Adam’s World — all about Adam, Anno 2022

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SHORT AUTHOR BIO:

ADAM DONALDSON POWELL (Norway) is a multilingual author, literary critic, and art photography critic; and a professional visual artist. He has published several literary books (including collections of poetry, short stories, and novellas, two science fiction novels, a biography, and a collection of essays) in the USA, Norway and India; as well as numerous works in international literary publications on several continents. He writes in English, Spanish, French and Norwegian. He has previously authored theatrical works performed onstage, and he has read his poetry at venues in New York City (USA), Oslo (Norway), Buenos Aires (Argentina), and Kathmandu (Nepal). His book “Gaytude” (co-authored with Albert Russo) won the 2009 National Indie Excellence Award in the category gay/lesbian non-fiction. Powell was also the winner of the Azsacra International Poetry Award in 2008, and the recipient of a Norwegian Foreign Ministry travel stipend for authors in 2005. Powell also took initiative to planning and organizing the “Words – one path to peace and understanding” international literary festival in Oslo, Norway in 2008. He has been an author under the Cyberwit label since 2005, and he has published 13 literary books since 1987.

GREAT QUOTE:

“There are some people who feel that fiction should be easy to read, that it’s a popular medium that should communicate on a somewhat conversational wavelength. On the other hand, there are those who feel that fiction can be challenging … that it’s okay if a person needs to work a bit while reading …

“Much in the way that would-be civilized debates are polarized by extreme thinkers on either side, this debate has been made to seem like an either/or proposition, that the world has room for only one kind of fiction, and that the other kind should be banned …

“But while the polarizers have been going at it, there has existed a silent legion of readers, perhaps the majority of readers of literary fiction, who don’t mind a little of both.”
— Dave Eggers, foreword to David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Dr. Santosh Kumar’s book on the poetry of Adam Donaldson Powell.

Read some excerpts from the book HERE!

ADAM DONALDSON POWELL – WIKIPEDIA NORGE

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Under the Shirttails of Albert Russo: an alternative biography, l’Aleph — Sweden, ISBN 978-91-7637-401-6, © Wisehouse 2017, Sweden.

Entre Nous et Eux: contes de fées pour adultes, Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-93-85945-77-9, © 2017, India.

Jisei: death poems and daily reflections by a person with AIDS”, Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-81-8253-403-2, © 2013, India.

The tunnel at the end of time” (co-written with Rick Davis and Azsacra Zarathustra), Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-81-8253-160-4, © 2010, India.

Malerier og fotokunst, a short 38-page retrospective overview of some of Adam Donaldson Powell’s best known oil paintings and photographic art works”. Published by Cyberwit.net as a special limited and numbered full-color, soft cover edition (55 copies only), ISBN 978- 81-8253-154-3, India, © 2009.

GAYTUDE: a poetic journey around the world, co-authored together with Albert Russo 1[1], bilingual (French and English), gay poetry, 334 pages, Xlibris, ISBN 978-1-4363-6395-2, 2009, USA 6 [2].

2014: the life and adventures of an incarnated angel, 135 pages, Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-81-8253-118-5, 2008, India.

Critical Essays, literary and photobook criticism by Adam Donaldson Powell and Dr. Santosh Kumar 2[3], 108 pages, Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-81-8253-110-9, 2008, India.

Le Paradis (Paradise), 80 pages, Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-81-8253-103-1, 2008, India. Inkluderer bilag med symboler fra Universelle Lysspråket, som opplevd av Laila Holand.

Rapture: endings of space and time (86 pages), Cyberwit,net, ISBN 978-81-8253-083-6, 2007, India.

Three-legged Waltz, (80 pages), Cyberwit.net, ISBN 81-8253-058-X, 2006, India.

Collected Poems and Stories, (175 pages), Cyberwit.net, ISBN 81-8253-028-8, 2005, India.

Arcana and other archetypes, (special limited edition – hardback collection of poetry), AIM Chapbooks ANS, 2001, Norway (now out-of-print).

Notes of a Madman, (hardback collection of poetry), Winston-Derek Publishers, Inc., 1987, ISBN 1-55523-054-7, USA (now out-of-print).

(Above photos of Adam taken in NYC when he was writing his first published book: “Notes of a Madman”)

 

CHECK IT OUT:

And here is a quick recap/overview of my published books. For more information, please see the next pages of this blog.

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MY AMAZON.COM AUTHOR PAGE: HERE!

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MY CYBERWIT.NET AUTHOR PAGE: HERE!

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“Death is creative, but not picky — she will claim us according to her time schedule and whims, regardless of cause of Death. Don’t obsess over Death. Live each moment as if it were your first and last.”
— Adam Donaldson Powell

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My two latest published books:

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ADAM AS PAINTER:

“My ‘style’? I instinctively rebel against being conveniently labelled as ‘this, or that’; just as I rebel against the so-called ‘rules of painting’, or ‘rules of writing’ … or populistic black-and-white classifications such as ‘political correctness vs. incorrectness’ etc. Actually, it is the audacity of these concepts that annoys me. The need of others to classify me, my art, my writing … or anything, is surely an indication of their own egotism, insecurities, limitations and weaknesses. Alas, we live in a world of labels, ratings, and quality judgments based on popularity and price. The closest relevant generic style classifications of my own art might be perhaps ‘abstract’, ‘colour field’, ‘geometric’, ‘abstract expressionist’, ‘minimalist’ etc. But I always find my own ‘mix’ … with limitless variations. My art and writing are meant to be different and new; and pleasing, challenging and annoying — at the same time.”
— Adam Donaldson Powell

“Lockdown — Summer fun”, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., 2020, is perhaps self-explanatory. This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.
“Masquerade: COVID-19”, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm., 2020, is self-explanatory at first glance. However, here I have left certain features slightly unfinished: the naked eyes, the disintegrating painted frame, etc.; this to suggest vulnerability and a sense of incompletion. COVID-19 presents the unanswerable questions of how effective we really are at masking fear of the unknown, and which “me” peers out from behind the superficial protective covering. This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.

“The making of a Replicant: Human Pod Project — developing embryos”, oil on canvas, 65 x90 cm., 2019. This challenging work — both conceptually and technically — is a commentary on biotechnology and the future of human design and reproduction.

Of Replicants and Humans

#biotechnology #scienceinart
#replicants

“Summer Selfie”, oil on canvas, 50×50 cm., 2019. This intentionally “rough” speed painting — meant to mimic a quick selfie — was inspired by Van Gogh’s self-portraits of himself wearing a straw hat … and
by Picasso’s blue period paintings. I only used
two colors: blue and blue mixed with a bit of red.
“Forever blowing bubbles”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm., 2019. Portrait is a subjective interpretation of Catherine (a.k.a. “Bubbles”).
“The Impossible Dream: impeaching and locking up ‘The Orange One’”,
65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas, 2019. Liberals, Democrats and even some Republicans and ex-Cabinet Members seem determined to fulfill their dream of capturing the sly POTUS in their cat-claws. But will they ever succeed in outsmarting the Donald?

 

“The XYZ-generations — in Troubled Times”

“X, Y and Z Generations … in Troubled Times”, is a series of three self-portraits, challenging the ways I see myself and the ways I wish others to see/experience me. Today’s challenges are many, and the successive generations barely have time for needed self-reflection in the face of the daily, fast-changing technological, climate and other challenges. In this painting I invite the viewer to face himself/herself in this world where faces and Art are often just another image.

I personally experience this painting as scary and uncomfortable. What I mean by saying that the painting is “scary” is that it confirms the dilemma that I face in today’s crazy World — an “unfinished symphony” that is essentially never to be totally understood.

There were never to be any figures totally painted because the pictures represent people/humanity/me in development and unraveling. The pic of me all dressed up in a fur coat is the “show guy” presenting himself to The World … (x-generation). The y-generation me with the green face is the creative and thinking me — absorbed in my own thoughts and ideas, but battling against those imposed upon me by living in The World. And the z-generation is me blocking out and hiding from The World, the mental bombardments of images, coined phrases, propaganda, advertisements, and the glaring and oppressive heatwaves and sunlight etc. That image is in the largest state of disintegration, the skin coloring depicting a body that is almost lifeless and the head partially covered by a veil of mourning. Of course, all of the images are (as is the Internet, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, mainstream media and alternative media) manipulations — leaving out ears (i.e. really hearing and listening) and other details in order “to guide” the viewer into focusing upon the sunglasses, clothing and accessories (headlines) instead of seeing the person (content) inside … and we are consequently in a continuous struggle for self-marketing and esteem vs. incompletion and dissatisfaction with systems of ethics and values that both constrain and embrace us.

The painting is “The Scream” that was never really expressed outwardly. And the minimalistic pastel-colored background is the general environment of denial — “everything is normal” — that acts as a sedative, more than inspiration.

NB. See Urban Dictionary for definitions of Generations X Y and Z.

Vanishing Act, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm., 2020.

VANISHING ACT.

«Vanishing Act», 46 x 55 cm., oil on canvas, 2020, is a raw self-portrait about being careful what we wish for. While many would wish for the rapid disappearance of the CoronaVirus (COVID-19), it would presently seem more plausible that such reference be most applicable to the Fade-Out Star (R Coronae Borealis). In the upper left corner one can barely make out a vanishing star, consumed by the Darkness of Uncertainty — truly Hell in its most natural form. The raw background hints of that in many well-known paintings by Old Masters, but here there is a messy disharmony that is threatening to consume the figure in the painting and the viewer — like an unavoidable train wreck … in slow motion. There are many important lessons yet to be learned from the COVID-19 experience. It is karmic, and in that understanding lies a solace that enables us to adapt to both life during struggle … and to the inevitability of Death. The figure — itself already vanishing behind protective gear — is waist-deep in the mire, but is yet optimistic — if not aloof to the dangers of chance and folly. The true challenge is perhaps not how quickly or how completely we can return to normality, but whether the former normality is actually the problem itself.

 

« Fluorescent Buddha », 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas. This painting is designed for meditation on peace and healing.

“Rothko gone rogue”, oil on canvas, 65x90cm., 2019 is another of my explorations of the exciting, and over-copied, Rothko-style — here limiting myself to usage of the three primary colors (red, blue and yellow) together with scratching in order to finds new approaches to the study at hand. It is easy to think that the prolific and obsessed Rothko executed absolutely every possible color combination and variation on his main themes. But did he, actually? By the way, don’t miss the two figures rowing in the boat in the blue section of this colorfield painting. The scratching blue waves which overflow across the red background are then perhaps perfectly understandable.
“Burbujas — Fiesta en Málaga”, oil on canvas, 65×90 cm., 2019. This crazy work attempts to unite my passions for colorfield exploration and abstract geometric expressionism. There were many technical challenges involved as well as brush technical acrobatics. I always say that I will never again subject myself to paintings circles but I cannot resist the challenge … or the magic of the Circle.
Winds of Hell, 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas.

