Social Practice Art, Arnie Segsl

Arnie Segal, sculpture

Social Practice Art

Social Practice Art is a movement in contemporary art that has been embraced by the Philadelphia art community as a way to communicate with an audience in a unique language of visual constructs, memes, semiotics and activism. Each of these components are the plastic elements of Social Practice Art, plastic meaning the combination of formulas, materials and actions that result from actualizing an idea, instead of line, space, color, and light as in a visual image, Social Practice Artists manipulate concepts, develop and mobilize action plans, create experiences, and provoke conversation about societal issues.

I was inspired to talk about Social Practice Art when Eileen Eckstein asked me to present at the monthly meeting of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia at the Plastic Club. I had recently viewed a show at Da Vinci Art Alliance called Look At Us and I was inspired by how the artists used visual art to plastically transform information that is on it’s surface is ugly and sad with empathy and education. As an arts blogger I have posted dozens of stories that I categorize as Social Practice Art, from grass roots organizations like Women’s Caucus for Art to main stream art institutions like The Philadelphia Museum of Art, with art shows and events tackling issues such as child sex slavery, gun violence, poverty, addiction, racism, hunger, incarceration, gay rights, and disability rights, the list is endless.

The Look at Us show at Da Vinci Art Alliance was about misogyny, violence against women, White Nationalism, and mass murder.

I wrote in my review, “The collection of artwork addresses the theme with an experience design that is engaging, thought provoking, and beautiful; the gallery is arranged to create a flow between art forms, concepts, and compositions. A meme is a unit of cultural information that spreads like a virus from mind to mind; cultural ideas, biological and social anxieties, historic resonance, and deeply packed psychological concepts are transmitted with language, image, gesture and tone. Presenting an art exhibit with disturbing imagery challenges the artists to confront ideas with a plastic language of line, light, shape, and color; social practice connects the conceptual context to an inquiry through mark making, composition, and activity by the artist. Social Practice is an important art movement in the 21st Century, artists are addressing ideas that permeate society that feel too hard to look at, too big to wrap your head around, too ugly and mean that words are not enough to explain.”

Social Practice Art, Philly Photo DayPhilly Photo Day

Last April The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented a Social Practice art event: “a project entitled Philadelphia Assembled will manifest in a series of activities and actions throughout the city to illuminate and amplify a broad set of hopes, visions, and questions about Philadelphia’s future. Initiated by artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, working alongside an extensive network of collaborators—among them artists, writers, builders, storytellers, gardeners, healers, and activists—Philadelphia Assembled aims to shape a collective narrative about our city and some of the most urgent issues it faces at a time of heightened transformation. Deeply integrated into the fabric of the Museum, the project also questions the place of this institution in the midst of this change.”

In April 2012 I wrote a blog post about The Ragdoll Project titled Stop Slavery Now: “The Ragdoll Project is meant to create awareness for human trafficking.  Joanna Fulginitti described the production to DoN, “We set up sewing machines, we used donated fabrics and we just made dolls. The dolls will be sold and all the money will go to Dawn’s Place which is a shelter for victims of human trafficking in Philadelphia.  Dawn’s Place is the only place in Philadelphia that helps victims of sex trafficking specifically.  And they do need money, they need donations, so we’re going to sell all the dolls and donate all the money.”

“The Women’s Caucus for Art was founded in 1972 in connection with the College Art Association (CAA). WCA is a national member organization unique in its multidisciplinary, multicultural membership of artists, art historians, students, educators, and museum professionals.

The mission of the Women’s Caucus for Art is to create community through art, education, and social activism. WCA is committed to recognizing the contribution of women in the arts; providing women with leadership opportunities and professional development; expanding networking and exhibition opportunities for women; supporting local, national and global art activism; and advocating for equity in the arts for all.” – Women’s Caucus for Art

Social Practice Art, DoN Brewer

Philly Photo Day

What is Social Practice Art?

Wikipedia defines Social Practice Art as: “Social practice is an art medium that focuses on engagement through human interaction and social discourse. Since it is people and their relationships that form the medium of such works – rather than a particular process of production – social engagement is not only a part of a work’s organization, execution or continuation, but also an aesthetic in itself: of interaction and development. Socially engaged art aims to create social and/or political change through collaboration with individuals, communities, and institutions in the creation of participatory art. The discipline values the process of a work over any finished product or object.

