Crowded Pool

One fish comes to the surface to greet the spectator.  The others swim in every direction.  Fish bump into each other.  Koi swimming in a pool reflects a world of energy and will. These koi also offer me as artist an excuse to indulge painting for painting’s sake. Bright colors are placed against each other in a compact square.

This small sketch is a preparatory drawing for a small painting.  Sometimes a painting will have a lot of images “behind” it, drawings that the public doesn’t see.  Such is the case with the paintings you find in the museums, and I decided that these great artists I admire had important reasons why they needed this richer contact with their subject that comes from many repetitions.  Then I began doing more study and practice for my own paintings.  “Il faut refaire la meme chose dix fois, cent fois,” said Edgar Degas:  “you must redo the same subject ten times, a hundred times.”

Now the distinction between studies and paintings has blurred, and both kinds of work seem equally significant to me, each in their own way.  While this drawing was made to work out the ideas of a painting, it has enough presence to stand on its own as well.

[Top of the post:  Drawing of Koi, by Aletha Kuschan, Caran d’ache crayons]


Here I really am?

With a question mark, here I am.  I took this photo to create a drapery I could draw à l’Ingres.  My being present technically makes this a self-portrait.  But I’m really just along for the ride.  The drapery is the star.  Beginning artists should make lots of drapery studies.  The old masters started the idea, and it holds more weight than at first one supposes.  Drapery in portraiture defines the figure.  Of course, times were better for artists when flowing robes were the fashion!  Ever since the decline of Athens, artists have fallen on hard times.  Praxiteles, we miss you!  I jest, of course.

Drapery is also this very pliable thing.  Look what crazy Gothic artists did with drapery.  Drapery is an inanimate subject whose amorphous forms can adapt very readily to whatever subliminal messages an artist — or a whole society– is trying to express.  It is very “true” and “realistic” and yet it is thoroughly “abstract” and sometimes conventional.

Drawing drapery leads one naturally into landscape or figure or still life.  It’s an artistic Rorschach test, a mirror of the psyche.  You draw the drapery and reveal — yikes! — the self.

Meanwhile, I’ll have to get back to you when I’ve done my drawings from this photo.

[Top of the post:  Drapery study, by Aletha Kuschan, digital photo]

Magisterial Me

One might ask, “if you combined Richard Diebenkorn with J.A.D. Ingres, what would you get?”  My answer was — this.  Well, actually there’s a few more items in this stew.  Roman fresco imagery, as for example the image that Ingres referred to in designing Mme Moitessier (see previous post) as well as some branches pruned from the Garden of Livia at Primaporta and transplanted here (that I wrote about in a post called Heirloom Apples).  Actually, I guess that’s closer to gardening than cooking.  Of course, I’d like to think I contributed something here, too.  Me as chief cook and bottle washer, gardener and all around person.

I painted this rather large picture over top of another image, one that was originally destined for a large commission.  And it’s also got a painting on the verso … so whoever buys it will get a strange two-fer.  I think I’ve basically invented a new thing: the monumental, reversible painting.

[Top of the post:  Woman in White, by Aletha Kuschan, approx 80 x 80 inches, acrylic on canvas]

mme moitessier as moi

I don’t look like this, yet in some crazy way this is my portrait.  I made this whimsical pen drawing after Ingres’s magnificient Portrait of Mme Moitessier that lives in the National Gallery, London.  I saw the painting when it was loaned to the National Gallery of Art in Washington for an Ingres exhibit a few years ago, but made this drawing from a reproduction.  While searching the net for an image of the painting to show readers, I also found this surprising appearance of the grand lady.  (She gets around more than I supposed!)  Actually the real painting is much larger than the reproduction of her that gazes out upon the pedestrians.  The real MacCoy measures 120 x 92.1 cm (about 60 x 38 inches).  Some of the real Mme Moitessier’s story is available  here.

