Thursday, February 24, 2011

Intracoastal Sunset

Puffy cumulus in blue-violet, mauve, glowing gold and pale peachy yellow change during forty minutes to deepest salmon and gold, fading through dusty orange until finally the sky settles into that slightly electric blue-black as stars appear one by one, and the city lights begin to create a silvery glow in the humid air to our south.

My partner and I often take a plastic cup of wine down to water’s edge to watch that daily extravaganza. I am thankful that we are almost always by ourselves, though I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of nature’s diurnal production. Of course I tend to forget that I hardly ever watched the sunset or sunrise except for brief glances through the 3rd floor studio windows during all those years as a working artist/teacher. Such a shame that we, and our society work so hard that we don’t have time for such things until we are put out to pasture – thank God for retirement, time to breath, and time to make Art!!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Paul Cadmus

The seventh entry in the series, “Social Realism and the Popomo (Post Postmodern),” in which I ask the question – Is there a continued interest in using artwork to point out and/or correct social injustice in the Twenty-first Century United States or has that practice become politically incorrect?

Paul Cadmus,"The Fleet's In" (1934) *1

Cadmus, Born in New York City of artist parents on December 17, 1904 was a relatively unknown artist working for the WPA (Works Progress Administration), Public Works of Art division when he entered his painting, The Fleet’s In! in a government sponsored exhibit of paintings at the Corcoran Museum in Washing ton D.C.. Today his work is included among the Social Realists though Cadmus himself described his work as “Magic Realism.” Cadmus was a personal hero of mine because he led an “out” gay male life during a time when homosexuality was taboo in our culture. He claimed that his homosexuality did not define his work, though the presence of “the gay” in his work created several controversies early in his
career.* 2 His painting technique, egg tempera with brush strokes following contours of the human form is reminiscent of the Renaissance artist, Luca Signorelli. Cadmus is just as famous for his nude charcoal drawings of his partner of 35 years, Jon Andersson. I found the best on line source for images of Cadmus’ work to be the “Ten Dreams Fine Art Galleries,” . Alas, my hero died December 12, 1999, a few days short of his 95th birthday.

The Controversy that Made Cadmus Famous

The Fleet’s In, 1934, serves to highlight Cadmus as a satirical moralist, who historically included depictions of homosexuals in his paintings. The painting is unified through the use of vivid, harsh colors, and shows a group of drunken sailors, several of whom are involved in attempts to pick-up women. Two sailors on the right seem to be meeting with success, while the sailor in the center is being rejected in violent fashion. On the left side of the painting, a young man is seen to be extending a pack of cigarettes toward another sailor seated on a stone wall that runs horizontally behind the tableau. Between these two men, a sailor has passed out against the wall, and a woman in a very tight, sheer, peach colored dress is pulling his arm. To the extreme left, a little old lady in a pillbox hat is walking her dog. The leash of the dog is rubbing against the legs of the lady in the tight, peach dress, causing it to lift provocatively. The dog is wagging his tail furiously, and he appears to be growling at the peach-clad lady’s right shoe.
The painting caused a furor and went far toward earning Paul Cadmus’ reputation as the enfant terrible of the art world. Admiral Hugh Rodman had the painting rejected from an exhibition of government-sponsored works, which had already been hung at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. I am reminded of the 1990 debacle over the works of Robert Mapplethorpe at the same site.
At the time of the Cadmus brouhaha, Secretary of the Navy Swanson was quoted in Time, (April 30, 1934) as saying “...[The painting] represents a most disgraceful, sordid, disreputable, drunken brawl, wherein apparently a number of enlisted men are consorting with a party of street walkers and denizens of the red-light district” (Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, 1980, 25). I doubt that such drunken escapades were the true cause of the Secretary’s diatribe. Instead, Swanson’s furor can be traced to Cadmus’ depiction of the young man offering a cigarette to one of the sailors. His red tie is a signal that he is homosexual, and the exchange of the cigarette is probably the preamble to a homosexual tryst. It is this encoded, homosexual pick-up event that aroused such anger and frustration, though at the time, it was taboo to discuss such things, as Jonathan Weinberg points out:

