The Fearful Figures of Carlos Schwabe

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Le Faune, 1923.

The German symbolist painter Carlos Schwabe (1866–1926) spent most of his professional life in Paris. He composed illustrations for the works of authors Émile Zola and Charles Baudelaire and had notable Rosicrucian sympathies. Taking up such symbolist motifs as death, beauty, mythology and the monstrous, he apparently modeled the angel in his “The Death of the Grave-Digger” after his own wife.

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La Vague, 1907.

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La mort du fossoyeur, The Death of the Grave-Digger, 1895.

La Douleur, The Pain, 1893.

From Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal”.

Poster of the First Rosicrucian Exposition by Carlos Schwabe

Medusa by Carlos Schwabe

Medusa, 1895.

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_Schwabe

http://www.artmagick.com/pictures/artist.aspx?artist=carlos-schwabe

http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=1015

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosicrucian

Paul Rumsey and the Seeker of Yesterday

Perhaps it could be said that any meditation on tradition, if be carried through to its consistent conclusion, comes up empty. That the castles of consciousness, to withstand a siege, must forget that their foundations are forever rooted in the air. For each eager, then ever more desperate inquest into authenticity, derived from the longing for some single, unbroken thread connecting you to the past, to some stable, certain, linear, guiding spool that would allow everything else to somehow fall into its rightful place, with time and circumspection these things begin to invite the inquirer to look with some suspicion on what is ‘real’ and what ‘contrived’. As soon as doubt creeps in, the thread is cut, and often cut. It can, indeed, I believe, it must be tied again, if that is what we feel compelled to do, but the consequences of denying that the knots thereafter exist is that you can then never use them to clime back up into, then above yourself, and some greater whole of comprehension.

It is human, indeed, perhaps characteristic of any finite intellect, to seek profound answers to where they come from, where they belong, where are they going, but how could we ever be anything but active participants in the answers to these questions? However, that we feel a certain psychological resonance, here and there, with elements of the past we see, or seek to see within ourselves, seems certain.

It will come as no surprise that for me, part of this tradition has been woven from the fabric of the weird, and so I was pleased to find a contemporary artist who seems to have so effectively characterized some key quandaries of my psyche.

His name is Paul Rumsey. In his own words:

The use of fantastic metaphor and poetic allusion allows me great freedom, to portray any idea from the exterior political to the interior psychological. And the materials I work with give me freedom; charcoal is very flexible, and can be wiped, erased, sandpapered and redrawn. It is open to chance effects that can lead to unanticipated directions and solutions. I make constant revisions and alterations. Even with a medium like pen and ink which would favour the permanent, spontaneous, linear mark, I have found a way (by using sandpaper on card) of reworking, to end up with textures, tones and atmospherics.

For my work to conform to modern taste it should be more gestural, ‘marks on paper’, linear rather than illusionistic. My work begins sketchy and gestural, and some artist friends urge me to leave it like that and not spoil it by wasting weeks bringing it to a more finished state – but I can’t stop myself. I am addicted to the moment when the marks and smudges metamorphose, solidify into an illusion of real space, with solid objects and figures under a unified light and atmosphere. It is only when I feel I can climb into the picture, wander about and touch things that I am happy with it. ~ From Paul Rumsey’s Website, “Artist”.

Philosophers

Triumph of Folly

Bodyhead

Warhead

Libraryhead

The Library-head drawings were in part inspired by Rumsey’s reading of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges’ story “The Library of Babel”

Toys

Conflict

Crawling City

Building Dream

Egypt

Sphinx

For More Information:

http://www.angelfire.com/pa5/rumsey/

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/arts/design/07john.html

http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.com/2008/03/paul-rumsey-21st-century.html

The Glassy Essence of Life

Coming to Dresden without much prior research I happened upon the Blaschka House, which, sadly, is not usually open to the public except on special occasions, but does serve as an excellent excuse for a blog post.

The collection of specimens crafted from glass by the father and son team of Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857-1939) was a rich and rare anomaly of biological modeling. While they largely produced elegant glass replicas of plants, they also made a number of sea anemones, squid, octopai, jellyfish and other invertebrates, several of which can be found in the art gallery at Cornell. The bulk of the collection, however, is held in Harvard after the Blaschkas signed an exclusive ten-year contract with the university in 1890.