I realize that lots of people care about celebrities.  There wouldn’t be celebrities, I mean, such category of persons would not exist, were there not a “demand” for them.  It’s not a sentiment that I share.  Of course, I can identify some of the currently famous actresses of the present because like everyone I enjoy eating, and consequently find myself shopping fairly regularly for groceries.  And the ubiquitous check out tabloids stare out at you and greet everyone and update the world of the latest misadventures of the famous “beautiful people.”

Well, that kind of thing holds no appeal for me.  Most of the famously photographed people could arrive at my doorstep, and finding them outside their grocery store check-out line context, I wouldn’t know who they are.  But — if Mme Moitessier ever showed up…. Holy cow!  Wouldn’t that be the day!  I’d certainly recognize her.  And she’d be a stand out in any group wearing the fabulous dress she wears in Ingres’s portrait.

Of course, Mme Moitessier is unfortunately quite long dead.  Moreover, she probably did not thoroughly resemble the woman in her picture.  Or let’s just say, it was mighty convenient of her to happen to look so much like the Roman fresco goddess that Ingres worshipped, into whose pose Ingres put her.  The dress may be partly Ingres’s invention. So, one might as well expect a fictional character to arrive at one’s door.  The odds that Britney Spears’s car would break down in front of the house, and she require the use of some of our wrenches and other car tools is far more likely than that anyone vaguely resembling Mme Moitessier should arrive.  And, really, it’s a shame.

[Top of the post:  Me as Mme Moitessier, sort of… by Aletha Kuschan]

Alice is back to say thanks!

Thank you for your clicks!! I’ve been publishing at wordpress for two whole months!  Alice joins me in saying “thanks” to everyone who has clicked, to everyone who has left a comment, and thanks for all the kind and thought provoking remarks from readers.

I’m looking forward to learning and discovering more things here at this wonderful forum.

[Top of the post:  my kid’s drawing of Alice the Cat on a Magic Doodle]

Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul

This is the third panel of the triptych of the life of St. Anthony that I wrote about two posts previous.  The painting belongs to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

This is a really fine example of the Gothic practice of representing the same character in different points of time within the same image.  Saint Anthony can be seen first entering this landscape in the upper left hand side of the picture wearing a monk’s robe and carrying a traveler’s staff.  Later, around the bend, he has an improbable meeting with a Centaur, and lastly in the bottom of the composition, in front of St. Paul’s cave, the two saints embrace in greeting.

[Top of the post: The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, c. 1430/1435, Master of the Osservanza (Sano di Pietro?), National Gallery of Art in Washington]

Saint Anthony of Padua

Every artist has favorite works of art, and this painting (part of a triptych) was one of my earliest favorites.  It belongs to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Only long after my first acquaintance with this painting did I learn about St. Anthony of Padua, the painting’s central character.  He is the patron saint of “lost things” and missing persons.  In this panel, the saint (who would become a Franciscan monk), begins his vocation by first giving away his wealth to the poor.

From the beginning I immediately loved the picture for its color and stark composition.  The pale orange-pink of the facade behind St. Anthony is very lovely in its warmth and simplicity.  In the architectural punctuation of gothic windows and vertical columns and the criss-cross of iron grills over the ground floor windows, the painting has interesting and soothing structures.  The artist has silhouetted St. Anthony against the most prominent of the arches, where he greets a reception line of beggars. St. Anthony can also be seen coming down the stairs inside the building in the deep background.  Like many early Renaissance pictures, following traditions of Gothic art, actors can be seen in more than one moment of time.

For me this picture was a bridge leading eventually to modern painting.  I knew nothing about Henri Matisse, when I first began my study of art, and only much later did Matisse become one of my favorite artists.  But the simplicity of design and the uses of broad flat color in this painting and in the other panels of the triptych, taught me to appreciate those qualities.  Only much later did I make a connection from this kind of art to that of modern artists like Matisse and Picasso.

[Top of the post:  Saint Anthony Distributing His Wealth to the Poor, c. 1430/1435
tempera on panel, attributed to the Master of the Osservanza, perhaps (?) Sano di Pietro (formerly attributed to Sasetta and assistant), National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC]