Thursday, June 16, 2011

(Portraits) Andy Warhol, 'Sixteen Jackies', (1964)

Andy Warhol’s “Sixteen Jackies” (completed in 1964) is a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the American Pop Art style, painted in response to the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, on 22nd November 1963. Warhol created his portrait using four photographs of Jackie Kennedy he took from LIFE magazine, which he repeated in four rows, four times. The painting recently sold for $20.24million at auction in Sotheby's in New York. (1)

Warhol believed that “reproducing images from popular culture was the visual means for expressing detachment from emotions” (
2), which was something he saw as characteristic of the 1960s. The photographs Warhol used depict, from top to bottom: Jackie stepping off the plane upon arrival in Dallas; in shock at the swearing-in ceremony of former Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson following Kennedy's death; grieving at the Capitol; and smiling in the limousine moments before the assassination. Warhol recalled the moment he heard about Kennedy's death, noting that "I'd been thrilled having Kennedy as president [...] but it didn't bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way the television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad." (3) His fascination with image and the process of mass media and advertising was a driving force behind his repetitive work. This repetition, with each copied image slightly different from the first - achieved through Warhol's screenprinting techniques - produces paintings that comment on the falseness of trends and consumer mass production. The juxtaposition of smiling photographs of Jackie and grieving photographs can be considered 'before and after' photographs, presenting personal emotions of a woman who has just lost her husband through a horrifying public incident, and also has to deal with it in the public eye.

The painting has also inspired pieces of poetry; Paul Hoover's eponymously titled poem, "Sixteen Jackies", makes reference to the outfit Jackie is wearing in two of the photos that were taken on the day of Kennedy's assassination:

"a wall
of Jackies

in that
famous suit

with its
blood decoration." (4)

Friday, June 10, 2011

(Week 2 Post) Thomas Hill, "The Last Spike", 1881

I’ve chosen Thomas Hill’s “The Last Spike” as my landscape painting, an 1881 painting that depicts the completion of America’s first transcontintental railroad. The “last spike” refers to the final moment when the railroad was completed with a golden spike. One element that makes Hill’s painting an interesting example of a landscape are the four hundred figures in the painting, of which seventy are individual painted portraits of prominent people who were present at the event. Not naturally grouped as they would have been during the actual celebration, the figures are grouped according to official prominence and importance, and include Leland Stanford, the Governor of California, and many key players in the construction and overseeing of the railroad, with Reverend Dr. Todd leading a prayer in the foreground of the painting.
The view of the landscape is eastward along the Union Pacific Railroad toward the horizon, arguably an interesting direction for a landscape painting, which we have come to associate in American art as left = East, right = West. The painting also includes many elements that we perceive as traditional of the plains and transport, such as a stage coach and covered wagons – now defunct in their functions thanks to the railway, presented in contrast to the modern mode of transport (the railway) the progression in technology and from the old to the new is exemplified. Also interesting to note is the presence of a Native American in traditional dress at the right-hand foreground, one of a small number of people in the painting who are given attention to through portraits, and yet is not named or recognised in a ‘Key to Portraits’ image handed out with pamphlets at the time the painting was presented. For Hill, a member of the Hudson River School whose many previous paintings had been beautiful landscapes celebrating the natural beauty of America, the inclusion of a Native American person looking solemnly in our direction in a landscape that showcases a huge man made invention that would significantly alter the landscape, might symbolise a possible regret at the completion of such technology.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Police Behind Cola Billboard

This week I have chosen John Clem Clarke's Pop Art image Police Behind Cola Billboard. Pop Art was initially developed in Britain although arguably it was the dominant culture of the United States which made the movement so well known and so popular. Pop art in America and Britain developed differently. In America, it marked a return to hard-edged composition and representational art as a response by artists to defuse the symbolism and ‘painterly looseness’ of Abstract Expressionism. In the US, it was linked to the wealth and prosperity of the post World War II era, and artists of the movement depicted the nation's consumer society and cultural iconography.