“Les vents de l’Enfer”, 65 x 90 cm., Huile sur toile; basé sur les six faces par lesquelles nous percevons la mort —
La mort en tant qu’ennemi,
La mort en tant qu’étranger,
La mort en tant qu’ami,
La mort en tant que mère,
La mort en tant que voleur et
La mort en tant qu’amant.

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Writing about Death is not foreign to me, but I have only approached the theme once before in my paintings. Thus, I have made a new painting about Death (which for we who survive others becomes a personal Hell for a time). And regardless of how we see Death, the Hell of loss is still there gnawing away at us … underneath the masks we put on to shield ourselves and others in our grief.

💀💀💀💀💀💀

Here is my previous painting about Death:

Soul evacuation, oil on canvas, 100x150x8 cm.
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“In the thicket”, 40×50 cm., Adam Donaldson Powell, 2019: This painting is another oil painting with a “watercolour effect”, attempting to counteract the solidity of classical landscape paintings with an abstract lightness using various brush techniques and colour combinations to allow the focus of the viewer to simply allow oneself to “walk right into the background and become enveloped by it”. There is no central or overbearing motive … just the experience of being here now. #Naturalistic colourfield
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Reflection: “Some misunderstand me when I emphatically rebel against categorization and pigeon-holing, and against being expected to paint and write in the same styles and genres forever … or to slavishly follow ‘the rules of writing, or painting.’ What I intend to communicate is the constant importance of being original and new-thinking. However, knowledge of historically significant styles, techniques and art movements is fairly (in today’s art world) vital to knowing what innovations one wishes to explore … and why. You do not need to ‘master’ old styles and techniques in order to paint or write in your own new style, but understanding of them technically and in social/art historical contexts will make your new works much more dynamic and powerful. Art involves constant decision-making — and in order to make decisions we need to have some rudimentary understanding of art history in technical and social contexts. This includes creating ‘art’ from accidents.” — Adam Donaldson Powell
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“Toltec Archetype”, 65×90 cm., oil on canvas, is an exploration of the shamanic/primitive roots of Jackson Pollock’s “Dripping/action painting”. The painting is both “in your face” and subdued by the jungle green splattering which — although hiding the image through the forgetfulness of Time — is not quite powerful enough to prevent the haunting Spirit of the archetype from invading our Consciousness.
“Tribute to Mars: The Great Source and Center”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm.

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La mia svizzera.
«La mia Svizzera», 65×90 cm., oil on canvas, 2018. This abstract geometric painting is based on my travels around Switzerland in 2018 — visiting lakes, mountains, cities and countryside.

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I am accomplished and recognized in many areas, including art, literature, performing arts and activism. My life as an activist: my activism began when I was a teenager in USA — as a strong opponent to the war in Vietnam and a conscientious objector to the draft. I was even thrown out of the courtroom of Judge Julius Hoffman (of the Chicago Seven case fame) for misbehavior.
Since then I have engaged myself in the rights of several social groups including the homeless, gays, artists, immigrants and persons with AIDS. I have represented Norway internationally and at the UN in NYC, I have debated with several government ministers in Norway on tv, radio, newspapers, delivered public speeches, and started organizations to preserve and secure the rights of artists and of unemployed immigrants. While I am now retired from activism, I am proud of my almost fifty years of public service as an activist — complemented by my literary and artistic works in support of these issues. I started and ran the organization Artists in Motion (for artists of all artistic disciplines in Norway) and the Norwegian World AIDS Day Art Exhibitions, among other initiatives. I have made notable and documented contributions in Norway and internationally through debates and speeches, music (I studied piano under several renowned concert pianists in NYC), theater and dance stage performances, art exhibitions, publications, literary engagements on four continents, and more. You will no longer find me on Facebook, Twitter, English Wikipedia (Norwegian Wikipedia, yes) etc. I have pulled out of several accounts on all (and also two previous Instagram profiles) despite having maximum « friends/followers ». I prefer space to be myself, and to set my own artistic, literary and socio-political agendas. I market my ideas more than my art and my literature. My art and my literature are representations of my philosophies, my ideas and my politics about Life, the world, art and literature. My art is found in several countries, and my fourteen published books (in all major genres) are written in several languages and published on three continents.

«Le regard … dedans / dehors», 65×90 cm., oil on canvas. Study of integrating several abstract disciplines and techniques, including underpainting, hard edge vs. free hand, figurative plus geometric, Picasso’s earth colours etc., model: Richard Mathews (NYC). «Le regard … dedans / dehors» is about how we see ourselves vs. how we think the world does (and how we want the world to) see us. The scaly/primal-reptilian background is reversible — serving both as a covering as well as revealing our inside moving texture. When I suggest that the reptile scales are reversible I am talking about the dual functions of the skin as a protective facade which enables us to find protection but blending into our environment AND serving as a tight “diving suit” which makes our explorations easier. I find the exercise of changing skin colour and ethnicity of the paintings featuring my models to be liberating — an artistic commentary on the universality of Man. My triptych on Robert Mapplethorpe taught me this. I realized that the color scheme for this painting had to be with Picasso earth colors (from his beginning Cubist period – similar to the work of Braque). All other colors would potentially draw away from the balance which allows the portrait to remain a main focus and still tell the story of “the process” of being oneself in personal and social environments which are constantly changing and challenging us. It has to be both finite and also a blurred portrait image in a blurred background, giving a “near-sightedness ” feeling — at the same time; because that is how we experience ourselves and our surroundings, and are experienced by others. The geometric areas all have bright colors as underpainting so that the black and grey forms are not flat and lifeless, even though intentionally two-dimensional. The illusion of depth comes from the layering of forms — both underneath and over one another. This was an interesting challenge for me. I even forced myself to allow a few graphite sketch lines to remain unpainted — something I have always wanted to try.

 

 

 

“Model”: Tor (in memoriam).

“Visit from a dead lover”, 50×50 cm., oil on canvas, is an abstract expressionist portrait of my deceased life partner. It captures in general, however, the pictorial and other-worldly essence of such visits from the departed, as both the living and the no-longer alive peer through the veils of energy, space and time to re-connect for a few precious minutes.

ARTIST’S/AUTHOR’S COMMENTS:

« What is the importance of attention to background in painting? Ha! The concept of background as a separate entity is an illusion — even in minimalistic art it is both an important protagonist on the stage, as well as the cast of supporting actors. Context Baby … context defines the entire painting. »
— Adam Donaldson Powell

ADAM DONALDSON POWELL (Norway) is a multilingual author, literary critic, and art photography critic; and a professional visual artist. My ‘style’? I react to being conveniently labelled as ‘this, or that’ as vehemently as I rebel against the so-called ‘rules of painting’, or ‘rules of writing’ … or ‘political correctness’ etc. Actually, it is the audacity of these concepts that annoys me. The need for others to classify me, my art, my writing … or anything, is surely an indication of their own egotism, insecurities, limitations and weaknesses. The closest relevant generic style classifications might be perhaps ‘abstract’, ‘colour field’, ‘geometric’, ‘abstract expressionist’, ‘minimalist’ etc. But I always find my own ‘mix’ … with limitless variations. My art and writing are meant to be different and new; and pleasing, challenging and annoying — at the same time. I have resided several places in the USA, as well as in Spain and (currently) in Norway. My art often addresses cultural, political, social and spiritual issues relevant to our day and age.

My aim is not necessarily to produce art that “is ornamental” but rather to challenge ideas, ideals, behaviour patterns etc. that often pass by uncommented. I am further interested in questioning the relationships between politics and art, social media and art and social dynamics in a globalised context which often prioritises (in my opinion) social media short cuts to celebrity-status, politically-correct trends, blatant artistic style copying, and lack of creativity as regards current and future relationships between artists, art galleries, art museums, street art and art on the internet. My perspective is that creativity is now a “human right and a vital resource”, and that the truest value in art today lies not in a long curriculum vitae or social media hype, but rather in the art that is freshly-/newly-produced and the contexts in which it is presented and marketed. The function of art today and in the near future is (again, in my opinion) directly related to the degree in which art inspires and encourages all persons to embrace creativity in their lives, rather than to create individual “icons”.


“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

— Chuck Close

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Sitat: “Det er viktig å ha gode tekniske ferdigheter men kunst krever publikumstekke, publikumsvennlige ideer, budskap og evne til å bevege mennesker — enten til glede og inspirasjon eller forakt etc. God kunst formidler ut fra hjertet og tankene til kunstneren som beboer på planeten. Det tekniske blir ingen erstatning for dette.”
— Adam Donaldson Powell

Quote: “It’s important to have good technical skills, but art requires crowd appeal, ideas of public/social interest, messages and the ability to move people – either to joy and inspiration or contempt etc. Good art conveys from the heart and mind of the artist as one who lives on the planet. Technical skills alone will not compensate for lack of this.”
— Adam Donaldson Powell

“Wanted: for breaking the rules of Art and Writing!”, caricature/self-portrait, 65×90 cm., oil on canvas, 2018

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“Every new painting is like throwing myself into the water without knowing how to swim.”
— Edouard Manet

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“Like Vincent van Gogh, I am an impasto painter. My painting tools include brushes, knives, plastic, rags, sponges, credit cards, pieces of wood, leaves, fingers, hands, feet … basically, whatever it takes to create the effect, textures and spirit of the idea to be conveyed. I paint on everything I can find: canvas, paper, wooden boards, cardboard, cloth, styrofoam, rocks … It is both a passion and an addiction. Lots of dopamine in my brain, I guess.”
— Adam Donaldson Powell

“Straight to Hell” — Mapplethorpe in triptych, oil on canvas, 2018.

MAPPLETHORPE IN TRIPTYCH.

I decided that it was best to depict Mapplethorpe in an expressionist style – and almost like a charcoal and chalk painting. This to depict the simplicity he has hidden behind in his public appearances, and in his art photography. The wisdom of that choice is apparent in the picture in the middle, which deals with his internal perceptions of himself, and where the spectator’s eye goes straight to the majestic Cala Lily – The flower of Death – which Mapplethorpe was so keen on. And the flower is so calm and majestic that the drama of the expressionist style is immediately reset in a single glance.

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Robert Mapplethorpe triptych – a work-in-progress. Keywords: Mapplethorpe, tabloid (lurid, sensational) art, guns as penises, penises as guns, splattered blood, blood stains, sex, AIDS, crosses, Calla lily (flower of Death), sado-masochism, fetish, narcissism, pecs and nipples, the body as a living sculpture, perfection vs. the glory of the imperfect, Don Herron’s iconic Tubshot photo. Each panel measures 40 x 50 cm.

