Jen’s Art Institute Post (Death of Orpheus by Henri Levy)

1 Nov

At the Chicago Art Institute, Henri Levy Death of Orpheus is a jarring painting without the same direct gore in works of art like other paintings or some horror films. Levy’s limited use of some of color make the painting disturbing and frightening showing the result of a violent murder.

The colors make the painting somber.  The bluish grays make up most of the palette of the painting.  The oil paint makes the picture feel heavy.  The expressive brush strokes give add texture to the painting and reflect the energy of Orpheus’s violent death.   Waves of a river in the painting make it seem as they rush and together and push Orpheus’s head from his body.  Most disturbing about the painting is not a head detached from its body, but the bright red paint that mixes with the river’s waves.  It’s not a very bloody scene.  Levy uses little other colors on his palette.  The small amount of red against the blue and gray tones is abrupt much like the end of Orpheus’s life.  Any more red from Orpheus’s floating head would make the painting have less of an impact.  The gray wall that the painting was on amplified the redness of the thin brushstrokes.  Without using much paint, Levy is able to show the violence of Orpheus’s death.

Orpheus’s head floats flatly on the water, but the purple and blues in the distance adds depth to the painting.  In the distance, the viewers can see Orpheus’s killers running wildly from the scene of the crime. The fuzzy red  and orange colors of the killers signify the violent act the band of killers committed.  The reds and oranges blend into the atmosphere adding soft contrast to the over all grayness painting.  Warmer colors are not as a jarring as the red blood in the water, but they illuminate the antagonists of the story and bring more focus to the foreground and the victim of the murder.

Low flying gulls seem to be the only ones to mourn Orpheus’s death.  They congregated over his floating, still bleeding head. The gray tone of Orpheus’s body shows that all life had left him. The darkness of the painting frames the headless corpse like a coffin.   Exposed Orpheus has no other resting place but the shores of the river.  Even in death, Orpheus has not lost his other worldly light that shines as a halo.  There is a little amount of yellow paint much like the blood, but its effect is just enough to realize that Orpheus was not an ordinary being.  The yellow frames Orpheus’s head as if to preserve his superhuman persona. It shines brightly illuminating the murky water.  In death Orpheus clutches his harp tightly, protecting it from the killers. The gold harp shines like the halo around the floating head.  Orpheus has lost his life, but not his art.

Levy used small amounts of paint to make his painting disturbing.  His use of color heightened the dreadful crime.  The way Levy used his color acted as frames to the story of Orpheus’s death.  Like the small amount red for blood, the amount of yellow and gold paint were meager, but made a large impact on Orpheus’s identity as a superhuman being.  Till his death Orpheus tried to protect his harp; his art.  Orpheus lost his life, but to allow the art to carry on like the waves of the beach shore in the painting.  How far is one willing to go for the arts?  Orpheus lost his life, but the serene look on the floating head may suggest that he would rather the art live on than he.  How could one go on without such an important aspect of his life and character, like his art?  Being super human Orpheus could have saved his self.  Despite the motives of the killers, Orpheus saw a direct threat to his art, and believed it better to preserve it.


Note: The painting in person has more blue overtones than yellow tones from this reproduction from the internet.


Danielle’s October Post

31 Oct

This is the Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It is based off the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets, which was a Ming Dynasty garden built between the 14th and 17th centuries.  What I like about this garden is how peaceful it looks.  I have always been drawn to structures like these.  When I looked at this photograph, I immediately thought of  the Snug Harbor Chinese Scholar’s garden that is on Staten Island, New York.  Although the Astor Court is a recreation of the early Ming Dynasty garden, when looking at pictures of the Scholar’s Garden, I can see Astor Court’s influence in the lines and textures that surround the garden.

Danielle Austin’s Art Pic from the Art Institute

31 Oct

“Triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints”


The painting I chose is called the Triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints.  It is an oil on panel that was done about 1505/1515.  When I first saw this painting I noticed how vibrant it was.  The colors were very saturated and they had a sheen to them.  That’s what I believe made it stand out from the other paintings I saw before finding this one.  I really liked the use of color and how it was able to show depth and texture.  I was most impressed visually with the shading of the clothing; the shading of the colors were able to portray draping so accurately and clear.  I found it to be very beautiful.

This painting was rather a large one.  Despite the fact that it is 3 paintings large, it seemed to me that each part of it was large itself.  Upon looking at each piece, I noticed that at the top they had golden arches.  They reminded me of gold leaf.  I also noticed how the same arches matched the halos over the heads of women in the painting. When I looked at the small caption that was placed next to it, I read that the gold framing was a “common feature of German altarpieces of the time.”

In this painting, the virgin is surrounded by women while holding a baby.  They all are sitting in a field, and holding various objects.  Some are holding books, another is holding a chalice.  The baby is holding what looks to be an apple.  To either side of the center painting, there are separate paintings, each with a woman depicted.  To the left Saint Ursula is depicted , surrounded by women that are half her size.  To the right, Saint Agnes is depicted, holding onto a leashed animal.

