Archive for the VISUAL ART Category

Celebrations of America’s Diversity by that Famous “Cuck” Norman Rockwell

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , on February 3, 2017 by travsd

Today is the birthday of the great American illustrator Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). It couldn’t be better timed, for his late work says forcefully what I firmly believe: American patriotism is deeply intertwined with the celebration of American diversity. And that’s a message that particularly needs circulating just now.

There is no greater indication to me of how stupid and boorish these alt-right thugs are than something like the recent Budweiser Brew-Ha-Ha. Everyone in America is an immigrant, and things like this Annheuser-Busch tribute, if anything, used to be the stomping grounds of the right, at least as much as the left. That was America’s brand of PATRIOTISM. It’s the kind of thing that used to get Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan and Georgie Jessel and Frank Sinatra misty-eyed. Every Hollywood movie’s World War 2 or Vietnam troop is always almost hilariously diverse, as though it were a study group from Model U.N.: “Roll call: Petrocelli! Bernstein! Robinson! Gonzalez! O’Rourke!” I mean, what the hell? It seems to me these alt-right people don’t want America, they want Idaho, so they oughtta just move there, build their feckin’ wall around themselves and leave the real Americans — the ones who have some understanding of American freedoms embodied by the U.S. Constitution and the Statue of Liberty — to flourish without them. The alt-right is a millstone around America’s neck.

Anyway, as you’ll all agree there is no one more “American” than Norman Rockwell, he was kind of the official artist of Americana for a good hunk of the 20th century. The derogatory click-bait term I used in the headline is obviously used sarcastically. A few inspirational images from his hand:

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He leaves this one open to interpretation. To my eyes, it’s clear these innocent children are going to be friends in about five minutes

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It’s hard to make out the words, but they are the Golden Rule of Christianity, “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” Pretty simple, huh? One might think.

Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in NYC 1952-1965

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2017 by travsd
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John Cohen, “Red Grooms Transporting Artwork to Reuben Gallery, New York, 1960”

I found everything to love about the Grey Art Gallery’s current exhibition Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City 1952-1965. It’s not the world’s most exciting title for an exhibition, but on the other hand, it doesn’t lie. A moment’s contemplation will conjure the excitement: those were years of enormous ferment in New York, artistic, political and social. This exhibition curated by Melissa Rachleff,  clinical associate professor in NYU’s Steinhardt School, samples work from 14 different artist-run galleries, including works by Robert Rauschenberg, Red Grooms, Romare Bearden, Aldo Tambellini, et al.

For me the show is just as engaging as history as it is art. It’s a period in time I’ve always envied, when the ice was beginning to melt, and some refreshing anarchy was being unleashed across all disciplines. Abstract Expressionism was still ascendant; Pop Art had yet to explode. A political consciousness was emerging. The struggle for civil rights and third world liberation are alluded to here and there; and my over-arching takeaway from the show was a feeling of Cold War terror, although my own heightened anxiety level at the moment might have made me especially sensitive to the jitters informing a lot of the work. A feeling of “Fuck it, we’re all going to die.” But it’s also interesting because it is not yet “the Sixties”. The escalation of the Vietnam War and the youth-driven opposition to it were in the future. The Black Panthers had yet to come into existence. Be bop and Lou Reed are overlapping. That’s the New York I always wanted to move to. Dark and cold and gritty and cynical but bursting with creativity and still working toward building a future of some kind. I bet they were hoping for a better one than this.

A poster for Sam Goodman’s Doom Show evoked that energy. My favorite work in the show is probably Stanley Fisher’s “Untitled (Help)”, 1959-1964. A collage with cut-out advertising photos, pin-up girls and swimsuit models, covered with paint and graffiti, spelling the words “peace” and love” and — most prominently — “HELP”. Hints at Pop Art, commercialism, being overwhelmed by darkness and fear. Any wonder it spoke to me this week?

It’s open through April 1. More info is here. 

Stars of Slapstick #225: Elise Cavanna

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, VISUAL ART, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Elise Cavanna (Elise Seeds, 1902-1963).