NB. Yes, I address Mapplethorpe’s obsession with Black men and their bodies / genitals by featuring Mapplethorpe himself in mirror image — as both Caucasian and Negroid. In this way his desire to completely embody and define ultimate personification of sexuality will finally be complete.

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The iconic Don Herron Tubshots photo of Mapplethorpe was chosen as my model because I actually met Mapplethorpe at his loft when Don and I delivered the photograph to him. This triptych is my “tribute” to both Don Herron and Robert Mapplethorpe.

And here is Don’s portrait of me (in our bathtub in the East Village, NYC in 1978):

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Eclipse/craquelure, oil on canvas, 40×40 cm.
Fishing net embracing glowing bits of plastic, 40×40 cm, oil on canvas:
This abstract painting is about environmental problems related to pollution of the seas — both with waste such as plastic, but also with abandoned fishing nets. The colourful plastic attracts fishes, which consume it.
“Cracking up (Craquelure)”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm.

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Aged stone (Oil on styrofoam).
Roses and a teardrop for Las Ramblas, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2017. This miniature abstract painting was inspired by the terror attack upon the people at Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It depicts a rose-floral wallpaper-like background with a line/queue that is broken — interrupted by a single teardrop.

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“Vertigo”, 50×50 cm., oil on canvas with “watercolour effect”.

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Toxique / Toxic
“Toxique / Toxic”, 40×40 cm., oil on canvas, is an abstract painting which uses colourfield and geometric styles to induce feelings of the “disgusting” which is beautiful. Here “the disgusting” is created by color combinations and the dizziness of the geometric images seemingly twirling about in atmospheric bile. The painting gives a sense of elegance in its overall balance and technical precision, while at the same time requiring quiet acceptance of discomfort.

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Nightfall – with Winter giving way to Spring, 50×50 cm., 2017.

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White night no. 1
“White night no. 1”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm.
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Meteors in the night, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm.
Not seeing the forest for the trees.
Not seeing the forest for the trees, oil on canvas/mixed media, 60×50 cm.
Bokstavelig talt (literally speaking), oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm.

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Emptiness giving birth to Nothingness, oil on canvas, 100×80 cm.
“Being = Nothingness”, 40×40 cm., oil on canvas, 2017.
Ascension, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm.
Video game shooting gallery.
In an age when oil paintings have little chance of competing with the internet, television and video games, I decided to paint an abstract depiction of a video game shooting gallery against a concrete background — no penetration.

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Spleen.
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“Tears flowing while walking through the city”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm.

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Sunset reflecting through Venetian blinds, onto wooden floor.

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Equilibrium, oil on canvas, 50×50 cm., 2016.

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Tale of three colour fields, oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm., 2016.

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A Wrist-cutter's Glow.
A Wrist-cutter’s Glow, oil on canvas, 50×50 cm.

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«Sunrise in early Spring», oil on canvas, 65×90 cm., 2018.

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REGARDING MY INSPIRATION AND IDEAS …

“I see poetry everywhere. In fact, each and every one of my paintings is a poem or a story … with hints of a song, an opera, a dance, a theater performance.”
— Adam Donaldson Powell

THE YOUNG MAN AND DEATH.

Redefining Cocteau’s interpretation of “The young man and death”:
My painting — entitled “The young man and death” – represents a violent and hazardous order; whitewashed mental chaos with the conviction of purification and with cutting knife marks of self-harm … and swirling depression with so many overwhelming rhythmic atonalites that the blue electricity of pulses and currents are stifled by a huge blanketing whiteness that gives a general impression of calm and control – as long as we follow each breath religiously. It is an atmosphere of violent beauty; the inner environment that cleanses and consumes all the perceptions of the outside world which drives us to the ultimate act of correction and glory: suicide. The whiteness of depression is the light at the end of the tunnel of death – promise of rebirth, new virginity and ultimate seduction. The thick slabs of paint represent the mud walls we erect to keep ourselves safe in our cocoons – in our fortress. Depression does not concern sadness, but rather the construction of our castle in heaven, where our indifference to success and failure can finally flourish. Nirvana. Here, death is not a woman, but the young man’s own psyche. The misogynistic vision of Cocteau will be whitewashed and exposed as a void that disguises itself as male self-victimization. Once the many layers of oil paint are completely dry, I will cover the minimalist painting with camouflage netting, this in order to force the viewer to want to look at the discomfort in the pictures. To look under the veil and then to identify oneself sufficiently in the Mind to be able to look for the veil of Emptiness that is under the veil. Of course, no one really wants to know about another person’s depression – especially if they are suicidal. We are all fighting the same depression and nothingness. It’s only a thought away. The result will be a two-dimensional sculpture painting.

Jean Maurice Eugene Clement Cocteau was very talented, very brave, very “gay”, very famous … and very misogynistic. Only the unfortunate or idiots would be stupid enough to try to make him angry.

“The young man and death In a workshop, a young man alone is waiting. In comes the girl who was the cause of his distress. He rushes towards her, she pushes him away, he begs her, she insults him, scoffs at him and tells him to go hang himself. He hangs himself. Only the body of the hanged man remains. Through the roofs, death then returns in a prom dress. She takes off her mask: it’s the girl. So she puts her mask on the face of her victim. Together, they go through the roofs.
— Jean Cocteau”

More than seventy years have passed since this work had its world premiere. And the idea still haunts me. The story is too thin … a cheap shot designed to shock. The cheating woman has the coldness of a man, and the desperate man (the cuckold) hang himself as the woman demands. The irony is that a number of men today commit suicide after their wife’s infidelity or divorce. But what else is behind this suicide? Surely there are problems of depression and relationship within man before this development? Was the woman really responsible for his death? Is the infidelity of another person really the cause of suicide – or is it just a symptom, the result of a long-standing illusion that can no longer be denied? Is not this another expression of misogyny in the age of Romanticism? And how can I recreate this story / painting – penetrating more into the young man’s psyche – far beyond this woman representing death, who can so easily be blamed?

It’s the same for both or all genders (there are more than two now). Because depression and suicide are taboo subjects, I want to force the public to commit to watching and walking inside the painting. These problems need to be normalized – like cancer and other syndromes and lifestyle diseases.

“It is important to understand and simply accept that all our past experiences, whether joyful or sad, continue to accompany us throughout our lives and greatly affect the way we feel today. Problems can only trigger feelings of insecurity, shame, envy or revenge if we deny that they are part of us. To be overwhelmed by such feelings in the most difficult situations requires us to recognize them and consciously integrate them as natural parts of our psyche. Only then will we be able to develop a loving acceptance of ourselves with all our flaws and shortcomings.” — from www. astro.com

As I always say, a lot of fiction is more factual than readers realize. Cocteau was very misogynistic and obsessed with wanting a son, and had great anger when the woman of his choice (Princess Natalie Paley) rejected him: he said that women were “the killers of poets’ children”, there had been many suicides in his life, and so on – all of which indicate his psychological problems at work in this story.

“Le jeune homme et la mort”, 65×90 cm., oil on canvas. This is my re-interpretation of Cocteau’s idea for the famous ballet. See my notes about this HERE!

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Democracy by gun (We the People), oil on canvas, 100×80 cm., 2016.
“Entre Nous et Eux”, oil on canvas, 90×65 cm. is about keeping a frozen smile and trying to remain “politically correct” in a Western world that is literally under “cultural attack” by the sheer numbers of refugees and immigrants, and further complicated by European countries’ relative naivité and unpreparedness for multiculturism. It is therefore that the background resembles the Norwegian, Czech, Russian, French, Dutch, British, US etc. flags with the red, white and blue colours … but which are are increasingly inundated with falling leaves which eventually become lively foreign objects, cultures, traditions, religions etc. — and all the while with more and more persons competing for celebrity, money, resources, ideologies and power etc. It symbolises an irreversible shift in cultural and social values and traditions, and the tensions churning and burning underneath. It is about the new “n-word” which is socially and legally forbidden to express in public forums. The penalty is being stamped as “a racist”, and prosecution.

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Letting go (of love), 40×40 cm., oil on canvas is about the process of trying to move on — without a loved one. The memories of that person become blurred, the pain is romanticised, the sense of betrayal and anger gradually becomes replaced by arrogant self-pity and then denial that love ever was (in fact) mutual. Solace and personal redemption are found written as graffiti on the wall — in the words of Jean-Paul Sartre: “We are condemned to be free” (here in Spanish: “Estamos condenados a ser libres”).

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“Faceless animus” asks us how well we really know another person, and how much we really want to know — the stereotypical or racial countenance … or the faceless animus that lies behind it?

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“Talking heads / Social media”, 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas, 2018, is all about “the buzz” (slander and gossip, #hatersgonnahate, #lookatme etc.) in black and white.