Artists working in social practice co-create their work with a specific audience or propose critical interventions within existing social systems that inspire debate or catalyze social exchange. The large overlap between social practice and pedagogy, the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept, demonstrates the need for art education to embrace collaborative practice. Social practice work focuses on the interaction between the audience, social systems, and the artist through aesthetics, ethics, collaboration, methodology, antagonism, media strategies, and social activism. The social interaction component inspires, drives, or, in some instances, completes the project. Although projects may incorporate traditional studio media, they are realized in a variety of visual or social forms (depending on variable contexts and participant demographics) such as performance, social activism, or mobilizing communities towards a common goal. The diversity of approaches pose specific challenges for documenting social practice work, as the aesthetic of human interaction changes rapidly and involves many people simultaneously. Consequently, images frequently fail to do justice to the engagement and interactions that take place during a project.”

I first became involved with Social Practice Art with the annual Arts Ability Art Sale and Exhibition at Bryn Mawr Rehab in Paoli. My late fiend, Arnie Segal, a disabled artist activist and sculptor encouraged me to enter my artwork and I have now been participating for ten years, the show is in it’s 23rd season. The qualities the organization embraces and promotes utilize the Plastic Elements of Social Practice to raise awareness, educate, promote, and reward artists and patrons for participating in an event with a particular agenda.

Social Practice Art, DoN Brewer

Sky Holes, DoN Brewer, photograph, Art Ability at Bryn Mawr Rehab

The show is expansive, known as the largest exhibition of it’s kind, in addition to the art exhibition the organization promotes artists outside of Bryn Mawr Rehab in spotlight shows, one of my photographs was juried into the show later was included in an exhibition at the Delaware Museum of Art. Two of my paintings are in the consignment collection, the installation has artwork shown at wheelchair height, and another painting was included in an exhibition at the West Collection where I was invited to speak about being a participating artist and the importance of showcasing art by people who live with disabilities. A few weeks ago I was invited to be a guest juror by the selection committee, we looked at nearly 1000 artworks, and voted based on the quality of the artwork and not the disability of the artist. The term Disabled Artist is an information rich meme, let’s unpack it.

What is a meme? With the advent of social media the term has taken on a meaning more closely related to jokes or puns but the origins of the idea of the meme is more scientific than simply entertaining.

The word meme originated with Richard Dawkins‘ 1976 book The Selfish Gene.  Dawkins wrote that evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics, but only on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission—in the case of biological evolution, the gene. For Dawkins, the meme exemplified another self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution. Although Dawkins invented the term ‘meme’ and developed meme theory, the possibility that ideas were subject to the same pressures of evolution as were biological attributes was discussed in Darwin’s time. T. H. Huxley claimed that ‘The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.’

Dawkins used the term to refer to any cultural entity that an observer might consider a replicator. He hypothesized that one could view many cultural entities as replicators, and pointed to melodies, fashions and learned skills as examples.

The word itself is a replicator: me me. For example: the opening melody of Beethoven’s Fifth, mini-skirts, the Twist or Picasso. Each of these terms is loaded with data and information that explodes with cultural ideas that cascade and connect across diverse memories, beliefs, and experience. Mini-skirt provokes an era of time not just a garment, The Twist makes you think of swiveling your hips and dancing alone, Da Da Da Dum plays out in your head with full orchestra automatically.

Memes generally replicate through exposure to humans, who have evolved as efficient copiers of information and behavior. Because humans do not always copy memes perfectly, and because they may refine, combine or otherwise modify them with other memes to create new memes, they can change over time. Dawkins likened the process by which memes survive and change through the evolution of culture to the natural selection of genes in biological evolution.

Dawkins defined the meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation and replication, but later definitions would vary. The lack of a consistent, rigorous, and precise understanding of what typically makes up one unit of cultural transmission remains a problem in debates about memetics. In contrast, the concept of genetics gained concrete evidence with the discovery of the biological functions of DNA. Meme transmission requires a physical medium, such as photons, sound waves, touch, taste, or smell because memes can be transmitted only through the senses.