John Clem Clarke has worked in New York City since 1964 and his work straddles pop art and appropriation. In his best known work of the 60s Clarke updated scenes from classical art with contemporary figures and settings; he also has previously appropriated exact images, sometimes using reproductions as his source material. John Clem Clarke’s image, entitled Police Behind Cola Billboard, although created in 1995, uses the nostalgic imagery and period cultural icons that Clarke so often employs and that are so characteristic of America and American culture. In the early twentieth century, the Coca-Cola Company ran an advertisement of a beautiful woman drinking a Coke. The copy read; ‘Nothing is so suggestive of Coca-Cola’s own pure deliciousness as the picture of a beautiful, sweet, wholesome, womanly woman.’

Associating itself with ‘an ideal American girl’, Coca-Cola directed its appeal to the public’s social desires and cultural familiarity. Clarke takes this advertising concept one step further and combines the ‘Coca-Cola girl’ billboard with the all American theme of the police car chase. His painting Police Behind Cola Billboard is so film like, that it is possible to wonder what will happen next. If it is possible to almost smell the sweat of the boxers in George Bellows Stag at Sharkey’s, then arguably within Clarkes image one can almost hear the ‘hot rod’s’ engine as it nears the police officers hiding place.

These elements highlight this image as fundamentally American, the worship of the industrial and the mechanical represented by the billboard and the police car, the celebration of consumerism represented by the Coca Cola iconography, and the celebration of travel and social mobility signified by the road, another American icon. Therefore this image, and pop art, are unquestionably American, not just by what they show, but also by what they stands for, and what they represent.

Roy Lichtenstein, 'Drowning Girl' and 'In the Car', (1963)

This week I have chosen to look at Roy Lichtenstein, a leading figure in the American Pop Art movement of the mid-twentieth century. Born in Manhattan in 1923, Lichtenstein's most famous work drew heavy inspiration from comic book panels - artwork that had been heavily condescended by the art world previously (arguably, this has yet to change.) His paintings often present "archetypal images of contemporary America, simultaneously glamorous, mundane, dramatic and impersonal" (1) Lichtenstein's recognisable images often fell into two categories; women (failing love) and war, reflections of his own tumultuous personal life.

Perhaps controversially, in many of his paintings Lichtenstein directly copied his original source material, such as comic book panels and advertisement cartoons. Both his 'Drowning Girl' and 'In the Car' paintings - both completed in 1963 - were images lifted directly from scenes in the comic books (originals: 'Drowning Girl': "Run for Love!", DC Comics, 1962; 'In the Car': "Girl's Romances", unknown year.) In his paintings, Lichtenstein makes minor adjustments - obviously his work is not an identical copy, in that he's redrawn them - such as hair colour, characters' names, framing etc., however he does keep the text in the speech bubbles/balloons identical in almost every image. This copying has led to much criticism of Lichtenstein's work, with many art critics claiming they lack originality, plagiarise others' work and give no credit at all to the original artists.

Here are 'Drowning Girl' and 'In the Car' alongside their original sources (taken from David Barsalou's website, 'Deconstructing Lichtenstein' ):

I've chosen 'Drowning Girl' because it is a great example of the way Lichtenstein made changes to his original source. In the original image, the girl is part of a larger panel, above her on a boat is the comic's hero, 'Mal', calling out to her. In his re-imagining of the panel, Lichtenstein has cropped the image so it frames only the girl surrounded by water - you can see the changes he made to the texture of the waves (influenced and adapted by Lichtenstein's own admission from Hakusai's famous Japanese painting "Great Wave off Kanagawa" - "I saw the resemblance and then I pushed it a little further... I don’t think it’s terribly significant, but it’s a way of crystallizing the style by exaggeration.") Also evident is the alteration of the name in the thought bubble above the girl's head - in the original comic book the hero's name is Mal, a name that Lichtenstein felt was too negative in its connotations, perhaps implying that their love would never had lasted very long. Lichtenstein's change of Mal to the nifty all-American name, 'Brad' would change the panel's slightly, implying that the girl is making a regrettable mistake in not allowing him to save her.

