Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


John Adams, after 1783, John Singleton Copley
About a week ago I received an e-mail from a reader named Aleksey regarding a portrait of the U.S. President John Adams, which I'd used in an article in my "Presidential Portraits" series. He was inquiring about the copyright having to do with a Portrait of John Adams painted by John Singleton Copley sometime after 1783 (well before Adams became President). I wrote back:

"Have no fear, the portraits you spoke of are about two-hundred years old and thus well into the public domain. Wikipedia, by the way, has a good deal of information on copyrights. The standard copyright term [in the U.S.] is the life of the artist plus seventy years. Copley died in 1815, thus the portrait of Adams has been in the public domain since 1885."

Wikipedia does, indeed, have quite a bit of good information on copyrights (from which I've gleaned some essentials). However it also has what we Americans (and perhaps others too) term TMI (too much information), quite densely packed. Moreover, in that copyrights are a legal matter, much of it seems to have likely been written by and for our proverbial "Philadelphia lawyers." Adding to the complexity of copyright laws is the fact they are territorial while infringement and enforcement have become international. Worse still, many nations, such a France and Russia, have written into their copyrights statutes all sorts of exceptions having to do with military veterans. And on top of that, copyrights, even within a single nation, may have numerous variations having to do with different media.
As a general rule, most copyright laws are aimed at books, recorded music, and motion pictures. As to art, in practice, they most often involve logos, story-book illustrations, and comic books. Copyright laws tend to follow a money trail. To a lesser extent, the same applies to paintings. Unless the artist is highly popular, and thus rich and famous, deriving substantial in-come from the sale of prints, artists' copyright laws bear, at most, a moral imperative (as in stealing candy from a baby). With few exceptions, copyright infringement is a civil matter, requiring the copyright holder to bear the legal cost of enforcement. That means most infringement suits are settled out of court, if indeed, they ever get that far. With today's high cost of litigation, even the threat of a lawsuit bears little weight beyond perhaps the removal of the protected material from public exhibition. I've been writing about art now for roughly eight years (almost 2500 posts) and to date, I've had only one artist ask that I cease using his work. On the other side of the coin, I've had several thank me for doing so. In art, there's no such thing as bad publicity, especially if it's free.

Used under "fair use" provisions of copyright law.
Mickey protected by visual "static" (left), and cleaned up (right).
That's not to say artists are totally defenseless in protecting their work. Most such tactics involve Websites. Common practices in this regard involve posting only low-resolution images on websites, placing watermarks on internet images, posting copyright notices prominently and frequently, even to the point of threatening legal action. None of these are foolproof. All are easy to ignore or (with a little photo-editing skill) circumvent (above). Perhaps the best defense is a simple, polite request that anyone wanting to use a copyrighted image contact you seeking permission. Otherwise, even the most flagrant infringement will, in all likelihood, simply go unnoticed.

Two boys, two dogs, one with fleas, one without.
Coming from the other side of the street (so to speak), don't Infringe upon obviously copyright photo images. If you wish to paint from an outstanding photo while contemplating few (if any) changes, ask permission from the photographer and pay for the privilege if necessary. Quite apart from any legal ramifications (except in dealing with large corporations) infringement lawsuits are rare. However, as an artist (who likely also has work under copyright) seeking permission is simply the right and moral thing to do. But, having said that, the courts have long ruled that if the artist makes "substantial" transformative changes from the original source," then the work is considered new, and thus becomes the artist's own property. Combining two or more photos (especially the work of different photographers) would easily fulfill the definition of "substantial." On the other hand, cropping a photo and painting only a portion of it, does not. When it comes to changing art media (photo to a painting) the predominant color is gray. For all practical purposes, images shot by photographers who died before this date in 1947 (seventy years ago, though in some countries as little as fifty years ago) are now in the public domain (no longer under copyright).