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Miniature series — This miniature oil painting series is comprised of 18 small paintings (15×15 cm and 20×20 cm), which have various contemporary themes, including fame and death, love gained and lost, climate change, moving on in Life, #metoo, terror, sex, emotional vampires, nuclear storm weather forecasts and more.
The paintings include: 1) “Endless Winter/Climate change”, 15×15 cm., oil on canvas, 2018;
2) “Spleen – love dissolving”, 20×20 cm., oil on canvas, 2018;
3) “Roses and a teardrop for Las Ramblas”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. This miniature abstract painting was inspired by the terror attack upon the people at Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It depicts a rose-floral wallpaper-like background with a line/queue that is broken — interrupted by a single teardrop;
4) “Trou de la gloire/Gaufres bleues; Oui, l’amour est bleu … et la véritable gloire est un trou dans un mur qui s’effrité, («Gloryhole/Blue waffles; Yes, love is blue … and real glory is a hole in a crumbling wall»)”, 15×15 cm., oil on canvas, 2018. I accidentally stumbled over photos of “blue waffles” on the Internet. They were so disgusting and glorious that I had to challenge myself to interpret the magnificent phenomenon;
5) “Ghosts no. 1 — Climate change sucks the life out of Spring”, 15×15 cm., oil on canvas, 2018;
6) “Ghosts no. 2 — Climate change sucks the life out of Spring”, 15×15 cm., oil on canvas, 2018;
7) “Love between vampires: Yeah, Baby — let’s tear off a piece! (L’amour entre les vampires: Viens m’enculer!)”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. Whether our needs for giving and receiving love bring out the vampire or the angel in us, it is all an expression of our evolving humanity;
8) “Niqab — of love and fetish in an age of terror”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. Keywords: niqab, AK47, roses, blood, hidden passion, discomforting eyes, risks, fetish, love, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018;
9) “Pissing on our parade”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. “Pissing on our parade”, is a commentary on gay violence — i.e. violence, murder and terror committed both by and against gays. LGBTQ-persons are “people”, and prone to the same problems and personality issues as all others in society. However, whenever an LGBTQ-person commits an act of terror (Orlando), sexual violence and harassment (by the way, these harassments are seldom investigated as #metoo, or even hate crimes), murder plus cannibalism, or other acts that feel like a violation of what many consider to be basic humane and civilised values, it feels as embarrassing to me as a gay person as muslims must feel when yet another act of hate-inspired terrorism is committed in the name of Islam. It is also embarrassing to me as a human and as a soul in active incarnation. These individuals — regardless of whether they are disturbed, or just hateful — are pissing on our parade. Keywords: pissing, parade, #stopthebleeding, wounded hearts, rainbow, #stopthehate;
10) “Silence.”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. “Silence.” is about the news and important information that we do not receive, or that is kept hidden from us by politicians, corporations, scientists and the mainstream media. It is also about what most of us are thinking but do not talk about due to social controls on thoughts, speech and actions. Silence should be a beautiful thing — a reprieve from the noise of everyday life and stress … but sometimes the silence is something to be feared. When we fear it, silence is the new noise;
11) “White Noise.”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. “White Noise” is about the constant chatter of mainstream media — spitting out and vomiting the same news stories ad nauseum; in all newspapers, radio and television stations, on the internet … all over the world, 24 hours a day. The noise keeps us company when we are alone and trying to escape the silence of loneliness … and we eventually neither listen to nor hear the warnings, worries and hatred broadcasted and echoed from high and low. The noise is our new silence;
12) and 13) “Broken Hallelujah in the Landscape of Life.”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. “Broken Hallelujah in the Landscape of Life” interprets the crevices, rips, tears and shattering we all experience, expected or not; i.e. those moments and periods where our hopes and dreams, infatuations, marriages, friendships, ways of perceiving the world and other people etc. fall apart, unravel and demand re-adjustment — with new vision. Although often quite painful, these adjustments provide us with opportunities to re-invent and re-define ourselves. The choice is ours: to suffer for an indeterminate period of time … or to climb down from the cross and explore “the new”, seeking balance — with a positive sense of moderation.“Ariston metron!” (“Moderation is best!);
14) “#metoo: Men’s room — the writing on the players’ wailing wall”, 15×15 cm, oil on canvas, 2018. This graffiti painting reveals the angry and dissatisfied murmurings of some men on social media and (as here) on a men’s room wall. It is generally considered to be politically incorrect for men to voice concern over matriarchal feminism and the #metoo movement, and the fear of loss of basic rights for men. When these voices are restricted to hidden enclaves and not allowed to be measured and discussed openly then the ensuing negative consequences can be devastating. The frustrated graffiti text includes: matriarchy; man-haters; Fuck #metoo; Fuck no sex; men prefer 1) whores, 2) men, 3) sex dolls; custody rights; lonely; feminazi; dutch treat etc.;
15) and 16) “Weather forecast — Warning, High Probability of Nuclear Storm; Part One: Alert” and Part Two: Perfect Storm”, 15 x 15 cm., oil on canvas, 2018. Perhaps the most immediate threat of annihilation of the planet and humanity is the threat of nuclear war and a serious nuclear accident. This work predicts a future where such threats becomes part of the weather and terror threat warning system. Colour code: yellow and black; the smoky grey background tells the rest of the story;
17) and 18) “Memento Mori — Fama (Starry Night)” and “Memento Mori — Damnatio Memoriae”, 15 x 15 cm., oil on canvas, 2018: These two simple, if not “pseudo-naïvistic”, paintings are about the naive personal quests for fame after death, i.e to live forever through our children’s or others’ minds — by way of recorded fame in this lifetime and myths; and the opposite and more likely reality: of being dead forever/being forgotten. In “Fama” the subtitle “Starry Night” functions as a Hollywood star reference as well as is a commentary about Vincent Van Gogh’s failure to achieve notoriety and artistic recognition before after his physical death. His own personal “starry night” is rather a quiet internal burning and ember-like glow — without spectacle. For artists, authors and musicians this notoriety is often established and maintained by way of representation, archives and mention in museum collections, published books, recordings, Wikipedia, the internet, history books etc. However, with ever-developing technology and increasing limited space in libraries and museums these hopes of living forever are being thwarted. For others who try to establish themselves as television hit show stars, as bloggers and as reality stars the goal is perhaps even more unattainable. We cannot take worldly acclaim with us to the afterlife, but to ensure that we still maintain a presence in this world after we leave it physically has been a dream of many for ages. The looming question is: “What is the purpose of Life and achieving notoriety — do we live for the ‘now’, or forever?” Another important question is “Should all art be made with the intention of it living forever; what is the value of temporary, performance and disposable art?” And of course, “Memento Mori — Damnatio Memoriae” reminds us that — should we fail to achieve lasting fame — we will not only remain “still dead” but we will disappear … forever, and without a trace, save possibly a short-lived grave and tombstone.
These paintings comprise a series of miniature abstract oil paintings that are about feigning indifference in a crazy and brutal world because there is simply so much that seems out of our control and we must often pretend to be indifferent in order to survive from day to day.

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“Love illusion”, 65×90 cm., oil on canvas. 

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ADAM AS PHOTOGRAPHER:

The London Police - z1

Jernbanetorget 4-z

Storgata 51-1

See my Oslo Street Art Documentation Photography (including documentation of works by The London Police, Galo, Shepard Fairey, Logan Hicks, D-Face, Will Barras, Faile, Martin Whatson and many unnamed graffiti artists) HERE!

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ART CRITICISM:

I have reviewed art and photography: art photography appearing in photography book publications, paintings in public exhibitions, and art photography collections made for / on the internet. Here are two examples of my photography criticism using an epistolary format:

LETTRES À UN PHOTOGRAPHE FRANÇAIS

LETTERS TO AN ITALIAN ART PHOTOGRAPHER

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Atlantis Ritual Bracelet, silver and gold, with symbols from the Universal Language of Light.
Lemuria Ritual Necklace, silver, gold and brass, with precious and semi- precious stones.
“TRANSFORMATION PENDANT”: design channeled by Adam Donaldson Powell, in silver and gold with aquamarine. Note the Eye of Horus and the Six-pointed Star (symbolizing that there are many ways to God/Enlightenment but that all are based upon Wisdom) and the “A”-tone as the mantra device.
Nepali Necklace, turquoise, lapis lazuli and silver.

SEE MY JEWELLERY DESIGN HERE!

ADAM’S ART IS IN SEVERAL PUBLIC AND PRIVATE COLLECTIONS (in Europe, USA and South America):

“The day after 9/11, oil on canvas” —
In the permanent collection of Rikshospitalet in Oslo.

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A FEW OF MY PREVIOUS PAINTING STYLES:

Y yo pienso aun en ti, oil on canvas, 100×100 cm.
Tainted dreams, oil on canvas, by Adam Donaldson Powell.
Beetlemania / Bugging out! (Oil on canvas, 30×30 cm x two paintings).
samfunnets forfall (decay of society)
The decay of society (Oil on canvas).
Galaxy
Galaxy (Oil on canvas).
autumnfoliage
Autumn foliage (Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm.)
homage to malevich
Tribute to Malevich (Oil on canvas).

crumpledpaper

“Crumpled paper, oil on canvas, 50×62 cm.”

Austin_oil_painting

“Austin, oil on canvas, 80×80 cm.»

Spring Snow

“Tribute to Yukio Mishima: Spring Snow”, oil on canvas, 50×50 cm.”

“Seascape I” (original of a series), oil on canvas, 120×120 cm.”

“Hope”, oil on canvas, 50×50 cm.

2700chess.com for more details and full list

Dialogue with an Art Historian — Part Five.

Dialogue with an Art Historian — Part Five.

 

 

The dialogue:

In spite of a long history of non-photo realism in modern art, many if not most persons are still hung up on realism in painting OR impressionism, as being “good art”. They fail to understand that Impressionists, Cubists and the many other “modern” styles of painting were explorations of the no-man’s land in between realism and abstraction. For many artists painting a photo realistic painting is a useless occupation, which is more concerned with technical accuracy than artistry. I have always been fascinated by this no-man’s land, and explore variations on both the abstract and realistic edges of the continuum. I have gotten some criticism for painting in a semi-realistic style — and I ignore much such unsubstantiated criticism because it has nothing to do with the art itself, but rather with the viewers’ inability to see beyond a photo or Instagram/Facebook doctored images of “perfection”. My goal is always to approach portraits both as recognisable renderings but also as subjective composites of how I see the subject at hand. Sometimes, like in the experience of Picasso and Kahlo etc., caricatures and near-cartoonish styles are the chosen expressions — because they can thus de-weaponise the personal vanity, and create an easier passage into the complex personality of the subject. At other times the semi-realistic features approach realism more intentionally. People need to get into their consciousness that what they think they and others see is not necessarily self-evident. 

Even realistic portrait painters “improve upon” their subjects. It is high time for art viewers to wake up, and give themselves and non-realists a break. Painting style is much more of a choice than many give artists credit for. It is not always that artists are not capable of painting in a certain way after years of technical practice, but that we see things differently and choose styles that help us in the intended expression.

Unfortunately, this perceived demand from viewers of art and art customers also encourages many artists to copy the styles of celebrated dead artists literally rather than to use them as a departure point for one’s own originality. Many renowned artists and composers have made works “in the style of …” but here they clearly contribute their own unique interpretations. Copying the styles of famous artists, composers and authors has long been an important part of the technical learning process, but originality and risk-taking must eventually prevail if one desires acclaim and recognition as an original artist.

Another question is the taboo against talking about, writing about or “explaining” one’s art. This is to be left to critics and art historians. I rebel against that personally. Many have asked me where my ideas come from, or what a painting is about. These are valid questions that help viewers and readers to understand the wealth of ideas with which artists grapple, and the “explanations/commentaries” by the artist can both inspire others and provide a better basis for criticism: has the author achieved his/her goals? That is truly a better basis for reflection and criticism than comparing living artists with famous dead artists.

How do you react to these questions as an art historian and as an artist?

 

 

See this article about Picasso’s portraiture:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/sep/30/pablo-people-picasso-national-portrait-gallery

 

See my own semi-realistic self-portraits, and portraits of others, here:

https://adam-donaldson-powell.blog/2020/10/22/self-portraits/

 

 

Here are some examples of my own works in the “no-man’s land” between realism and extreme abstraction:

«Secundo fluctus» (Second Wave), by Adam Donaldson Powell, 60 x 50 cm., oil on canvas, 2020. The theme of this self-portrait is the impossible dream that is never finally achieved — no matter how much success we or others may think we have achieved, the dissatisfaction is always there. That has been the plight of most artists throughout human history; and it is no less today — for artists, and for non-artists. The tremendous Saturn-influence enveloping us at this time insists upon the renewal of our dreams, our motives, our ways of seeing, acting, living … imposing a heavy reality check upon us all. It is not all negative from an overall perspective, but it takes a higher degree of ingenuity, creativity, and persistence in order to create the much-needed and long-overdue New Consciousness. This dark expressionist self-portrait entitled “Second Wave”, provides a subjective inside-looking-out acknowledgment of the present experience. The intention is to document the thick muddy gelé of fear + careful hopefulness that we are all enduring in this Winter of darkness. The observant viewer will note that the face is itself a mask, as is the masking Darkness.

