Rick Wedel - "Domestic Composition No. 1"

Rick Wedel, (Michigan 1968 – Present), Domestic Composition No. 1
(1998), 28″ x 22″, Oil on Masonite.
“Choosing a predominantly cool palette, Wedel has produced a view of silent everyday life, beneath which tension and anxiety lie...”
That brief artist’s description accurately and elegantly describes this thought provoking abstract-figurative work by Michigan artist Rick Wedel. Executed in oil on the rough side of a Masonite canvas, Wedel depicts the underlying tension and daily monotony that can erode and eventually destroy a relationship if we so carelessly allow it to happen.

This allegorical work portrays the human condition in a literal sense by showing us a modern but timeless scene with a disillusioned husband in the foreground and his equally disillusioned wife bent over the stove behind him. The child in the background (in the high chair) appears to be quietly observing his apathetic parents. I feel sorrow for this young family as it seems to be headed for a terminal state for which it can’t recover. The emotion is already deep rooted and inescapable. They are as detached from each other as the melancholy couple depicted in Edward Hopper’s “Room in New York.” A different time period, but no less tragic.

I love the drama of the message and how Wedel’s artistic expression draws me further into his work to explore its intimate details. It made me think about the cause of the ambivalence, and how it relates to the ease of acquiring immediate satisfaction through the internet. The net is often touted as the ultimate interactive experience, but it just doesn’t substitute for a living dialog about living life. There are tragedies that punctuate our lives, and there is often a silent anxiety that surrounds our daily existence (better known as a “rut”). That may be the only message Wedel is portraying here, but I think there’s more.

I’ve been accused of going beyond the interpretation, but the purpose of art is to tell a story (most of the time) and where it ends is up depends on the viewer. That’s part of the enjoyment of owning original art and it’s how I define “living with art.” Very few works of art come with instructions on how to look at it. That’s always been left to the aesthetic sense which seems to come in time. Just like developing a taste for wine lead to my appreciation for the dryer styles, art had a similar effect in that while those beautiful and serene landscape vistas that hang in museums around the world are pure eye candy, I find people oriented art much more satisfying. That’s why Wedel’s art ‘works’ for me. I particularly like one of his ‘artist’s statements’ describing his style:
“Hard wired in each of us are the mechanisms giving unique importance to the figurative form. It’s visual gravity is so strong that even in very generalized and abstracted versions, it has a strong influence. I’m relying on the figure in these compositions to offer solidity and calm to otherwise chaotic and unrealistic surfaces.”
When I read this part of his bio I knew we had some common ground to explore:
Rick often opts for texture over detail to achieve the forms in his works. “I enjoy creating anonymous figures because it encourages interpretation, and brings a sense of the infinite. To me, concealing the identity of figures and environments is an invitation to the viewer. That the viewer brings something to the work that makes it personal for them is important to me. Art becomes memorable when people make their own connections with it. In my work I have sought to make these associations possible by creating starting points. Each viewer then goes their own way.”
You can read his full bio here.

I love the moody palette and how he accents relationships with contrasting colors (orange outlining the man and woman). Wedel painted this work on the rough side of Masonite creating an intense texture and emotion which can only be appreciated in person. It currently sits in a cheesy, blue colored wooden frame I bought from Aaron Brothers just for the sake of hanging until I can find or make a frame that will do it justice (another enjoyable facet of collecting art we’ll talk about later).

The only criticism about this work I can find is a personal preference; I think a wailing kid might have been more appropriate in the scene to add more continuity to the overall tension. But I like it a lot as it is.

Stop on by Rick Wedel’s site and have a look at his unique style.


Emigdio Vasquez Honored

Orange County’s Godfather of Chicano Art, Emigdio Vasquez was honored on Saturday, September 4th by the members of Chicanos Unidos. The premier artist of Chicano life and imagery in Orange County that includes murals, sketches and paintings. Emigdio’s paintings point out the culturally historical struggles and insights overlooked by the mainstream for decades. Chicano Unidos looked to honor his commitment and support of the working class Chicano community. Click here for more info.

(Click here to see my review of an Emigdio Vasquez painting I used to own.)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - "Aristide Bruant"

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (France 1864 – 1901),
Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret
(1893), 8-7/8″
x 12″, 4-color lithograph.

I found this delightful little lithograph while browsing around the bottom floor in one of our favorite haunts – King Richards Antique Mall in Whittier, California, hanging by a nail on a solitary old ceiling support post in the middle of the most glorious pile of rusty 1950’s appliances you’ve ever seen.