When Rudolf died in 1939, he had no apprentices and no one to learn the craft skills behind his glass work. Many of the techniques used to create the Blaschka models were thus never revealed, and I believe they remain unknown to this day.

The choice of materials, glass, is interesting for a number of reasons. Glass was not the most immediate, or common material for such models in the nineteenth century, it was difficult to safely transport and difficult to work with when compared to wax. While it did have an advantage over more common, dead specimens, in being able to preserve the colours and structure of the living thing being modeled, it nevertheless took a great deal of time to make and perfect, and tasked the detailed memory and skill to produce a convincing replica.

There is, I suspect, an interesting, largely untold story about the quest for the basic unit connecting the organic and inorganic worlds in the nineteenth century with the Blaschka’s choice of materials. It culminates in what Bob Brain from the University of British Columbia has termed the “Protoplasmania” at the end of the century. Protoplasmania, a strand of nineteenth century culture that connects Thomas Henry Huxley’s undue excitement over Bathybius haeckelii, what he thought was the original source of all life and turned out to be a chemical artifact of specimen preservation, to french parapsychologists’ attempts to use high speed photography to capture images of ghostly ectoplasm, evidence of the ability of space itself to store memory, and Edward Munch’s “Scream”.

Ernst Haeckel (who lent his name to the short lived Bathybius haeckelii) was also invested in the glassy essence of life. His celebrated Kunsformen der Natur featured a wide array of

glassy radiolarians, whose silicate shells and startling symmetry lent them an alien, primordial appearance.

Haeckel was a friend of the Blaschkas, and lent them books from his library when they were called upon to work on a series of marine invertebrates. It is more than likely, then, that the material choice was not just an artistic statement, but was deeply embroiled in the theories about life and nature involved in protoplasmania, which tied together so much of the art and science of Fin-De-Siècle Europe.

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_and_Rudolf_Blaschka

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June10/BlaschkaCollect.html

http://blaschkagallery.mannlib.cornell.edu/ernstHaeckel.php

http://www.artknowledgenews.com/Leopold_and_Rudolph_Blaschka.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Haeckel

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunstformen_der_Natur

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cienne/104865885/in/set-72057594070875957/

Brain, Robert. (2010). “How Edvard Munch and August Strindberg Contracted Protoplasmania: Memory, Synesthesia, and the Vibratory Organism in Fin-De-Siècle Europe”. In Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 35, No. 1.

Victor Hugo: Sepia and Shadows

It was once said that if Victor Hugo (1802-1885) had focused more of his attention on painting than on writing he would have been one of the greatest masters of his age. That said, he made several striking images while still being a giant of the French Romantic movement. During his life he covered a wide spectrum of religious and political views, and attended seances while in exile. While I still struggle with French much more than with my German, I feel that with enough Hugo under my belt I could have the final impetus to learn the language of this exceptional figure.

In terms of his art he was often playful, but dark, using coffee, sepia, and charcoal to achieve his desired effects. In “Octopus with the initials V.H.” you can see his initials made out of the octopus arms above its head. It was largely done using the sepia from cuttlefish, in a kind of homage to the creature that provided his colour of choice in many of his works.

Le Phare des Casquets, 1866.

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_hugo

Laurie Lipton and Her Skeletons

The shocking, yet playful take on the theme of memento mori in Laurie Lipton’s work is unmistakable. There are no lack of skeletons in Lipton’s closets, dance halls, funerals, school photos, subways and doll houses, and indeed, every other place common in life.

In stark black and white tones we see a group of officials standing around ruins, looking quite satisfied with themselves in “Collateral Damage”, reminding us that there is more than one kind of death in life.

The only living people in her pictures that I’ve seen so far, aside from the officials, tend to be old women, missing teeth and exuberant, people looking death in the face, or the recently deceased. In this way she plays games with life, and while the macabre element is undeniable, I feel a great yearning for life in these works.

