Category Archives: Art Appreciation

The Artist

(via New York Times)

Last night I took a trip back to the 1930s. I sat in the River Oaks Theatre (built in 1939), which as the photo shows, still operates with an old grand marquee. Our movie started, and there was silence. And then some more silence. And then music, but still no audible words but just captions on screen. Nor was there color, but just black and white moving images. It was The Artist, the French film getting a lot of Oscar buzz for doing something so old-fashioned and unimaginable: being a silent film. And it was lovely.

It was so interesting that even as the opening credits played (silently) there was almost a discomfort among us in the audience, this group of strangers sitting in a silent dark theater. We’re conditioned to think, “Are the speakers not on?” The opening scene of the film is so smart-we’re not only watching a silent film, but we’re watching people in the film watch a silent film in a 1930s theatre. And by doing that it makes us feel like we’re part of them and they’re part of us. We’re no longer removed from this bygone era; we’re in it.

The film tells the story of George Valentin, a suave and prideful star, whose the end-all be-all in the silent film industry, until the unthinkable happens. Silent films are on the brink of extinction with the invention of talkies, and he’s yesterday’s news. Enter young, aspiring actress Peppy Miller who concurs the world of talkies, while remaining adorable and lovable. George is horrified of the changing film industry, declaring that he’s not a puppet but an artist. His distaste and fear of the talkies is telling: his own tragic flaw is that he barely speaks in his real life, which is emphasized by numerous instances of people yelling at him out of frustration, “SPEAK!” (yelling in the silent film tradition of captions coming on screen seconds after the actors lip the words). Perhaps the biggest scene-stealer of the entire film, though, is George’s Jack Russell Terrier, the smartest dog I’ve ever seen and the most loyal companion.

The entire movie is nostalgically lovely and a much-needed reminder to sit still and enjoy a work of art (whether a film, a painting or a wonderful book) for its simplicity and genuineness.

1. A 1920s Continental typewriter makes a cameo in the film, instantly making me love it more. 2. The Corn Poppy, by Kees van Dongen, c. 1919 at the MFAH, could practically be a portrait of Peppy Miller. 3. Jack Russell Terriers, which have starred in The Mask, "Frasier" and My Dog Skip, are utter geniuses.


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Art-See: Romance

The Kiss by Klimt

The Kiss by Brancusi

Notice a trend? Forgive me, but I have weddings on the brain 15/7 (yeah it’s not quite to 24/7 yet, I do sleep and work and let my brain think about a few other things). Anyways, with a long-distance fiance and weekends spent planning out details for a day a year away (11/10/12!) I thought I’d put the romantic daydreams to some other use.

The Kiss by Brancusi is one of my favorite sculptures. Housed in the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, it’s a squatty plaster cast of the original stone carving. The two people seem to be carved from one stone, symbolizing to me how husband and wife become one in marriage. And I love it’s simplicity and how you can see all around them but not their most intimate kiss.

Klimt’s The Kiss is equally sweet and intimate. It’s also so sensual and lavish (I’ll take a gold cape wrapped around me every time I’m embraced, thank you very much).

La Mariee by Chagall

It’s hard to talk about daydreams and fantastical love without including Chagall, the king of floating bodies, dreamy scenes and flat out random subject matter. La Mariee imagines a bride being fitted with her veil by her groom. A church and small town linger beyond them, while a musician serenades them both. Oh, and there’s a cello-playing goat and a lobster playing the xylophone. Is this the Little Mermaid’s wedding? I’ll probably have some dream along these lines in the next year.

The Singing Butler by Vettriano

And maybe for our first dance we’ll have our maid and butler keep the rain away as we waltz around a beach. No? Well regardless, I’ve always loved The Singing Butler painting and found it lovely and whimsical. My favorite is the maid whose probably thinking, “Oh, these crazy people. Go dance inside.”

American Gothic by Grant Wood

To end on a more sobering note, Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Jonathan jokingly suggested that  this is “the way marriage really looks.” Ha. I know he was joking but I think it’s fair to group it with these artworks. Because every relationship is dreamy and intimate and lovely, but it’s also an everyday attitude of “we’re in this together, come what may.”

