle of a crosswalk because I just had to get a shot of this reflection.


Times Square is just ahead. I’d kind of run out of gas at this point, so stopped here and got a pretty typical New York street scene, complete with taxi cabs, before I headed back to the hotel.

times square

And finally, how could I not like having this view from my window…


Inspirations: Google’s New “Art Project”- Great Art, Up Close And Personal

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

Kicking back this holiday weekend? Want to visit (virtually) some of the greatest art museums in the world?

Google’s done some really dumb stuff in its time, but with their new Art Project, they’ve brilliantly figured out a way to make great art accessible to everyone in a way never before possible.

Here’s an article over at ArtInfo that explains how.

For artists, while there will never be a substitute for seeing art in the original, Art Project not only provides extremely accurate images (unlike books, posters, postcards, etc., which are always a bit of a disappointment),  it lets you zoom in close, REALLY close. Much closer than you would ever be allowed to get to the real thing. At least until they throw you out.

Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

I can imagine Art Project being very useful for a classic way of studying painting, copying master works. The ability to zoom in and see brush stokes and edges is really terrific. Here’s an example from the Rijksmuseum, the main museum housing the work or Rembrandt. It’s “Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul”. Or one of my all-time favorite paintings…Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, from the Museum of Modern Art.

Have a great weekend!

A Visit To The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

I had the opportunity to spend yesterday morning and early afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City before my evening flight home. (I was there for a Society of Animal Artists board meeting and added a little time for other things). My main purpose was to see the Kublai Khan exhibition. He was the grandson of Chinggis Khan, which I hadn’t realized until I started to learn about Mongol history. That will be a Mongolia Monday post at some point.

Afterwards, I wandered through the 19th Century European painting galleries and was reminded once again that there is no substitute for seeing masterpieces in the original. I also noticed quite a few paintings with animal subjects. I didn’t have my Nikon, just my iPhone. So the following images aren’t great, but they will serve to share my favorites.

I didn’t remember to photograph the labels for all of them, I’m sorry to say, but did track down titles and artist for all except one. But it really doesn’t matter who did them. The takeaway is to see and appreciate the great lineage of animal art that those of us who have chosen our fellow creatures as subjects are part of.

Tiger and Cubs- Gerome

Animal art has a long and honorable history in European painting and was not dismissed with the snobbery so many of us encounter today.

detail of horse painting- Bonheur

It is instructive to see how artists of the period, who had tremendous ability as painters in a variety of subject matter, could also do a specialized subject like animals extremely well. That is often not the case today.

Detail, camel

There was one entire room dedicated to European artists who painted North African subjects. Many also traveled to the Middle East. The collective term for them is Orientalists. I should do a post on them sometime since their approach and reaction to what they saw is interesting for any artist who, like myself, is also fortunate enough to journey to distant places.

Before the Audience- Gerome

What IS that black cat doing there? A spy, perhaps?

Friedland detail- Messonier

This is a detail from a massive painting of one of Napoleon’s greatest victories, with a cast of dozens. This horse is around 5″ from top of head to bottom of hoof. Stunning description of action and anatomy. Here’s the whole thing:

Friedland- Meissonier

Since we have a rough collie in the family, I naturally had to have a photo of this one, which has a more old-fashioned shape to the head:

Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon- Zorn

The Met also has a phenomenal collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. The main hall was filled with schoolkids drawing from the marble and bronze figures.

Bronze lions, ancient Greece

If you have access to a museum with animal sculpture, you have a great rainy day opportunity to go sketch animals that will hold still.

Statue of Artemis/Diana

It’s interesting to note how artists interpreted something like the head structure of a deer over 2,000 years ago.

detail of deer's head

I also want to strongly make the point that there is no substitute for seeing great art “live”. Reproductions in books and posters are, at best, rough approximations. The color is probably not accurate. The size certainly isn’t. And size matters. The visual impact of a painting like “Friedland” is due in no small part to its large dimensions: 53.5″ high and 95.5″ wide.

But what I think is missing almost the most is that a painting has a visual texture, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Printing an image of a painting on a flat piece of paper eliminates that aspect completely. As an admittedly dramatic example, here is a Van Gogh. First the whole work. Then a detail shot at an angle that shows how the paint was applied. When he put it on this thickly, the painting almost becomes a live thing.

van Gogh

A painting like this is about more than the image. It’s also about paint as paint.