Monday, September 18, 2017

Brick House, crayon on cotton paper, 6x8 inches by Kenney Mencher

What’s important about Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s altarpiece depicting St. Francis?

What’s important about Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s altarpiece depicting St. Francis?

Probably the main idea why we study Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s is altarpiece is because it was created in a transitional time between the Gothic period of time and the early Renaissance. Because of its placement at a pivotal time and its subject matter, which is St. Francis of Assisi, in both sets the standards as well as represents the changes that occur both physically in terms of how things look and changes in thought during that period.

The physical qualities of altar painting from before 1300 or so in Europe are heavily influenced by a style that was developed in what we call the Byzantine Empire starting as early as the fourth century, especially in Greece and the region we know today as Turkey. There are many physical and visual characteristics that this altarpiece represents.

This altarpiece was probably made on a piece of recycled what or panel. Most likely, it was assembled from a series of older pieces of furniture or panels of what that had time to petrify, another term for “age.” The reason why very old wood was used is that it was more stable than new work or greener would because it contained less moisture and the wood becomes harder and more stable as it ages.
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The panel was then coated with a series of alternating layers of a glue referred to as “gesso,” which is basically boiled animal hide which creates a type of glue or binder. Affixed to the panel with this gesso was plaster and canvas. Plaster is made usually from calcium carbonate also referred to as marble dust, and has a brilliant white sheen to it which allows for a consistent smooth surface on top of the wood that the paint can adhered to without any kind of chemical interactions occurring.
The paint used on the surface of this panel was made out of a medium, a medium is literally a type of paint, called egg tempera. Egg tempera uses a combination of water, glue, and sometimes the egg whites or egg yolks to create a kind of binder that glues particles of pigment permanently to the surface of a panel painting. If you’ve ever tried to clean a plate that has dried egg on it, you’ll know why it makes a good medium.
The pigments, also referred to as colorants or dyes, were often made by grinding up minerals or semiprecious stones. Sometimes other substances such as dyes made from plant or vegetal matter would be used as color mixed with the medium of egg and glue.
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This type of medium, egg tempera, would then be applied in small patches or hatch marks, that would be layered over time to create shading, tone, and color.

Egg tempera was the primary type of color or medium used up until around 1400 when oil paint began to be used more often.

The physical size of this altarpiece is also part of why we study it. It’s a little bit taller than 5 feet and so the central figure, which represent St. Francis, is life-size for the time. The composition could be described as bilaterally symmetrical. Which means that the figures St. Francis is flanked by an equal number of scenes or images on either side of him making the overall image appear even or symmetrical. Furthermore, the composition is subdivided on either side of Francis with three smaller scenes in which he appears over and over again.
The way in which Francis and the scenes are painted is not very realistic or illusionistic. The anatomy of the figures is stiff and un–lifelike. We can recognize that these are people however, they are not standing in naturalistic poses such as the “contrapposto” pose that we saw in ancient Greece and Rome. The proportions of the figure are slightly elongated, and the proportions of the face are also stylized or incorrect according to today’s standards of realism.

The proportions of the face for all the figures, adheres to a type of style, or visual convention, that comes from the Byzantine style. Sometimes this is referred to as “maniera greca.” Roughly translated as “the Greek manner,” the proportions of the face in the maniera greca style are that the eyes are located a little too far up in the fore head, the nose is a little too long and ends too far down the face, and the mouth is located a little too far towards the bottom of the chin.

The scenes are not very realistic in terms of the illusion of space. The buildings and the figures sizes are not in proportion to one another. There is no illusion of space, there is no background behind the figures that would contain things like a horizon line, clouds, or a change in scale as things move further back. Today, we are used to something called linear perspective. This makes all of the parallel lines and straight lines on buildings makes sense to us, however, linear perspective was not used until 1400 and that’s why these buildings look odd. It is almost as if all of the figures are standing up against the front of the picture in a single line and the buildings, the small hill in one of the scenes, are not the right sizes when compared to the figures.

