Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ellsworth Kelly 1933-2015

The death of Ellsworth Kelly on 27 December 2015 was perhaps not a surprise - he had been ill for some time with pulmonary disease - but it still comes as a real sadness. Born in Newburgh, New York, on 31 May 1933, Ellsworth Kelly studied art in Boston, and then at the Beaux-Arts, Paris, under the G.I. Bill. As painter, printmaker, draughtsman and sculptor, Kelly was one of the great masters of twentieth-century art. Ellsworth Kelly lived in France for a time, and has always been appreciated there, exhibiting with the Galerie Maeght, who published a number of his lithographs in the art revue Derrière le Miroir (DLM). The art of Ellsworth Kelly was influenced by modern avant-garde artists such as Arp, Brancusi, and his fellow-American Alexander Calder, but also by Matisse.

Flower (Hommage à Aimé et Marguerite Maeght)
Lithograph, 1982

This flower study, contributed to issue 250 of DLM, reminds us that Kelly's art was not all about hard-edge minimalism. His bold, simple plant studies recall Matisse, and were well able to hold their own in the joint exhibition Henri Matisse - Ellsworth Kelly: dessins de plantes held at the Pompidou Centre in 2002. I was lucky enough to see that show, and was bowled over by the subtlety and sureness of Kelly's line.

Green black blue
Lithograph, 1958

I first came across Ellsworth Kelly's work at the major Guggenheim retrospective of 1996, which travelled to the Tate in London. It was one of those exhibitions that completely overwhelm the senses.

Orange green
Lithograph, 1964

There are many books on Ellsworth Kelly,  but I'd like to draw attention here to the most recent: the 2015 definitive monograph by Tricia Paik. Published by Phaidon, this is a truly magnificent work.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Unarticulated Cry of Light: The Art of Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay was born Sara Stern in 1885 in Odessa in Ukraine, into a relatively-poor Jewish family. At the age of 5 she was adopted by a wealthy uncle, Henri Terk, and renamed Sofia Terk (though she was always known as Sonia). She doesn't appear to have had much if any contact with her birth parents after this point. She grew up in St. Petersburg in wealthy, educated circles, becoming fluent in English, German, and French. In 1904 she went to Germany to study at the Karlsruhe Academy, moving two years later to Paris to study at the Académie de la Palette. Sonia's early paintings, mainly highly-coloured portraits of people in her circle, were influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin, but also by the German Expressionists of Die Brücke, and by the Fauves, who were just exploding onto the Paris art scene. She met and married the art dealer William Uhde, in what was essentially a marriage of convenience; Uhde was gay, and Sonia wanted to stay in Paris. Uhde put on her first show in 1908, but by this time Sonia had already met the love of her life, the painter Robert Delaunay. She and Uhde divorced (though they remained lifelong friends), and Sonia married Robert in 1910. Together they became one of the power couples of the Paris art world, working in a joint style of Cubist-influenced almost abstract colour-contrasts that they named Simultanism or Orphism.

Sonia Delaunay, Composition I
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

The art of Sonia Delaunay is currently being celebrated in a wonderful exhibition at Tate Modern. This covers the full arc of her career, from those early Gauguin-inspired portraits through the Orphism years right up to her late flowering in the 1960s and 70s, after a period in which she devoted herself to curating Robert's legacy rather than to her own art. One aspect of her work that is particularly well-explored is her move into fabric design and fashion in the 1920s. This was prompted by financial need, as Sonia's income from a property in St. Petersburg vanished with the Russian Revolution, but it played to her natural strengths in manipulating pattern and colour in flowing rhythms.

Sonia Delaunay, Composition II
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition VII
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XXVI
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

The exhibition has many fabric designs, fabric samples, and items of clothing, showing how Sonia Delaunay embraced a kind of total art that could be applied in almost any context, from a Cubist cot quilt for her son Charles to painted bookbindings to costume designs for Diaghilev. The cot quilt is hanging in the same room as my favourite item in the show, the "premier livre simultané", the book La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France. This 1913 collaboration with her close friend, the poet Blaise Cendrars, consists of a long strip of equally-balanced text and abstract pochoir illustration. Pochoir is an oddly under-explored artistic medium, despite having been used for three of the greatest artist's books of the twentieth century: by Sonia Delaunay in La Prose du Transsibérien, by Henri Matisse in Jazz, and by André Lanskoy in Cortège. Besides La Prose du Transsibérien, Sonia Delaunay employed the pochoir technique to great effect in a portfolio of forty plates published around 1930 under the title Compositions, Couleurs, Idées. This was published by Éditions d'Art Charles Moreau, and although no limitation is given, the print run was evidently very small, as it has become extremely scarce. Most of the illustrations in this post come from this source.