Badge with a character resembling
Mickey Mouse is a visual pun on
Mickey as a symbol of the intellectual
property industry's attitude
towards copyright infringement.
Copyrights apply to a wide range of creative, intellectual, and artistic works. These include poems, theses, fictional characters, motion pictures, choreography, musical compositions, sound recordings, paintings, draw-ings, sculptures, photographs, com-puter software, radio and television broadcasts, industrial designs, plays and other literary works. Copyright laws do not cover ideas and infor-mation themselves, only the form or manner in which they are expressed. For example, the copyright to a Mickey Mouse cartoon restricts others from making copies of the cartoon or creating any derivative works based on Disney's particular anthropomorphic mouse. They do not, however, prohibit the creation of other works about anthropomorphic mice in general, so long as they are different enough to not be judged copies of Disney's. Strangely, Mickey Mouse is not copyrighted. Cartoon characters cannot be copyrighted. However, Steamboat Willie (Mickey's film debut) is copyrighted, and Mickey Mouse, as a character in that copyrighted work, is likewise protected (below).

Used under Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright laws.
Fair use is a doctrine in the copyright law that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder. The composite image above is an example. Other examples of fair use include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, and scholarship (as seen above). It's a complicated copyright limitation, but it's basically governed by four factors.

      (1). Purpose and character of it's usage.
      (2). Nature of the copyrighted work.
      (3). Amount of material used.
      (4). Effect upon the original work's value.

Inasmuch as I deal with art history and images which long ago have been deemed public domain, what I do would be far more difficult or impossible without fair use. For example, Willem de Kooning died in 1997. His work will not be in the public domain until 2067. In the meantime, the de Kooning heirs guard his copyrights very strictly. Wikipedia lists the fair use rational for de Kooning's Woman III below:
  1. This is a historically significant work that could not be conveyed in words.
  2. There is no alternative, public domain or free-copyrighted replacement available.
  3. Inclusion is for information, education and analysis only.
  4. Its inclusion adds significantly to the article because it shows the work as related to the article.
  5. For Woman III the usage is for illustration in the context of commentary about the artwork.
  6. For Willem de Kooning the usage is as an example of the series of paintings by artists regarding deliberate vulgarity, without which it would be impossible to convey the artistic qualities of the works.
  7. The image is a low resolution copy of the original work of such low quality (72 dpi) that it would be unlikely to impact sales of prints or be usable as a desktop backdrop.
           (Obviously written by a lawyer.)
Fair use
Woman III, 1951-53, Willem de Kooning.
(A photo of a work of art cannot be
copyrighted except by the artist.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hooray for Bollywood

The art is largely western in style. All else is Hindi.
Do you recognize any of the movie posters above. They all represent exceptional examples of the moviemaker's art. If you don't (and there's no good reason you should unless you're from the Asian half of the world) look below. They're all the result of the creative cinematic efforts of the largest motion picture capital of the world--and it's not Hollywood (with an "H"), but what's come to be known as Bollywood (with a "B"). Yes, the Hindu film world of India now produces more movies each year than our modest little suburb of Los Angeles. Of course there's always the intellectual battle between quality and quantity, but who's to say, barring the bias of national pride, whose art is the best, that flavored with curry or good old American vanilla.
Bollywood loves to dance--any style--as East meets West.
Quite apart from the tongue-in-cheek derivative name, there are a lot of similarities between two film capitals. The stars, both male and female, are quite beautiful, not to mention romantic and sexy. The film quality is as uneven regardless of the culture from which it originates. Whether Hollywood or Bollywood, many of the same rules apply. Sex sells (below). Comedy thrives. Marketing is everything (top). Heroic adventure is king, romance is queen, and young people pay the bills at the box office. If you turn off the sound, the films even look much alike.
Bollywood's answer to The Golden Girls?
As much as the two motion picture communities seem to mirror one another, the differences are just as telling. Unlike Hollywood, you will not find Bollywood on any map of Mumbai or Telangana (a secondary city in India famous for it's Telugu film industry). Bollywood is not a place but more a state of mind. (The latter could probably be said of Hollywood too.) Whereas Hollywood boast predominantly massive film factories, some as much as a century old, Bollywood is much more democratic, with film studios of all sizes and importance (below).
From iconic landmarks to little more than storefronts,
Bollywood studios vary tremendously in size.
Hollywood is a bit older than Bollywood though not by much. The first films were made on the west coast (before there was a Hollywood) shortly after the turn of the century. The first film to come out of India, Raja Harishchandra, made by Dadasaheb Phalke, had to wait until 1913. The Jazz Singer, the first American sound movie was filmed in 1927. The first Indian sound film, Ardeshir Irani's Alam Ara came in 1931. Technicolor came to Hollywood in 1939 (GWTW and Wizard of Oz). As to the advent of color, the Indian film industry actually beat Hollywood by two full years. Ardeshir Irani, made the first Hindi color film, Kisan Kanya in 1937 (below).

