Sunday, August 20, 2017

Survey and AP Level Art History: Constantin Brancusi

In the 20th century the art world goes through some very radical changes and what becomes the most important distinguishing characteristic for most artists has to do with the physical qualities of the work. In the case of Constantin Brancusi there are a number of hallmarks or main qualities that are important in all of his works.

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 The first quality and Brancusi’s work that someone studying art history should know is that the work is semi-abstract. It represents something, usually stated in the title of the work, but Brancusi takes what he’s representing and boils it down into simple geometric forms. A portrait of someone such as Mademoiselle Pogany will start with an egg shape that looks rather like a head but will also be stylized and abstracted down almost into a cartoon of what the portrait is supposed to portray. Interestingly enough you can tell that Brancusi’s portrait of Pogany when compared to her painting which is a self-portrait is surprisingly close to the pose and her appearance.

One of the next qualities in a majority of Brancusi’s works is that Brancusi tends to mix materials together. For example, Brancusi sculpture “bird In Space,” from 1919 incorporates a stand or platform made out of concrete or some other stone. Above that is a polished bronze form that looks a little bit like a teardrop or a wing from an airplane. He is combining bronze and stone and also incorporates a platform or column underneath the work.

You can see the same handling of different kinds of materials in his sculpture titled “Sleeping Muse.”

Probably the sculpture that is the most distinctive in this way is his sculpture, “Beginning of the World.” In this sculpture an egg like form made of marble is placed on a disk of polished steel which is then placed on a column made from either carved stone or concrete. Brancusi incorporates a column or based in a majority of his works and in some works even makes that the subject matter of the work such as his series of sculptures called “The Endless Column.”

Several of the things about Brancusi’s work also is that she is abstraction is part of the main concepts behind his work. Brancusi felt that sculpture was a very tactile kind of medium and should be physically interesting in terms of its textures and materials. He also believed that the base on which the sculpture sat was part of the entire piece and in the same way that many artists want to control the experience of how their work is perceived Brancusi incorporates the way in which the sculpture is exhibited as part of the sculpture.

Another important element for Brancusi, which probably relates somewhat to recent psychoanalytic theory that was being developed by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, are the ideas behind archetypes and symbols that these famous psycho analysts explored.

For example, if you were to look at a series of Brancusi sculptures in a chronological sequence, you can understand in some ways the generation and conception of his later works.

In this sculpture from 1905, “Head of a Boy,” Brancusi is somewhat copying or emulating the style of Rodin in his portrait. If you recall Rodin worked with a kind of gestural and exaggerated quality in his sculpture’s. Rodin felt that it added meaning to his work especially when he would exaggerates features such as pose, and the sizes of things like hands and the depth of eyesockets. It is almost as if Rodin was being Impressionist in his bronze sculptures.

Brancusi about three years later, makes his sculpture that he titles “Sleep,” in 1908. In some ways it looks like one of Rodin’s unfinished pieces and it depicts the head of a sleeping person. The head is pillowed in unfinished marble and you can see the chisel marks around the edges. The basic form of the head and the closed eyes, for Brancusi, is a distilling or boiling down of the idea of sleep. One of the important things to think about in terms of how sleep was perceived by about 1908 is that Freud’s theories concerning dreaming and Jung’s theories concerning the Gestalt and archetype of the human mind dealt with the idea that dreams word expression of the unconscious mind. Many of the Surrealists from that time believed that dreams could be used as inspiration for the creation of art.

In 1909 to 1910 Brancusi interprets this concept of the dreaming mind being a type of “Muse” for creativity in his sculpture of the same title. Brancusi abbreviates the idea of his earlier work by creating an egg like form, with very simple forms that depict the bridge of the nose the eyes and the mouth. He places this egg like form on a simple block of stone. We can see the Genesis of two important ideas here in this work. The first being combining the idea of sleep with an egg like form, and coming up with the idea that the mind is like an egg that is about to catch.

The second idea, is that Brancusi places this had or egg like Muse on a type of pillow which is also a type of column or platform is exhibited on.

In 1915 Brancusi combines those ideas in another piece that is somewhat egg like, and if we interpret the egg as being a type of form that represents possibility, growth, and birth and his combination of this with the idea that newborn children also are like eggs in the way that they are going to grow up and become something else it makes sense. Brancusi further pairs down or abstracts down the forms of the newborn child by making the nose a single line that becomes both a line and crinkled eyes. The mouth is in ovoid like form that is concave and has a slight lift to the bottom of it which represents the lower lip of the open mouth screaming child.