Crumpled paper (Oil on canvas).

 

Tribute to Malevich (Oil on canvas).

“Masquerade: COVID-19”, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm., 2020, is self-explanatory at first glance. However, here I have left certain features slightly unfinished: the naked eyes, the disintegrating painted frame etc.; this to suggest vulnerability and a sense of incompletion. COVID-19 presents the unanswerable questions of how effective we really are at masking fear of the unknown, and which “me” peers out from behind the superficial protective covering. This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.

 

Aged stone (Oil on styrofoam).

 

Spring snow (Oil on canvas).

 

Love Illusion, 65×90 cm., oil on canvas.

 

“Haiku”, 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas, is a textured abstract work that explores the haiku moment of fallen cherry tree blossoms scattered by the wind:
cherry tree blossoms
scatter beyond all fences.
kissed by a mild breeze.

 

“Coffin Portrait / Lockdown — Summer fun”, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., 2020, the second title is perhaps self-explanatory. But it doubles as a Coffin Portrait (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffin_portrait). This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.

 

 

Soul evacuation, oil on canvas, 100x150x8 cm.

 

“Patch of grass”, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm.

“Ground Zero — the day after”, 55 x 46 cm., oil on canvas

 

Nightfall – with Winter giving way to Spring, 50×50 cm., 2017.

 

“Being = Nothingness”, 40×40 cm., oil on canvas, 2017.

 

Painting: Oil on Canvas. “The making of a Replicant: Human Pod Project — developing embryos”, oil on canvas, 65 x90 cm., 2019. This challenging work — both conceptually and technically — is a commentary on biotechnology and the future of human design and reproduction.

 

Time travel (oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm.)

 

And some examples of my art photography:

Ricardo:

Regarding the first of your three points that is focused on non-representational art and the apparent phenomenon of the general public’s reluctance still to accept it, I have to admit that I am not au courant with contemporary art trends or attitudes to them.  I actually imagine that the tastes of “the public” have in fact expanded in numerous directions in the last twenty years and that what they might be reluctant to accept is not non-representational art but conceptual art.

But first: “the public” I think we’re really talking about are the relatively well-off who can afford to buy art and/or the well-educated who have had some exposure to “fine art” and maybe its history.  I suspect that much of the rest of the public are indifferent to the trends in fine art as defined by the intellectuals who “deal” with its history and/or its commerce.  Given my own lower middle-class upbringing in a small town of 5,000 in a rural northwestern area of New Jersey three quarters of a century ago, my outlook is conditioned by that experience as much as by my Ivy League education.  

I sense that “realism” or naturalism versus non-representational art is not an issue these days, as I said above.  Younger nouveau riches who want to decorate their lofts or townhouses undoubtedly “appreciate” non-representational art for its decorative possibilities.  In a sense, it’s non-controversial:  your guests aren’t going to argue over the morality of a large canvas with splotches or stripes of color applied to it as opposed, say, to a painting by Balthus.  On the other hand, so-called conceptual art is not something I imagine many wealthy younger professionals wanting to buy or to place in their abodes.  Conceptual art may be created using “realistic” objects, indeed, objects taken from everyday life (pails, mops, bales of hay, gigantic stuffed animals, mechanical detritus, soiled rags, etc.) but that stand for or suggest ideas or concepts that are either not at all clear or, if understood, not something one would want to spend time talking about at a cocktail party (if one had the space in one’s home to arrange the items that constitute the artwork).

In terms of portraiture and people’s response to your own work, I can imagine that the choices made in creating a portrait are things that an owner of the work might well not mind having people discuss, especially if the portrait is of a known personality (including, e.g., the owner/patron).  That personal relationship to a work of art could generate all sorts of interesting discussion and be a discussion that was/is forever renewed.  Certainly in the context of portraiture, non-representational techniques could well be questioned by even sophisticated viewers depending on their acceptance of the artist’s stated or implicit goals and their own view of the subject’s persona (and what the ‘aim’ of a portrait should be).   This is quite different, it seems to me, from talking about a non-representational artistic “vision” of, say, a countryside or a bowl of apples.  Somehow, there’s less “invested” in the outcome than in a portrait.

Your point in your third paragraph about “copying” of another artist’s style and the fact that this has been done for eons is well-taken.   And it goes beyond just “style” but subject matter and composition and all sorts of other aspects of a painted work.  I recommend a wonderful book by Elizabeth Cropper about a 17th century dispute whether an Agostini Carracci altarpiece picturing the last communion of St. Jerome was copied by another Italian in Rome at the time,  Domenichino.   (She points out the subtle differences between the versions that would allegedly have been noted by an informed viewer at the time that would have been sufficient to cause the Domenichino version to be as valued as the Carracci.)  And there’s an old story about Cocteau, who welcomed a guest into his apartment one day and the guest espied a work hanging above his mantle and exclaimed, “That’s a Picasso, isn’t it?”, whereupon Cocteau replied, “Yes, it is. I did it myself.”   In other words, copying was and presumably still is ok in Western (and Chinese?) art, as long as the newer work reflects some ingenious modification or addition to the earlier one.  But, again, this assumes an informed and wise viewing public.  (I’d point out also how Picasso deliberately took earlier artists’ works, such as those of Velasquez, and re-created them in etchings that were clearly not meant to be pure copies.  And Rembrandt liked the works of Hercules Seghers so much he copied it and even reworked an etching plate created by Seghers.  And way back in the early 1500s, Andrea del Sarto was asked to copy a painting by Raphael of Pope Leo X and two relatives so that it could be given via a third party to the king of France as “the real thing”.  It’s hard to tell the difference between them!)

In your fourth paragraph, you raise the issue of whether visual artists (and perhaps others, such as poets?) should be “explaining” their works, or at least their goals, in text that accompanies the work in question.  And, if so, what’s the purpose of that?  As you well know, many decades ago there was a movement in literary criticism to divorce all discussion of a writer’s biography from the work itself.  The work should stand on its own without further explanation.  The discussion then swung the other way around:  at least in literary criticism or history the author’s biases and background ought to be revealed so that the reader of his text could take that into account in considering how the author’s views might have been affected by matters beyond the pure intellectual consideration the author brought to the project.

This question actually brings us back to my first point in the first paragraph above: conceptual art was not welcomed with open arms by the buying public precisely because it took a few pages of text, often, to explain what in the world the artist was intending to do!  The assumption was, if the point was that obscure, then the artist was a kind of elitist who was not worth one’s time or money.  Maybe the same approach might be taken in regard to modern “free verse” poetry:  if the allusions and references are so obscure that an ordinary reader can not figure out what is being said (and why), why bother with it?

But I think the kind of “explanation” you refer to – and sometimes write – is a little different.  The text is as if a docent/guide was looking over our shoulder adding interesting pieces of supplemental information to the viewer: information that is not necessarily discernible otherwise but which helps explain the choices the artist made and the original goal of the work.  Absent such explanation, the work can still be “appreciated”, but the artist’s textual supplementation can enrich the experience.  And there’s nothing wrong with that (unless one takes the position previously mentioned that those who believe themselves “purists” invoke: the work stands on its own or dies.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

( photos: street art in Paris (Belleville) )

 

Adam:

First of all, l would like to thank you for your thoughts regarding these timeless questions which have never been — and perhaps can never be — resolved with objective satisfaction. Judgment concerning artistic expression is by definition ever-changing — both for artists themselves, art collectors, art educators, art historians, and the general public. What and how artists create (conceptually, thematically, and technically) and how that art is perceived by others is a complicated issue and is influenced by many personal and societal/historical factors, ranging from personal appeal to politics. For me, the greatest value of art history and art criticism is perhaps that of allowing individual works and artistic styles to be “categorised” in a longer perspective, divided up into “periods”. This can be both positive, instructive and useful, as well as “leading”. Ideas are often quite competitive and, like with all else, the creative interpretations of art historians and art critics is also in part driven by the desire to identify with or argue against accepted trends of perception and analysis. It is not always easy to see previous periods of artistic expression and output solely in the context of the actual periods in which works were made, and including the socio-political and historical events that the artist conformed to or rebelled against. We are all deeply ensconced in our our personal experiences of the present, and our interpretations and likes/dislikes are intrinsically connected with the present day … as well as our own exposure to different artistic expressions, art forms, education about art and art history, and what we have heard or read about art and artists. This applies to all: artists, “art lovers and enthusiasts”, those with university education, those without, persons who were exposed to art from an early age in their home and school environments, art collectors … and those who rely mostly upon their own intuition, i.e. that which for whatever undefinable reasons seem to appeal to the viewer personally. 

While I support the “right” of all persons to have their own personal likes and dislikes, as an artist, writer and former musician I am always interested in hearing what appeals to (or does not appeal to) individuals from all niches of society — including their reactions to my own art. I have the impression that many (if not most) are unable to objectively express why they like or do not like individual artworks or genres of Art. This is perhaps not to be unexpected. Art is often meant to be inspirational or confrontational — appealing to or provoking human experience and psychology. However, I would presume to say that many (if not most) artists desire more solid (i.e. “qualified”) feedback than we often receive. I am always open to (and seek criticism of my own Art and writing), and I was a literary critic for many years. I listen to what is being said, review its relevance to my own work within the larger and more specific intentions and ideas that I have had … and then I make decisions based upon whether or not I feel that my intentions and ideas were successfully communicated to the general public. Sometimes I make changes in my approach to individual works, and sometimes I do not. I am always thankful for constructive input. That being said, I also know that much of the public’s likes and dislikes cannot be influenced by myself or my Art alone … and trying to “win over” supporters in that way is never a goal of mine. My art is ever-changing and evolving, as it should be. And every work of art that I produce is part of an interconnected continuum and process; i.e. an extension of the previous work(s). This is perhaps basic for most artists, and can be observed in the progression of technique, and also in recurrent themes, ideas and style considerations. I have the understanding that much of what we like or dislike is “learned”/acquired. If an artist, composer or author is understood to be “good”, then the disposition is sometimes to accept that their entire output as seen in published books, recordings or presented in art museums must be equally “good”; and if we question individual works then we truly fail to understand them. This is not only restricted to intellectually-complicated works such as much contemporary conceptual Art, or challenging works such as Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness”, or even works by many contemporary classical composers. Sometimes we do lack the intellectual experience, education and foundations to understand complicated works of Art; and sometimes the Art presented is “the Emperor’s new clothes” — not necessarily because the artist desires to trick the viewer, but because we artists sometimes stretch our ideas to our own intellectual and technical limits, without regard for accommodating the public along with us on our exploration/journey. That is a “right” of the artist, and of the museum/art gallery that presents and attempts to sell the works in question. However, we must also allow for the possibility that not all art or artists that have achieved celebrity through sales of works for millions of dollars/euros or that have been selected for purchase by art museum is necessarily among the “best” — now, or perceived as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). Art museums and their boards and curators have their own agendas, which include among other things to educate, inspire, provoke, challenge and stretch the perceptions of the public. I will go so far as to say the same regarding Art Historians and Art Critics. Consider the source, the agenda … and follow the money!