India's first color film arrived in 1937, two years before GWTW.
As any bonafide, self-respecting, film capital must have today, Mumbai's Film City will soon boasts the Bollywood Film Museum (below), a radical structure reminiscent of Frank Gehry. Designed by the Los Angeles based Yazdani Studio of Cannon, the structure will feature undulating multiple waves of spatial experience that cascade across the site submersing the museum-goer in an environment where they could be the star. Plans call for guests to enter the museum via a red carpet arrival, at theaters designed for gala events where orientation occurs. Some galleries are treated as working sets for a ‘behind the scenes’ feel, while others will use interactive technology to immerse patrons in worlds only found on screen. The Bollywood Museum intends not to be a box containing artifacts, but a living space celebrating and supporting a living film culture.

Bollywood Film Museum, Film City, Mumbai, India
Bollywood theme park, Dubai, UAE.
Okay, so it's not actually in India.

What Bollywood does best:
(23 minutes, a broad variety of clips from five different movies)
Bollywood City is actually a
Hindi movie studio, not a city.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Yoko Ono

Art Is All Over, 1970s, Yoko Ono and John Lennon.
(The slogan predates the painting.
It's not too unusual for me to write about a woman artist whose husband is more famous than she is. John Lennon once described Yoko Ono as "the world's most famous unknown artist: everyone knows her name, but no one knows what she actually does." That was roughly fifty years ago but it's still true today. How do you think this famous unknown artist spends her time? Lying in bed for peace? Yowling in recording studios, perhaps? Or maybe she passes her time counting her millions? The fuss over Yoko Ono, of course, lies in her third marriage (John Lennon was her third husband). As some see it, she will forever be blamed for marrying the best Beatle, then not disappearing demurely into the background. However, in a way, she did just that. In public with Lennon, Yoko was ever-present but, somehow, not there; whispering opinions into his ear, rarely speaking out loud, shaping his work while appearing to contribute very little.
Three Mounds and Skyladders, 1999-2008, Yoko Ono.
If this is what art has come to, then it is, indeed,
"all over."
The painting, Art Is All Over (top) says it, all and actually makes a dual statement as profound today as when an artist's commune first coined it probably sometime during the 1960s. Yoko Ono's art is not easy to understand or like. In seeing it, many would heartily agree that "art is all over" (as in having come to an end). Her Three Mounds and Skyladders (above) might elicit such a response. Taking an opposite tact, the more liberal- minded would proclaim that "art is all over" (the world) as affirmed by Ono's touchingly human sculpture group Endangered Species (below), which suggests that art may not have ended but human existence might well be in danger of doing so. Regardless of interpretation, given her international standing and name recognition either could easily apply to the art of Yoko Ono.
Endangered Species, Yoko Ono.
Virtually all of Yoko Ono's work is open to interpretation, and she wouldn't have it any other way. The hammering of nails could be heard during the early weeks of Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949–78 at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). Visitors were following the instructions on a placard next to a 1961 Yoko Ono work—consisting of a hammer, a trough of nails, and a white wooden panel—entitled Painting to Hammer a Nail. The placard read: "Visitors are invited to pound a nail into this painting" (below). Six weeks after the show opened, the artwork could barely be seen in the center of a maze of chewing-gum wrappers, business cards, fliers, plastic bags, receipts, and stray bits of paper that had been nailed on and around the work. The museum contacted Ono, who reportedly endorsed the spontaneous activity on the condition that the material be returned to her as part of the work at the exhibition’s end. However, a few days later, Amanda Mae, a museum security guard and local artist, was so distraught by the way in which the museum had allowed the public to obstruct the artwork, she began removing the extraneous material with the intention of organizing it and restoring the work as closely as possible to the state it was in when the exhibition began. After half an hour, her “performance,” which she called Yoko Ono Excavation Survey (YES) was halted by SAM’s curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. A day later, she was fired. An art critic noted that “...altering a work of art hanging on the wall of a museum is okay thing to do.”
Painting to Hammer a Nail, 1961, Yoko Ono.
(The chair in the foreground is there to
indicate the scale of the work.)
Yoko Ono issued a statement: “First the piece became covered with many things and lost its shape. I thought it was hilarious, and loved it! Then a woman decided that was not good, and tried to put the work back to its original shape. Then the museum decided that the woman should not have done that and fired her. Things keep happening, very much like life itself, with the original instructions being the genesis of it all. Life is beyond criticism, much less mine.”
Having been reduced to begging for food following the war,
Yoko Ono has since become one of the world's greatest
benefactors of children's charities.
Ono was born in 1933, in Tokyo. Her father was a banker who had once been a classical pianist (a circumstance likely only in Japan). He saw to it that Yoko, his eldest daughter began piano lessons at the age of four. Later, she was enrolled in one of the most prestigious schools in Tokyo. Yoko and her family remained in Tokyo through the great fire-bombing of March 9, 1945, sheltered in a special bunker in the Azabu district of Tokyo, far from the heavy bombing. After the war, Ono (twelve at the time), and her family were forced to beg for food while carting their belongings in a wheelbarrow. Meanwhile, Ono's father was in French Indonesian concentration camp.

