The Sea: Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter (German, b. 1932- ) has long been fascinated with the relationship between photographic images and painting. In using photography as his primary reference, he says he can make a painting out of almost any subject, "not having to invent anything anymore...color, composition, space." While news story images, military aircraft, and family portraits have been recurring themes for Richter, in the late 60s he tended to focus on more natural scenes such as seascapes. 

In these four paintings of sea and sky, Richter has used extreme detail and a mechanized blur to create worlds in which the human element has no place, but struck through with a breathtaking sense of eternal calm.

Seascape with Bird 170 cm x 170 cm oil on canvas 1970

Seascape (Cloudy) 200 cm x 200 cm oil on canvas 1969

Seascape (Sea-Sea) oil on canvas 200 cm x 200 cm 1970

 Seascape oil on canvas 290 cm x 290 cm 1998
"The photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style. Both in its way of informing, and in what it informs of, it is my source."
"I see countless landscapes, photograph barely one in 100,000, and paint barely 1 in 100 of those that I photograph."
"One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks this passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is idiocy."- Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter photographed by Benjamin Katz in Köln, 1984


The Sea: Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer (American, 1836—1910) is best known for his marine paintings, so it's fitting that the new theme of "The Sea" begins with several of his works. His intense interest in the subject began in the 1880s, when he moved to a cottage just 75 feet from the sea, in Prout's Neck, Maine.

Some of Homer's sea paintings include figures and dramatic narrative, but these paintings focus exclusively on the drama of nature:

Eastern Point oil on canvas 30.2" × 48.5" 1900

Weatherbeaten oil on canvas 28.5" x 48 3/8" 1894

 Summer Squall oil on canvas 24.25"x30.25" 1904

Prout's Neck, Evening watercolor 359 x 536 mm 1883/1890

Glass Windows watercolor 13 15/16" x 20 1/16" 1885
"I prefer every time a picture composed and painted outdoors. The thing is done without your knowing it."

"It is wonderful how much depends upon the relations of black and white... A black and white, if properly balanced, suggests color."

"When you paint, try to put down exactly what you see. Whatever else you have to offer will come out anyway."- Winslow Homer


Cityscapes: Yvonne Jacquette

Yvonne Jacquette (American, b.1934) grew up in a large family, and remembers looking up at the ceiling and down at the ground as a kind of escape from the chaos.  She first became interested in painting aerial views when she took an airplane trip to visit her parents in California. Later she began to charter helicopters to circle above New York and other cities, taking photographs and sketching with pastels with the helicopter door open. She says that the noise would be so terrific that communication with the pilot was almost impossible.

Jacquette isn't after atmospheric effects, and says her sense of bold and flat design is partially derived from her interest in Japanese woodcuts. Her compositions seem very sectioned off, the cropping sometimes harsh- we are always aware that there is much more to a view than she shows.

There is a storybook quality to her work, an intentional naivety in the lack of atmosphere and in flattened forms- but the charm is balanced with a sophisticated sense of composition and color.

Yvonne Jacquette was married to the photographer Rudy Burckhardt for 40 years, both of them finding their main inspiration from New York City. While Burckhardt would try and minimize the scale of the buildings and emphasize the life of the people on the streets, the buildings themselves have always held the most interest for Jacquette.

East River with Brooklyn Bridge oil on canvas 96"x128" 1983

Whitney Museum Under Construction oil on linen 49"x71" 2013 

Dusk Descending, 2000 color lithograph 2000

Filaments of Light woodcut  2000

Vertiginous World Financial Center III  oil on canvas 53"x 58" 2007

6th Ave Night, with Traffic II 
oil on canvas, 65 1/2" x 50 3/8" 2008

Galaxy of Night Lights oil on canvas  33" x 44" 2008
I’ve been a Buddhist for a long time and there’s a lot of teaching about emptiness, which isn’t nothingness, but fullness.

 I’ve always felt very involved with landscape, even as a child. It started to seem like the only real subject matter for me with a kind of absolute finality.- Yvonne Jaquette


Cityscapes: Oswaldo Guayasamín

Roger Brown has recommended that we look at the work of Oswaldo Guayasamín (Ecuadorian, 1919-1999) for the current theme of the cityscape. Guayasamín's paintings often capture the political oppression and severe divisions between the classes in Ecuador as well as in the rest of South America. In discussing Guayasamín's series of paintings of his native Quito, Roger says:
I find some of Guayasamin's work to be heavy and unsubtle but I do like these long-view Quito landscapes. I think he captures the impressive atmosphere of the jagged mountains surrounding the city. I think he was better earlier in his career before he became famous.