It is not unknown to me that art collectors are often interested in buying art as an investment. Unfortunately, that is a risky investment if you do not have the economy or Time to wait for the value of purchased art to mature. I have had those discussions with my own customers, and seen it with collectors of much more renowned artists — including art collectors who have purchased works from “rising stars”, but who have not really liked the work and have accordingly stowed it away while patiently waiting for the chance to resell it. I personally encourage my own customers to buy what appeals to them personally, and even to change the art in their personal environments as their own needs and perceptions change. I do the same in my own personal environment, which has well over 100 artworks by myself and others. 

While my own more complicated artworks are often best understood by other professional artists, I have also encountered a few artists that are as opinionated and influenced by norms as some in the general public. This is perhaps to be expected, as we artists are both subject to the same influences as others in society … and because we can often be both “accepting” of other styles, genres and techniques AND intent upon the directions we have chosen personally. Some persons are simply not moved by non-representational Art. Some persons just do not like conceptual Art, or geometric Art, or art that is neither fully realistic or abstract. It is not within their current frame of reference. And the same can be said about persons who like certain works of art without being able to justify it objectively. Must they be able to do so? Perhaps not … but as an artist I am always curious. Many years ago, after a concert I have given in New York City, I was approached by a person in the audience who congratulated and praised my performance. I was silly enough to ask: “What appealed to you most, and why?” (I sincerely wanted feedback.) The answer I received was: “Oh, I just love Brahms …”. I was a bit disappointed. But I was primarily disappointed in myself for not giving this person the space to just enjoy the effect of my music. On another occasion I observed a person in the audience at a performance I attended at Carnegie Hall following the recital with the musical score in hand. I was aghast, thinking that that would be devastating for me as a performer. But who knows what the intention of the score-reader was? Perhaps he would give the performer objective and constructive criticism after said performance?!!

As regards acceptance of non-representational Art today, I would agree that there is today much more tolerance than previously. But tolerance is not the same as acceptance or understanding, or even the Will to understand. This is also true of semi-realism. I have seen the numbers of artists working in semi-realism increase over the past decade. And why not? We have run the gamut, otherwise: from New Primitive Art, to Geometric Art in several modern and post-modern periods, re-discovery of realistic techniques as employed by the Old Masters, photo-realism, many other forms of Abstract and Conceptual Art. So why not explore the psychological “no-man’s land” in-between? All the rest has been evaluated, judged and categorised “to Death”.

I would also like to comment on the rather common criticism that “good Art” is art that one oneself cannot do. I have heard this many times — mostly by non-artists, but also by one or two elderly / Old School artists. Art is about ideas, as well as technique. It does not matter if another artist could have done a work that equals the technical aspects employed in an artwork. What matters is that that particular artist found and executed the idea in her/his own way. The same regards persons who dislike an artist because of what they have read or heard about him/her as a personality — either through written criticism, gossip or conspiracy theories. I react to some ideas presented by artists in their artworks, but if I do not personally know an artist then who am I to judge their art based on gossip or conspiracy-theory-based hatred? Again, often artists intentionally provoke in order to inspire questioning and thought. 

In summary, I would repeat that these issues and questions are complicated and perhaps unresolvable. Individual artworks are perhaps sometimes less important than the effects of the ideas presented — both in the present, and over time. 

As regards “copying”, making excellent copies of the work of others, as well as making and selling printed copies of one’s own work for quick sales to persons who cannot afford original paintings, is not my thing. I do understand that there is a market for such, and that the technical challenges for copyists can be exhilarating. I have written many times previously on this blog that I fear that the market for lesser-known artists who are trying to sell original artwork can be constrained by these activities. But, as stated above, there are many art buyers who want renowned artworks on their walls — even though they are not originals, and have little value. These are not my intended viewing or buying public. 

As an artist who is interested in Art History, I always approach art museum exhibitions by looking at the artworks in questions and only then do I read the usually sparse information provided by the museum. I am most interested in the year the work was made (this in order to gain historical and socio-political context and perspective), and then I sometimes read the title of the work … but not always. More interesting to me are the art curator notes about the artist and his place in art history — and these I usually go back and read after I have studied the works in question. I — like many viewers — often wonder what the artist’s own ideas, goals and inspirations were. With the www we can today read these “notes” written by artists themselves online, and get both perspective and insights that we would otherwise not have access to. My own “notes” tend to be a combination of the philosophical and technical ideas explored and employed. They are — in a sense — artworks (art essays) in themselves. Would I post these on the walls of an art gallery exhibition? Probably not. But it is great to be able to post them online, rather than trying to answer questions regarding my inspiration and techniques in one or two quick and hurried sentences at a gallery opening. But then again, describing  one’s own art can be fatal:

https://aha.confex.com/aha/2019/webprogram/Paper25013.html

Okay, so let me pose the question that many of us want to ask:

How does your work as an Art Historian and your study of Art History affect your own art?

 

Ricardo:

The question of how my own art work has been affected by my study of art history is one I have not previously considered.  Although my formal study of art history began at Hunter College at the City University of New York in 2007, in one sense I have been studying it all my life, just as I have been creating art nearly all my life.  As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a small, rural town in northwestern New Jersey in the 1940s and 50s.  Although New York City was only 60 miles away, we lived in a totally different world.  In Sussex County there were more cattle than people in those years!  Our cultural outlook was limited.  Nonetheless, in elementary school there was always a class in art-making.  I recall that in fourth grade my mother marched me to school one day to demand of my art teacher an explanation why her brilliant little Michelangelo had received only a “C” grade in art class!  The explanation of the somewhat flustered young (male) teacher: I hadn’t grasped properly how to draw things in perspective.  The human figures in my landscapes were much too out-of-proportion for their placement in the scene: Some too large in the background, some too small in the foreground.  I don’t recall my mother’s reaction to this explanation, or my own.  I think that, deep-down, living with an authoritarian father, I always detested having to follow anyone else’s rules, including, apparently, the rules of perspective.  (Yet I did in most aspects of my life hew all too closely to the rules; but that’s another story.)

From an early age (6? 7?) I started creating my own comic books.  Comic books and cowboy movies were my escape into different realities.  My mother saved one of my comic books and gave it to me years later. I even learned how to create 3-D drawings for my comics, with near-parallel red and blue outlines of the figures and settings that, once you put on your 3-D “glasses”, gave the wonderful illusion that you were looking at scenes with real physical depth.  (So much for the need to utilize “perspective”!)   And I recall one time at a Cub Scout function that a “real” artist had been invited to, my scrawl on a large pad of paper was transformed by him into a pleasing female figure that was judged best of all the scouts’ scrawl-derived works and I won some sort of prize!   I also did paintings while in elementary and high school, none of which survive.

And, somehow, I must also, on my own, have read about art and its history in books.  I was what was then called a “book worm”.  Other classmates were athletes, I was a scholar/artist.  I edited the school newspaper and was in charge of our high school class’s yearbook, with cover design and layout created by me. I say I must have read about art and its history on my own because in college I never took one art history or art studio course.  Yet when I was on a Fulbright scholarship to France post-graduation in 1964-65, I had the leisure to create more paintings of my own and created a few that were in the style of famous artists:  Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse.

In the decades following, during my career as an international lawyer, I was able to visit many art museums throughout the world that I might have otherwise overlooked:  the large Sao Paulo museum with its excellent if ill-maintained collection, the one in Dublin, others in Stuttgart and Hamburg, as well as more recognized collections in London and Paris.  And on vacation trips, I kept returning to Italy and viewed the ubiquitous art that makes that country so precious: that in small and large churches and cathedrals and old municipal buildingsAssisi, Siena, Todi, Perugia,Arezzo, Florence, Milan, Venice, Rome.  Those visits and my (self) education encompassed, of course, the buildings themselves and their statuary and decoration.

 


My own art production peaked in the late 1970s and 1980s, including my introduction to print-making.  This medium became a kind of obsession, as it combined my love of drawing with production of “real” works of art! (In that time, drawing had not yet come “into its own” as a category of fine art divorced from its function as preparatory to painting or other large works in other media.)

 

But I must admit that throughout all this stimulation of the right side of my brain, my left was not always in gear:  I did not really consider what kinds of choices the artists had made, what types of considerations beyond creating “beauty” and fulfilling commissions led them to create the forms they had made or the materials they had used.  But creating art of my own, I intuitively grasped that not all media were appropriate for one’s expressive needs:  drawing and its extension, print-making, had limitations of size; sculpture required expensive materials and hard, physical labor and long training; frescoes meant you had to work quickly with a sure hand; silver point allowed for no errors; watercolor : ditto.  

The study of art history helped to “organize” my thoughts about the art that I had been viewing for half a century, and its “development”.  It engaged that left side of my brain and got it working when I thereafter viewed new or previously-viewed art works.  

But I resisted, and still do, engaging the left side of my brain too much when creating my own art.  I am drawn to (pun) recreating on a two dimensional surface what I see before me – transforming my visual reality into something preserved on a two-dimensional sheet or canvas (alas, no more 3-D efforts…yet).  The work produced then becoming a record of my “feelings” when creating it and of the point in my life when I did so.  

Thus, the small still life I painted while in Lyon on my Fulbright year recalls that blessed period of introduction to my “second home”: France.  The print of faceless men in a claustrophobic bedroom space: the late 1970s in crime-ridden New York and the part of gay life relegated to the piers and trucks and warehouses on Manhattan’s West Side.  My drawn self portraits from one of my sketchbooks: the “down time” at home that I had in 1979 due to hepatitis.  A faceless portrait of my boyfriend, now husband, Jay created in a store front pottery workshop in our Greenwich Village neighborhood in 2005: the excitement (and fear) of entering into a new intense relationship with someone I did not yet know.