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Art-See: Autumn

The way I feel about Halloween is pretty much the way most people feel about Christmas: I soak up every minute of the month leading up to it, exclaiming, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” every chance I get. And then, when the 31st rolls around, I’m a little sad, because I know that it will be another 365 days until that special day returns again (and no, it has nothing to do with the fact that that day is also my birthday). To me Halloween isn’t the scary stuff and the tasteless costumes – it’s pumpkins, crisp leaves, cinnamon, youthful excitement, creativity and fall coziness. So in the spirit of enjoying all that fall brings, I’ve rounded up a few paintings that remind me of the season year-round.

1. Haystack (1938) by Thomas Hart Benton

On view at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Thomas Hart Benton always reminds me of Missouri (it’s where he was from, after all). His fluid paintings of  rolling hills and plains conjure up images of crisp fall days in the Midwest. This painting especially captures the feeling of autumn harvest.

2. The Corn Poppy (1919) by Kees van Dongen

On view at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

This is how I want to look in the fall. A lovely head scarf with a pop of color. Much like his Fauvist colleague Matisse, van Dongen’s works stand out for his bold color choices.

3. Apple Tree with Red Fruit (1902) by Paul Ranson

On view at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

A non-traditional depiction of an apple orchard perhaps, but this painting has all the colors of fall. A bright sunset illuminates the sky with pops of red apples and wildflowers in the foreground.

4. Red Sunset on the Dnieper (1905-8) by Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi

On view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

On view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The colors of a great sunset are the colors of fall to me: burnt orange, deep red, shady blues and purples. It’s also a symbol for the season: the ending of the day and the ending of a year.

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A Work in Progress

Frederic Bazille, The Little Gardener, 1866-67

Sometimes the creative process is far more interesting to me than the end result. That’s why art history has always fascinated me. Even if I don’t particularly “like” a work of art, studying the back story of it, what the artist was thinking, what his or her influences were and how he or she painting the work give the work so much more meaning. And as someone who has never really found her inner artistic ability (try as I might, my drawings still look like a six-year-old drew them…) I love seeing artists’ sketches or preparatory studies.

Yesterday, my mom and I visited the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (bonus: free admission on Thursdays!). It’s really an impressive museum and it was my first time visiting. We only made it around the second floor of one building because we spent so much time awestruck by the amazing impressionist collection. I discovered so many artists I wasn’t familiar with (more on them in a later post) and smiled seeing works by favorites (van Gogh, Vuillard, Monet …).

This particular work by Frederic Bazille especially struck me, again, more for its backstory than its actual appearance. You see, it’s not finished. Bazille had only loosely sketched the kneeling person on the left and the tall pine tree, as well as several bushes. He died in the Franco-Prussian War, leaving many works unfinished. How sad, right? And also eery, because when I looked at that outlined body in the painting, it kind of took on a ghostly quality. But how interesting to see all the layers of the process coming together.

This bottom work by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – the notable French artist who painted vivid and energetic cabaret scenes – is less work in progress as it is a simple caricature. In its simplicity, it’s still so interesting to me. Any caricaturists out there I can hire for my future dinner parties?

Henri du Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Table of Monsieur and Madame Natanson, 1898

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At Home

Isle of This Town by Don & Ryan Clark (via Invisible Creature)

The last day that movers were packing up our home, I sat in our living room staring at the empty walls where artwork and family photos had been hanging just hours earlier. It dawned on me that in a matter of days there would be different frames with different images hanging on those walls. The thought was quite simple and ordinary, I know, but it was enough to make me think. As we move in and out of apartments and houses, our possessions come with us but the structures remain. They might see one, five, 10 or more families throughout their architectural lifetimes. They’re also one of the most defining parts of our culture, I believe. I mean, they’re where we live, after all. Everything that happens in the world and in our everyday lives somehow makes its way into our houses. All of these musings have been coming back into my mind from time to time in the past few months, making me want to read or write or explore all of these thoughts and come up with something substantial. Then today I think I found the book that already did all of those things for me. It’s called At Home by Bill Bryson, and after only reading the introduction, my mind’s already overjoyed. Take a peak:

Looking around my house, I was startled and somewhat appalled to realize how little I knew about the domestic world around me. … Suddenly the home seemed a place of mystery to me. So I formed the idea to make a journey around it … I would write a history of the world without leaving home. … What I found, to my great surprise, is that whatever happens in the world — whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over — eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house. … So the history of household life isn’t just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be, but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body-snatching and just about everything else that has ever happened. Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.