Five years after that, Brancusi combines all of his ideas in this sculpture titled “Beginning of the World,” in 1920. It looks almost like a shopping list of the main formal qualities we discussed earlier, mainly that of mix materials with pared down or stylized forms, as well as the concepts of Muses, eggs, sleep, dreaming, and potential.

It’s not hard to interpret Brancusi sculptures because he clearly tells you what each one is and then you have to just understand how he would expect you to look at the form and interpret. Part of this is that he also knows and understands that most people looking at sculpture are highly visual and possibly also have a knowledge of art history. 

In his “Torso of a Young Man,” if you were to compare this against ancient Greek Kouros figures which look very much like modern abstract sculptures you can kind of see that he showing you the torso and legs of almost a fragment of sculpture. In some ways, he’s even copying some of the ideas of Rodin because Rodin also would take the arms and legs off of some of his sculptures and believed that was enough to express the full form. Both artists Rodin and Brancusi probably felt that this was a valid way of representing the human form because when one visits museums often they see ancient sculptures in fragments.

Two interesting contextual ideas also will help you to understand Brancusi and his placement in the context of art history.

The concept of a female being a Muse is particularly valid because Brancusi had a relationship with a woman named Mme. Pogany was also a artist and connoisseur of fine art. His sculpture ties these ideas together, Mademoiselle Pogany is both the subject and inspiration of a series of sculptures that represent her using the symbolic vocabulary that Brancusi developed.

Probably another important contextual element, is that one of the things that kind of helped Americans to become aware of Brancusi’s work as well as many of the Impressionists and the Ashcan School of art, was the Armory show of 1913. A large show given in a converted warehouse for ammunition, the show introduced New Yorkers to the new avant-garde artists of Europe as well as the United States. This Armory show also led to the beginnings of New York being the new center of the art world at the beginning of the 20th century.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

What you should know about Lucian Freud

There are some artists who are household names at this point. Especially for figurative painters there is one artist who stands out more than others in terms of being the quintessential “fine artist” who paints figures. I’m talking about Lucian Freud. Pronounced, according to his studio assistant “looshun,” is one of those artists that none of us can afford.  However, most of the artists I admire refer to Lucian Freud as one of the great artists of the 20th century.

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Probably the most important thing about Lucian Freud’s work is that it looks beautiful and as a physical texture that complements the image. It’s almost as if the layers of paint that described the figure are like a skin.  Probably the most important qualities of Freud’s paintings are how they look and feel. The physical qualities stand out at first more than the content of the images.

In terms of how Freud’s paintings look the first thing that appeals to most people is that it’s the nude form and it looks very real in some ways. However, there’s a distortion in the anatomy of Freud’s paintings that some people find disturbing and for this reason some people also find it really beautiful. In some instances, he exaggerates features in the face and then in the case of women, almost takes it to a grotesque level. It’s almost like finding something kind of grotesque and ugly beautiful in a way. 
For example, some people really love the photographs of this WPA era photographer named Dorothea Lange. If you look at her photos these people are so ugly that their beautiful and they are almost caricatures.  The shifts of value and shading are part of their beauty in the same way that shading is part of Lucian Freud’s work. In some ways, even the content of Dorothea Lange’s portraits are similar in a psychological fashion to Freud’s because they don’t deal with overtly beautiful content.

Freud, in the same way that Dorothea Lange and even Gothic novelists exaggerate the grotesque, Freud renders something ugly into something beautiful. Part of how he does this is how he exaggerates the point of view and perspective in which he paints the figures from. This also distorts how we see the figure because it’s closer to optical reality than it is to photographic reality. Freud also exaggerates and distorts parts of the anatomy.

For example, Freud loves to paint almost grotesquely overweight people because the flesh is so interesting to paint. Likewise, Freud does not shy away from anatomical details such as bony knobs on knees, awkward looking angles in torsos and the overall skeletal structure.

He also does the same thing with skin tone and color. It’s kind of funny but the skin tone in Lucian Freud’s paintings feel an awful lot like how the color in some English movies looks when they’re portraying how gray it is in England.

Even in some of the warmer tones of Lucian Freud’s depiction of flesh tones he kind of inserts what’s called a complementary color such as a gray or a blue which automatically takes it down a notch in terms of feeling orange or pink. In a way, some of his flesh tones look almost as if there green. I think he was using burnt umber and black but I haven’t really researched his palette. The flesh in Freud’s versions of skin color look almost a little zombielike but they appeal to us in the same way we like to look at zombie makeup. I don’t think most people find these paintings erotic I think that they find them sort of challenging and that’s what makes it exciting to look at.