In retrospect, it seems likely that what disturbed Rodman was not so much that the painting depicted drunken sailors cavorting with women-- such episodes are celebrated in naval lore-- but that the picture also represents a homosexual pickup... The suspicion is confirmed by his bright red tie, a common code at the time for signaling the homosexuality of its wearer. (Weinberg 103)

The work is nonetheless, a satire of debauchery and wantonness on the part of all participants. The robust motion of the figures, the caricatured expressions of extreme, almost idiotic jocularity plastered across the participants’ faces highlight their depravity as part of the satirical program. Arms and hands are extended in a repetition of open invitation. The human form here seems to be overly round and ripe, as though trapped inside its own skin, the body about to burst through tight clothing. Cadmus’ overlapping brush strokes follow the contours of the forms and accentuate bulges, creating a humorous imitation of the ancient Greek sculpture technique of forming draped clothing close to the skin as though water-soaked. Body parts, legs and arms, overlap and intertwine in a parody of classical tableau. It is this parody in the tradition that includes Goya and Daumier that is intriguing. Nothing, nobody, is safe from Cadmus’ scathing brush, not even himself, as he demonstrated in his The Seven Deadly Sins, a series of self portraits.*3


Kirstein, Lincoln. Paul Cadmus. New York: Rizzoli, 1984.

Weinberg, Jonathan. Speaking for Vice. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993.


* 1 "The Fleet's Inn" is in the public domain as it belongs to the United States government, Department of the Navy.

* 2 I realize that “the gay” as used here is anachronistic because it is a late 20th Century cultural creation. During the first half of Cadmus’ life “gay” meant “happy.”

* 3 The Seven Deadly Sins are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Day 2011

The illustration is a variation on an artwork created for “Lottoheart, 2009,” Camp Rehoboth, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. That organization begun by Murray Archibald and Steve Elkins 23 years ago is responsible for creating one of the most active LGBT communities in the country, and an extremely friendly and inclusive Rehoboth Beach. Our favorite Northeast beach resort, Rehoboth Beach has the reputation of being the nation’s summer capital. In the spirit of “Camp,” I thought to use it here as a happy Valentine’s Day gift for everyone at Camp Rehoboth, and then to extend that gift to all.

The work itself is one of a group of artworks created by yours truly using digital photography and distressed paint techniques with Adobe Photoshop.* The most recent of these, part of “The Waterworks” series are created primarily with mixed media and distressed paint in actual time and space, though this work is primarily a many layered digital computer artwork that includes photographs of artist-made distressed paint surfaces.

Happy Valentine's Day, Everyone

*I have purposely not linked "distressed paint technique" to any Website because all of these are about a very reductive and commercialized process of distressing furniture surfaces to make them look old.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Walker Evans’ Objective View of the World

A Brief Comparison with Dorothea Lange

Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, in St. Louis, Missouri, Walker (November 3, 1903 – April 10, 1975) graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts. He spent but one year in Williams College before taking off to spend a year in Paris. Upon his return to the states he settled into the “Avant-garde," dare I say homosexual underground New York City Arts crowd that included John Cheever, Hart Crane, Lincoln Kirstein and (John) Hanns Skolle. Skolle, undeservedly a lesser known artist, photographer and writer probably had the greatest influence on Evans' development. They were roommates from 1926 to 1934. In 1935 Evans and James Agee collaborated on the celebrated Let us Now Praise Famous Men, published in 1941. That book, originally to have been an article for Fortune Magazine, chronicled the lives of three poor sharecropper families. A detailed synopsis of that book can be found at the New York Times book reviews. Much of Evans most famous work was produced for the Farm Security Administration as part of a huge effort to document rural poverty during the 1930’s depression era. About 1000 of Evans' negatives are held in the public domain at the National Archives.