I remember seeing a photo of Guayasamín working on "Bloody Quito" in National Geographic when I was in 8th grade. He was on the side of a mountain road looking down on the city. I think there was a miliary government in Ecuador at the time and he was protesting them by showing the city streets running with blood. Ecuador is usually a democracy but because of poor literacy in the past people often elected someone president who was not really competant to do the job.  
There is not much reliable information online regarding these works by Guayasamín, so only the titles are listed here, without sizes or dates.

Quito Sangriente (Bloody Quito)

Paisage de Quito (Quito Landscape)

Quito Noir (Black Quito)

Joel Day, a professional photographer (and my brother), recently went on a six-month sabbatical trip around the world, and Quito was one of his destinations. His photograph of Quito, with its orange rooftops and surrounding mountains, makes an interesting counterpoint to Oswaldo Guayasamín's views of the same city:

(photo credit Joel Day)

  Oswaldo Guayasamín 1990 


Cityscapes: Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Italian, 1290-1348) was one of the most important painters of the Sienese School. Sienese painting in the 13th and 14th centuries was less naturalistic than the paintings produced in Florence, overall more decorative, and tending towards the mystical.  

Of all the painters in the Sienese School, Ambrogio Lorenzetti was the most original, which was a difficult thing to accomplish considering most artwork at the time was commissioned. His paintings shows a unique blend of the Byzantine style with classicism.

City by the Sea  (approx. 8"x12") 1336
City by the Sea is attributed to Lorenzetti, although some art historians argue otherwise. The jewel-like precision of these tiny buildings as well as their inventive arrangement are quite in his style, as well as the floating-dream like quality of the scene. This is possibly the earliest known cityscape, and one that shows an exquisitely ideal town, with all the emphasis on the buildings and hardly a person in sight.

City by the Sea (detail)

Lorenzetti's most famous work is The Effects of Good and Bad Government, a series of frescos commissioned by the city council of Siena and completed on the walls of the Council Room of the City Hall. The Effect of Good Government depicts several vignettes of the life of Siena, and overall shows a peaceable, stable atmosphere complete with dancing young women who likely represent the nine Muses.

Effects of Good Government in the City fresco 1338-39

Effects of Good Government in the City (detail) 1338-39

The opposing fresco, Effects of Bad Government in the City, is in poor condition. This work shows the effects of a city suffering from bad government, including an over-emphasis on war, violent takeovers of the seat of power, and buildings in a state of decay. Here are two details, the first of some buildings in a state of near-ruin, and the second showing a tyrant leader with the horns of a goat. 

Effects of Bad Government in the City (detail) 1338-39

Effects of Bad Government in the City (detail) 1338-39


Cityscapes: Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988) used many different media in his visual works, including cartooning, oil painting, collage and murals. For many years Bearden was conflicted as to how much his work should move towards abstraction, a movement which was taken more seriously by the intellectuals of his day than figurative painting. 

Looking back on his work now, it's easy to feel grateful that Bearden rejected abstraction in favor of showing his deep affection for the contemporary life around him.  Beginning collage relatively late in life, he used it to depict the people and places most familiar to him, often in Harlem and Manhattan, but also the American South of his childhood and his grandparent's neighborhood in Pittsburgh.
Bearden's parents were politically active and college educated, and had high expectations for their son. As a young man, Bearden was a case worker for the New York Department of Social Services. During World War II, he fought on the European Front and later returned to Europe to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. In the 60s he formed a group called the Spiral, which met weekly to discuss the role of African-American artists in the civil rights movement as well as in the art world. In his work, one of Bearden's strengths was his ability to deftly focus on the particulars of contemporary African American life, while never losing sight of their participation in the universal themes central to all humanity. 

Bearden's urban collages show the life around him as tightly interwoven and full of vital energy; he was an idealist but not a sentimentalist. His bold sense of reality combined with his unerring sense of texture, composition and echoing motifs make for powerful work, emotionally and aesthetically. 

