Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reading: The Columbian Exchange

Columbus' Grave in Cathedral in Seville, Spain, Nancy Charak photograph,  April 2010

I have been reading about The Columbian Exchange; I started with this paper, The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food and Ideas, by Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian, Journal of Economic Perspectives--Volume 24, Number 2--Spring 2010--pp 163-188. Here I quote the introductory paragraphs:

"The Columbian Exchange refers to the exchange of diseases, ideas, food crops, and populations between the New World and the Old World following the voyage to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

"The Old World—by which we mean not just Europe, but the entire Eastern Hemisphere—gained from the Columbian Exchange in a number of ways. Discoveries of new supplies of metals are perhaps the best known. But the Old World also gained new staple crops, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, and cassava. Less calorie-intensive foods, such as tomatoes, chili peppers, cacao, peanuts, and pineapples were also introduced, and are now culinary centerpieces in many Old World countries, namely Italy, Greece, and other Mediterranean countries (tomatoes), India and Korea (chili peppers), Hungary (paprika, made from chili peppers), and Malaysia and Thailand (chili peppers, peanuts, and pineapples). Tobacco, another New World crop, was so universally adopted that it came to be used as a substitute for currency in many parts of the world. The exchange also drastically increased the availability of many Old World crops, such as sugar and coffee, which were particularly well-suited for the soils of the New World.

"The exchange not only brought gains, but also losses. European contact enabled the transmission of diseases to previously isolated communities, which caused devastation far exceeding that of even the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe. Europeans brought deadly viruses and bacteria, such as smallpox, measles, typhus, and cholera, for which Native Americans had no immunity (Denevan, 1976). On their return home, European sailors brought syphilis to Europe. Although less deadly, the disease was known to have caused great social disruption throughout the Old World (Sherman, 2007)."

The massive and rapid depopulation of indigenous Amerindians, the wholesale importation of African slaves, both in numbers that are just about unimaginable changed both hemispheres politically and ecologically. Colonization in the new world also changed the landscapes both politically and in nature.

Now I'm reading 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created and 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann who is attempting to explain the worlds that existed before and after the Columbian Exchange.

Note that the elaborate catafalque in the photo is the presumed burial place of Columbus, the cathedral in Santo Domingo in the Caribbean lays claim to his remains as well, not to mention Havana and Valladolid.

Sacred Spaces, ctd.

St. Philip's in the Hills, Tucson. Episcopal.
Tucson, Nancy Charak photograph, June 2012
Tucson, Nancy Charak photograph, June 2012

Artist of the Day: Louise Bourgeois

Today's pick, Louise Bourgeois.
Maman, Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, Bilbao, Nancy Charak photograph, April 2011
Maman, Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, Bilbao, Nancy Charak photograph, April 2011

Curiousity Seven Minutes of Terror

Curiousity is due to land on Mars on or about August 5th. Here's a video describing the entry process which is totally automated and totally dependent on the guesswork of scientists and engineers. I'll be watching. You?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Department of Words Fail

h/t to Little Green Footballs: "Louisiana is embarking on a great fundamentalist adventure with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s wide-ranging school voucher program, which diverts state education funds to primarily religious private schools — many of whom will be teaching a curriculum designed by the most extreme and fanatical Protestant religious groups in America: Louisiana Voucher Students Headed to Schools Using A Beka, Bob Jones, and ACE Curricula."

"Students will be taught that humans and dinosaurs walked on earth together, and this instruction will be paid for with public funds."
I point out that Bobby Jindal is perhaps on Mitt Romney's short list of possible vice presidential candidates. I further hope that none of these victims students go on to medical schools where they become healers of broken bodies. I am also highly disturbed that these young people will grow up and vote with no knowledge of how science works.

Sacred Spaces, ctd.

Without getting into the brouhaha over whether the US was right or wrong in denying funding to UNESCO when Palestine became a member, there remains another question. The Palestine Authority is concerned about the preservation of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The current church dates back to Emperor Constantine who built the first church in the fourth century but which was rebuilt, after destruction in 529, by Emperor Justinian. The big question isn't necessarily the ongoing decay of the building but that its maintenance and upkeep is shared by three Christian groups, the Roman Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox, who frequently come to blows over territorial disputes in the sacred precincts of where Jesus is said to have been born.

