Hole in the Clouds
Sep 5, 2009
Avram Dimitrscu's father was a musician in a Romanian concert band, behind the Iron Curtain. In the 1970s, the band toured western Europe, including the Channel Islands, where Avram's mother, a native of Belfast, Northern Island, was working at a resort hotel. They fell in love, and when it came time for the band to return to Romania, she helped him hide and eventually defect.. Avram was born on the Isle of Jersey and raised in Belfast. His parents ran a catering business until the 1990s, when travel to Romania became possible. Then they bought a truck and began operating a charity, collecting donations of food, clothing, and everything else, and driving all the way across Europe every month or so to deliver the contributions to Romanians in need.
Avram grew up during the troubles in Northern Ireland, in a Catholic part of town, and enrolled as an art student at the University of Belfast. He worked at a McDonald's near campus during the school year but spent his summers abroad, in Maine, where he worked as a camp counselor at a boys' camp. It was there that he met fellow-counselor John Stein. Avram and John traveled together, and Avram spent time in Alabama with all the Steins--always with his sketchbook in hand. Eventually, he married an American woman and moved to the town of Alpine, in the Big Bend area of extreme west Texas. He paints, illustrates, teaches art, runs the Dimitrescu Gallery, and surely still keeps his sketchbook close at hand.
This is his "Tiny Chicken #8."
(Image credit: Avram Dimitrescu
Oct 4, 2009
Several of you asked to see more work by our Romanian Northern Irish West Texas friend Avram Dimitrescu. He calls this acrylic painting "Longhorn and Mountains."
(Image credit: Avram Dimitrescu)
For many more images, see Avram's blog and his portfolio website. He doesn't just paint chickens and cows, though I might be satisfied if he did; he's also got paintings and drawings of landscapes, buildings, vehicles, food, and the digging arm of an excavating machine.
Dec 27, 2009
In 1543, the artist Titian painted this picture of the male members of the Vendramin family of Venice, who are shown venerating what is said to be a relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The relic actually belonged to a different Venetian family, but some years earlier it had been accidentally knocked into a canal during a procession, and Andrea Vendramin, the grandfather of the doge in the center of this portrait, had dived in after it and retrieved it, thus sealing a special relationship between it and the family.
It is believed that Titian had help in completing this portrait; specifically, it is said that his apprentices painted some of the children. Titian himself did the boy with the red stockings and the dog, but the three boys at the left, and perhaps also the two other boys at the right, represent the work of his assistants.
Dec 29, 2009
Girl with Peaches, by Valentin Serov, 1887.
Dec 30, 2009
They Didn't Expect Him, by Ilya Serin, 1883. A revolutionary returns home unexpectedly from political exile, setting up a cinematic sort of family scene.
The man's mother rises to greet him. The little girl, his younger child, seems a little frightened; perhaps he has been gone so long that she doesn't recognize him. The boy, a little older, looks thrilled. The man's wife, sitting at the piano near the door, is startled and confused; perhaps she had given him up for lost. Perhaps too, she has been angry about his political obsessions that left the family abandoned for so long. The servants are watchful, eager to see what happens next.
The man himself looks haggard and unsure of himself. His return is not triumphant; perhaps it's not anything at all like what he might have imagined while he was away. Can he pick up the pieces of his old life? Will his wife welcome him back? What about his political and intellectual life, which had led to his exile? What does he do now?
Jan 7, 2010
"Playing Chess with Tracey," painted in 2003 by the British artist Peter Blake. From his series, Marcel Duchamp's World Tour.
(Image credit: Peter Blake)
Mar 14, 2010
We've seen the work of Avram Dumitrescu before--his tiny chicken, his staring steer--but this painting is different. Here, in "Front Street Books," he shows a scene that is arguably unremarkable: a woman is settled into an armchair in a bookstore, with a cat curled up on a rug near the magazine shelves. What I like about this painting is that the bookstore is in Texas--rural west Texas, in fact, in the tiny town of Alpine. Paintings of Texas are supposed to show cowboy boots and pickup trucks and longhorn skulls in the sun, next to broken-down oil derricks. Avram's painted a little of that, and seeing as how he's a foreigner transplanted into west Texas, we might forgive him for painting a lot of that.
But here he's showing us a mild-mannered bookstore scene in Texas, and it's every bit as real, as true, as all the redneck stuff. I'm thinking that Republicans would fume: This scene doesn't show the real Texas. But what can I say? Texas is a big, messy, complicated place, and those Republicans are just wrong, as always.