(Bill Bryson, At Home, pg. 5)

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And Then There Were Three

I’ve never been one to really collect anything. I had the Beanie Babie phase when I was a kid, but I don’t really count that as a true collection. But ever since college I’ve romanticized old typewriters and loved their nostalgic beauty. I dreamed of one day having an entire shelf full of different models, the old, the retro, the black, the colorful. Jonathan found a typewriter on his doorstep last year (yes, literally, it was sitting by the mailboxes in his apartment building with a sign that said “FREE!”) I like to think it was fate handing it over to me. This past Christmas my parents bought me a beautiful antique typewriter. And so my collection began. This past weekend I got to see the typewriter Jonathan found for me at a thrift store in Wichita a few months ago. Say hello to the newest addition: The Cadet!


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This summer has been so

Robert Cottingham's "Hot," on view at the Wichita Art Museum

One of my favorite ways to escape the sweltering heat these days is to step into a nice air-conditioned museum. Even better when the art ends up being themed around summer. On a recent visit to Kansas, I visited the exhibit Been in the Dark at the Wichita Art Museum, which showcased around 45 artworks that had been kept hidden in the Museum’s vaults for a number of years. It claimed to not be centralized on any specific theme but I loved finding a common thread among the works: whimsy, fresh fruit, melting ice cream, playful beach moments and countless other summer images. I hope to have a review of the exhibit on Review sometime in the coming weeks, but until then I leave you with some of my favorite works from the exhibit and invite you to take a break from the scorching sun and feast your eyes on some art in your area.

Adrian van Suchtelen's "Cherries"

Mmm, cherries. One of my favorite summer fruits. Also a reminder that I still need to make this.

Steve Berman's "60 Million Gumballs With 10 Winners"

Don’t you just want to jump into this painting? It’s so colorful and bright.

Leon Kelly's "Silvia in Garden"

This is one of the most interesting paintings I have seen in a long time. I love that her body is depicted almost like a preying mantis while she tends her garden. I could just examine this picture for hours.

Robert Lazzarini's "Teacup"

This teacup looks like it’s melting from the heat! I feel your pain, teacup. I also want this sitting on my bookshelf. It’s so very whimsical.

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Alexander Calder, the King of Whimsy

In honor of Mr. Calder’s 113th birthday the creative folks at Google created this interactive mobile doodle.

Courtesy of Google & the Calder Foundation

Calder is one of my favorite artists, maybe because I like to think of him as a kid that never grew up, always tinkering with metal and objects and seeing how they balanced in mid air to create whimsical arrangements.

I wrote this pseudo news story about him on my tumblr page earlier this year. It’s how I like to imagine his creative process came together:

October 22, 1931/The baby won’t sleep. The moment I put her down she starts wailing. I thought babies were supposed to nap? I want to nap, why doesn’t she want to nap? I’m having a hard time getting much work done in the studio with constantly having to go in and out to check on her. Maybe I’ll just bring the crib in here. I know, I know babies and sharp metal sticking out everywhere don’t exactly go hand in hand. But I’m desperate here, OK? Sometimes I wonder if I should have stayed in Paris and joined the circus. People lovedCirque Calder; I could have been just as good in the real thing.

October 23, 1931/What do you know, the baby stopped crying. Turns out she loves my studio. I was working on my latest wire portrait when I decided maybe dangling a few up and down in front of her might calm her down a bit. I think I’ve discovered a new art form: the mobile. I know Duchamp messed with mobiles back in his day, but he made them all complicated with cranks and motors. Babies don’t need cranks and motors. They just need simple forms in front of their faces, mesmerizing them. And maybe if it can mesmerize her, it can mesmerize the public as well.

Snow Flurry, via the Calder Foundation

Finny Fish, via the Calder Foundation

Performing Seal, via the Calder Foundation

Goldfish Bowl, via the Calder Foundation

Go add a little childish whimsy to your day.

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DIY} Stacked Book Frame

Ever since we moved, I’ve been itching to tackle a DIY project. (I’ve also literally been itching for the past two days because of a lovely bunch of fire ant bites on my foot. How I loathe thee, fire ants!) Anyway, because I also don’t know how long I’ll be living in my room, I’ve had to put the breaks on getting carried away with any additional room decor or crafty plans. Instead, I revisit my most lofty project to date. I saw this framed stack of books in a restaurant in Kansas City three years ago.