Sacred Spaces, ctd.

The cathedral in Aachen, in what is now Germany, formerly Aix-La-Chapelle, the seat of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire. Oldest cathedral in Europe, started in 792. These are images of the Carolingian octagon. The original structure is based on the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Romanesque with Gothic add-ons in later years.
Aachen Cathedral, Nancy Charak photograph, August 2009
Aachen Cathedral, Nancy Charak photograph, August 2009

Sacred Spaces

Barcelona, Sagrada Familia, June 2007.

From the church's website:

"The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is a work on a grand scale which was begun on 19 March 1882 from a project by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar (1828-1901). At the end of 1883 Gaudí was commissioned to carry on the works, a task which he did not abandon until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued the work after his original idea.
"The building is in the centre of Barcelona, and over the years it has become one of the most universal signs of identity of the city and the country. It is visited by millions of people every year and many more study its architectural and religious content.
"It has always been an expiatory church, which means that since the outset, 130 years ago now, it has been built from donations. Gaudí himself said: "The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people." The building is still going on and could be finished some time in the first third of the 21st century."
Gypsy Woman Begging at Ticket Booth Sagrada Familia, Nancy Charak photographer, June  2007
Interior Sagrada Familia, Nancy Charak photographer, June 2007

Judith Roth's Palette

I get a kick out the visuals in artist Judith Roth's palette.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Category of Nice to Know and Not a Surprise

By now it's not a surprise to learn, or rather, relearn that the ancient statuary and monuments of Rome and Greece were highly multicolored, polychromed, even garish and gaudy by our standards. The modern Roman forum is actually just a bunch of ruin porn, aged and sad.
So we learn that the menorah, the one up on that Arch of Titus, that triumphal arch that was built to celebrate the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and of the temple and the dispersal of Jews throughout the empire, was painted yellow. Actually, it was painted ochre, which they say that from a distance looked gold. The latest generation of ultraviolet-visual absorption spectrometers are more manageable and more sensitive. That's nice to know.

What if? Neanderthals?

What if the oldest dated cave art that we know of so far was made by our Neanderthal predecessors instead of the modern humans? According to Joao Zilhao, an anthropologist at the University of Barcelona there is a strong possibility that art in a cave at El Castillo in Spain was made by Neanderthals.

"Study authors say they could have been from modern man decorating their new digs or they could have been the working of the long-time former tenant of Europe: the Neanderthal. Scientists said Neanderthals were in Europe from about 250,000 years ago until about 35,000 years ago. Modern humans arrived in Europe about 41,000 to 45,000 years ago — with some claims they moved in even earlier — and replaced Neanderthals."
El Castillo Cave, Spain
I would like to throw out a question here, what if the art impulse that we humans have comes from our Neanderthal ancestors? They are family, we share DNA of 1 to 4 percent from them.

England v Italy

Bangers v pasta.

30 Seconds Viewing a Rothko

Today I took myself to the Art Institute of Chicago, here's a young man doing what Mark Rothko suggested viewers do with his paintings; stand 15 inches away and stare, experience the painting without active looking or thinking.
One of the best places to view, or rather I should say, experience Rothko's work is at the Tate Gallery in London.

Morning Light Tucson

Morning Light Tucson, Nancy Charak photographer, June 2012

The Bean

We Chicagoans call it the The Bean, its actual title is Cloud Gate, a wondrous polished reflective sculpture by Anish Kapoor.
Everytime I walk through Millennium Park I can't avoid taking pictures of it.
I should add here that I've been privileged to have been able to travel to a number of cities across Europe, and in my honest unbiased opinion Millennium Park is one of the greatest public spaces that I have ever experienced.
The Bean, Nancy Charak photographer, June 16, 2012

Dido and Aeneas

I received an email via my website contact page from a student from Belgium who for her course of Latin has to talk about an artwork about Dido & Aeneas. She asked me the following several questions:
I would like to learn more about your series.
You say that the paintings represent the feeling of Aeneas when he’s leaving the city.
What is then the difference between each painting of the serie?
Why did you chose the topic of Dido and Aeneas?
What’s your vision on the topic of DIdo and Aeneas?
Is there something symbolic in the paintings?
Dido & Aeneas, Nancy Charak artist, watercolor on clayboard, 8"x8"
I answered her questions this way:

Thank you very much for looking at and enjoying my work.