The cat's name is Frisky-Sweets. Avram notes that she posed for him "very reluctantly."
(Image credit: Avram Dumitrescu)
Oct 29, 2010
In the 1890s, Toulouse-Lautrec painted a number of works showing lesbians kissing in bed. This painting, "The Bed" (1893), is probably part of that series, though the gender of the bedheads is arguably ambiguous and he may in fact be portraying a boy and a girl.
In any event, this is among the first Western paintings to show two adult human beings sleepily together in bed. Sshh.
Apr 15, 2011
The guy behind the desk with the papers in his hands and the moneybags scattered all about–today is his day, April 15. He's the taxman, and he owns us.
Sometime between 1620 and 1640, the Flemish artist Pieter Breughel the Elder painted this scene, "Paying the Tax." The original painting was lost long ago, but we know it through some forty copies painted by the artist's son, Pieter Breughel the Younger.
Nothing subtle here. The villagers are struggling to settle up with eggs and produce and promises; the clerks are slovenly and unsympathetic, and the head taxman is all decked out in royal purple. Got the picture?
Pieter Breughel the Younger
May 21, 2011
Camille Doncieux was one of the favorite painting subjects of both Claude Monet, who married her, and Claude's close friend Pierre-August Renoir. Here, she reclines and reads for an 1872 portrait by Renoir.
Monet first met Camille in 1865, when he sought out models for his large-format figurative work, "The Picnic." They had two children together and finally married in 1870, around the same time that Monet and Renoir were working out the new approach to painting that became known as Impressionism.
Although Impressionism is widely associated with scenic paintings–sunlight sparkling on water, buildings reflected in the ripples–Impressionist-style portraits of Camille by both Renoir and Monet were much easier to sell in the earlier years than were the outdoor scenes. The two artists often used her as a model in paintings of gardens or city streets, perhaps to improve saleability.
Camille died young, in 1879 at the age of 32, from pelvic cancer. Monet painted her one last time on her deathbed. He and his two sons then retreated to his farmhouse at Giverney, where he remained somewhat secluded for the rest of his life, cultivating and painting his famous garden.
(Art by Pierre-August Renoir)
Jul 7, 2011
Baby Goat, by Avram Dumitrescu, our very own Romanian Irish Texan painter. Click through for Avram's story and some more of his paintings.
Aug 22, 2011
One of the masterworks of early American art, Asher B. Durand's massive 1853 oil painting "Progress (The Advance of Civilization)," has been sold privately to an unknown buyer, perhaps Bill Gates, and has disappeared from public view after almost half a century on display in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The sale price may have been in the range of $50 million.
The details of the painting, which are very difficult to make out in this digital reproduction, utilize landscape to represent time. There is wilderness in the foreground, where Indians stand on the rocks looking way off into the distance. The middle distance is pastoral: fields of grain, country roads, a horse-drawn wagon. Far off in the background is a new railroad trestle and a train, its engine belching smoke. The Indians are still standing in the forest primeval, but already, they and their paradise are so last week.
I remember writing a paper on this kind of symbolism in college, as did a million other students. It all has something to do with a new American way of looking at nature: Old World artists painted romantic landscapes in which the ruined stones of ancient buildings were being reclaimed by the forest, whereas in American landscapes, fresh civilization was intruding into nature. Either way, the story was somehow sad.
The story of what happened to the Durand painting this year is also sad, and the lesson it illustrates could be taken to implicate both nature and civilization: i.e., human nature.
About fifty years ago, Jonathan "Jack" Warner, the wealthy owner of Gulf States Paper Company in Alabama, started collecting art, mostly American art. He bought original Audubon prints and put them up in the company cafeteria. He bought paintings by Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keefe, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, James Whistler, Edward Bierstadt, Gilbert Stuart, and dozens of others; he kept many of the paintings at home but decorated the walls of corporate headquarters with many others. Eventually, he built a museum for the collection.
The museum was open to the public, but it was still a private collection, funded in large measure with corporate money. Warner had a good eye for art and also apparently a good nose for a bargain, and eventually the art collection came to represent many tens of millions of dollars of corporate assets. He set up a foundation to manage the collection, but ownership remained substantially with the company.
And he turned over corporate leadership to his son. "That was a huge mistake," he said recently. "I think about that every day."