There is also no light and shadow, or shading, that describe the figures for the buildings in a realistic way. There are some tonal variations or shading variations however, these are almost cartoons of what light and shadow look like and this will change about 70 years later after this altar was completed.

The background of the altar and of the scenes on the left and right sides are made with thin sheets of gold glued onto the background and have very little or no variation in them.

All of these distortions, stylizations, and rendering are part of a consistent tradition that had lasted for nearly 1000 years until the 1300s.

Moving from physical description to an analysis of the content and meaning of this altar, it’s important to realize that the unrealistic way in which this was painted is part of its meaning. When Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, began to be organized and codified in the fourth century, eventually there was a controversy concerning the use of images because of the second commandment which states that, one should not worship idols or may graven images. Basically, what this means is that, Catholics believed that it was essentially wrong to make images of religious figures because of the idea that they might be worshiped as idols. This is referred to as the iconoclastic controversy. Eventually it was decided that the creation of “icons” and religious art was acceptable because it allowed people to learn from the imagery.

As the Roman Catholic Church became more powerful, and there was a call or a demand for religious imagery, a kind of cartoon style, the maniera greca, was chosen because it was not illusionistic and therefore not like the Greeks and Romans “pagan” style of art. Probably, also because it could be mistaken for something real.

The creation of religious art and religious icons such as this altarpiece, was then seen as a way of educating people about religion, and the religious figures one was supposed to emulate. By the time of St. Francis of Assisi, some social and economic changes began to occur. St. Francis represents many of these changes in the viewpoints of Catholics at this time and so this painting of him and the scenes of his life represent many of the concepts that the common important during the Renaissance.

For example, St. Francis to stands in the center of the painting, was important reformer of the Catholic Church. He is represented here with a haircut that’s called a monks tonsure. This style of cutting a religious person’s hair was meant as a way to make them humble because it was considered to be a less attractive hairstyle than a full head of hair. In this way it would humble people involved in the church, by making priests and monks less attractive. Part of this is probably because priests and monks at this time were supposed to be celibate.

St. Francis also holds a book which is very similar to the “book of the world” or “libris mundi” that is depicted in many representations of Jesus from the Byzantine Empire. He also has wounds on his hands and feet, called the “stigmata,” which were bestowed upon him by God in honor of his religious sacrifice and integrity. People who received the stigmata were thought to be blessed by God because the wounds were in emulation of the ones that Christ received on the cross.

Francis is represented wearing a simple robe, barefoot, and a Baroque belt with three knots in it.  This clothing represents the main ideas behind the order of Catholicism called the Franciscan order he began. The main tenets or concepts are poverty, chastity, and obedience. Francis is not wearing expensive clothing and this is part of the value system he believed in.

The life and times of St. Francis are depicted almost as if they are a comic book on his right and left hand sides. The various scenes represent important episodes in which Francis acted in a way that led him to a kind of spiritual enlightenment.

Here’s a summary of the main events that led to Francis becoming a monk. Francis was born into a fairly wealthy family when she left to go fight a crusade against heretics and infidels. At one point he was taken hostage or prisoner and while imprisoned he had visions and visitations by spiritual entities that instructed him that he should “rebuild God’s house.”

After Francis was freed, as he was returning home Francis gave away his cloak and other worldly possessions. He then proceeded to give away many of his father’s possessions all in emulation of the charity and non-materialism that Jesus espoused in the New Testament.

After he did this, Francis was given the right to start a new type of “order” in the Catholic Church now called the Franciscan Order.  The main concepts being, poverty chastity and obedience but more importantly a life given to acting or emulating Jesus Christ when he was on the earth. There are other stories after she becomes a monk in which he receives the stigmata from a type of angelic creature called the seraphim. We see this in the upper left-hand corner of the altarpiece. There are also other scenes of Francis is good works circulating around him one of most notable is his sermon to the animals in the garden in which she expressed the idea that while animals may not have a soul like humans have they are part of God’s creation and should be honored and should be aware of God.