Dawkins noted that in a society with culture a person need not have descendants to remain influential in the actions of individuals thousands of years after their death: “But if you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea…it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G.C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, LeonardoCopernicus and Marconi are still going strong.” – Wikipedia

In the book Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie, the author says, ““How about this one: you are simply a distinction—a meme—invented because it was convenient to talk about the parts of the universe that feel pain when hit with a hammer. To the universe, there’s no you . . . or human beings or giraffes or solar systems or galaxies. All those are human-invented distinctions. They are all memes.”

So what does the term Disabled Artist mean in a memetic sense? What is the image that appears in your mind that describes that person? What is the person like and what type of art do they make? What is the stereotype when you combine disability with art making? Does the term evoke empathy or skepticism? Through Art Ability I have met artists with various physical and mental problems from an entrepreneur named Gayle who describes herself as “a high functioning autistic”, a blind sculptor, mouth painters, photographers with traumatic brain injuries, people that literally can only move one finger. The term Disabled Artist incorporates so many categories of the human condition that it becomes jumbled and polarizing. I have participated in these shows because I have an incurable chronic autoimmune disease but I struggle with self identifying as disabled, even though I know I will probably never be able to hold a job for long, because it means I’ve given up hope. As a meme the term is like a fractal with spiraling threads of information each spooling out their data, each with a distinct set of their own plastic elements.

We can break down the context of the meaning of these words, terms and signs through semiotics.

Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of meaning-making, the study of sign process (semiosis) and meaningful communication. Semiotics includes the study of signs and sign processes, indication, designation, likeness, analogyallegorymetonymy, a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept, metaphorsymbolism, signification, and communication.

The semiotic tradition explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications. Different from linguistics, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems.

Pictorial semiotics is intimately connected to art history and theory. It goes beyond them both in at least one fundamental way, however. While art history has limited its visual analysis to a small number of pictures that qualify as “works of art”, pictorial semiotics focuses on the properties of pictures in a general sense, and on how the artistic conventions of images can be interpreted through pictorial codes. Pictorial codes are the way in which viewers of pictorial representations seem automatically to decipher the artistic conventions of images by being unconsciously familiar with them.”

Picture Idea- line light space color

Social Practice Art, The Ragdoll Project

The Ragdoll Project

Activism

“Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in socialpoliticaleconomic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society. Forms of activism range from writing letters to newspapers, petitioning elected officials, running or contributing to a political campaign, preferential patronage (or boycott) of businesses, and demonstrative forms of activism like ralliesstreet marchesstrikessit-ins, or hunger strikes.

Activism may be performed on a day-to-day basis in a wide variety of ways, including through the creation of art (artivism), computer hacking (hacktivism), or simply in how one chooses to spend their money (economic activism). For example, the refusal to buy clothes or other merchandise from a company as a protest against the exploitation of workers by that company could be considered an expression of activism. However, the most highly visible and impactful activism often comes in the form of collective action, in which numerous individuals coordinate an act of protest together in order to make a bigger impact. Collective action that is purposeful, organized, and sustained over a period of time becomes known as a social movement.

Historically, activists have used literature, including pamphlets, tracts, and books to disseminate their messages and attempt to persuade their readers of the justice of their cause. Research has now begun to explore how contemporary activist groups use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action combining politics with technology.” – Wikipedia

Liz Krick
Participating in Social Practice Art is being an activist whether as a participating artist or as a viewer. Showing up to support ideas, actions, artists is more than entertainment, it’s being involved and open to concepts about how to experience the world through the eyes of others.

by DoN Brewer

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Art in the Age of Van Gogh

Art in the Age of Van Gogh

The King of Prussia Mall was empty of shoppers on Thursday morning, quiet at opening time, the corridors of the iconic indoor shopping center are being refurbished, high-end logos on fancy facades line the cement paths that connect the big brand luxury stores, the scraped paint, plastic sheeting, and scuffed floor lent a dystopian Blade Runner vibe to the consumer-age hyper space. The bubble of public space outside of Lord and Taylor’s department store, an atrium, there is a pop up shop presented by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a multimedia experience in a self-contained installation about, ostensibly, the greatest art of a favorite artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Creating a moment of museum-like time for mall walkers, with all the meta-magical memes attached to the artist’s name, and the simulacra experience of getting up close and personal with a real Van Gogh painting is like a fever dream so out of touch with reality it’s like winning the lottery.