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XIV
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XV
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XX
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XXXV
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Pochoir is a method of hand-stencilling, which became popular in France as a refined method of reproducing watercolour drawings. The products of commercial pochoir ateliers (such as those run by Saudé, Charpentier, and Renson) are often very beautiful, but they aim, as you might expect, for consistency. Sonia Delaunay appears to have applied the pochoir colours herself, and every copy of La Prose du Transsibérien that I have seen has been quite differently coloured. The one in the Tate exhibition, which is a deluxe copy printed on japon, is hanging next to the original watercolour design, and actually the pochoir colours are much brighter and more vivid. This exercise in synaesthesia has been a great favourite of mine since I first saw a copy in the exhibition Libri Cubisti in Siena in, I think, 1990; I can't lay my hands on the catalogue at present. I even translated Cendrars' long poem about a train journey from Moscow to Paris, purely for the pleasure of accompanying him.

Sonia Delaunay, Témoinage VI
Pochoir for Témoinages pour l'art abstrait, 1952

Sonia Delaunay, Composition with green and blue
Lithograph, 1969

Sonia Delaunay, Composition with a yellow background
Lithograph, 1972

Besides the excellent Tate catalogue, I can recommend Stanley Baron's biography, Sonia Delaunay: The Life of an Artist, Matteo de Leeuw-de Monti and Petra Timmer, Colour Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, and Danielle Molinari, Delaunay; the latter covers the art of both Robert and Sonia.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Two Lithuanian Modernists: Vincas Kisarauskas and Saule Kisarauskiene

When Vincas Kisarauskas and Saulė Aleškevičiūtė met while studying at the Lithuanian Art Institute in Vilnius in the late 1950s they forged a powerful personal and artistic partnership that was to introduce a Picasso-inspired Modernist aesthetic into the conservative Lithuanian art scene, which typically encouraged socialist realism or the exploration of safe ethnographic themes. The 1960s was a decade of turmoil and revolution not just in the West, but also in the Soviet bloc. In his article "Vincas Kisarauskas' Arrow Is Still In Flight", Marcelijus Martinaitis recalls how in those heady days, "Fragments of modern Western art were hunted for, art albums 'from over there' were scanned, books and articles were read."

Saulė Kisarauskienė

One approved route into Western art circles was participation in international congresses of collectors and creators of exlibris bookplates, and both Vincas and Saulė became keen exlibris artists. All of my examples of their work represent this aspect of their art, which was celebrated in three booklets by the Danish exlibris scholar Klaus Rödel: Nogle Exlibris af Vincas Kisarauskas og lidt om Tradition eller Modernisme i Exlibriskunsten (1970), Vincas Kisarauskas: En moderne litauisk grafiker og hans exlibris (1973), and Exlibris-Portrait 12: Saule Kisarauskiene (1973). All of the exlibris I have by Saulė are etchings with aquatint; those by Vincas include etchings with aquatint, linocuts, and one relief engraving on zinc. The artistic practice of both extends way beyond this discrete area of work - Vincas in particular was a dedicated painter, and also became known as a designer for stage and screen.

I find much to admire in work of both these artists. The work of Vincas is perhaps more austere and intellectual than that of Saulė, which has a livelier sense of emotion. But they are both clearly working in the same area of interest, and playing with the interaction of shape and form in similar ways. Saulė is more concerned with the human figure than Vincas, though when he does include figures they have a wonderful wit, as in his 1970 bookplate for Inge Rödel, created on the occasion of the 13th international Exlibris congress in Budapest. I'll show Saulė's work first; her bookplates are mostly for literary and artistic figures in Lithuania, including the artist Ausra Petrauskaite, the poet Edward Puzdrowski, Saulė's sister Aldona Aleškevičiūtė, the scientific writer Jurgis Tornau, and the artist Antanas Gudaitis.

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Ausra Petrauskaite
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Edward Puzdrowski
Etching with aquatint, 1969

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Aldona Aleskeviciute
Etching with aquatint, 1969

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris  Jurgis Tornau
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Antanas Gudaitis
Etchng with aquatint, 1970

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Inge Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Vincas Kisarauskas was born in 1934 in the village of Augmėnai, in the Radviliškis district. Saulė Stanislava Aleškevičiūtė was born in 1937 in Kaune. After their marriage, Saulė became Saulė Kisarauskienė, or Saulė Aleškevičiūtė-Kisarauskienė. While both pursued their art with great seriousness, it was perhaps inevitable that the duties of motherhood and the gender bias of the day would mean that it was Vincas who achieved the greater fame and acclaim, but they appear to me to have been a true lifelong artistic union, each enriching their own artistic practice by reference to the other.

Vincas Kisarauskas

The art of Vincas Kisarauskas employs a personal vocabulary of forms, which he combines and reinterprets with wit and skill. This is particularly evident I think in his linocuts, which teeter on the verge of abstraction without ever fully embracing it. What I particularly admire about these is the way Kisarauskas achieves a sense of monumentality within such small-scale works. His block-like figures have real strength and presence.