During the exact years that Lichtenstein created his comic book inspired work, he was experiencing turmoil in his own relationship. Seperated from his wife in 1961 and divorced in 1965, Lichtenstein's female subjects are often depicted in moments of distress or unease, a reflection of his anger and emotional state. One of the most telling paintings that highlight this is 'In the Car'. Painted in 1963, 'In the Car' is a copy of a comic panel that differs from the original in colour and perhaps slightly in framing, but most noticeably in the removal of a thought bubble which read "I vowed to myself I would not miss my appointment - That I would no go riding with him - Yet before I knew it..." The painting portrays a handsome couple sharing "a moment of chilly silence" (2) in their car.

Lichtenstein's enlargement of comic books and advertisements in his work "emphasised the banality and emptiness of his motifs as an equivalent to the impersonal, mechanized style of drawing." (3) Arguably this might be read as Lichtenstein's criticism of modern America - his archetypally beautiful American characters, the bold, pop, unrealistic colours of his art, all reflections of the meaningless, phony atmosphere that he saw America as.

Marina Abramovic, "The Artist is Present" (2010)

This week I have chosen a particularly interesting piece taken from a retrospective of Marina Abramovic (b.1946) at MoMA NY. Abramovic is a Serbian artist, but is based in New York and specialises in performance and installation art that typically features herself. her work intends to ask questions about the individuals relationship with the body, with other bodies and their own relationship with themselves.

Her previous works have included pieces entitled "Rhythm 10", "Rhythm 2" and "Rhythm 5" which discusses ideas of rituals and gesture, pain and unconsciousness respectively. Her work is highly sensationalist, for example in "Rhythm 10" she played a traditional knife game, recording herself. After the recording ended she attempted to replicate the previous game, including the previously made mistakes and injuries. The desire was to merge feelings of past and present and the pain of doing so, even though it is necessary.

This particular piece from "The Artist is Present" involves Abramovic sitting immobile at a table in the MoMA's atrium staring at individuals who choose to sit opposite her, for a period of her choosing (it could last between a few minutes to over an hour). Perhaps it is a reflection of her career, a desire to stare at Abramovic and to deconstruct her.

What is particularly interesting is how a photographic portrait was taken of every persons face who sat across from Abramovic being collated into a slide show on the exhibition website. This piece fuses together many medias of art, between performance, installation and photography.

There is a link below leading to the slide show of participants

"Theatre of operations"

Saber is a well renowned urban/street artist from L.A that specializes in graffiti and fine art.

Since his famous graffiti piece done on the banks of the L.A river in 1997 he has gained recognition as a street artist world wide.

Saber is part of MSK(Mad society kings/ main street killers) a famous street art group in Los Angeles, known for their blockbusters, billboard , large pieces and the mark they have made on the graffiti culture over the years.

Sabers goal is ' to prepare the art world for the insurgence of Graffiti art by creating great works with determination and integrity' And many of his works are used as an expression

his feelings about society and politics.

Particularly his American flag pieces ,which he used to express his feeling about Obama's health care reform, that he was supportive of.

However the work of his that I have looked at is a painting he did that expressed his anger about the way graffiti art wok is treated, he said about the painting 'This is a painting I did a while back.It represents the vicious cycle of the creative spirit battling the mundane.Its funny the world is falling in on itself yet this asshole is still going to go out and buff that tag' He clearly shows his anger about this through the colouring that he uses clearly showing creativity while the small man barely noticeable at the bottom of the picture is painting over it in boring, beige color. This painting expresses how a lot of urban artists feel, that their art is not seen as something creative but as vandalism.

He sees the battle street artists face from the authority as a war,clearly seen with the title 'Theatre of operations' expressing anger feels as though it is a battle to be taken seriously they are fighting this war through words through the use of art.His paintings he shows his skill as a painter as well as graffiti artists leaves thought provoking ideas.

He shows the importance of urban art as a respected artform, Asssocited with ganster life and poverty, that most other art is not, reflects a culture often not shown in artists.

As he says about street/urban artists ' we are the ones that ultimatley obsessed with the cityscape, and who have ultimate desire to control on cityscapes '
Heres a link to his website;

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Richard Hamilton, 'Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?'