Warner's son, Jonathan "Jon" Warner, remade the family business, changing its name to Westervelt Company, selling off its paper mill and focusing on forest management and renewable energy. Early this year, plans were announced to build a plant in west Alabama to manufacture wood pellets for export to Germany.
Building the wood-pellet plant will cost about $50 million. The Durand painting may have fetched that much, even in the somewhat depressed art market that has lingered since the financial crisis and recession.
In fact, the recession has made the painting much more valuable to a corporate entity like Westervelt. One of the provisions of the 2010 Stimulus Act provided for a one-year capital-gains tax break for companies selling assets not related to their core business.
The Warner collection curators say they came in to the museum one Monday morning and found blank spots on the wall where many of the paintings had been. Westervelt's board of directors had voted to sell the art.
Jack Warner did manage to keep a large part of his collection intact, and he has created an organization called the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art to eventually display it. In the meantime, several dozen of the paintings make up a traveling show that has been exhibited in London and is now at the University of Pennsylvania's Ross Gallery in Philadelphia.
Speculation as to the buyer of "Progress" has focused on two deep-pocket collectors who are known to be interested in American art: Alice Walton, of the Wal-Mart fortune, and Bill Gates. Jack Warner's wife personally called Ms. Walton and was told that no, she did not buy the picture. It has also been reported that Gates has denied the purchase, but some sources say that he always issues denials and that it is exactly the kind of painting he would want.
Gone with the wind, our Progress is.
Jonathan (Jack) Warner
2010 Stimulus Act
machine in the garden
Asher B. Durand
Hudson Valley School
Mar 26, 2012
Yellow House by Judith Schermer.
(Image credit: Judith Schermer)
Apr 9, 2012
Detail from a painting in the offices of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society; artist and title unknown (to me).
May 3, 2012
"Highland Cattle," by Scotch-Irish painter Alfred Grey, 1887.
Nov 1, 2012
His father was Joe Egg, an Alsatian gunsmith. His older brother was George Egg, who inherited the Egg gunworks in London. He was Augustus Leopold Egg, born in 1816 and endowed with a moniker that could have come from the pages of Dickens, who, it just so happened, was a good buddy of his.
Augustus Egg spurned gunsmithing and took up art. This morning, we are treated to two Egg works: above, his best known painting, The Travelling Companions (1862), and below, a sample of his early, humorous, storytelling style, Queen Elizabeth Discovers She is No Longer Young (1848).
The word generally used to describe Travelling Companions is ambiguous. The two women in the railway carriage are very nearly identical; do they in fact represent different facets of the same person's life or character? Indolence and industry, perhaps? Or is the sleeping woman dreaming up her bookish companion? Or are they simply what they appear to be, identical twins on a long train ride? And why are they both oblivious to the spectacular scenery of the French Riviera that glows outside their window?
Queen Elizabeth is much more straightforward. In fact, the painting itself pretty much says everything there is to say about Augustus Egg's historical imagination.
(Art by Augustus Egg)
Jun 28, 2014
My ship, your ship, everybody's ship's coming in, in this 1882 painting of the port of Bordeaux by Jean Baptiste Guiraud.
Jan 5, 2017
After Alabama won the Peach Bowl last Saturday, Ringo Starr apparently tweeted this picture of himself, along with the text "Roll Tide peace and love."
Ringo has been a Bama fan for thirty years now, thanks to his friendship with Fred Nall Hollis, a multimedia artist from south Alabama who uses the single name Nall professionally. The two met in 1986, when Nall rented a house he owned in the south of France to Ringo and his wife, Barbara Bach. They got to talking about the artwork hanging in the house, and then Ringo asked Nall if he would teach him how to draw and paint.
The art lessons continued off and on through the 1980s and '90s, and in recent years Ringo has launched an art career of his own, working in digital media.
Nall has painted two portraits of Ringo, who has become active in the work of Nall's foundation. The foundation focuses on helping artists and art students recover from addiction and create new sober, artistically vital lives for themselves.
One of Ringo's drumsticks sits among the paintbrushes in Nall's Fairhope studio.
The picture below, "Inside the Barn," is a recent creation by Nall.
For those among us who haven't been paying attention, the Crimson Tide face off against Clemson next Monday for the national championship. Peace and Love!
Fred Nall Hollis
Jan 2, 2018
"Bourgeois Dining" (1982), by Haitian painter Max Gerbier.
(Art by Max Gerbier)
Apr 2, 2018
man and woman
(Image credit: Margarita Sikorskaia)