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Inge Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Vincas Kisarauskas, XIII Congres International de l'exlibris 1970
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Vincas Kisarauskas Ex libris Klaus Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1974

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Klaus Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1974

Vincas Kisarauskas, 15. Dail. Julijos Vysniauskienes knygy
Zinc engraving, 1967

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Mary & Alfonso (Sapnas?)
Linocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris A. Stasiul…
Linocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Herber Blokland
Linocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Lars, Inge & Klaus Rödel
Lincocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Carlo Chiesa (XIV Congres International de l'Ex libris)
Linocut, 1972

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Inge Rödel (XIV Congres International de l'Ex libris)
Linocut, 1972

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Vagn Clemmensen
Linocut, 1972

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Vagn Clemmensen
Linocut, 1973

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Vagn Clemmensen
Linocut, 1973

In this sense they are rather like a Lithuanian version of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. As in the case of the Delaunays, the husband died prematurely (Robert Delaunay lived to be 56, Vincas Kisarauskas was just 54 when he died of a heart attack in New York in 1988). Saulė Kisarauskienė, like Sonia Delaunay, was left to be the standard bearer of her husband's reputation, and also to continue her own artistic journey. In 2007, after a long silence, she held a major exhibition of new work entitled Rebirth, and in 2008 there was the first monograph on her art. There's a 2013 interview with her here, in Lithuanian; if you copy this into Google Translate you will get the gist of it.

There is now an extensive collection of works by Saulė Aleškevičiūtė-Kisarauskienė and Vincas Kisarauskas in the Šiauliai Aušros Museum, whose website has virtual exhibitions of both linocuts by Vincas and monoprints made from carved and painted clay plates by Saulė.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Media: Twitter and Facebook

This is just to alert my readers to the fact that I have taken the plunge into the world of social media, and set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for Idbury Prints. The Twitter feed will just feature a single image with minimal information: artist, title, medium, date. The Facebook page will feature the same image but with a brief, informal text about it. I'll also try to work out how to link the Facebook page to this blog, so that the longer, more considered pieces I post here should also go there.

Ludwig Heinrich von Jungnickel, Pantherkopf
Colour woodcut, 1916

This is the first image I chose for this new project, a really stunning colour woodblock print by one of the masters of the medium. It was published in 1916  in the Vienna art revue Die Graphischen Kunste. Jungnickel made two different versions of this print - this one with the white background, and a second one with an orange background. You can compare the two in the informative post on L. H. Jungnickel at Modern Printmakers.

I'm still intending to keep this blog up, and have quite a few posts in the works, but the simpler nature of Twitter and Facebook should enable me to communicate with more regularity. So if you like, please follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or even both.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter: an etching by Louis Graf Sparre

The aristocratic Swedish artist Count Pehr Louis Sparre, commonly referred to in German as Louis Graf Sparre (Graf meaning Count), was born in Gravellona Lomellina, Italy, in 1863. He was married to the Finnish artist Eva Mannerheim, and lived in Finland for nearly twenty years from 1889. Louis Sparre is regarded as one of the founders of Karelianism, alongside his close friend and colleague Akseli Gallen-Kallela. This shiveringly cold etching was created by Louis Sparre in 1904, and published in 1906 by the Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst, Vienna, in Die Graphischen Kunste.

Louis Graf Sparre, Winter
Etching, 1904

Besides a long career as a painter and printmaker, Louis Sparre was a leading ceramicist, and directed the first Finnish feature film. If that wasn't enough, he also competed as an individual and team fencer at the 1912 summer Olympics. Louis Graf Sparre died in Stockholm in 1964, at the age of 101.

Friday, January 16, 2015

War and the pity of war: Kathe Kollwitz

I've posted before about the German Expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz, so I'll not rehearse all my previous thoughts again: you can read them here. But having acquired a new etching by Kollwitz I felt I wanted to share it with you, partly as my own inadequate response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Initially this picture seems to have nothing to do with war or terror: it is simply a mother caressing her baby in the cradle, the kind of image Mary Cassatt made famous.

Käthe Kollwitz, Frau an der Wiege
Etching, 1897
Klipstein 38 IIIc, Knesebeck 40

But look again at that mother. She is not entranced by the happy, healthy presence of her baby; she is traumatised by the anticipation of grief and loss, already holding her head in her hands. When she made this image in 1897, after the birth of her second child, Peter, how could Käthe Kollwitz have known that such sadness lay ahead? But it did. Peter was killed in action in WWI in October 1914, aged just 19. Everyone knows how much it hurts a mother to lose a child. If everyone in the world who is tempted to acts of war or terrorism could just remember, in the moment before they pull the trigger or shed the bomb, that every one of those they kill is a son or a daughter, surely they would think again?