For More Information:

http://www.laurielipton.com/default.asp

http://www.copronason.com/liptonweb/pages/midnight_commuters.html

http://www.azcentral.com/ent/dead/articles/dead-history3.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Calavera_Catrina

Frank C. Papé and the Age of Forgotten Artisans

Frank C. Papé (1878 – 1972) was an English artist and illustrator who primarily worked on fairy tales, and legends. His life seems somewhat obscure, and the popularity of his work seems to have declined over the years, but there is something valuable in a number of his works.

Many of his images show a vision of a fairy world that was antiquated in his own time, and even more antiquated now, but which goes back to the time of the brothers Grim. They also challenge the divide between illustrator and artist.

Art, it increasingly seems to me, is a product of the academy. Long ago it separated itself from the “simple” labour of artisans to become part of high culture. And nowadays, like any good academic, school trained artists delimit what is an is not their domain. They do not make houses, or food, but feel that they are making the most important thing in the world.

I don’t think I disagree, but tend to be more critical of modern performance art and abstract works.

The new artisans are illustrators like Papé, who do not make a living based on prestige in quite the same way, the rows and rows of animators working away in near anonymity. Some do achieve a fair amount of fame, Dave McKean is a good example of this success. And yet I feel that some day we’ll look back on these illustrators and count a lucky few among the Michelangelos of an age that thinks it has long since moved beyond its artisans.

For More Information:

http://www.bpib.com/illustra2/pape.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_C._Pap%C3%A9

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.495447247142289.108989.121612214525796&type=1

Spitzweg Among the Bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie eccentricities and play on popular pastimes embodied in the work of the German artist Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885) remain one of my favorite manifestations of the Romantic critique of daily life in the 19th century.

At once a commentary on all the things people will get into and pride themselves on when their material means increase, while at the same time exhibiting a childish fondness for those very same absurdities, it is hard for me to say if Spitzweg was ultimately laughing at or with his subject matter.

Thought when it comes to the matter, I think I enjoy this ambiguity the most. Whether he is depicting the huddled and seemingly lethargic poet in the above painting, or the bedazzled mineralogist in the grotto shown below, there is a strange admixture of absurd fantasy and gritty realism in these works.

Spitzweg is worth checking out. Most of his paintings are available on Wikipedia and he provides an unparalleled look into the paradoxes of life during the 19th century.


For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Spitzweg

Serge Sunne, Time, Identity and Otherness

I know very little about the artist Serge Sunne. He is Latvian, but I don’t think he’s gained a wide enough circulation yet to attract the kind of theorizing and speculation given to more popular artists.

Since discovering his works I have quickly become enamored with their strange depictions and surreal sense of the uncanny. Sunne seems to enjoy playing with concepts of identity, otherness, and time in his works in ways that I have not seen before.

“Another Holy Mother”, the title of the above picture combines an unsettling union of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus with an entirely unworldly subject whose motherly embrace is a nightmare of its entangled, strangely disproportionate limbs. The contrast is made even more complete by the addition of the halos around the two figures, whose pale, almost feeble light contrast so sharply with the darkness of their bodies.

Then there is the question raised by many of his pieces: When will the future get old? One example can be seen in the derelict ghost spaceship at the bottom of this post. Few artists I know have really focused on a little explored theme in science fiction: when the new gets old, then ancient, the half-forgotten. Sunne’s “Abandoned Space Port” is another example of this lovely juxtaposition of an almost unfathomable futurity clashing with some sense of deep time.

For More Information:

http://www.sunne.in/

http://www.artmajeur.com/?go=artworks/display_list_artworks&login=sergesunne

http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/stuart/StudentArt/ast_id/56065

https://www.facebook.com/serge.sunne

Der Beobachter

I have long been an admirer of Swiss artist Peter Birkhäuser (1911-1976) and his works inspired by the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.

I’d also recommend checking out Light from the Darkness: The Paintings Of Peter Birkhäuser with psychoanalytic commentary by Jung’s disciple Marie-Louise von Franz. The text is in English and German, and I hope to be able to pick up a copy, both for the fascinating images and to improve my language skills. If I ever get my hands on one I’ll be sure to give a more thorough review.

Check out more of his work at:

http://www.cgjungpage.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=888&Itemid=1
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Birkh%C3%A4user
http://www.birkhaeuser-oeri.ch/
http://users.ipfw.edu/doughert/nbci/birkhauser/index.html