DoN visited the Van Gogh Museum, a transformative and pivotal art and life lesson, the pop up shop is an exciting edu-tainment escape from the disappointingly drab consumerist landscape, with sleek colorful moody modern modules devoted to ‘famous’ artworks throughout eras of Vincent’s life with unrealistic intimacy and fantasy. Fashioning a futuristic attraction, contained in a full sensory surround installation, grasping the past, inducing  glamorous desires of owning a piece of greatness, through the suspension of disbelief, a Summer blockbuster about the famous art star Vincent Van Gogh. Through mechanical reproduction the gap in actual reality between authentic and authenticated is bridged with some wobbly architecture; Philadelphia has some great Van Gogh paintings that are easily accessible for study, you’re just not allowed to touch them, or take them home, you’re allowed to stay as long as you want, and looking at fine art is essential to living metropolitan life fully.

I told my pal Al, a friendly neighbor, about the Van Gogh pop up shop at the mall and he became very excited and declared, “I have two Van Goghs! And a Klimt. I love them.” DoN pointedly pointed out that reproductions, no matter how excellent, are not the same as the real thing! Al tried to mask his annoyance at DoN’s obvious corporeal differentiation of an art object and art: the elitist tangle of authenticity and provenance, false equivalencies, the eternal struggle of living artists, the branding of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, consumerist ideals pressed on creative content, and how to act in a museum setting for those with social anxiety about taste in art. Fully satisfied by his own artistic decisions and a teensy bit of distain for my snooty scholarliness, Al stated with defiant determination, “I like the colors.”

Art in the Age of Van Gogh

Aubrie Costello, Stay, Silk, chiffon, dressmaker pins, thread, 12” x 17”, 2017

Thursday evening was the reception party for Decorous, an art show curated by Amie Potsic Art Advisory at Space and Co., an installation of original artwork by three of her favorite artists in an amazing space, a fantastical set of rooms that are real, permanent, sturdy and highly decorative ornate meeting rooms. I appreciate how lucky I am to walk down 22nd Street to Walnut, the architecture and gardens, galleries and restaurants, homes and cars, feels urbane, being a part of this community is empowering and inspiring. There is a sense of history, of narrative and development of ideas in the view from the meeting rooms and the art guides the eye to linger on color and composition.

Large masterful casien monoprint photographs by Donald E. Camp shimmer with silvery reflected light, fabric and text, textile and tactile, fiber art by Aubrie Costello, and a fine selection of paintings, the colorfulness a perfect foil to the bold moulding, with luscious moments of contemplative carpenter artistry as the setting. The crowd included Philadelphia art influencers and entrepreneurs, artists, enthusiasts, academics, scholars, heady conversation about urban life, society and art filled the rooms noisily with conversation and laughter. Amie connects people with art, a Philly maven with a worldly reach and comprehensive experience in bringing art to life, and connects art to people.

Art is color; DoN has been drawing with Koh-i-noor multicolor pencils, filling a sketch book with drawings that have random color in the lines, figure studies and portraits, croquis and long poses, produced in workshops at The Plastic Club and The Philadelphia Sketch Club. But, Sunday, due to weather, Landscape Painters Philadelphia went indoors to draw. Did you know you can sketch and draw at Rodin Museum? We stayed about three hours and finally filled the last five pages of the sketchbook. It was really satisfying to see museum visitors access the sketchbooks and pencils the museum provides, they allowed us to bring in our own drawing supplies and let us make ourselves comfortable. The models are great! Our painting group has been meeting at the Tiberino Museum to paint figure in landscape plein air, Rodin’s activated poses are complex. Did you know The Kiss is a copy?