Take a Piece of Sky, Yoko Ono. One of the hallmarks
of the artist's work are invitations to participate in
the creative process.
In the years that followed, as conditions in Japan improved rapidly under American occupation, Yoko was able to re-enroll in the miraculously undamaged school she had attended before. After graduation in 1951, she became the first woman ever to be accepted into the philosophy program of Gakushuin University. However, she left the school after only two semesters, determined to become an artist. Reunited, Ono and her family moved to Scarsdale, New York, where she attended nearby Sarah Lawrence College. Although her parents' disapproved, Ono loved meeting artists, poets, and others of the bohemian lifestyle to which she aspired. Art galleries and "happenings" in the city whetted her desire to display her own work publicly.

Anthony Cox, Kyoko,
and Yoko Ono.
Yoko Ono married twice during the period from 1956 to 1969. Both marriages failed though Ono and her second husband had a daughter to-gether named Kyoko. After her divorce from her second husband, film pro-ducer Anthony Cox, there was a two-year custody battle which ended when Cox took their eight-year-old daughter and simply disappeared. Ono and John Lennon searched for Kyoko for years with no success. It wasn't until 1998 that mother and daughter were reunited.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono,
1980, Annie Leibovitz
There are at least two, and perhaps several more, stories as to how Yoko Ono and John Lennon first met in London in 1966. Keep in mind, both were married at the time. They corresponded for nearly two years before dating. They were wed in 1969. From that point on, until Lennon's murder in 1980, the story of Yoko Ono is so familiar as to become the stuff of which legends are made. So overwhelmed and intertwined with the iconic John Lennon, Yoko Ono has largely lost her own identity as an artist. The final photo of the two of them together (right), taken by artist-photographer Annie Leibovitz, just hours before Lennon was gunned down, captures this intermingling far better than words. Even after his death, and despite her best efforts to redefine herself as an artist, songwriter, musician, poet, and philanthropist, the shadow of her third husband has continued to shade and color her own art persona--a woman of boundless creative energy, spunk, goodness, and panache.

Yoko Ono today at the age of eighty-one.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon self-portrait,
by John Lennon


Sunday, May 21, 2017

John F. Francis

Dessert Still-life, Strawberries and Cream, 1855, John F. Francis
If there's anything I love more than art it's food. More specifically, I love desserts. I'm not a finicky eater. If it's sweet, I want it...way too much of it. In fact, there are very few items of this food category which I don't like. I don't care for mangos, apricots, figs, or dates; and you can keep your custard pies. That's about it. Of course, there are some desserts I like better than others. Anything with cherries or raspberries are a strong favorite, and who on earth doesn't like chocolate (and not milk chocolate either, the darker the better). Of course combining cherries, or raspberries, or mint with chocolate doubles the delight. Add some whipped cream (on just about dessert) and you have perfection.

Copyright, Jim Lane

                            Fruit Cocktail,
                                     Jim Lane

Although I have, from time to time painted food, only once or twice have I ever depicted desserts. Fruit Cocktail (above) is one of the few. I don't know for a fact, but I'm going to venture a guess that the early American painter, John F. Francis, also shared my fondness for desserts--God knows he sure painted lots of them. Although he began as a portrait artist around 1845, Francis began dabbling in still-lifes around 1850, and by 1854, he was painting nothing else. Not only that, but only rarely did he depict what was known at the time as "luncheon" still-lifes. It's interesting to note how still-lifes have changed in the past 150 years by comparing Fruit Cocktail with Francis' various "fruity" arrangements (below). Of course, in that same time, the very definition of "dessert" has changed considerably too. It has become a good deal less "raw."