The physical texture of Freud’s paintings is also part of their appeal. I’m talking about texture. Freud uses very thick paint and he also lays it on layer after layer week after week to build up the surface of the paintings can be almost an inch thick with paint. If you were to pick up one of these paintings, even a small one, you would probably notice or note that the painting was very heavy. That’s because Freud uses a lot of paint and he also uses very dense paint. He applies the paint with hog’s hair bristle brushes. Thick paint is expensive and making art is a bit of a luxury. Although Freud’s family was upper-middle-class they weren’t necessarily wealthy, but they were wealthy and not to pay for Lucian Freud’s education at some good schools as well as to help finance his art career in the earlier days. Some things are important in terms of the context of Lucian Freud’s life, for example Freud was good friends with Francis Bacon and David Hockney as well as other artists. He is also the grandson of Sigmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud probably influence the career of his grandson in several important ways. First of all, it gave him entryway into British society. Freud’s biographers note that Freud actually felt a little bit conflicted or guilty about this because he felt that it gave him possibly a bit of an unfair advantage over other artists. Sigmund Freud’s psychological theories also seem to influence the content of Lucian Freud’s portraits of people. In a way, Lucian Freud’s paintings are a good example of cognitive dissonance, one of Sigmund Freud’s psychological theories.

The viewer who sees Lucian Freud’s painting has the whole two opposing thoughts in their mind at one time. One is, the painting in some ways is very beautiful because of the paint texture and the colors, however, there aspects about the way Freud paints that are a bit ugly. The paintings are both aesthetic and unaesthetic. Another compelling psychological aspect is that the viewer is left trying to figure out why someone would paint the figure that way how the model actually looked how Freud interpreted the model and why were compelled to look at the paintings. 

Freud’s success as a painter is linked to his pedigree and education, his legacy of being the grandson of Sigmund Freud. However, there’s also other romantic aspects of Lucian Freud’s life that probably added to his fame. Lucian Freud grew up knowing Street tough gangster kids in the 30s and 40s. He is even thought to have been linked with some gangster types who may have helped him collect on some debts from collectors. He also either cultivated a romantic attitude which complemented his sharp features in thick head of hair, but one biographer actually describes him as a bit of a sex maniac. He’s described as taking breaks from painting from a model to go into the next room and have noisy sex with a woman who would show up at his studio and then leave immediately afterwards. This is described as a pretty common state of affairs in Freud studio. We also know that he was married and divorced several times and has in excess of 10 children were more.

The last several decades of Freud’s life, well into his 80s, Freud was described by his biographers as being completely dedicated to painting sometimes as much as 10 to 12 hours a day. He painted standing up because sitting down was to inactive for him and his biographers note surmise that in the last two decades of his life he was pushing as hard as he could because he knew that would be the last body of work he would be able to produce before he passed away. One anecdote describes that Lucian Freud went to his doctor well into his 70s, and complained that he just didn’t feel right, the doctor responded to Freud explaining that he was an old man didn’t have the energy that a young man might have.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

D Hockney - cool off.

In the Neighborhood of Blue, 16x20 inches oil on canvas panel by Kenney Mencher Painting Oil $229.69 (Euro 199)

In the Neighborhood of Blue, 16x20 inches oil on canvas panel by Kenney Mencher

Painting Oil $229.69 (Euro 199)

An oil painting of a handsome gay man who has a cool hair style, wearing a white shirt and tie, with a patterned multicolor background.


Shipping takes 3-4 Weeks

The size is a standard US frame size and can be framed inexpensively.  
(Buy framing kits on the US version of Amazon or go to

I try to make really well crafted work about the human figure and the human condition. I like to focus on the kind of beauty for both men and women that is "non-standard." 

I'm always looking at unusual looking people and seeing the beauty in them.

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Kenney Mencher

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Reading Queer Poetry Anthology to Unite South Beach and Wilton Manors

As Miami’s cultural landscape boomed in the past decade — with the influx of major art fairs, new museums, and local galleries opening in up-and-coming neighborhoods — the city’s queer culture was in flux. Reading Queer, a Knight Foundation-sponsored cultural organization, is looking to change that fact by highlighting voices from a community that remains fractured between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Recently, the group announced a publication deal for a paperback anthology of poetry from local bards and internationally recognized queer writers.
“I think it’s the first Miami-based anthology of queer voices,” says founder Neil de la Flor, who has also contributed to New Times. “Poetry has had a resurgence because of the political climate and the need to huddle together and connect. Queer writers have an ever greater need to reach each other through every means," he says, including social media and poetry.

Sort of like a "Where's Waldo" of Queer Art History

On the Hunt for Depictions of Queer Sexuality at the Prado

For the exhibition, The Other’s Gaze, the curators left the objects in their usual locations in order to illustrate the rich history of representing non-normative gender and sexuality already present within European painting and sculpture.