Monday, September 29, 2008

Field Day 08 - Ancient Americas

Summoned to the Field Museum of Natural History
by the Fuertes exhibit discussed below,
how could I ignore the rest of it?

Beginning with this dramatic mural,
where the north wall meets the ceiling
overlooking the great hall
dominated by the reconstructed skeleton
of the mighty T-Rex.
(whose tail is in the foreground)

What a fine painting!
At least -- the landscape part of it.

John Gurche's lumpish dinosaur
looks a bit too much
like the meticulously reconstructed
model on which it was based.
(i.e. Gurche needs to look more often at living reptiles)

Virtual Ice Age

Nobody can do the entire museum in one day,
so this trip was devoted to the exhibit of
"The Ancient Americas"

And Wow!
The animated mural shot above is more fun
than an adult deserves to have.

It takes up the entire wall of a narrow, curving hallway
giving one the feeling
of being immersed in a pre-historic forest
with passing clouds, flocks of birds and
watch out!
... a thundering herd of mastodon!
(you can see a few profiles of them off to the left)

It's the same stuff the museum has always had,
but it all used to be in dark, cavernous halls
within dreary display cases.

Now .. the space is just as lively
as the designs on the above S.W. Indian pots.

Here's a map of the region.

In 2006, the Art Institute had an exhibit
of pots from Casa Grande and the Mogollon areas
- one which I featured here

Chaco Canyon

I really like these early American
geo-form paintings --
and I like the curved and
sometimes wrap-around
surfaces that they appear on.

It's so much more satisfying to me
than the rectangular panels
of the 20th C. geo-form painters.

And like the one shown above,
they seem to be esoteric maps of the truth
rather than personal expressions.

(that's just how they seem to me,
God knows what the painters had in mind)

1100-1200, New Mexico

These designs are so lively and swinging -
even more delightful than the similar patterns
one might find on a beautiful caterpillar.

1100-1200, New Mexico, Arizona

and of course,
the painting is reacting to the underlying
form of the pot
which, itself,
has a nice rambling rhythm.

(though not all of them feel this way to me)

I think these are made by canyon people,
living in a world of steep cliffs and steps

750-950, Arizona

This is one that has suffered some wear on this side,
but it is such a nice shape

Kayenta, Arizona

Here's the other side -- and whoa!
The design is perfect for it.

These people left no writing,
but it appears that they enjoyed the look of book shelves.

Kayenta, Arizona

These kind of designs can look stiff and dull,
or vibrant and alive ( like the above)

We took a trip to the Arizona canyon area
about 10 years ago -- and I loved it.

Images of those magnificent, lonesome vistas
are burned into my mind.

Kayenta, Arizona

I guess the principles here are attention to detail
and balance
(especially important if you're living on the edge of a cliff)
but important anywhere you want to stay alive.

Kayenta, New Mexico

I'm not sure that these artists
had exceptional skills,
just enough
to get them fluent
with the limited vocabulary
they were using.

Kayenta, Arizona

Don't these appear to be an modern, urban environment ?

Especially the bottom one,
like lying on the pavement
and looking up at the tall buildings of Chicago


If these pots were people,
we would have to say
their personalities
were extroverted


Those black lines in the middle seem to be a person,
indeed, they seem to be me,
trying to negotiate
through the mighty, boundless forces
that surround me.

(that the nice thing about designs on a jar,
as they disappear around the edge,
they seem to be as boundless as the horizon)

Cibola, Arizona

possibly there was some anxiety
or anger in this person's life

Kayenta, Arizona

This one, too.
Some un-resolved issues here
(as the therapists might say)

Mississipian, Arkansas

moving a bit east for these pots,
the canyons and the jagged lines are gone.

Some nice, natural shapes
with a smoke patina


Going further south now,
these pieces come from the lost civilizations
of southwestern Mexico (300 Bc - 500 Ad)

Little is known about them
because they left no writing
and their artifacts have been unearthed by looters
instead of archeologist's.

One assumes they lived in villages
instead of great cities.
(since those have not been found)

But I think they had a
wonderful tradition of figure sculpture

(and recalled another exhibit of it here )


It feels cartoon-like
but not cartoon-ish


So the figures are fun,
but still serious


Moving a bit east - and a bit earlier
to this great urban center
that was roughly contemporary with the
Roman empire (200 BC - 700 Ad)


The strength is still there,
but what happened to the playfulness ?

I'm not sure these big Meso American cities
were at all preferable to life in
the small, coastal villages.

Mayan - royal dwarf (AD 250-900)
Campeche State

At least the Mayans
had this playful
royal dwarf!


But when we finally get to the Aztecs,
what could be scarier ?

Scary and powerful.

Might one suggest
that this part of the world
was lacking a transcendent
spiritual vision
like Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism,
or Christianity ?


This piece is badly worn,
and has lost all its paint
but still....

still it's a lively sculpture





Maya - royal dwarf





(This is a post in progress,
and might take a week to complete)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Feathered Hearts of Wildness


Why is the best wildlife art relegated
to the Natural History Museum?

Here we are
at the tiny Brooker Gallery
tucked way in the northeast corner
of the gigantic Field Museum of Natural History

And as you can see
the work of Louis Agassiz Fuertes
makes for a commanding
graphic statement.

I.e. - he was doing much more
than merely cataloging the wildlife
of Western Africa
in the 1926 Abyssinian Expedition
of the Field Museum.

Yikes! - this is wild!

And each of these watercolors
accomplished in a single day,
while sitting in one of the expedition's
200 campsites
scattered around the boondocks of Ethiopia

Wildlife art is very difficult, limiting format
since it requires a sharply delineated figure
presented as biological specimen
rather than as an aesthetic moment.

The opportunities for weaving in and out
of the background space
are limited,
and the connoisseurs
want to see every damned feather

but still,
the artist can do some things
playful and goofy

this artist,
Louis Agassiz Fuertes,
specialized in presenting
a psychological presence
for his un-tamed subjects

and I've always felt
that animals were just people
with rather strong, but limited
eccentric personalities
who liked to dress up
in strange costumes

Here's Mr. Batelur
as stuffed and mounted
in the museum,

so you can see what the artist
had to work with.

and yes,
first the artist killed the animal
and then he drew him.

So these are men who seek and then kill
the most beautiful and rare animals
they can find.

Perhaps these men are
wild and eccentric animals themselves ?

But, boy, could this guy draw!

Rembrandt would be proud
of a painting like this one.


And yet -- this painting
never made it to the exhibition
(only 28 of 130 were shown)

To see this one,
and a few more,
you've got to go to
this website
which sells reproductions that are the only way
most of these paintings can ever be seen.

same thing with this beautiful piece
that even a Japanese or Chinese master
might envy.

And while you're at that site,

you can admire some other masters
of the wildlife genre,
like Daniel Elliot

and Edward Lear
(he of Limerick fame)

Believe it or not,
but masters of wildlife art
are still alive and kicking
-- like this sculptor I just found

But before their works end up
in major art museums,
some kind of cultural reformation
will have to take place.