 The Dove cut and pasted paper, gouache, and colored pencil on cardboard 13"x18" 1964

Springway collage on paperboard 1964

Black Manhattan paper and paint on board 25" x 21" 1969

 Pittsburgh Memory collage 1964

The Block  cut and pasted printed, colored and metallic papers, photostats, pencil, ink marker, gouache, watercolor, and pen and ink on Masonite; 48" x 216" (six panels, each: 48" x 36")  1971

The Block (detail)

 The Block (detail)

 The Block (detail)

The Block (detail)
The artist has to be something like a whale swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.

The artist confronts chaos. The whole thing of art is, how do you organize chaos?

Painting and art cannot be taught. You can save time if someone tells you to put blue and yellow together to make green, but the essence of painting is a self-disciplined activity that you have to learn by yourself.
-Romare Bearden 

Romare Bearden in Harlem, circa 1950
(photographer unknown)


Cityscapes: Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro's (French, 1830–1903) bustling cityscapes with their shimmering sense of light and space are among his greatest works. He would often paint the grand boulevards and handsome buildings of Paris from a high vantage point, reveling in the newly created sweeping views created in the remaking of Paris by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann. How charming these scenes seem to us now, but how modern they must have seemed when first painted!

Pissarro was a political anarchist, not interested in violent revolution but instead desiring a truly egalitarian society. His political views on the equality of all peoples made their way into his respectful paintings of peasantry, and perhaps in these urban paintings as well, where there is an equal focus on all the citizenry on these busy Paris streets.

Boulevard Montmartre, Spring oil on canvas 25.59"x31.89" 1897

Boulevard des Italiens, Morning, Sunlight  oil on canvas 28 13/16"x 36 1/4" 1897

Rue de l'Épicerie, Rouen (Effect of Sunlight) oil on canvas 1898
Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.- Camille Pissarro 


Cityscapes: John Hartman

For the current theme of the cityscape, Kim Rempel has suggested that we look at the work of Canadian artist John Hartman (b. 1950-).

John Hartman has been painting aerial views of major cities such as London, New York, Toronto, Montreal and Glasgow since 2003. Rather than zooming in on just one section of a city, he likes to show an entire metropolis and its organic relationship to the surrounding land and bodies of water. He sometimes rents small planes and takes dozens of digital images from up high, but will also find high vantage points to sketch alternate, and less aerial, views. He then imaginatively combines the digital images and his many sketches to create fascinating portraits of complex cities that are pulsing with life.

In a review Hartman's work has been described as "huge, seething reckless action" painting, and I can't help but see similarities in his spontaneous style to the expressive cityscapes of Oskar Kokoschka.

Calgary oil on linen  60"x66" 2004

Manhattan At Night oil on linen 60"x66" 2006

Vancouver oil on linen 66"x172" triptych 2006

New Orleans From Above, Looking South to Venice oil on linen 66"x 93" 2013

Hamilton Harbour From Above oil on linen 60"x66" 2004

Shanghai, Pudong from above the Bund oil on linen 2010
I think people and places create each other. I'm trying to create a sense that these are places that people live, that have stories.- John Hartman


Cityscapes: John Dubrow

John Dubrow (American, b. 1958) often spends years on his paintings. He isn't interested in capturing exactly what he sees, but instead works and then reworks the large, simplified shapes and colors until he finally feels like the painting has come to a satisfying conclusion. As with all his work, there is a tension between the subject working in space, or existing as flattened form.

John Dubrow spent a year on the 87th floor of the World Trade Tower, painting his fantastically complex and cubistic "View of Manhattan". While he worked, Rackstraw Downes, Diana Horowitz and Lois Dodd were painting their own interpretations of the city on other floors of the same building.

World Trade Center: View of Manhattan oil on canvas 90" x 96"1997

Westbeth Roof oil on canvas 72"x 81" 2001-2002

Tel Aviv oil on canvas  59" x 78 3/4" 2000

Sheinkin Street, Tel Aviv oil on linen 68" x 74" 2000

Winter Playground oil on linen 46" x 58" 2011-13
And it seems sometimes like I could work on a painting forever. You do one thing and a whole new world opens up and why hold on to the old image when you’ve got this new world to explore? For me it’s just an exploration in change -John Dubrow in an interview with Painting Perceptions