At first glance the image was unmistakably Lautrec, “Just more wallpaper,” I thought. I noticed some foxing along the sun bleached margins which often indicates aging (and poor care) and prompted me to take a closer look. I recalled that Lautrec was commissioned by that great singer and comedian of the 19th century to create these works and that they were the best of friends. I wasn’t sure where in time this one fell, but there are many online resources available I could access to pin it down. It was mounted under glass in a thin black wooden frame with a stamp on the verso revealing its origin. I had lived in Europe for a couple of years but I had never been to Tunbridge Wells, England (although it is twinned with Weisbaden, Germany, which is where I worked.)

I also wasn’t sure about the sizing since many of Lautrec’s posters were comprised of two large sheets and this was the size of a standard sheet of paper, but the mystery was irresistible so I payed my ten bucks and took it home. This is often the case with the art in my life. If there’s something that grabs me, either emotionally, spiritually or even physically, I’ll take a chance on it whether it was done by a listed artist or not. Part of the enjoyment of collecting original art is the hunt for background information about the artist, comprehending the meaning or the implications of the work and the pleasure of discovery. Very few things in life seem quite as rewarding.

Lautrec, born on November 24th, 1864, was the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec, an aristocratic family from the Midi-Pyrenees region of France. As was the custom, the Comte and Comtesse were cousins, and inbreeding is believed to be the cause of Lautrec’s disfiguration1. He was a painter, printmaker, draftsman and illustrator who immersed himself in the decadent and theatrical life of the Parisian Cabaret where he met Aristide Bruant (1851-1925), who began performing at cafes and developed a singing and comedy act. Dressed in a red shirt, black velvet jacket, high boots and a long red scarf, Bruant soon became the star of the Montmartre Quarter of Paris.

An alcoholic for most of his life, Lautrec was later placed in a sanatorium and died just a few months before his 37th birthday.

Bruant had commissioned Lautrec to create four posters. The above work is his third and originally measured 52-3/8″ x 38-1/4″ across two sheets of paper in four colors (the text was added by another hand after the artist’s design.) The artist’s signature and monogram are on the lower left, which is exactly the same as in my smaller work.

Looking very closely at the lithograph (through the glass) I could just make out four crosswise folds. That could indicate (I hoped) it was originally a handbill produced by the artist for distributing around Paris on foot, and had been folded and placed in someone’s pocket (I know, a long stretch, but an intriguing one). It may also be a Mourlot lithograph such as the Calder piece I own, but I wouldn’t know that unless I took a peek at the back for the publisher’s stamp.

I hate undoing anything that seems to be doing fine without my intervention, but curiosity was biting hard. I really wanted to know if it had an original pedigree or if it was just another wall hanger. Either way I’ll still enjoy the image, but there’s that aesthetic thing again. Besides, it didn’t cost that much and the return in value and appreciation if it is an original would be a great surprise. It would also be wise to change out the old backing for newer archival materials to ensure longevity.

I started by carefully peeling off some old, dried-up masking tape and brown paper backing revealing 14 very rusty metal wedges holding the cardboard backer together. I removed the wedges, pulled out the backing and found…nothing. The lithograph had indeed been folded but there were no marks or stamps on verso. The substrate feels like poster paper and is in pretty good shape with some foxing. I replaced the backing with archival material and buttoned it up.

So, it remains a mystery until I find the time to research Lautrec’s poster work and verify the different sizes that were produced during his lifetime, and perhaps delve a little further into 19th century lithograph technology to understand and appreciate more what Lautrec had contributed to the media. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this little gem and the history of the men behind it.

  1. Lautrec had broken both legs as a child and they failed to grow. His body grew to normal proportions but he stood only 5′1″ tall.

Dennis Hopper - Double Standard

For all his eccentricities, Dennis Hopper was a hugely multi-talented actor. Besides film, in which he wrote, directed and starred, he was also known for his collection of modern art going as far back as the 1960's when he purchased a print of Andy Warhol's Cambell's Soup Cans for $75. What I didn't realize was that he was also a pretty fair photographer and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles is hosting an exhibition of his work called, "Dennis Hopper - Double Standard" until September 26th. Wish I was there to see it. Click here for more info.

1st – 3rd Century Gandharan Buddha Head

Unknown artist, 1st – 3rd Century Gandharan Buddha Head, 3-1/2″,
stucco mounted on wood.

A contemplative Gandharan Buddha head mounted on wood by none other than actor, art collector Vincent Price in the 1950’s. This example shows the Buddhavista in frontal pose with lips and area under his cap still showing signs of red pigment. Small area of loss to the left side of the face, otherwise quite nice. This ancient relic was purchased by a Colorado ancient arts gallery in August 2003 directly from Price’s daughter, Victoria, and then by myself in October of the same year.

I should say this is my favorite Vincent Price art that I’ve acquired without purposely collecting Vincent Price art! For about five years, in Southern California, most of the art that I’d come across in galleries and antique stores that gave me notice were oldies from the original Vincent Price Fine Art Collection at Sears in the 1960’s. I don’t know why but they just seemed to jump out when walking by begging me for a closer look. I had always wanted to add some real antiquity to my collection and this old Buddhavista grabbed my attention. It came at a very fair auction price with the additional perk of a documented Provenance, which is rarer still. All of this adds up to a growing appreciation for the personal side of a public figure (Price) I never knew existed (mainly because of my youth).