Jay’s later training and career as a photographer has led me to a new appreciation of that medium, and helped further train my own “eye” (“training” that is even more acute than what viewing works of artists such as the Impressionists or the Northern Renaissance painters had accomplished), i.e., how to “catch” the moment, the beauty surrounding me in Nature wherever and whenever I may be outside our apartment in the City, or along the marshland near our Westhampton home, or looking up at the sky out of any window in any building anywhere in the world.  Likewise, my drawing sessions with watercolorist-friend Nathalie at the Quogue Wildlife Preserve on the East End have helped “focus” my view, as has a friendly comparison by each of us of the other’s accomplishments.  

So, in a sense, I’ve been “studying” art all my life, with a more organized approach ensuing when I studied for my MA in art history at Hunter.  Perhaps I’ve divorced too much the study of art and art history from my efforts at creating art – indeed, I’m not sure that “creating art” is a good term to describe what I was aiming at — but certainly each has “informed” the other (to use a current, fashionable term that grates on me for some reason).   And that’s all to the good!

NB. Ricardo (Rick) has also recently translated Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s « The Little Prince » from original French to English.

Available at Amazon.com.au

 

(Photos of Ricardo and Adam at the Henie Onstad Art Center in Norway, 2019.)

 

NB. Examples of my criticism of books and art can be found elsewhere on this blog. I always try to give the author/artist an understanding regarding what my criticism is based upon. Here follows an example of this approach and critical philosophy:

I am often asked what I look for in poetry books that I review, or consider reviewing. There are many poetic forms being used today, with many hybridisations. There exists both a sense that there are “no rules” anymore and, at the same time, there are some unspoken literary guidelines that determine the probability for successful literary communication – beyond the subjective, and questions of personal taste. I believe that it is important for me as a reviewer to restate what I look for from time to time. As I have written elsewhere, I look for many qualities including: evenness in quality, diversity in content and form, artistic intent, planning, execution and polish (the degree of polish being both intentional and commensurate with the desired expression), and an overall concept of the book as a complete work of art – beyond an arbitrary “stew” of individual poems. In addition, I pay attention to the author’s sense of originality, political and social awareness, mastery of storytelling, and visual, musical and philosophical expressions indicative of the author’s experiential personal history. I further look for: balance of intellectual rationalism and emotional presence, a solid command of the full palette of language(s) used, descriptive colour, clarity, intentional usage of abstractions, entertainment and theatrical/performance value, humour and occasional irony, and an overall sense of when to use poetic economy versus poetic rapture. And finally I am concerned that the author has an understanding of how to arouse within the reader a sense of personal identification, emotion and engagement – enabling the reader’s ‘inner artist’ to enter into a creative cognitive dialogue with the author, and hopefully even to inspire the reader to embark upon his/her own creative process.

I believe that art is both an intentional and an intuitive process, with many pitfalls: eg. overwriting, non-attention to levels of language used ($5 words can sometimes be more appropriate than $5000 words), stylistic and punctuation liberties that sometimes work and sometimes not, mimicking famous (and usually deceased) writers without sufficiently developing one’s own signature style, and getting all too caught up in – or ignoring – traditions of literature without having thought through why one has consciously chosen this or that style, or a divergence … just to name a few. At the same time, I believe that artists must always keep experimenting in order to grow and to develop further. That means taking risks … and sometimes even falling flat on one’s face. That is okay. We eventually learn from both our own … and others’ mistakes.

So writing is not a static process … and neither is literary criticism. While much criticism for first-time authors can be similar, it must be kept in mind that 1) there is no definitive “correct way” of writing, 2) criticism is personal and subjective to a large degree, and 3) there has never been a “perfect” book (and never will). I do not personally believe that writing a perfect book is an all important goal. Constant experimentation with technique, style, form and language is the real key to self-development and literary development. A not so well received book can be preceded by one or more very well received ones – who is to judge what is “good or not”? And the perhaps “not-as-good” book could teach author and reader much more than the “good” ones.

– Adam Donaldson Powell

 

See my photo documentation of street art in Oslo! 

 

Dialogue with an Art Historian: Part Four — On Patrons, the Church and Artists in the Renaissance Era

On my many trips to Italy, I have often taken guided tours of museums, churches, and medieval buildings. In those tours, I learned to recognize faces — of wealthy Renaissance and Medieval families, art patrons and sponsors, and Church officials, and the artists themselves — painted into religious scenes. While I understand the need for models, I also understand the ego aggrandizement and status importance for the art patrons and commissioners of being a part of these scenes. Was this a common and accepted practice mostly in the Italian Schools of religious painting? Was it not considered idolatrous and blasphemous? And how did the Lutheran Reformation movement react to this practice?

It would seem to be more than a mere novelty or joke; and rather a conscious and accepted practice. I am surprised that the Church allowed it. It is a way of affirming that those patrons were “closer to God” than many of lower social, political, and financial stature.

But then again, its allowance says much about the importance of recognition by the Church (as documented by inclusion in important paintings). They did not have social media, biographies, or photographs to establish their status beyond their communities.

Equally important are questions of profiteering and status for artists who took part in this trend. I remember seeing some religious paintings where scenes staged in Jerusalem were envisioned/transported to Italy. Of course, ancient Romans saw Israel as an important part of the Empire, and Renaissance art explored Greco-Roman art and traditions in the religious artistic expositions.

When I think about the speculations of collectors vying to commission and purchase works by the most esteemed artists of the day and the eagerness of those elite artists to be included in the collections of the wealthy and influential — along with their colleagues and competitors — it strikes me that the Italian Renaissance was perhaps the beginning of the same speculation, “Art is an Elite Business”, “there is only room for the elite few” etc. that we experience today. And that includes collectors storing away works by artists they hope will become even more famous, or already famous iconic works until the day those works can make a surprise appearance at an art auction and capitalize on their initial investment manyfold. Perhaps it was not art in the churches that was the big problem, as much as the popularity of using art in private homes as a sign of status, and a speculative form of alternative currency … much like bitcoins today?

NB. «According to the convention, Italian painters during the Renaissance tended to avoid producing formal self-portraits but frequently inserted images of themselves in their painting. The artist Masaccio appears as an apostle in his Brancacci Chapel frescoes (c.1426), while Piero della Francesca inserted himself as a soldier in the religious mural Resurrection (1463). Sandro Botticelli used an image of himself in his Adoration of the Magi (1481), while Michelangelo Buonarroti used his own face when painting St. Bartholomew in the Last Judgement fresco in the Sistine Chapel (1536-1541), and Raphael included himself among the characters of School of Athens (1510). The Venetian artist Titian is believed to have included himself as well as his son and a young cousin in his Allegory of Prudence (1565-70). Occasionally, a painter would depict a true-life group portrait in which he had a legitimate presence. For example, in the picture of The Gonzaga Court (1474) by Andrea Mantegna, the artist appears as himself. In addition, some artists – like the Florentine Gentile Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci – did execute more formal self-portraits.»

Above quote excerpted from: 

Ricardo:

The Visual Artist in Western Society

As for visual artists and their status: I believe that, contrary to some historians, they were never “anonymous” — we just don’t have historical records, so their names are unknown to us. But artists as creative beings (and I’m including of course architects) necessarily had a reputation once their works were seen in their own time. And, in one way or another, they always “advertised” their existence and skill(s): an interesting essay by Meyer Shapiro that analyses the role of the artist in tenth and eleventh-century France suggests that the better ones were well recognized and in demand and their roles as visual interpreters of Church tradition and dogma were part of their skill, even if they weren’t themselves members of religious orders. (See M. Shapiro, “On the Aesthetic Attitude in Romanesque Art”, reprinted (pp. 1-27) in Romanesque Art (George Braziller, NY, 1977).) And early in the Italian Renaissance, we find Giotto signing a painting of St. Francis from about 1300 (now in the Louvre).

So, the apparent uniqueness of the modern obsession with “fame” is perhaps overstated.  

As courts developed in the major cities in Europe during the Middle Ages and bourgeois classes grew thanks to increased commerce, trade, and worldwide exploration, the demand for and ability to pay for sophisticated, often opulent works of art likewise increased. Naturally, artists sought commissions from the newly-wealthy and powerful, since artists were trying to make a living. Partly impelled by a desire to earn more money they sought more prestige, as well. Some were able to align themselves with Humanist scholars whose writings became as valued as the Church’s theologians. All classes became interested in Europe’s debt to their Roman and Greek ancestors. Scholars kept finding and reproducing texts from ancient times that had been long thought lost and ancient artworks kept being dug up (the most famous find, in Rome in 1506: the Laocoon, a sculpture that is a Roman copy, mentioned in an ancient text by Pliny the Elder, of a Greek original and, as the text indicated, signed!)

Scholars fleeing the Ottomans in the Near East in the later fifteenth century brought their knowledge of Greek with them, as well as ancient texts.

This interest in the Roman and Greek past naturally was picked up by visual artists and, so, beginning especially in the early 1400s, aspects of Roman architecture began to be found in the frescoes and panel paintings and in the designs of new buildings themselves.  Rulers as disparate as the Gonzaga in Mantua and Rudolph II (HRE, 1576-1612) delighted in being identified in their artists’ works for it associated them with the glories of Rome in one way or another.  

Of course, the conceit that Rome and its heritage was somehow “lost” and then refound during the early Renaissance is a bit of a legend without much basis. Monasteries and other centers of culture in the Middle Ages preserved some of the Roman heritage and there’s certainly evidence throughout that writers and artists still reflected on that history.  To cite just one example, in the Morgan Library the Stavelot Triptych, created around 1155 AD, on its side panels contains miniature silver columns with Corinthian capitals and bases evoking Rome and the Constantinian era, consistent with the period of the legends depicted in enamel roundels on the panels.

The clients’ idea of having themselves pictured via portraits in painted works — both secular and religious — seemed to develop slowly in the early 15th century, but then caught on. So we find in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s frescoes in SM Novella in Florence on the life of the Virgin (ca. 1490) various Florentine “notables” in the crowds attending the various episodes. The work was commissioned by a banker of the Medici’s, Giovanni Tornabuoni (contract signed 1485). In the ducal palace in Mantua we find a room frescoed by Mantegna in 1464-75 with the Gonzaga ruling clan prominently displayed on several of the four walls. The semi-private functions of the room, the Camera degli Sposi, helped to create an air of exclusiveness that was meant to impress viewers with the wealth and cultural prestige of Gonzaga without an overt or gaudy display. 

It’s common in art history to teach that the first profile bust in marble since the end of the Roman Empire was done by Mino da Fiesole in 1453. Appropriately enough for our purposes and point of view, it was a portrait bust of the son of the patriarch of the Medici’s in the 15th century, Piero de’ Medici, who de facto ruled Florence 1464-69. The sculpture is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. This would have presumably been for display in the patron’s home and not publicly. The great ‘boom’ in portrait art in Florence in the mid to late 15th century was featured in a recent Met Museum exhibition.