Still-lifes by John F. Francis--still looking good
enough to eat after 150 years.

Portrait of a Man,
John F. Francis
John F. Francis was born in 1808, a lifelong native of Philadelphia, Pennsyl-vania. Francis was mostly self-taught as an artist. Given the exceptional work-manship seen in his paintings, raises the question, as to whether he was an outstanding teacher or an excellent pupil? (Perhaps both?) Initially Francis worked as a portrait paint-er in central and eastern Pennsylvania. Although his portraits are far from ex-ceptional for their time, they do reveal his early fascination with minute details.
In 1845, Francis began exhibiting his works at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Art Union, which promoted American artists by awarding paintings to subscribers by way of lottery drawings. It was in this period that he began to concentrate on still lifes, which had been established as a popular genre in Philadelphia by Raphaelle Peale and others. His first known still-life is dated 1850. Francis became known as a leading creator of luncheon and dessert still-life paintings. Francis was praised by critics for the painterly qualities seen in his work. Later art historians have commented on the freshness of his paint application which balances his sure delineation of form and his creation of texture. John F. Francis died in 1886 at the age of seventy-eight (too many desserts, perhaps).
Onion on Tablecloth, John F. Francis.
(Man does not live by desserts alone.)


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Robert Rauschenberg

Rebus, 1955, Robert Rauschenberg,
If you're any kind of experienced artist, you've no doubt learned long ago that you can use either end of a pencil with which to draw. I've even seen lesson plans in which the students cover a sheet of paper with graphite, then use an eraser to create the image. At first glance, this might seem like a rather strange (even silly) exercise; but in fact, it's great for teaching students to think in terms of both positive and negative space or (in abstract terms) the relationships between space and shapes. From a practical standpoint, it's also great for creating night scenes or interiors having limited lighting. However, I've known some perfectionist artists whose pencils would suggest they use the rubber end more than the sharp end.
Black Square, 1915,
Kazimir Malevich,
You've no doubt heard the question, "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one to hear it fall, does it make any sound?" (or words to that effect). The same question might be applied to art. If there's no light, can there still be art? Around 1915, the Russian painter, Kazimir Mal-evich with his painting Black Square (above) posed just that question. After more than a hundred years, the jury is still out on that one. The 1950s Abstract Expressionist painter, Robert Rauschenberg (below), asked the art world a similar ques-tion, "If there's nothing but light, can there be art?"

Rauschenberg poses with some of his imposing "white paintings" sometime during the early 1950s.
(The color photo, by the way, is by Chuck Close.)
Though coming at it from opposite directions, both artists were essentially asking the same question. Is art merely canvas and paint; or does it also require at least some degree of content to be labeled with such a high honor. As a counterpoint to his "White Paintings," Rauschenberg resurrected Malevich's Black Square in the form of a series of all black paintings (below). He was sometimes referred to as a "Neo-Dadaist." During the early 1950s when artists like Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, Wolf Kahn, Helen Frankenthaler, and most of all Willem de Kooning were splattering pigmented colors all over the place, it would seem no one had bothered to stop and ask themselves, is all this really necessary?

Untitled [glossy black painting], 1951, Robert Rauschenberg
Rauschenberg went so far as to coax Willem de Kooning into a further questioning of the very nature and definition of art. Though two men had known one another casually, in 1953, Rauschenberg called upon de Kooning asking the famous artist to give him one of his drawings so he could erase it. After what was probably a good deal of friendly persuasion, de Kooning finally agreed, though he insisted that the work be one of his best pieces, moreover one of his favorites. Rauschenberg was already an experienced artist with an eraser, having already erased one or two of his own drawings. This he found to be of little consequence. To make the kind of statement he wished to declare, he needed the work of a big name in the art world. De Kooning was, at the time, an artist at the top of his form.