Art in the age of Van Gogh is a unique intersection in time between creativity, design and production, promotion, narrative, and story telling, and exquisite installation into the social landscape with a knowledgable society that has favorites and stars. Unlike the intersection in time of invention, the Industrial Revolution, coinciding with and influencing the Impressionists painters, like photography, film and mass production, in the early 20th century, now, in the early 21st century, the Information Age, we can have virtually anything imaginable and decide for ourselves if it’s real or not.

Art in the Age of Van Gogh

Pencil drawing by DoN

Link to Van Gogh Museum Pop Up Tour

Link to Decorous press release.

by DoN Brewer

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Look At Us, DVAA, Rosalind Bloom

Rosalind Bloom, White Faces, collage and text

Look At Us

Artworks by Da Vinci Art Alliance members:
– Rosalind Bloom: collage, transfer print and mixed media installation
– Sarah R. Bloom: photography and mixed media
– Colleen Gahrmann: ceramics, sculpture, mixed media and photographic installations
– Charlotte Schatz: drawings, prints and sculpture

Artist Reception: Sunday July 22nd, from 1-5pm, Artist Talks start at 2pm.

DVAA, the artist run gallery in South Philly, is hosting a group show by member artists exploring subject facts concerning painful, difficult, controversial social memes about race and discrimination. The collection of artwork addresses the theme with an experience design that is engaging, thought provoking, and beautiful; the gallery is arranged to create a flow between art forms, concepts, and compositions. A meme is a unit of cultural information that spreads like a virus from mind to mind; cultural ideas, biological and social anxieties, historic resonance, and deeply packed psychological concepts are transmitted with language, image, gesture and tone. Presenting an art exhibit with disturbing imagery challenges the artists to confront ideas with a plastic language of line, light, shape, and color; social practice connects the conceptual context to an inquiry through mark making, composition, and activity by the artist. Social Practice is an important art movement in the 21st Century, artists are addressing ideas that permeate society that feel too hard to look at, too big to wrap your head around, too ugly and mean that words are not enough to explain.

Artist Rosalind Bloom uses collage to process the unimaginably horrific actions of individuals with scraps, tears, and remnants of paper into bits of information, like tessera in a mosaic, depicting modern monsters and sociopaths as memetic subjects integrated into artwork. The randomness of found object and collage abstracts the visual and textual cues into deep empathic passages of consciousness; the edges of the idea integrated into all the other edges creating a network of concepts in a resonate, communicative unit of cultural information, a meme. Through color and texture, a pathway of thought pattern is coded into neural networks of experience, the dialog is enlivened with hue and tone, shapes overlap and merge into blobs of memory like pseudopodia, and units of information are embedded in mitochondria filaments of emotion and reaction.

 

Look At Us, DVAA

Sarah R. Bloom, photography, Colleen Gahrmann‘s installation

Within the structure of the meme is semiotics, words contain the codes to myth, memory, and self awareness; groupings of alphabetic symbols arranged in circles are informed with memetic patterns of the cultural penetration of the behavioral aberration of patriarchal entities on social fabric; myth is encoded to every fiber of information, each line expressive of experience, and illustrativeness embeds the word pictures into a coalescent narrative. The expressiveness of line and shape provides the superstructure of the concept, action and activity are the engine; line, shape, color, and light are the atomic center of communication.

Social Practice as a plastic tool in the artist’s palette is colored with nuance, liveness, immediacy, and viral transference of units of cultural information; the plane of communication vibrates with energies of a higher level, wave forms that ripple across generations, to be abstracted into objects of resonant fascination. Within the objects are found exquisite beauty, delicate and desirable, with a quality of values, disruptive to culture, engaging the community to communicate on a higher frequency.

Look At Us, DVAA

Charlotte Schatz, sculpture

LOOK AT US – an exhibition hosted @ DVAA in Gallery 1

704 Catherine Street, Philadelphia
July 6th – 29th

Artist Reception: Sunday July 22nd, from 1-5pm, Artist
Talks start at 2pm.

Artworks byDVAA members:
– Rosalind Bloom: collage, transfer print and mixed media installation
– Sarah R. Bloom: photography and mixed media
– Colleen Gahrmann: ceramics, sculpture, mixed media and photographic installations
– Charlotte Schatz: drawings, prints and sculpture

DVAA is proud to host Look at US, an exhibition of works by Rosalind Bloom, Sarah R. Bloom, Colleen Gahrmann, and Charlotte Schatz which critique American culture. This exhibition runs concurrently with the DVAA exhibition in Gallery 2, The City and The Sea.