Originally from Philadelphia, Cavanna took art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy before studying dance with Isadora Duncan. She performed in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925 where she befriended both W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks, fortuitous connections in both cases. After appearing in her second and last Broadway show Morals (1925-26) with Mischa Auer, Wheeler Dryden, and Edward Van Sloan, she got a part in the Louise Brooks film Love ’em and Leave ’em (1926), and It’s the Old Army Game (1926) with both Fields and Brooks.

Fields relished Cavanna’s comic physicality. She was tall and thin, with crazy, long limbs, not worlds away from Charlotte Greenwood. He put her to great use in his classic shorts The Dentist (1932), The Pharmacist (1933) and The Barber Shop (1933), and she also has a bit part in You’re Telling Me (1934). Her appearances in the Fields comedies is what she is best remembered for today.

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Cavanna worked steadily throughout the 1930s, sometimes with minor speaking parts, more usually in bit roles. She is in short subjects with great comic stars like Ned Sparks and Walter Catlett, she has a small role in Wheeler and Woolsey’s Hips, Hips Hooray (1934), and she has a fairly decent part in I Met My Love Again (1938) with Joan Bennett and Henry Fonda. In 1939 she parted ways with the film business, although she did return on one occasion to take a walk-on in the movie Ziegfeld Follies (1945) for old times sake.

By then, she was deep into a completely different life. In 1932 Cavanna married Merle Armitage, a man who was at the center of the arts scene in Los Angeles. Armitage was a collector, arts patron, book designer, writer, publisher, and administrator with the WPA. From the time of her marriage, Cavanna’s social set became artists as opposed to the movie colony. She began to paint again, and exhibited her work professionally. This is what she looked like in her other life:

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For more on slapstick comedy don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

R. Sikorak Signs Anti-Trump Comics Tomorrow!

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, PLUGS, Protests, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd

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I am a big fan of witty illustrator R. Sikorak, who is especially adept at aping the styles of classic era comic books. Tomorrow night from 6 to 8pm he will be one of the thousands providing worthy counterpoint to the national disgrace that is Donald Trump’s inauguration by signing copies of his comic The Unquotable Trump, which features Trump as the villain in several classic comic book settings. It will take place at JHU Comics, 32 East 32nd Street, NYC.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Christmas, VISUAL ART with tags , , , on December 24, 2016 by travsd

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I snapped this on the wall of the Lambs Club last month during Fields Fest. It’s by the pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, a favorite of both the Mad Marchioness and myself.

Tomorrow in Brooklyn: Badly Needed Vintage Cartoons

Posted in BROOKLYN, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , on November 18, 2016 by travsd

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Theatrical-Vaudeville Visions of Everett Shinn

Posted in Vaudeville etc., VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2016 by travsd

Today is the birthday of the great American realist painter Everett Shinn (1876-1953),member of both the Ashcan School and “The Eight”. I discovered this remarkable artist from my frequent rambles at the Brooklyn Museum, where he is particularly well represented. I like all his work, but what originally caught my eye (for what I hope will be obviously reasons) was his depictions of contemporary theatre, a major theme in his art. Many of his paintings capture stuff I had read and written about. Much of it depicts people, places and moments that have never been photographed. And such photographs that exist at the time are by definition much less vividly realized than these beautiful paintings. There is a terrific article about Shinn and his connection to the theatre on the Gustavus Quarterly website here. 

Now to some of his images:

The first one I saw that grabbed me and made me take note at the Brooklyn Museum was this, entitled Keith’s Union Square, painted ca. 1902-1906:

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Others:

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“The Vaudeville Act”, 1902-1903, Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University

 

"The Orchestra Pit: Old Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theater" (1906): Yale University Art Gallery

“The Orchestra Pit: Old Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theater” (1906): Yale University Art Gallery

 

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Hippodrome, London, 1902

 

Concert Stage, 1905

Concert Stage, 1905

 

French Music Hall, 1917

French Music Hall, 1917

But there are scores of them — a guaranteed rabbit hole. I want to look at ALL of Everett Shinn’s art right now (his non-theatrical images are often just as breath taking.) Can’t fit it all in this blogpost. Can’t even fit it all in my brain!

For more on vaudeville and American theatrical historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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