Walker Evans was a mentor to Helen Levitt (1938). In that year he also began taking photographs with a hidden camera in the New York subway. These were later collected and published (1966) under the title, Many Are Called. In 1945 Evans became a staff writer for Time Magazine, and the same year an editor for Fortune Magazine. In 1965 he began as professor of photography in Graphic Design at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture, today the Yale University School of Art.

The Museum of Modern Art staged a retrospective of his work in 1971 simply titled “Walker Evans.” Much of the work was done with an 8” x 10” format field camera, allowing him to photograph in great detail and with extraordinary depth of field. He was anxious to present his carefully composed image to the viewer for his/her own interpretation as opposed to investing it with his own worldview. A demonstration of Evans’ concern for objectivity is best served through a comparison of his photograph of Allie Mae Burroughs (1935 or 36) with Dorothea Lange’s photograph of a “Texas Migrant Worker” taken near Bakersfield, California in 1940.

"Allie Mae Burroughs," Walker Evans (1935 or 36) *

Texas Migrant Worker, Dorothea Lange (1941) *

The photo of Allie Mae is taken straight on, full view and frontal, while Lange’s photo shows the migrant worker’s figure turned to three-quarter view while the head, slightly tilted is turned toward the viewer at almost full view. The head in Lange’s photo is in full sun, shaded by a piece of stiff material that folds in angles instead of draping gently over the head. The pretty young woman gazes wistfully at us with full knowledge of her status in life visible in her sad eyes, while Allie Mae smiles at the camera, though her face, wrinkled and gaunt, presents the presence of poor nutrition to the viewer. Lange’s beauty is placed in the reverse position of Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic “Mona Lisa.” The plywood structure/trailer next to Lange’s figure is seen out of focus and in perspective creating strong oblique lines, while Evans’ picture plain is viewed straight on in extreme detail, perhaps ten degrees (at most) tilt counter clockwise from the horizontal. The splintered grain of weathered wood and dress pattern are heightened. Everything in Lange’s photograph conspires to create in us a sense of this sad woman’s status with a historical reference that fastens us to the Mona Lisa, an ordinary middle class woman of her time. The Postmodern gives the viewer; in this case yours truly, the right to make reference to the trope - “if but for (place in time and culture), there go I." Through this Postmodern device I (the viewer) become both Mona Lisa and migrant farm worker. Lange’s photo is extremely personal, on purpose, while Evans’ photo presents the image to us as hard reality, visual fact. Both are valid. However, it is necessary to demonstrate the ways both photographers view and understand their craft and the world around them. Finally, the comparison allows us to see Walker Evans, as he would have us see him, an impartial and objective reporter of the world

*Both Photographs are in the public domain, but were obtained through Wikipedia Encyclopedia,, 10:33 P. M. EST, Wednesday, February 9, 2011.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another Picture of Sand Dune, Critter Prints, Sun & Shadow

One warm fall day we went to Cape Henlopen in Delaware to walk on the beach for the last time before the cold of winter could make such a walk uncomfortable. Now, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing – bundled from head to foot in polyester filled winter coat, gloves, scarf, hood, hat, and boots – the beach can be an amazing place. However, we always take advantage of that last warm day so we can walk bare foot in the sand. On that particular late October afternoon, slanting sun fell over the dunes highlighting critter and people-tracks. I stopped to shoot the dunes because the light was amazing as it reflected off the fence, created deep shadows in depressions, and highlighted each grain of sand. As an artist, I am reminded that every thing in the above image is important and contributes to the whole, but only through light-play in that moment, the presence of conscious thought and the camera in hand. Additionally all of that provides a metaphor, a diagram for the interaction of each of us with others, mankind as a whole and the nations, God being the play of light without which none of it is important, or noticeable.

The Best Thing...

I've always liked this guy, even when he pretended to be straight.