LOOK AT US is an exhibition of work that addresses issues of contemporary American public concern, some of which are immensely and forwardly pervasive, others which are just as prevalent but often much more subtle. In sculpture, ceramics, mixed media collage, and photography, these artists acknowledge and examine their own privilege, thus opening a dialogue on issues such as gender inequality, social injustice, and the history of American racial tension. In the face of hatred and oppression we all need to own our own complicity.

DVAA thanks our 2018 exhibition sponsors DeFino Law Associates and Seed&Space!

by DoN Brewer

All photographs by Sarah R. Bloom.

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Keith SmithMargaret Gave me a Rainbow, 2:30pm 21 November, 1971, 1971, by Keith Smith, American, b. 1938. Collage of 3-M Color-in-Color photocopy transferred to buff-colored manila paper, gold star, multicolored thread, gelatin silver print, and rayon braid and tassels, hand and machine stitched to green plain weave cotton with gold rayon faille backing. Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York. © Keith Smith.

Like a Rainbow

by DoN Brewer

I graduated from high school in 1971 and was awarded a $50. savings bond for being ‘the most artistic’ in my class. I cashed in the bond and bought LSD. I’ve always felt like an artist, I didn’t realize artist is another word for faggot. It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association list of mental disorders in the DSM-II Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I’ve known I was attracted to men since I was a small child; fantasies of being around naked men began when I was about five years old. The Summer of Love in 1969 allowed me to begin to express myself as a hippie with long hair and wide bell bottoms; I remember my mom saying to me that I looked like a queer. I didn’t know what queer meant, I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings, I was harassed in the school hallways for the way I looked; my only solace was art class. When I was 16 we used to go to New York Avenue in Atlantic City, I had a fake ID and my best friend and I would spend all night at the gay bars that lined the street; I could be as effeminate as I felt without fear. I left home at 18 and in the Summer of 1973 I visited Provincetown on Cape Cod for the first time.

At the time P-Town, Fire Island and Key West were the only destinations where gay people could express themselves openly and show public displays of affection without fear of harassment, punishment, or condemnation. Frank Rizzo was Chief of Police in Philly and struck terror in the hearts of gay people; my fake ID got me entrance into some of the gay bars like Equis and the Allegro. Little did I know that the police had a squad of cops, who wore tight white jeans, that would hang out by the urinals and if they were cruised would arrest people. But the cops didn’t take them to jail, they took people down to the Schuylkill River, beat them up and tossed them in the river. Even worse if you got caught messing around in the bathroom at Strawbridge and Clothier your name would be published in the newspaper for all to see. The struggle was real. In Provincetown I was free to be me.

We would rent a small salt box house on the outskirts of town for $65. a week and ride our bikes to the shops, restaurants, galleries, and the beach. I loved the shops with the colorful, unique artifacts and I purchased my first rainbow objects – a stained glass rainbow and an embroidered rainbow patch. The stained glass still hangs in my window but it wasn’t until a few years ago I gained the nerve to sew the patch onto my jean jacket. When I saw Keith Smith‘s Margaret Gave me a Rainbow at The Philadelphia Museum of Art memories flooded my mind. I remembered marching down Walnut Street in the first gay pride parade in Philly, I remembered arguing with Rev. Carl McIntire on the radio because he thought the word ‘gay’ should be replaced with the word ‘sad’, I remembered my dad saying he didn’t care if I was gay as long as I didn’t take it up the ass, I remembered being told that I would be fired from J.M. Fields if I didn’t cut my hair, I remembered the beginning of AIDS and again living in fear for my life.

The rainbow flag was popularized as a symbol of the gay community by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978.

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Renoir, Two Young Girls

Two Young Girls, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 25 13/16 inches, 1892, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Renoir Reconsidered: Plastic Analysis by DoN Brewer

Two Young Girls is a vertical oil painting composed of a matrix of radiating lines, curving structural segments, twisted, intertwining, interlocking shapes, multicolorful compartmentalized color, and shimmering, glowing light effects that suffuse the canvas with illumination, shadow, warmth and liveness. The subject facts include two girls seated outdoors in a sunny landscape, wearing fancy hats and stylish dresses, perched on spindly wooden garden chairs.