The take away from all this, and why this altarpiece and St. Francis are particularly important is that this altarpiece represents a fusion of some of the traditional imagery and art styles from earlier periods with some new radical ideas concerning religious reform that Francis brought about. The most important being that Francis advocated that all people should live and behave in such a way that they are copying or living life in the way that Jesus would.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Survey and AP Level Art History: Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (International Style of Architecture)

I want to start with a physical description of Le Corbusier’s most famous building. The building Villa Savoye was built originally in the country in a fairly isolated spot in nature. It was surrounded by a park-like environment that the architect, Le Corbusier, wanted to feature for the people who inhabited the building.

The building appears almost to be very simple and based on clean geometric lines with large strips of windows and a large undulating curvy structure atop the building. The building sits on a series of cylinders which serve as columns. It is made from fairly inexpensive simple materials such as, poured concrete, simple metal framed windows and appears to have no ornamentation or coloring on the exterior of the building.

If you look closer, under the building behind the cylindrical columns that Le Corbusier called piloti (his word for pylons or columns) there is an almost capsule shaped structure in the center of the building that contains a curved wall that is made entirely of windows and a door.

The way in which the building is up on these columns and the curved wall creates an overhang and a driveway in which a car could drive up to the building, dropped its passengers off, and then not be exposed to the elements such as rain as well as most of the wind.

The interior of the building is also very simple and some people would consider it bare.

On the first floor you can see that there are simple cylindrical columns that run directly into the ceiling. The first floor also has a series of ramps and steps that are also not decorated or adorned and are painted white. The floor is made of simple tile and the railings on the steps and the ramps are made of simple metal tubes that looked like pipes.

There is no real division between any of the spaces throughout the building especially on each floor. One could say that the building is three stories tall however the third story is a balcony type of affair that is placed almost on the roof and has a type of flow through space that begins on the second floor. This is very similar to how Frank Lloyd Wright conceived of space as well.

The second-floor is a large simple room that has a strip of glass windows with no ornamentation surrounding the windows on one side. Opposite the strip of windows is a large floor-to-ceiling window with a sliding glass door that leads onto the balcony. Although there is significant natural light entering the structure from these windows there are also built in hanging strip lighting which looks very similar to the fluorescent office lighting from today. It is encased in a simple cylindrical tube and connected to the ceiling by a series of simple cylindrical pipes. The floor is made of the same tile as the first floor but changes as it continues out onto the balcony.

The balcony on the second floor is surrounded by a series of walls with openings in them the same size and shape as the windows on the interior of the structure. Square and rectangular geometric planters are placed throughout the space. There is a ramp that leads to the roof of the structure that serves as a third story balcony. The ramp is also on adorned but has a simple railing of white tubular metal.

The roof of the structure contains a simple wall that has some curves built into it as well as a window shaped opening and as in the balcony on the second floor, it contains no glass but looks to be almost the same size and shape as many of the windows throughout the structure.

The description above describes a fairly on ornamented building that would be fairly inexpensive to build, although I suspect it was fairly expensive at the time, because it is made from almost “humble” building materials such as concrete, simple tiles, factory manufactured window frames and glass and pipe like tubing as handrails and ornamentation. This is fairly intentional because it addresses what Le Corbusier was attempting to do in his conception of what it building should be.

Here’s an analysis of the concepts that Le Corbusier used to design this building.
Le Corbusier conceived of the building as a type of country home in which the windows framed the environment on the exterior of the building almost as if the landscape outside were paintings. This is in keeping in some ways with some earlier concepts such as the Villa Rotunda by Palladio in the 16th century. Palladio conceived of his building as a place to go and enjoy nature and to this purpose he placed for patios or porticos (belvedere in Italian means "beautiful view") on the exterior the structure.