Rauschenberg not only erased de Kooning’s work, but also
exhibited the “erasure” as his own work of art. He thus
raised the question, had he destroyed a work of art, or
created a new work of his own? Perhaps both? If so, Why?
Not the erased drawing by
de Kooning but probably on
quite similar.
The results can be seen in the upper image (above). Rauschen-berg did quite a job on the crayon, ink, pencil and charcoal drawing. In fact it took him some two months to pretty much obliterate de Kooning's drawn image. An infrared scan of the work many years later suggests that the highly abstract drawing seems to have featured one of more female figures (no surprise there, given de Kooning's other works). Rauschenberg's friend, and some-times lover, Jasper Johns supplied the title, Erased de Kooning Draw-ing. Beneath that were the words, "by Robert Rauschenberg." Though Rauschenberg had shown the work to friends, it wasn't until 1956 that he first displayed it in public.

Estate, 1963, Robert Rauschenberg
To say the least, not everyone was so happy with the "erasure" as Rauschenberg. Despite a lack of publicity, word got around. The results were mixed. Many were indignant at the loss of an undocumented de Kooning drawing. They accused the young, upstart artist of vandalism, plagiarism, and destruction. Others were concerned by how profound this act really was. Rauschenberg represented a new generation of artists literally erasing the work of the old as they began to take over with their own ideas. However, over time, the reputation of the Erased de Kooning Drawing and that of Rauschenberg himself skyrocketed with works such as his Estate, (above) from 1963.

Monogram, 1955-59, Robert Rauschenberg, mixed media
with taxidermy goat, rubber tire and tennis ball.
Monogram (detail from above).
Rauschenberg continued to shake up the art world. His work would eventually be seen as bridging the transition from the Abstract Expressionism to the rise of pop art that would usher in An-dy Warhol. Despite what the early critics and established artists init-ially thought, Rauschenberg work-ed with as much good humor and deference towards what came be-fore as he did with disruption. To those who still contemplate Eras-ed de Kooning Drawing and mourn the original artist, Rausch-enberg delighted in pointing out that they could just flip the draw-ing over. On the backside is an-other “gorgeous drawing of Bill’s” that Rauschen-berg left complete-ly untouched.

Bed, 1955, Robert


Friday, May 19, 2017

François Louis Thomas Francia

The Smugglers, Louis Thomas Francois Francia
For every artist I write about there are usually around five others which I investigate briefly before deciding they're not worth my time and effort. More importantly, my "rejects" strike me as not worth my readers' time in pursuing as well. That being said, I would hardly have given the French painter, François Louis Thomas Francia a second glance. Then I was a little taken aback by the gradual realization that I was, in fact, giving him a second look, having at some point, perhaps years ago, rejected him as being too insignificant to bother with. However, being a lover of the sea and more accurately, the ships from various eras which have sailed upon it, I was captivated by Francia's nautical depictions, particularly his obsession with shipwrecks. It would seem the man went out of his way to travel some distances to paint these oceangoing vessels having fallen victim to disasters.
Francia painted during the Romantic Era of art history.
The early 19th-century was a period when pirates, smugglers, and victims of mishaps at sea were popular in literature and art--the stuff legends (and royalties) were made of. Francois Francia was born in 1772 on the far northern tip of France near that country's border with Belgium. That's where the small port of Calais is located. Thus, it's little wonder he had a predisposition toward painting ships. And, given the chalky cliffs of Dover just across the channel, the rocky Normandy coastline just to the south, and the treacherous shoals near Calais itself, the whole area has been a hazardous graveyard for ships from all art eras.
The Lord Nelson, Woolwich Dockyard, 1815, Francois Francia.

Deal Lugger and Boats,
Francois Francia
Calais is little more than a two-hour ferry trip (probably around three hours in Francia's time) of some thirty-five miles from Dover, England. Thus, it's not surprising that more of the artist's paintings featuring ships and shipwrecks ori-ginated along the British shores of the channel than on the French side. In fact, Francia spent most of the early years of his life in England. The massive Lord Nelson (above), which dates from 1815, was built at a British naval base on the Thames. Though in this case we see an et-ching, it's obvious that Francia was well ac-quainted with the art, science, and engineering of shipbuilding. If the scale of Francia's drawing is accurate, even allowing for the tides, I find myself wondering how the shipyard managed to launch such a behemoth.