Line

The painting is composed of a complex set of orthogonal lines that emanate from the lower center section of the composition, three dark lines of seams on gloved hands, begin a radiating upward pattern of lines connecting the figures in a curvilinear, twisting, folding design that is intimate, unified, creating a continuum of plastic elements. The curving lines repeat with the top of the chair, the combined shoulders of the girls and the dramatic sweep of the hats. Like space invaders the girl’s hat on the left swoops under the right hat in the top third of the composition but the gloved hands of the girl on the right pokes her partner’s ribs in the bottom third.

Orthogonal lines radiate out like a fan or a parasol from the curved stripes of the gloves developing compartmentalized fields of shapes defined by color and light; the vanishing point is obscured by the figures, the atmosphere of sun drenched land and sky surrounds and permeates the duo, the landscape tilts up to a blurred horizon line visible on the left, a tree line meets the sky on the right.

Focusing on the gloved hand in the lower center, lines radiate outward connecting to the bottom of the canvas on both sides of the chair in the middle, towards the hand resting on the purple parasol on the left, diagonally through the shoulder along the cheek and past the hat to the upper left corner, a line to the face of the girl on the right, one through her shoulder letting the tree clump fill the right upper corner, lines reach across to the right lower edge of the canvas through the girl’s arms, and finally along the bunch of flowers in the lap of the girl on the right to the lower right of the picture.

We observe an interconnected radiating web of orthogonal lines, sweeping upward with curvilinear lines and a clever use of Mobius strips mixing the two elaborate hats infinitely, the enwrapping arms entwining the duo in volumetric space, and flowing, fluid, ray traced movement between the figures. The figure eight motif causes the eye to move through the composition, the hats become one unit, the figures swirl together, and even though the portrait of the girl on the right is so distinct and prominent, the infinity shape connecting the hats pushes the portrait forward; the hat on the left seems to be under the hat on the right, creating an illusory movement through curvilinear shapes and arabesque line.

Shape

Even though there are straight lines in the composition they describe circular objects like the chair spindles and the parasol; the stripes on the dress on the left are broken lines and undulate across the textile surface fluidly. The predominant shapes are rounded, voluminous, and connected across the composition developing circumambient space within a shallow depth of field; two young girls engaged in conversation, displaying poise and style, with us, the viewers, conveniently within eves-dropping distance. The fashionable hats perched on the girls’ heads dominate the top third of the painting, the Mobius strip effect of the two objects links the figures in an infinite looping motion with a whirling twist like a DNA strand. The creatively distorted blobby shapes on the hats read as flowers and feathers but are fluffy, wispy puffs of color painted thickly with feathery edges.

The variety of shapes and their connections across orthogonal planes develops an interlocking composition of round, square and triangular spaces: circles, ellipses, and mounds of the hats and heads at the top, textiles and the rounded shapes of shoulders, arms and upper torso fill the middle, a sandwich design, and rings, tubes, and semi-circles of rods, cuffs, and collars, the rectangles of chair backs and the panel of the dress on the left, and layer upon layer of interlocking triangles weaving up and down, in and out, from the lower center where the gloved hands clasp, unify the duo as one swirled object. The upturned cone of the torso on the left is echoed by the pointy shapes of the purple umbrella in the lower left corner, the gloved hands unfold triangles towards the right. The combination of geometric shapes, twisted enfolding tubes, radiating triangles, and circular forms, coalesce into a compelling volumetric composition that is structured and solid yet fluid, with up and down movement, back and forth zigzags, and forward and backward organization of shapes.

Color

Renoir applies color in a mode enhancing the illustrative qualities of the composition while delighting the viewer with dramatic decorativeness and social liveliness. The palette balances warm and cool colors like contrasting solemn burnt Venetian red with deep Prussian blue in a subdued low key with bright ivory, luscious pink, pale greens and yellows in an exuberant high key enhanced with bursts of ebullient colorful contrasting reds and greens and an unexpected flourish of purple creating an elegant balance of color equivalents.