Traditional stucco consists of lime, sand and water, and has been used as an art medium for millennia. Portland cement was added in the late 19th century (modern stucco) to improve strength. It was used in the art of belcomposto, a Baroque concept integrating the classic arts, architecture, sculpture and painting. Islamic art used stucco as a decorative element in mosques and palaces.

So, what makes this antiquity so special, and where in time and space does it come from?

Since it’s estimated to come from the 1st through 3rd century, it’s possible it was around when Christ walked the earth. That’s incredible, and to personally own something that goes so far back in time is simply awesome. Also during the 1st century Alexandria was the focal point of Greek culture on the Mediterranean. And, in 14 AD, Augustus died leaving his stepson, Tiberius, to rule the Roman empire. It was during his rule that the principle of dynastic succession in the empire was introduced.

Other notable history includes the Han Dynasty, which, in 25 AD, established China’s lasting model of imperialism and imposed a new national consciousness that survives today. In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae (Pliny the Elder, the author of Natural History, died in the disaster.) And in 80 AD, the Roman emperor Titus dedicated the Flavian Amphitheatre, otherwise known as the Colosseum.

Perhaps more important is where this artifact originates. When Alexander the Great was conquering all of the western and near-eastern world, his soldiers ventured into areas of Pakistan and India. In addition to leaving their progeny, they also left their influence on art and culture. Even 300 years after the Greeks were defeated their artistic influence is still evident in the Gandharan art from this region.

The Kingdom of Gandhara lasted from the 6th century BC to the 11th century AD. It attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century under the Buddhist Kushan Kings. After it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in AD 1021, the name Gandhara disappeared. Gandhara was located in what is now northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern Peshawar), literally meaning City of Man and Takshashila (modern Taxila). A comprehensive article on the history of ancient Gandhara can be found here.

Unfortunately, this part of the world has suffered many violent civil wars in recent times which has taken its toll on its people, and their country’s treasured antiquities.

Here’s an excerpt from Archaeology: Museum Under Siege, by Nancy Hatch Dupree:
When Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988, all but the capital of Kabul had fallen to the resistance, known as the mujahideen. When Kabul itself was taken in April 1992, ending the 14-year rule of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), mujahideen factions began warring among themselves for control of the city. Attacks were often launched from the south, and the National Museum in Darulaman, six miles south of Kabul, was often on the front line. Each time a new faction triumphed, it would loot the ruins. On May 12, 1993, a rocket slammed into the roof of the museum, destroying a fourth- to fifth-century A.D. wall painting from Delbarjin-tepe, site of an ancient Kushan city in northern Afghanistan, and burying much of the museum’s ancient pottery and bronzes under tons of debris. Last November 16 another rocket hit the northwest wing of the museum, exposing storerooms to winter rain and snow and further depredations of the combatants. Despite efforts to mediate factional rivalries, the fighting and looting continues.
About 70 percent of the museum’s collections are now missing. Most of its vast gold and silver coin collection, which spanned the nation’s history from the Achaemenids in the sixth century B.C. through the Islamic period, has been looted. Also gone is a Greco-Bactrian hoard of more than 600 coins from Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, dating to the third and second centuries B.C., including the largest Greek coins ever discovered. Pieces of Buddhist stucco sculptures and schist reliefs dating between the first and third centuries A.D. and Hindu marble statuary from the seventh and ninth centuries have been taken, as have carved ivories in classic Indian styles from Begram, site of the summer capital of the Kushan Empire in the early centuries A.D. Also missing are many of the museum’s prized examples of the renowned metalwork of the Ghaznavids, whose sumptuous capital flourished 90 miles southwest of Kabul during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Many of these pieces are destined for sale in Islamabad, London, New York, and Tokyo.
In early March, 2001, the Taliban decided to destroy all pre-Islamic statues and objects in Afghanistan after an edict was announced by their leader Mullah Omar in late February. The Taliban destroyed numerous statues in the Kabul Museum which survived the previous looting and destruction as a result of war. The Taliban also destroyed two giant Buddhas from the 5th century in Bamiyan and other ancient historical statues in Ghazni. One of the Buddhas in Bamiyan was the world’s tallest standing Buddha. Apparently, Peshawar, Pakistan has been the clearing house for international art trafficking selling off the museum’s most precious assets to the highest bidder. In Berenice Geoffroy-Schneiter’s book, Gandhara: The Memory of Afghanistan, you’ll find a photograph of an incredible collection of decapitated Buddhas’ heads individually wrapped in newspaper stolen from the Kabul Museum that turned-up in Peshawar. Among other things, that started me thinking about the hopelessness the victims must have felt from the loss of a cultural identity.