When looking at this painting, I could tell right away that this was a religious painting.  I could tell right away that in the center painting the Virgin was the one in the center, wearing the crown.  And I assume that the baby she is holding is Jesus.  After reading the caption, I confirmed my thoughts as it said that the Virgin was “crowned as the Queen of Heaven.”  When looking at the women surrounding her and looking up towards her, I got a sense that they were looking up to her and trying to learn from her, like one would study the Bible.  I felt like the background surroundings of this painting was a place of learning.  I felt that this space was a place of peace.

When I read the caption, it said that this painting “suggests that it was made for a community of nuns.”  I agree with this caption.  I feel that such a painting would be commissioned for nuns to be placed where they live and study.  In a convent, nuns have devoted their life to God and His teachings.  In that painting, I feel that it gives tribute to God and what the nuns have dedicated their lives to doing.  Also, I feel that it could have been a source of strength for the nuns.  It could have been something that they could have come to for solace and reaffirmation, should they have found their faith challenged.

This painting, was a rather thought provoking one for me.  I was never one to really look at a religious painting in depth, but this one struck me.  At first I was not sure as to what I was going to get out of it, but the more I looked at it, the more I was starting
to form an opinion as to what this painting could mean. However, from an artistic standpoint, I was very impressed with the vibrancy of the colors.  I found them to be more saturated than other oil paintings I’ve seen before.  This painting encourages me to go even deeper to find out more of what this painting could mean.

– Quotes were taken from the caption next to the painting at the Art Institute of Chicago

Aaron Brown’s Art Pick from Modern Wing at Art Institute of Chicago

31 Oct

“Untitled” by Lee Bontecou; 1960

Exploring the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago , I come upon a piece that intrigues me the most for this narrative.  It is very organic in form, yet quite industrial and geometric, like a skewed, three-dimensional computer modeling grid.  It has a Sixties-inspired, Mod and futuristic feel that has always attracted my nostalgic tastes.  At the same time, it has a decaying quality, like lean skin pulling tightly over bones, or even a Cubist interpretation of crow’s feet around an eye socket.  It has lots of visual appeal with texture, detail and an enigmatic quality that stirs my imagination.

The first thing I notice is the deep, dark hole − a portal to who-knows-where.  This would be enough to peak anyone’s curiosity, as I try peering inside, conscious of keeping a museum-appropriate distance.  The depth appears to go back further than the limits of the physical wall.  The focal point is not dead-center, but situated toward the top half of the square frame.  This sets the stage for a dramatic composition.

A network of converging and concentric lines surrounds the dark hole. The welded ironwork tapers out from the wall while supporting a mosaic of canvas panels.  The circular grid resembles shattered glass, with shards radiating from a “bullet hole,” creating three-dimensional action that ejects from the piece toward me.  This I recall from studying Renaissance and Baroque art, the notion of engaging the viewing audience and space outside the work as part of the experience.  In fact, a brow-like projection jutting from the shallow, domed surface hovers over the composition’s “eye” that is symbolically staring back at me.

The canvas panels are fitted between the outlined spaces, affixed to the structure with exposed copper wire “twisties.”  Most of the elements used to construct this wall sculpture appear untreated, save the cutting and welding required for assembly.  The canvas is worn in a few spots and stained in varying earth-tone shades, probably from use over time, suggesting a recycled material source.  The raw nature of the construction is continued through bits of industrial print strategically left visible on some of the swatches, similar to what you might see on an old bank bag or grain sack. A few pre-existing grommets are randomly dispersed as embellishment, but most likely were original and functional fittings from the source of the materials used.

The overall color combination of “black and tan” is like a nice “Guinness and Harps.”  With such a “masculine” palette, I was surprised to discover that this piece was made by a woman in 1960. The artist placard (purposely placed down the wall and away from the piece) reveals that the artist, Lee Bontecou, was one of a few women creating such work during this male-dominated time of Modern Art.  Lee was trained in welding but it seems she was trained outside of the U.S.  I don’t know if this was a necessity or a choice.  I am lead to further speculate the origin of the androgynous first name.  Was this an adopted pseudonym to aid in obscuring the sex of the artist?  Was this just an ambiguous, advantageous asset that could be used at the artist’s discretion?  Or could it just be a coincidence?

The placard further reveals that the source of the canvas is recycled conveyor belts from a laundry facility.  Another discovery is that the inside hollow is lined in black velvet.  This explains the deep darkness that doesn’t reflect any light, such as a glossy surface might.  The velvet texture and color absorb light like a black hole.  This causes the piece to occupy infinite space beyond the boundaries of the frame: outward protrusion countered with an infinite depth.