Color is compartmentalized in solid forms then appears across the picture plane in subtly unifying swatches and patches. Arguably the blue hat is the most prominent color shape in the composition because of the darkness against the multicolorful landscape; the feathery puffs are piled high flowing over the brim in circles, ovals and ellipses in deep blue, the splotches of pale blues and grays reflecting sunlight smudge out over the edges and mix with the sky and landscape echoing the smooth cobalt blue sky smeared across the top of the canvas with wide strokes, and overlapping into the greens and yellows of the landscape.

The hat on the left is overflowing with floral shapes, half red floral shapes with green leaves, half ochre, cadmium yellow, and pale green, like a floral still life spilling out of the hat basket; the brushstrokes are multidirectional, a mixture of long and short, swirly and amorphous, coiled and smudged, like the rolling foliage of the landscape. The two hats are unified by the yellow brims, an infinite swirl, the Mobius strip, of yellow, earthy ochre, and pale orange glazed over lumpy white paint, highly textural and glinting, the broken lines describing the tactile grain of the straw weave of the millinery shiny in the sun, fluffy feathers absorbing light and brilliant flowers reflecting the sun rays.

Flesh painting is constrained to the portraits of the two young girls along with one girl’s hand and wrist smoothly painted in ivory, pink, with shadows of pale blue and violet; the girl on the right has glowing red cheeks and burning red ear, like the red flowers of her partner’s hat, the girl on the left, with barely there features, is painted with ivory, light pink, and pale purple, the hair transfuses into pale orange and blue, the dark shadow defining the upswept hair as blue as the stripe in her partner’s hat.

Renoir’s limited palette is utilized to astonishing effect: mixing lake red with white creates a lovely pearly pink for flesh and fabric, cadmium yellow color chorded with streaks of bluish gray is strong and wooden, and viridian green glows in the landscape and along edges of the textile with brilliant contrast and light. The textile painting of the pink dress is applied thickly with piles of paint layered in pale Naples yellow, carmine mixed with white, and dramatic strokes of bold pure red making the shadows of fabric folds ornate and vivid, revealing weave, weight, and texture along with the fancy pattern and flattering color. The darker dress on the right compartmentalizes cobalt and black against red oxide, with strokes of green, blue, purple and ochre painted smoothly, densely, and layered across the shapes in dapples, smudges, washes and daubs from all the colors of the artist’s palette – her dress isn’t so plain, after all.

Light

Renoir creates spatial depth and light through color; the cobalt blue sky is smudgy and scudded with washes of pure blue, smoky gray and pearly, opalescent white that transfuses into the blue streaks of a pale horizon, the foliage of the landscape greedily sucks in light and reflects it back with Viridian green, Indian yellow, and cobalt blue with fluffy pounces of the brush, while the textiles absorb and transmit light through structural color, convincing contrasts, and color modeling. Light is the constant in the composition pervading structural elements such as flesh, fabric, landscape and still life with deliberate and controlled mixtures of limited color choices with white and black, thickness and thinness of paint application, directionality of brush strokes, and gradations of color mixture from dark darks to light lights into an infinite variety of colorful light and shadow.

Look at the gloved hands; appearing to be leather with thick stitching, folding and wrapping around the hands and forearms with all the colors of the palette describing atmosphere and temperature with short multicolorful strokes of ochre, cobalt, reds, and yellows that merge into segmented shapes and a unified color field informing the entire composition. Lastly, the purple umbrella in the lower left, a mix of lake red and cobalt, black and white, whirled into a fabulous violet in strokes of thick paint in thin chorded striations; the handle of the parasol wraps the wrist and literally glows, the thick textural paint reflects the gallery lights, as if the sun is glinting off the silvery curve while the colors of the landscape and figures are reflected in primary shades of blue, red, and yellow.

Renoir, Two Young Girls

 

 

 

 

 

Click for large picture.

Final project for the Barnes – de Mazia Certificate in Art and Aesthetics, The Barnes Foundation

Thank you to my instructors, particularly William M. Perthes, for sharing their knowledge and letting me share what I know, too.

Written by DoN Brewer.

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