Even in Northern Renaissance art, we see contemporary donors or clerics being portrayed in historical or Biblical works. Thus, there are several masterpieces showing Chancellor Rolin of the Duchy of Burgundy, including one by Jan van Eyck (ca. 1435) where he is shown kneeling in front of the Virgin and child!  Hans Memling painted an altarpiece of the Crucifixion (ca. 1470) where the patron/donor, a cleric named Jan Crabbe, is seen kneeling at the base of the cross, while on the side panels (now at the Morgan Library & Museum in NYC) are his mother with her patron saint and his brother with his. There are countless other examples of donors being pictured within scenes that nominally are set in Biblical times but feature contemporary architecture and cityscapes.

Presumably, the Church in Rome had no problem with this. It was certainly a way to encourage the spending of large sums by patrons or wealthy clerics in order to have colorful works of art created which could adorn their churches (sometimes inside chapels ‘owned’ or sponsored by the patrons). For the Strozzi family, rivals but sometimes allies of the Medicis, in their chapel in SM Novella, Filippino Lippi painted a fresco (1502) depicting a legend of a saint’s deeds and pictured in it a very elegant Moorish man, wearing an extremely tall turban, which seems to be a portrait of Filippo Strozzi’s Moorish slave.

And, as you pointed out, artists took the opportunity to represent themselves as well as their patrons in some of these scenes. So, it’s thought that the man on the right peering out at the viewer in Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi” (1475, Uffizi) is Botticelli himself!  Likewise, we probably see Pontormo among the men holding the dead Christ in his “Deposition” in Santa Felicita (1528) in Florence.

Presumably, this reflects that by the late 15th century the most well-known artists had gained a status well above that of a mere member of a workmen’s guild (painters and sculptors often were lumped with other trades in large guilds). When they did have their own guilds, artists often used it as a way to keep out competition from artists emigrating from other cities or regions.

Certainly, your thought that being seen via portraiture in a painting of a Biblical scene might somehow suggest to the patrons that they were that much closer to Heaven is a correct one. I always found it somewhat amusing that this same thought led many aristocrats and members of other privileged classes to attempt to be buried in floor tombs within the church and as close to the altar as possible!  

The Maggiore chapel in Santa Croce, Florence, has frescos by Taddeo Gaddi’s son, Agnolo Gaddi, painted in the mid-1300s.  Agnolo was considered the artistic heir of Giotto.  The fresco is notable for details and curiosities that have nothing to do with the legend’s iconography.  In it, you can spot portraits of Taddeo, Agnolo, and Giotto.

I’m sure that artists were not oblivious to the concept that one way to gain business was to suggest to a wealthy patron that he/she commission works for a church in which the patron would also be pictured. But my sense is that the wealthy and powerful did not deal directly with artists and that agents or bureaucrats or scholars affiliated with the circle or court of the patron would have both recommended the artist and perhaps negotiated with him over the details of the work. Italy has a particularly rich archive of contracts for artistic works (the Northern Renaissance countries don’t) and in some of the contracts, there is a fairly precise description of what the picture should look like and what colors and materials were to be used (to impress one’s neighbors you’d have the painter use a blue made from lapis lazuli — extremely expensive — with gilding throughout; in the Middle Ages the gilded area often suggested Heaven).  

We should remember that painted images were not the highest form of ‘conspicuous consumption’ in the Middle Ages and Renaissance/Baroque: you showed you were especially wealthy by owning woven wool tapestries and sculptures (including table-sized ‘miniature’ bronzes by the likes of a sculptor dubbed “Antico”). Thus, the Medicis were sufficiently wealthy to commission Donatello to create his sculpture “David” that was probably intended for a garden. And the Medici pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to create “cartoons” for 10 tapestries (based on the book of Acts in the Christian Bible) that were sent to Brussels for weaving around 1516. All European rulers of stature until the 18th century owned often large numbers of very expensive tapestries.

Granted, these were the wealthiest and most powerful of secular and religious figures who had vast amounts of assets to draw from to pay their artists. By the seventeenth century, in more bourgeois societies such as those in the Dutch Republic cities, status seemed to depend more frequently on your ownership of paintings, including the new genres of landscapes and still lifes.  

Nonetheless, the Roman Church and its new orders such as the Jesuits continued to commission large projects, including the frescoing of ceilings and domes of newly-built churches, such as the dome of the Jesu Church in Rome. 

In terms of when the concept developed that “Art is an Elite Business”, it depends on your viewpoint.  As noted above, the artist was not necessarily the one creating the impression that his works would lend status to an owner. It partly required a knowledgeable patron with intelligent advisors to commission the type of work that would reflect grandly on the patron. Michelangelo gained his fame from the Pieta, the David, and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, all commissioned by “the Church”, though the ceiling reflected on the apparent good taste and sagacity of Pope Julius II, who also commissioned his own tomb from Michelangelo that Michelangelo was working on fitfully for decades after the Pope’s death. By the time the Pope commissioned the ceiling, Michelangelo was already “a rock star” and many of the era’s notables were nearly begging Michelangelo to make even a drawing for them.  

So, by this point in the sixteenth century, some artists had received the kind of acclaim we see today and could almost literally “name their price”.  What Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) spawned in his work on the lives of the painters and sculptors (1550; 1568) – a view of art as a kind of competition judged by people who did not have to be either artists or patrons – created a new profession: art critic, someone who was a kind of intermediary between the patron and the artist.  Was this the beginning of history’s tendency to “forget” certain artists who were not deemed of the highest rank, even though their works might well be worthy of attention and provide joy to those who beheld them?  (Vasari, of course, was himself an artist and architect, but that was not a requirement for art critics in succeeding centuries.)

But to answer your main query: Yes, clearly wealthy families or individuals hoped to gain both public prestige and a step up on the ladder to Heaven by commissioning frescoes and altarpieces that were, indeed, very visible in a church setting and, thus, would be viewed by other citizens who undoubtedly would marvel at the amounts spent by the patrons (often chapel-owners) to have had such magnificent works created. And some of the works of course involved sculptural settings and statuary/busts for their own tombs in a church if they were so fortunate as to be permitted such a permanent “residence”.  

The Roman (Catholic) Church clearly favored this approach and during the Counter-Reformation and Baroque periods, their churches became almost over-burdened with decoration. As you’ve noted, certain break-away sects among those that came to be called “Protestant” were more ascetic in their approach and, hence, we have the wonderful paintings of white-washed, brilliantly-lighted (via clear windows, not colorful stained glass) interiors of Dutch churches by numerous seventeenth-century Dutch painters. (See The Wake of Iconoclasm: Painting the Church in the Dutch Republic, by Angela Vanhaelen, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 2012. 222 pp, 56 illus. ISBN 978-0-271-05061-4).     

Certain Protestant sects, such as the Lutherans themselves, came to accept aspects of the decorative scheme and theology of the Roman Church and so permitted painted pictures, even of saints (the cult of saints had been roundly criticized in the initial phases of the Reformation).

But one senses that the patrons and artists were less likely to try to be “show-offs” publicly in the context of a Lutheran or Reformed church.

Again, this was a period when the opulence of art went back into private, but now bourgeois, residences (parallel to the palaces of the Medici, the Strozzi, Sforza, and other Italian wealthy families).

Collecting:  An Aside

As one of your points suggested, we shouldn’t overlook the idea that “consumers” of art drove the market, too. Commissioning or buying “fine art” was not always an aesthetic decision per se, but, rather, made in order to have something in one’s home that was deemed by others to be desirable.  Around the time of the Renaissance, the idea of forming collections of things as a goal in itself – pictures, tapestries, gems, items related to amateur scientific study, medallions, small bronzes, etc. – seemed to gain momentum. Vasari, an artist, and architect, was also an avid collector of other artists’ works, especially drawings. Reasonably well to do people who could not afford oil paintings much less tapestries, could perhaps afford drawings or prints. In any event, all these “objects” that were collected presumably meant to the collector that he had a certain prestige as a member of the cognoscenti by virtue of ownership of multiple numbers of fine visual works by more talented individuals who were acknowledged as such by the arbiters of taste at the particular moment in history when the collecting was carried out.

Given the secularization of society in general in the 18th through 20th centuries, religious art tended to be accorded less value than before and artists sought fame and fortune through portraiture and decorative floral and other still-life paintings and “genre” painting. (Mythological and historical paintings were still acquired most often by institutions.)  So the Church had less influence on the picture- and sculpture-making. Thus, artists threw their lot in with the nouveau riche and bourgeoisie.

One might have expected that extreme times would have brought changes in art – the subject matter, even the materials. After a wave of neo-classicism in 18th century Europe (France, especially), the French Revolution might have been expected to overturn all aesthetic “norms”. Instead, it seems to me that artists were wary about trying anything too new that might be deemed “aristocratic” and literally be a risk to their lives (at least in France). Even in French “satellite” countries, like parts of Italy, we see more “classicism”, such as Canova’s pure-white marble sculptures.  Elsewhere, like England and Germany, there develops a Romanticism that seems to be a “cry” back to the calm of pre-Revolutionary times rather than a direct response to the Revolution and its ideals and chaos. There were notable exceptions, of course, such as the work of the brilliant English poet, painter, printmaker, publisher William Blake.  


Adam:

Thanks, Ricardo. That was awesome!


This intriguing article is a good one for those interested in more information on this and related topics:

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-italian-renaissance-wealthy-patrons-art-power

Do read this excellent piece on the history of Renaissance art:

https://www.history.com/topics/renaissance/renaissance-art

Here is more about the evolving status of Italian Renaissance artists:

The escapades of Isabella d’Este — a Renaissance art collector:

http://www.italianrenaissanceresources.com/units/unit-8/essays/isabella-deste-collects/ 

For those interested in more information about the Northern Renaissance, and about the Protestant / Lutheran Reformation and its effect upon Church and Religious Art, check out these excellent links:

http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/protestant.htm 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_in_the_Protestant_Reformation_and_Counter-Reformation

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/the-northern-renaissance/ 


“Masquerade: COVID-19”, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm., 2020, is self-explanatory at first glance. However, here I have left certain features slightly unfinished: the naked eyes, the disintegrating painted frame, etc.; this to suggest vulnerability and a sense of incompletion. COVID-19 presents the unanswerable questions of how effective we really are at masking fear of the unknown, and which “me” peers out from behind the superficial protective covering. This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.

 

Found in an old chest — cartoon from 1987, but still relevant today.

 

«Il tessuto dell’uomo», oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., This self-portrait by Adam Donaldson Powell explores Florentine textiles and the noblemen who adorned themselves with them. On a more conceptual scale, the painting alludes to «the fabric» of humanity itself.

NB. Photographs and paintings by Adam Donaldson Powell. All references and links are credited to the best of my ability. The artist who made the cartoon is unknown to me (unfortunately), but the magazine name is above the artwork.