Le Corbusier uses windows to do this. However, Le Corbusier also wanted the inhabitants of the structure to be protected from the elements. This is why there are so many windbreaks on the patios. Also like another architect, but I think he came up with this separately, Le Corbusier shares what Frank Lloyd Wright believed in terms of placing the building within nature and having flow through space. Le Corbusier deviates from Frank Lloyd Wright in that he felt that the building did not need to integrate itself with nature the same way other buildings such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s building in bear run Pennsylvania called Falling Water.

In fact, Le Corbusier conceived of the building as a type of machine that people lived in, almost the way cells inhabit a human body. He also felt that the people who inhabited the structure needed to be protected from the elements and that is one of the reasons why he has the building set up on the columns and an automobile is able to drive up to the structure and discharge its passengers without the passengers really having to deal with the outside environment.

Part of this, comes from Le Corbusier’s ideas and appreciation of early century passenger ships that were more functional in some ways than concerned with form. Passenger ships from the early 1920s and 30s contained exposed pipes, pipe like railings as well as very simple on ornamented designs for things like portholes because the function was more important on a ship than the appearance. For Le Corbusier the appearance of the functional items was beautiful and he wanted to incorporate that into his architecture. If you think about it, Villa Savoye almost looks like an ocean liner in some ways.

Here’s a bit more about Le Corbusier’s career and context. In the previous section I suggest the ideas that Le Corbusier was attempting to create a sort of machine that human beings inhabited. Le Corbusier conceived of architecture in a different way than some of the architects from the previous centuries and this is probably because in the early 20th century artists and architects often established themselves by coming up with a new shocking vocabulary or style of art.

Le Corbusier felt that standardization and regular planning would save cities and buildings by organizing the spaces more effectively and efficiently. He felt it would aid in the cleanliness and health of the inhabitants and would be based more on the human experience however, this theory was not proven when some of his larger projects were created. He designed a series of complexes and they were executed however people didn’t care for them and many of them have been torn down.

The takeaways from this are, early 20th century architects often try to establish an entirely new theory or ideal of architecture. Sometimes this is successful and sometimes this wasn’t. In the case of Le Corbusier his conception of architecture was that it should be a building that human beings inhabited almost like organisms. He also was heavily influenced by mass manufacturing and ideas that rejected previous conceptions of architecture that would be highly ornamented or based on classical ideas. Le Corbusier seems to have had a type of romance with technology especially with automobiles. It also seems from his architecture that he felt almost as if nature or the irregularity and unpredictability of nature was something that the human being needed to be protected against. Unlike architects from the Baroque era who designed the gardens at her side, Le Corbusier did not feel that nature needed to be controlled but that humans needed to be encapsulated or isolated from it with controlled use of it.

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Saturday, Sept. 16 Reception of Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell Exhibition at the Vincent Price Museum at East LA College.

5-7pm–Opening Reception of Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell Exhibition at the Vincent Price Museum at East LA College.

Features 130 works by the photographer from the last 3 decades that traverse performative, feminist, and queer art genres. Free admission. Exhibit runs through Feb. 10.

Gallery is located at 1301 Cesar Chavez Ave, Monterey Park 91754. For more info, call (323) 265-8851.

Leather Daddy by Kenney Mencher 30 minute tutorial

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Survey and AP Level Art History: The "Doryphoros" by Polykleitos c.450 BCE

Form:  This frontally oriented sculpture of a young male figure is well over life sized, is idealized, and naturalistic.  Some of the features of the face, the musculature of the abdomen and above the genitals have been distorted to fit in with an ideal of physical beauty.  The hair, nose of the figure and eyebrows have a rather geometrically stylized aspect to them as does the overall anatomy of the figure.  There is still a hint of the archaic smile.

The figure stands in a life like contrapposto pose (contra- against posto- posture) in which the body takes on an over all "s" curve.  There is a shift of weight at the hips and a majority of the figure's weight is on one leg.  The torso is turned in a slight angle opposite to the angle of the hips. The pose looks almost as if the figure is in movement.