This collage was created by a British artist, Richard Hamilton, in 1956. Called ‘Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’, it is arguably his most famous and recognisable piece. It was created for the London art exhibition, ‘This Is Tomorrow’, which featured work by a variety of artists who concentrated on the ideas of living spaces and the people that live within them. Rachel Cooke, for The Guardian Online, described the show as “a quasi-anthropological, semi-ironic look at the mass-market imagery of the post-war age.” (1) Hamilton has often been regarded as the ‘father’ of pop-art, although the art genre eventually became most associated with American artists. However, his decision to use images from mostly American magazines for this collage is significant as it suggests that Hamilton believed that the typical 1950s household in Britain was largely influenced by the progressions in America at the same time.

The best way to analyse the individual elements of the collage is to consider Hamilton’s question, which acts as the title for the piece. The collage is made up of all the aspects of 1950s life that supposedly made life so different and so appealing. John MacTaggart has commented that British pop artists of the 1950s…

“…viewed the seductive imagery of American popular culture and its consumerist lifestyle with a romantic sense of irony and a little bit of envy. They saw America as being the land of the free - free from the crippling conventions of a class ridden establishment that could suffocate the culture they envisaged[.]” (2)

Hamilton’s collage does exactly this. Each individual magazine cutting has been included because of the impact it would have on the collage’s overall message. Therefore, every object within the scene holds some significance and makes a statement about American identity. As MacTaggart suggests, Hamilton’s collage depicts American culture as a source of envy and desire. The images included are designed to show an America that Britons would want to see and experience, rather than an America to resent and avoid.

At this point, it is worth analysing particular images within the collage and speculating over their inclusion and representation. While much can be said about every object, one image (for me at least) stands out more than the rest. Considering the date of the collage, the image of the naked woman immediately suggests liberation and scandal. The production of better household appliances made work around the home much easier and, as a result, women in particular began to set aside time for leisure. This image in the collage could be seen as a representation of the growing freedom that women were slowly achieving after the Second World War. This is supported by the image of the woman with the vacuum cleaner, which shows how technological advancements made housework less time consuming.

While MacTaggart’s comments suggest that Hamilton’s collage demonstrates the difference between Britain and America in the 1950s, I think that it could also be argued that the collage suggests that the 50s was the decade when Britain began to undergo ‘Americanisation’. Rather than envying what America had, British households were fascinated by the technological and social advances that were being made overseas. As a result, it was common for British people to imitate the images of America that they saw in magazines and films. Therefore, while the collage features mostly American images and suggests a typical image of an American living space, it could also act as an advertisement to British households who were looking for a new way of living after the Second World War.

Either way, the 1950s saw a change in both Britain and America, with consumerism becoming a key aspect of society and lifestyle. ‘Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’ creates a collection of just some of the objects that would eventually define the era.



Graydon Parrish 'The Cycle of Terror & Tragedy: Septmber 11, 2001' (2002-2006)

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Graydon Parrish is a realist painter and uses a unique style of Contemporary Classicism which consists of full-bodied figures, linear draftsmanship, dramatic scenes, high contrast of light and dark and historic connotations. Parrish draws his inspirations from French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David and Italian Renaissance painter Michelangelo and adapts this European style with contemporary issues. The use of monumental artworks to memorialise historical events is a time-honoured tradition in European art that derives from the Renaissance period.

Parrish was commissioned by the New Britain American Art Museum to create an allegorical painting in memory of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and a New Britain native Scott O'Brien who died that day. 'The Cycle of Terror & Tragedy: September 11, 2001' is one of the largest oil paintings made in America in the past few years measuring at 6 feet 5 inches by 17 feet 6 inches. According to Parrish, the painting 'represents the endless cycle of human frailty; how we are blind to tragic events, no matter in what form and no matter how many have come before.'