I have done some reading, in English, of the classics because they are great stories with universal impact.

Dido’s story is a woman’s struggle; at Tyre her brother kills her husband, she escapes to Carthage, founds the city, cleverly lays out its walls, builds a home for her people and is judged to be a wise ruler.

So even though the Aeneid is the story of the founding myth of Rome and thus of Aeneas’ wanderings, at its heart is Dido’s lament and the pyre she builds to immolate herself.

Stanley Lombardo’s translation, in Book 4, at lines 689-708:

“O God!” she said. “Will he get away,

Will this interloper make a mockery of us?

To arms, the whole city after him!

Launch the fleet! Bring fire, man the oars!

What am I saying? Where am I?

What has come over me? Oh, Dido, only now

Do you feel your guilt? Better to have felt it

When you gave away your crown. Behold

The pledge, the loyalty of the man they say

Bears his ancestral gods, bore on his shoulders

His age-worn father! Could I not have torn him

Limb from limb and fed him to the fishes?

Murdered his friends? Minced Ascanius himself

And served him up as a meal to his father?

The battle could have gone either way: What of it?

Doomed to die, whom did I have to fear?

I should have torched his camp with my own hands,

And thrown myself on top of the conflagration.

So, I see these images and the story, as not so much of Trojan Aeneas’ journey to Rome and glory as the founder of a successful patriarchal dynasty, but more of Dido’s lament and her funeral pyre. She immolated herself out of deep regret, guilt at giving herself to his ambitions, and the realization that she’d let down her people.

Is there a difference between each painting of the series? There basically is no difference between the paintings, they are variations on a theme.

You ask is there something symbolic in the paintings? If there’s any overt symbolism is the bits of red paint scattered into the black. Could be that red is the fire and black is the soot and ashes. I prefer not to overstate symbolism in my work, but let the viewer do their own thinking.

Once again, thank you ever so much for looking at my work, enjoying it, and for giving me the opportunity to do some thinking and explication of it. Hopefully, this makes sense to you.

I wish you continued success in your studies.

Helen Frankenthaler is my Lodestar

Cri de Coeur 5951, Nancy Charak
Cri de Coeur 5951, © Nancy Charak, 2010, watercolor, prismacolor pencil on unfinished fabricated birchwood panel, 18”x24”
I can honestly say that there’s a very real sense in which I have never not known about Helen Frankenthaler and her work. My mother was a great admirer of Helen’s art, returned from a vacation in New York gushing about what she had seen when I was still in grammar school. To my sorrow that catalogue has disappeared. A good friend from junior and senior high school had Frankenthaler’s work in her house, along with Picassos and Kandinskys.
Tales of Genii III, Helen Frankenthaler
Tales of Genii III, Helen Frankenthaler, 1998, fifty-three-color woodcut from 18 woodblocks (17 maple, 1 mahogany) and 2 stencils on gray TGL handmade paper,” 47x42” (119.4x106.7cm), Edition 36, Artist’s proofs 14.

I choose Helen Frankenthaler because she is the head of a pantheon of abstract expressionists; to name a few, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Linda Karshan, Sandra Blow, Vija Celmins and Katherina Grosse. Purity of thought and action on the canvas emanate from Frankenthaler’s work, even if that work is a 53 color woodcut.

The Frankenthaler woodcuts astonish because they continue her pattern of breaking rules and ignoring conventional modes of working art media. She is widely credited with being the first to work with unprimed canvases, allowing oil paint to halo and stain, and in so doing, to influence a number of artists, Jules Olitski and Sam Francis as foremost examples.

Helen Frankenthaler is my lodestar. I keep two quotes from her displayed in my studio, “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened all at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work when a picture looks labored and you can read in it—well she did this, and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me.”[1]

In the description of the exhibit of the woodcuts at the National Gallery of Australia’s website, she is quoted, “There are no rules, that is one thing I say about every medium, every picture. . .that is how art is born, that is how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules, that is what invention is about.” [2] [1]Ibid

[2] http://nga.gov.au/Exhibition/Frankenthaler/

Lucian Freud, J.M.W. Turner, Rembrandt

What do these three artists have in common? That as they became aged and aging artists they became much more interested in paint and its physicality, sometimes to the point of obscuring what they were depicting.