A Mountain Stream, Francois Louis Thomas Francia.
Vue d'Ecosse, 1824,
Francois Francia
Though the majority of Francia's art involved nautical scenes, I should note that he was equally adept at landscapes, though not nearly as dramatic. His watercolor, A Mountain Stream (above), is evidence of his interest in fresh water as well. Francia's Vue d'Ecosse (left), from 1824 would seem to be nearly as dramatic as his numerous storms at sea...and their aftermath. Though Francia painted most of his shipwrecks in oil, he was more partial to water-colors. He was a member of the Society of Painters in Watercolors (a British group), and for some time its secretary. However, yearning for bigger and better things (mostly sales), Francia resigned his membership in 1816 in order to launch himself as a candidate for an associate membership in the Royal Academy. He was rejected (perhaps because he was French, or maybe because he was not all that outstanding an artist in the first place). In any case, having been "taken down a notch" by his class-conscious British counterparts, the next year Francia returned to Calais, where he lived in obscure retirement until his death in 1839.

Vue des Environs de
Saint-Omer, 1826,
Francois Louis Francia
Windmill On a Knoll in a
Landscape, Francois Francia


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mitsumasa Anno

Mitsumasa Anno
About a week ago, as I was lying in my dentist's chair, having a cap replaced, we (or rather, he) got to talking about a Japanese illustrator he much admired. You know how hard it is to converse with a mouthful of latex-gloved fingers? At any rate, though he couldn't remember the artist's name, he recalled the title of the book, Anno's Journey, a children's book acquired as a gift when one of his daughters was born. He wholeheartedly recommended I look up the book and its author as a possible topic for this page. Inasmuch as I'm always on the lookout for possible topics for this page, I did. Although I don't normally cover children's books or their illustrators, I was, nonetheless, impressed.

Mitsumasa Anno's
first book, 1970.
Most of the books Mitsumasa Anno "writes" he illustrates himself. I put the word "writes" in quotation marks simply because virtually all Anno's books are without words. This is, of course, convenient in as much as he writes ...make that Illustrates...for preteen children all around the world. His publishers must save a fortune on translators. How-ever, this places a tremendous burden on the artist's skill, ingenuity, and creativity in that it forces the artwork alone to "carry" the story or message. I should mention at this point, that the reader here should not expect a title for each illustration. "No words" means no words. With paintings, visual puz-zles, and tricks of perception, Anno intro-duces geography, science, art, architecture, composers, and painters, by focusing on children and adults depicted at work and play. Each illustration is executed in meti-culous detail, gently hued with watercolors. Each is an imaginative rendering designed to fill hours of amusement and learning set against the anticipation of seeking still one more amazing detail.

The math teacher turned illustrator.
Mitsumasa Anno was born in Tsuwano, (southwestern) Japan, in 1926. In high school, he embraced the study of art, literature, and mathematics before being drafted into the Japanese army during world war II. After leaving the army, Anno graduated from Yamaguchi Teacher Training College in 1948. He became a primary school math teacher though he dreamed of becoming an artist. As a teacher, Anno was also quite interested in how children learned mathematics, writing, and art. After ten years of teaching math, Mitsumasa started writing, illustrating and creating picture books for children. His first effort, published in 1970, was called Topsy Turvies. Mitsumasa has created over forty children's books, ranging from wordless picture books, to poetry, and Aesop fables.

Learning by seeing.
Typical of Anno's many other books, Anno's Journey, the one my doctor of dentistry praised so highly, is a wordless book relating the story of a traveler, who buys a horse and sets out journeying through Europe. Along the way a careful "reader" will see references to fairy tales, great works of art, and history. Careful examination will reveal Riding Hood, Beethoven, Sesame Street characters and many other icons of civilization. The books are aimed at readers from about eight to twelve, so younger children may need help in identifying and studying the grand masters to which the illustrations often refer. But then, such exposure, whatever the source, is the whole purpose of Anno's books. Anno’s Journey has a story to tell, but the true treasure of this book is in the beauty of Mitsumasa Anno’s Hans Christian Anderson medal-winning illustrations.

Though obviously from children's books, Anno's illustrations, in tune with their time and place, seem to "feel real."
Anno's illustrations are usually done in pen and ink tinted with watercolor. However, Anno sometimes incorporates collage and woodcuts. They are intricately detailed, showing a sense of humor, frequently employing subtle jokes and references. Anno's style has been compared to that of M. C. Escher. Although he is best known for his children's books, Anno's paintings have also earned him recognition in his native Japan. In Tsuwano, the Mitsumasa Anno Museum houses a collection of his works.

The M.C. Escher of Japan.
Talk about Topsy Turvy...

Anno's Flea Market