The painting is meant to be read from left to right with both ends connected to represent the 'cycle of life' (Child - Youth - Old Age - Child). The three children on the left represent innocence and are blindfolded in order to maintain their innocence and shield them from the horrors that are around them. This is reasserted by the planes which Parrish states are 'toys not weapons'. The central identical figures screaming represent the Twin Towers which are about to collapse. They too have been blindfolded to enforce the belief that they too are innocent alongside the lack of clothing that could be seen to represent vulnerability. The blindfolds could also be seen to exemplify the fact that America did not see the destruction of September 11, coming. Lying at the feet of the twin towers is a man dying with three naked women on the right mourning symbolising the families who were directly involved in the days events, losing loved ones in the rubble of the towers. One is gripping a cloth which suggests she is mourning for her husband while the other two are holding a candle, remembering and grieving. Corresponding to his European influences, Parrish uses the three exposed mourning women to represent the Three Fates of Greek mythology who are all knowing and tragic. Parrish then moves onto representing the survivors through an old man wrapped in bandages. It is unsure about whether the man, who is gripping onto the young girls blindfold, is trying to protect her by shielding her from what is happening and so trying to erase the events from future memory or exposing her to the death and destruction that has just took place in order to make sure future generations remember the events and those who died.

Graydon Parrish not only depicts the events of that day in a magnificent way, his technique shows that American art still today influenced by certain aspects of European art. By modernising the classical European style with contemporary connotations, Parrish revives this seemingly dying method in an American context.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Week one reposted due to deletion.

This image is evocative of many others of its time, during the 19th Century it was popular for American artists to portray romanticised sybolism of the 'taming' of the West through disected imagry. The train cuts the land in half with the wild untamed grasses in the foreground oppossed to the smooth tamed green of the back ground, and the buffalo being chased off by the disasterous and destructive raging fire of industrialism. This image can be likened to others such as Thomas Coles The View from Mount Holyoke: The Oxbow (1836), and George Catlin Wi-Jun-Jon coming and going from Washington(1844)which all show a form of juxtaposition between the traditional 'wild' West and the industrialised or tamed American West.

Currier and Ives were fond of the romatic sybolism of trains and incorporated them into many of their Lithographs, many with similar symbolism and imagry invoking the difference between civilised and wild. According to the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum's website, during the 19th Century train travel and the 'push to the West' captivated the American peoples imagination and Currier and Ives sought to document 'the beauty of a train as it moved accross our magnificent country'. The use of imagry to document the history of the American west allied with the relative low cost of lithographs and prints provides a valuable source of reference regarding the views and interests of the time and also highlight a shift away from more traditional landscapes to artwork that literally tells a story.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

American Urban Art

This week I have chosen the image Abducted Airstream Googie Sign by Chet Phillips. The Googie style of this image can be argued to be quintessentially recognizable as American. Googie’s, the Los Angeles coffee shop that launched an American architectural and artistic movement is now a fading memory, although its imprint on popular culture can be seen to this day. Googie’s retro-future kitsch provided an unrestrained artistic style, perfected in the 1940s's and ’50's by architects such as John Lautner, Douglas Honnold and Wayne McAllister, which flourished in American cities such as southern California, coastal Florida and Las Vegas, locales that specialised in fantasy and escapism. Whimsical, and arguably absurd restaurants such as Pann’s and the Wich Stand, futuristic bowling alleys, drive-in movie theatres, and roadside fuel stations, motels and burger stands sprang up virtually overnight. The effect was startling. As stated by Los Angeles-based journalist Chris Nichols. ‘New York and Miami had Art Deco, but here in southern California, we really excelled at Googie’.

Googie blurred indoor and outdoor living spaces, and employed a space age persona that embodied the technological hopes and dreams of America during the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Add to this the Disneyland and Hollywood scenes, which were both more comfortable with the fantasy element, and the fact that most Californians weren’t tied to tradition, both architectural and artistic, and the West Coast was a prime breeding ground for the Googie style. Facets of the style have permeated pop culture via iconic imagery such as Holiday Inn signs, and McDonald’s legendary golden arches as well as famous landmarks such as Seattle’s Space Needle. Chet Phillips uses inspiration from Googie architecture to create digital based images for both commercial companies and private buyers, specialising in Googie, Steam Punk, and other unusual American styles.