Hartley’s October Post

30 Oct

When I first looked at the topic for this month’s post, I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t want to go the anime route. So I sat down and google-imaged “non-western art.” I found something that immediately caught my eye. The samurai helmet looked oddly familiar.

It seems obvious to me that these helmets inspired Darth Vader’s head gear in George Lucas’ Star Wars.

It is fascinating to me that something as familiar and widespread as Star Wars was influenced by Japanese samurai. Something that is so “futuristic” is actually pretty ancient.

Vincent van Gogh’s “The Bedroom”

30 Oct

Vincent van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” produced in 1889, is an oil painting on canvas. It is said to depict the Yellow House in the south of France. The Yellow House was known, to Vincent van Gogh, as the “studio of the south” where like-minded artists would congregate, although the idea never really came to fruition. Van Gogh painted this piece for his friend and fellow artist, Paul Gauguin, whom he wished to be a part of the “studio of the south.”

The first things that drew my eye to the painting were the use of vivid color and line. Every object in the room is clearly and boldly outlined and then filled with almost child-like color. This technique struck me as different from the artist’s other works. If you were to compare “The Bedroom” to “Starry Night,” for example, you can see drastic differences. “The Bedroom” seems more manic, static, and elementary, while “Starry Night” is serene and has a sense of flow and movement. The bright use of color is seen in both paintings, but they seem to be completely different.

Van Gogh said of “The Bedroom:” ‘looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.’ This seems to contradict the painting itself. The use of color itself invigorates the brain, as does the somewhat confusing composition. There is nothing restful, in my opinion, about the painting. I do not believe that “The Bedroom” rests the imagination, either. It is a very active painting which engages the imagination. It leads the viewer to wonder why this painting in particular is so different than van Gogh’s other paintings.

“The Bedroom” uses one- and two-point perspective, although a bit loosely. It appears to have multiple vanishing points and some objects within the room seem disproportionate in relation to others. Although apparently disproportionate, the objects interact well and in a believable manner.

The rich brush strokes used by van Gogh in “The Bedroom” are very stylistically impressionist. They are very rough and textural and lend a sense of movement to the painting, which displays very stationary objects.

I found it interesting the within the composition, there are painted pictures which hang on the wall. I looked around the gallery, and found many similarities between his “real” paintings and those which appear in “The Bedroom.” Some of these appear to be his self-portrait, from 1887, and “The Poet’s Garden” from 1888. I do not know if this was intentional or not, but it seems to be a reflection of his past works of art. It made me wonder if this painting marked the beginnings of Vincent van Gogh’s descent into madness. Often an artist will reflect upon his past accomplishments and make comparisons between “the then” and “the now.” He might have felt like a failure. He might have been disappointed with himself. Judging from the fact that his “studio of the south” failed completely, this could very well be the case.

Over the years I have become familiar with the works of Vincent van Gogh. Upon first seeing “The Bedroom,” I wondered why it was so different than his other paintings. It seemed to be almost a regression in style and technique. Upon reading the curatorial notes, I found out that “The Bedroom” was painted around the time of van Gogh’s self-mutilation (cutting off a portion of his earlobe). Meer months after the completion of the painting, Vincent van Gogh was checked into an insane asylum and ultimately died a few months later.

I do not believe that “The Bedroom” was one of Vincent van Gogh’s best works. However, it does have a quality which makes the viewer wonder about the painting’s intentional, as well as those of the painter. It invokes a reaction and questioning which I believe is vital to the successful making and viewing of art. “The Bedroom” seems to be a marker of time in the life of van Gogh. It is very indicative of the end of his career and well as the apparent end of his sanity. I believe that the painting is successful in that it brings about discussion, which is really one of the main purposes of art.

Moon Prism Powah Make-up! (Jen’s October Post)

29 Oct

I when I was younger, I would wake up early in the morning to watch Sailor Moon.  It’s magical girl changes and emotional story about fighting for the love and justice was really compelling to a seven year old.  I noticed the cartoon wasn’t from Disney or Warner Bros like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny.   When I was older I found out Sailor Moon was from Japan.

I had been intrigued by the bizarre story lines and stylized comics and cartoons from Japan.   It wasn’t the average super hero in tights stories.  Many of the stories were from Japanese folk lore or everyday life in Japan.  Sailor Moon is a mixture of the story of Japanese moon princess Kaguya Hime and the Greek myth of Daphne and Endymion.  The large eyes, wacky hair styles, and dazzling change sequences add magic and other-worldliness that seem to be missing in some American comics.  As a girl, it was great to see girls doing the  saving the world and not the ones being saved from trouble.   Although she is a fighter, Sailor Moon still had every day girl problems.   To see Sailor Moon have issues with school and boys made her easy to relate too.

Sailor Moon  and anime (cartoons)  like it offered a fantasy far removed from the Marvel Universe or Disney.

Below is the opening to the American version of Sailor Moon from the 90s. All rights belong to Naoko Takeuchi and Toei Animation.