This is a marble sculpture made by Romans copied from a bronze original that used the hollow casting or the cire perdue or lost wax process.   The process is referred to as lost wax not because we have lost the process, but because the figure is originally sculpted from wax which is lost in the process.  The original is encased in clay.  Two drainage holes are placed in the clay and when the clay is heated, the wax runs out of the hole leaving a cavity.  Bronze is then poured into the cavity and when the bronze cools the clay mold is broken open revealing the bronze sculpture.  Since the bronze is a fairly soft metal, details can be etched and molded while the bronze is cool.
(go here for diagrams)

Iconography: This sculpture depicts a perfect and beautiful young man the essence of kalos.

In Greek epic poetry the hero is always described as handsome or beautiful and their physical appearance is a reflection of the character's virtue.  The idealism or beauty of the Greek figure is linked to the concept that you can judge a book by its cover.  The Greek term for beauty is kalos (calos).  The term kalos can also be interchanged with and is synonymous with goodness.  Therefore, to call someone or something beautiful also means that that thing is also "good."

The original sculpture was actually designed to be an icon that represented physical perfection of the human form and therefore a god-like kalos.  The Doryphoros by Polykleitos was considered so proportionately perfect that it was called the "canon"  (a set of rules or criterion or standard of judgment).

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The contrapposto pose serves the same purpose as the archaic smile.  Both were designed to give the work a more lifelike illusion.  In the case of the archaic smile, it almost as if there is the beginnings of movement in the face and the same is true of the contrapposto that seems as if the body is about to move.

Context: Schema and correction play heavily into this work.  There are elements derived from the original kouros figures, such as the step forward, the idealized form and the archaic smile, but, Polykleitos builds on the naturalism to make the sculpture more life-like.

Since this is a Roman marble copy after bronze original, this would make this yet another corrected view.  This copy of the work is the "correction" on the Greeks original "schema" and so its accuracy is in question.  Historians and Romans have often called this work the Canon.  This work was designed by Polykleitos to be his canon or his  treatise   (a complete guide of sorts) to making a perfect sculpture.  Unfortunately, neither his sculpture or his written texts survived but we do have Roman descriptions of the text and Roman copies of the sculpture and so the Romans referred to it as the "Canon."  The naming of this sculpture is complicated for this and other reasons.

It is thought that the original bronze carried a long spear and that is where he gets his name.  Doryphoros in Greek translates as "spear bearer."  This marble sculpture of the Doryphoros is a Roman copy of the first original bronze by Polykleitos.  We are lucky enough to have a sculpture that was made at the same time as the original Doryphoros referred to as the Riace Bronze or Young Warrior from Riace (c 460-450 BCE) that approximates what the original Doryphoros must have looked like.

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Art for Life: An Event, An Experience, A Sanctuary

Lauren Sega Lauren SegaArt for Life: An Event, An Experience, A SanctuaryPhoto via Facebook.
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Until recent day, and in some places still, members of the LGBTQ+ community have long dealt with hate, prejudice and discrimination. Looking through an intersectional lens, it’s safe to say that the struggles that cis, white individuals within the community have seen improve or disappear still exist, and can even be magnified, when factors like race and country of origin are considered. There’s still a long way to go.
For sanctuary, many LGBTQ+ folks have turned to the arts community, a seemingly natural hotbed for free thinking, open-mindedness and acceptance. Locally, this organic connection has been formalized, manifesting in the biennial Art for Life event created by Equitas Health.
First executed in 1989, at the height of the HIV/AIDs epidemic, Art for Life’s gala brought together partners from the arts community to raise money and awareness.
“The way it originally started was the AIDs epidemic was taking a lot of lives, specifically in direct correlation with the arts community,” said Heather Llewellyn, Development and Special Events Manager for Equitas Health. “So, artists got together and said ‘You know, we don’t have a lot of money, but we can donate art.’ And then the philanthropic side said ‘We can purchase the art.’”

Assessment, crayon on cotton paper, 5x6 inches by Kenney Mencher

Love Story (A photo realistic painting of two romantically involved bears.)