Phillips lives in Dallas, Texas and began his career as a freelance illustrator in the early 80's. He has created work for advertising agencies, design firms, books, newspapers and magazine publishers and corporate companies. He trained in traditional media and has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and drawing, in 1992 he transitioned to digital media using a 'Digital Scratch Board'. He produces fascinating pieces that ironically en-capture America's fetishism for both nature and technology, often combining the two with somewhat bizarre images of animals wearing clothes or Steam Punk suits, people performing the roles of computer components, and Googie signs illustrating cultural identifying icons such as the selected image Abducted Airstream, which focuses upon America's obsession with aliens and fear of abduction. All of Phillips art possesses a notably urban theme and as mentioned often blends urban and nature together producing a iconographic hybridity that whilst the majority of his images are not of ‘cities’ they can be argued, through their use of technological and industrial iconography, to apply to the theme of the ‘city image’. The streamliner is a particularly technological and in some ways urban artefact as it allows the luxuries of the urban home to be taken anywhere and applies to the machine aesthetic, the worship of the machine and the industrial, and the purity of art within an efficient artefact.

Piet Mondrian "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" (1942-3)

This week I have chosen Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" for the blog. It indicates a departure from his usual pieces, swapping the iconic thick black lines and grids for beads of vibrant and bright colour.

The picture depicts the streets of New York City, the hectic grid system and the rush of colours. Mondrian painted this shortly after arriving in the USA and this image manages to capture ones first impression of the city, as by European standards its pace and speed and scale (reflected in the canvas size of 50in X 50in) is incomprehensible. However, the image does not necessary only depict the aesthetics of the city. Mondrian was fascinated by jazz and in particular Boogie Woogie, and utilised this in his work.

The small pulses of colour on the canvas reflect musical rhythm and its improvisational nature. Mondrian himself said of the work that, it was the "destruction of natural appearance; and construction through continuous opposition of pure means - dynamic rhythm" (MOMA NY). The formal image of New York has now been deconstructed and reconstituted as an embodiment of sound and movement and how that in turn relates back to the urban surroundings.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Joseph Feher, 'United Airlines: San Francisco"

This image of San Francisco is by Joseph Feher, who was best known for his artwork of Hawaii and Hawaiian people. Feher moved from Budapest in Hungary to the US in 1928 when he was twenty years old and began a career in commercial art and portraiture. In the late 1940s, however, he was commissioned by United Airlines to create a series of travel posters depicting different American cities.

I selected this image for analysis because I think the way that it represents a famous city is significant. It could be argued that famous cities are defined by specific places and objects rather than the people within them. In the case of San Francisco, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge and the famous view of the Oakland Bay Bridge with a cable car in the foreground have become synonymous with the city’s name. This latter view is what is depicted in Feher’s poster.

In previous weeks I have analysed images and questioned the notion of ‘reality’. This week, however, Feher’s advertisements should be read as images of fantasy. While this image advertises San Francisco, and therefore intends to attract tourists to the area, the picture also creates a sense of romanticism and desire. The use of bold colours is especially dream-like, which could hint at Feher’s view of the American city. As a European who moved to the US, he epitomises the notion of a person searching for and finding the American dream. Perhaps United Airlines deliberately chose a non-American to depict the key areas of the US because they knew that an outsider’s point of view would create an image that would appeal more to tourists. It is therefore worth speculating over whether a second or third generation American would paint these posters in the same way.

Finally, what happens if you see or describe a famous location without these iconic elements? For example, when I went to San Francisco in September 2010 it was extremely foggy for the entire trip. While the city – and the whole experience – was still fascinating, it did not feel complete because this is what I saw when visiting the Golden Gate Bridge:

Can I legitimately say that I have ‘seen’ San Francisco, without having visited and experienced every aspect of the city that makes it so easily recognisable? This further suggests that cities are defined by their landmarks more than the people that inhabit them. Joseph Feher’s other images for United Airlines support this idea; the image for Southern California, for example, consists of a highly populated city, suburban regions with Latin-American architecture, the coast and the mountains. These are not only what one would expect to see when visiting that region, but are also the aspects of the area that tourists would be most interested in seeing. The same can be said for the poster of San Francisco.