I mentioned in my review of a 17th century Salvator Rosa etching how awestruck I was when holding and viewing the 350 year old piece, and this relic is no exception. But, how this delicate little fragment of near-eastern history has survived such a turbulent past is almost beyond comprehension. Price became interested in antiquities in the late 1940’s, and along with friends and gallery owners, embarked on the gathering of ancient artifacts including pre-Columbian, near-eastern and African art. This is the time frame where I believe this piece falls. Earl Stendahl and Ralph Altman were very influential in the Southern California primitive art scene back then and I’m sure they both were a guiding force to Price. Although I can’t say with surety how this piece came into the country so many years ago, I am confident it was not obtained by forceful means. I know from his writings, museum donations and TV appearances that Price cherished his art, and according to his daughter this little reminder from a long lost empire was an important part of his collection. It is truly a joy to behold and a pleasure to own.


Milford Zornes - "The Couple"

Milford Zornes, (Oklahoma and California 1908 – 2008),
The Couple
(2000), Watercolor, 8-1/2″ x 11″, on clay paper.

One cannot collect art in Southern California without owning a Milford Zornes–and that’s the law! A true local icon who, along with Millard Sheets and other pioneering artists, lead the California Style watercolor movement in the 1920’s.

I’ve always admired watercolorists in that they seem to be able to indelibly create “on the spot” more so than the oil Plien Air artist since watercolors cannot be as easily reworked. The composition of this couple out for an evening stroll, the grand lady wearing a plumed hat with her arm casually around her man, is brought to life with Zornes’ flowing and festive brush strokes. I like the dimension he gave to the piece by creating space around the overlying areas, and the rustic colors with the suggestion of a burning desire in the woman as depicted by a splotch of red on her bosom (my imagination, I’m sure). The sentiment is timeless. Also charming is the fact that this was the first “people” painting by Zornes that I’ve run across since most everything else I’ve seen by the artist have been landscapes or seascapes. Besides that, it was affordable.

Another thing that struck me about this work is how naturally the creative process must come to Zornes in order to quickly knock out something so meaningful. It probably didn’t take him more than a minute to create it, and who knows how many others he did just like it. But there’s enough there to cause me to pause and reflect upon these two people and the artist that gave them life. Not bad for a man of 92.

Here’s a brief bio of Milford Zornes courtesy of “California Watercolors 1850-1970″ by Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last. Copyright Hillcrest Press, Inc. 2002:

MILFORD ZORNES (1908-present)...Born: Camargo, OK.

Studied: Otis Art Institute (Los Angeles, California - Pomona College)

Member: National Academy of Design, American Watercolor Society, California Watercolor Society.

Milford Zornes grew up in Oklahoma, Idaho and California. He loved to travel, so at twenty years of age he hitch-hiked across America, worked on the New York docks, and then shipped out for Europe. By 1930, he was back in Los Angeles studying art with F. Tolles Chamberlin at the Otis Art Institute. Zornes became very interested in watercolor painting and took additional study in the medium from Millard Sheets at Scripps College.

By 1933, Milford was exhibiting his watercolors and receiving awards. As a result of his art production for the P.W.A.P. Art Project, he was given a one-man show at the Corocan Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. One of his watercolors was selected by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt to hang in the White House and an enormous amount of publicity followed. Within a very short time, Zornes went from being a California watercolor student to being a nationally recognized artist.

Over the next few years, Milford Zornes concentrated on painting a number of high quality watercolors for exhibitions in California, Texas, Washington, D.C., Ohio, Kansas, New York, Illinois and other parts of America. When Larson P. Cooper formed the California Group traveling show in 1937, Zornes was one of the twelve artists picked to represent California watercolor painting. On the West Coast, Zornes also became known as a gifted instructor of watercolor painting. Throughout this period, he was an active member of the California Water Color Society and was president of that organization in 1942.

In 1999 Zornes gave the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art an extended interview at his home in Claremont, CA, the transcript of which can be read here.

Although this is a simple work, I feel it has great aesthetic appeal because of the historical and celebrated artist that created it, and the playful quality this abstract-figurative impression imparts to the viewer. When you place the works of Milford Zornes along side of Millard Sheets, Phil Paradise and other California watercolor pioneers you’ll see a venerable style and pallet that is timeless in its appeal to all collectors of fine art.

Addendum: Milford Zornes passed away on February, 24th, 2008, at the age of 100 from complications of congestive heart failure. He lived a full and enriching life doing what he always loved; painting, and teaching others how to paint. He continued painting and teaching into his 90s, completing a mural for East Los Angeles College in 2004. He gave his last public demonstration in January at the opening of an exhibit celebrating his 100th birthday at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. He left an astounding number of works that will proclaim his legacy for many generations to come.