My ambitious self thought, “Oh, I could make this. Easy.” And really it wasn’t that bad, but looking back I’m impressed with myself for thinking I could tackle this. Lesson: Don’t be intimidated by a project; it’ll turn out OK!

Warning: This will require using up a lot of books. E-readers, rejoice. But really, I love books just as much as the next person, and this project gives a second purpose to all those books that probably won’t ever be read again (if they ever were) in the $1 section at Goodwill.

You will need:

  • 10 or more hardback books (the more interesting their spines, the better)
  • 1 frame (I found a set of three window shutters at a thrift store; finding those key pieces is probably what encouraged me to start the project in the first place)
  • 1 sheet of plywood (the size depends on the frame you find because the plywood will be used to cover the back of the frame)
  • 1 tub of Plaster of Paris
  • miter saw
  • tacks or small nails
  • Gorilla glue
  • nails and brackets to hang the frame(s)
  • Mod Podge or paint (optional; for decorating frame)

Deep breath. Go:

1. By far the hardest part of this project is this step (yep, it’s the first step, sorry for the intimidating factor). Using the miter saw (or letting a strong man in your life use the saw, as was my case) cut off the pages and covers of the books, leaving about 1″ to 1.5″ of the spine and pages intact.

2. I kept some of the pages from the books (especially the ones with neat illustrations) to Mod Podge on the frame later.

3. Nail the plywood to the back of the frame so there is a solid backing supporting the space where the books and plaster will be.

4. (Do this outside, it’ll probably be messy) Mix the Plaster of Paris per instructions. Have a friend help you with this part because you need to work quickly: while you spread the plaster of paris in the whole of the frame, have your friend place the books in a stacked formation, being sure to press down so the books are well set. Again, work quickly because the plaster will harden faster than you think.

5. Let the frame dry. Use Gorilla glue to fill in any gaps between the books and the plaster and add reinforcement (Gorilla glue expands and dries a white color, so it will blend in best with the plaster).

6. Paint or Mod Podge book pages onto the frame.

7. Nail at least two brackets into the back of the frame and hang.

Different designs could be created depending on the room. I think this one with illustrated pages would be great in a kid’s room because it would stay relevant as he or she grows up. A dark cherry frame with darker, muted colored books would be great in a study or office.

Check out this great paper wreath my friend Leigh Anne made recently as a way of using up all those cut book pages.

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To A, With Love

“I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I made a pilgrimage. I braved the train, the crowds, the drizzly weather. I entered your doors and I stood directly in front of your Cooled Lava Dress (Oh, how very cool it was). I visited your Bay-of-Smoke Jacket. (You knew I always wanted to go to the Bay of Smoke!). Standing on your faux-sanded wooden farmhouse floors, amongst your clusters of light bulbs turned avant-garde chandeliers, I realized I’ve done it all wrong—the liberal arts degree, the MFA, the low-paying publishing jobs, the erratic freelancing and adjunct teaching. If only I could go back. Go back and study Anthropologie (quirky spelling and all!).” (excerpt from McSweeney’s Open Letter to Anthropologie, by Anna Mantzaris)

I recently saw this via someone’s Facebook (I’m looking at you, Christina) and about died laughing/agreeing with the whole thing. It’s no secret that I refer to Anthropologie as “my happy place.” I have no shame admitting that I often visit the store with absolutely no intention of making a purchase (or, I mean, “I’m just browsing!”) just to wander around, soaking up the one-of-a-kind patterns and textures and colors. I fall for it. Every. Single. Time. The absurdly cute dish towels (that I would never, ever use to actually dry my dishes). The chairs upholstered in amazing fabrics. The dresses, ohhh, the dresses. But it’s ok. All I need is to visit, on occasion make a purchase from the sale rack – or the very rare, unmeditated, I-can’t-go-home-without-this-dress decision. I read a quote once about friendship that went something like, “I feel better just knowing that someone like you exists in the world.” Yeah. That’s how I feel about you, A.

Now go read this Open Letter to Anthropologie on McSweeney’s.

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