See this article from Prospect Magazine entitled The Skin We Live In by Sebastian Smee. He says as follows: ”In the 1990s and 2000s, he takes this still further, introducing layers of painted reinforcement. A spiky quality that goes beyond mere representation appears in many of his best pictures. As with late Rembrandt, the paint is applied in ways that disrupt or interfere with the viewer’s easy access to the image. Something extra is conveyed—an awkwardness, but also a sense of deepening interest, thickening emotion, urgency.”

Nancy Charak Art at Seasons Restaurant in DC

Under the good auspices of Eaton Fine Art of Austin, Texas, five of my paintings are hanging at the Seasons Restaurant in Washington DC. In these pictures taken from publicity photos you can see four of them on the pillars with the gallery lights shining down on them. Nice.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Amelia Earhart Lost and Found?

Amelia Earhart
One of the few times in my later life that I've wanted to somehow pick up the phone and call my late father to tell him that maybe Amelia Earhart has been found, lo, three quarters of a century later.

From the NYTimes: "Recently, new evidence has emerged to support the theory that Earhart did land on an island. The same group that first caught my attention, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, announced that it had determined that remnants of a jar, found on that same atoll in the Pacific — Gardner Island, now named Nikumaroro — may well have come from a face cream Earhart used. More significantly, using high­tech software, the group has re­examined reports of previously dismissed radio signals said to have been sent from Earhart and determined that 57 of them were credible. This summer the group is beginning a $2 million search operation based on a 1937 photo of what looks like the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra in the water off Nikumaroro."

The Earhart Project is undertaking a search. It very well may be that Earhart and Noonan managed to land the plane on Nikumaroro, did send distress signals that were received but not understood.

I wanted to talk to my dad about Amelia's failings as well, "her refusal to take a necessary antenna, her lack of knowledge of Morse code, her choice of an unreliable navigator."

Greatest Accomplishment of Humanity

Money quote: "With absolutely no attempt at hyperbole at all, it is fair to say that this is one of--if not the--biggest achievement of the human race.
"For, as we speak, an object conceived in the human mind, and built by our tools, and launched from our planet, is sailing out of the further depths of our solar system--and will be the first object made by man to sail out into interstellar space."

This is, of course, Voyager 1, at the heliosphere. This is one of the songs on the record that is being sent out into the vast unknown, "Dark Was the Night" by Blind Willie Johnson.

h/t Daily Mail Online

Nefertiti in Chicago

Went to visit the old girl in Berlin at the Neues Museum last April, but alas alack photos were not allowed. However, here she is in Chicago at the Oriental Institute (a copy).
Nefertiti, Oriental Institute Chicago, June 2012
Nefertiti, Oriental Institute Chicago, June 2012

France v Spain

Croque monsieur v paella?

Alan Turing and William Shockley

Whatever success I have in my life is due to two men, both scarred in life and death. We are now celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing who invented computational devices and who led the code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War that brought an end to Hitler. William B. Shockley is a Nobel winner for his work on the invention of the transistor at Bell Labs, who later earned well deserved scorn for his views on eugenics and his overt racism. My hearing loss has been largely corrected by the work of these two men.

Lesson in Redacting

My correspondent, Catwoman, wonders if the recent kerfuffle in which art doyen Paul Klein erred in not appropriately redacting the address on an invoice that he used as an object lesson for artists to avoid being cheated by gallerists will rival the great raid on Richard Feigen's gallery way back when.

Jessica Stockholder in Madrid and Chicago

Artist, teacher, Jessica Stockholder in Chicago and Madrid.
Jessica Stockholder, Chicago, corner of State & Adams, June 2012
Jessica Stockholder, Chicago, corner of State & Adams, June 2012
Jessica Stockholder, Madrid, Parque El Retiro, April 2011
Jessica Stockholder, Madrid, Parque El Retiro, April 2011