Wednesday, February 22, 2012


("Sometimes less is more . . . But not today", Stephanie Deer, 2010, Springfield Museum of Art, Springfield, Utah)

The art world has been known to take itself pretty seriously.

Think about all those snooty portraits of history's movers and shakers, for example.

Most of these people - whether royal blood flows through their veins or not - love to point their noses in the air and pretend they're classier than the rest of us.

They're delusional, of course, but it's kind of fun to snicker and point our fingers at them whenever they pop up on the walls of our local art museums.

When I saw Stephanie Deer's painting, "Sometimes less is more...But not today," I didn't snicker.

I nearly busted a gut laughing.

When I finally calmed down,  I read the wall plate describing this artwork.

We'll let the artist speak for herself.

Stephanie - a native of Draper, Utah - says:

"My motivation starts with the Beehive State.  Utah in all its quirky glory inspires me.  Can you imagine a world without fry sauce?  Funeral potatoes?  The greatest snow on earth?  I shudder at the thought.  These are the warm, vibrant, often hilarious things that connect me to our community.  Painting allows me to celebrate all the pop culture icons that give Utah its unique personality."

Ms. Deer continues:

"The beehive lady emerged from the matriarchs who inspired me as a child.  These proud, native-Utah women loved their families, careers, aprons, roadshows and the occasional warm meal.  Incredible ladies, all of them.  They continue to profoundly influence my work with their strength, vitality and style.  When I was a girl my mother was the hippest gal around.  Her name is Loretta and I named the beehive lady after her."

Then she concludes:

"I am a self-taught artist and by combining several media together by trial and error, my style evolved over time.  Vibrant color and humor are mainstays in my pieces and I often comment on how SERIOUS I am about FUNNY."

Here's the thing, peeps:

I've had my nose planted in a plateful of yummy fries more than a few times.

And I don't dip these taters in boring old ketchup either.

I use the one and only best fry dipping substance on the planet:  Chick-fil-a Sauce.

Chick-fil-a Sauce is a super "delish" form of honey mustard.

I could take a bloomin' bath in this stuff.

Need I say more?

And I'm going to be honest here.

In the excitement of the anticipatory moment - and just like "Miss Loretta"- I've forgotten to remove my sunglasses a time or two before I've dived into the goodies.

This girl is "in the zone," isn't she?

She's staring at those tender sticks of golden deliciousness with everything she's got.

She's soaking up their unresistable aroma seconds before she starts dipping her fries into those - count them - seven cups of Chick-fil-a Sauce.


Excuse me - "fry sauce."

Here's another thing:

I am in love with the happy colors Stephanie has chosen for "Miss Loretta " and her fine dining experience.

Lush, coral reds dominate this painting.

The cheery, cherry wallpaper, the red vinyl bench and "Miss Loretta's" magnificent spiral-shaped "do" all work together to grab our attention and haul it right into the middle of this piece.

We see explosions of color, don't we?

Even "Miss Loretta's" coral-tinged lips - poised as they are over the divine French fries - act as a sort of beacon drawing us into the center of those potato-ey mounds of heaven.

The bright blues of the dress and the underside of the spud plate are the perfect color balance for all of those jump-in-your-face reds.

This painting is a hoot and a half any way you look at it!

Here's just a word or two about the title of  Stephanie's painting.

Most of us have been there, haven't we?

We wake up Monday morning with the best of intentions.

Today we are going to get it right.

Today we are going to eat the right stuff.

And we're going to eat the right stuff in the right proportions.

After all, we are the masters of our souls.

We are the captains of our fate.


But then we glance at a Chick-fil-a billboard as we glide down the interstate at 11:30 a.m. hungrier than ten horses.

Minutes later, the car mysteriously turns into the Chick-fil-a "enter" lane.

The next thing we know, we're telling "Miss Loretta" to schooch over on her bench.

We're gonna need some serious spreadin' out room if we are going to do this right!

Next, we find ourselves goin' head to head with "Miss Loretta" as we plow through our own plate of Frenchified fries.

To our horror, we realize we're downing these things like there's gonna to be no tomorrow.

Then it suddenly dawns on us. . . . . .

there will be a tomorrow!

Relief spills over our flushed faces.

We'll start again tomorrow!

Tomorrow we'll resist those crispy French fries with their seductive special sauce.

Tomorrow we will be masters of our souls.

Tomorrow we will be captains of our fate.

But today?


It's not gonna happen today.

Today we're goin' for it big time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


("The Goldsmith Ladies in the Bois de Boulogne in a Peugot 'Voiturette' 1897", Julius Leblanc Stewart, 1901, Musee National de la Voiture et du Tourisme, France)

I'll never forget the day one of my Women's Studies professors said:

"Driving vehicles has done more for the ultimate independence of women than anything else - including the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote."

That's a big, bold statement for sure!

But as soon as I heard those words,  I knew my professor was on to something.


A quick survey of history tells the tale.

The great majority of the world's cultures have been patriarchal societies.

That means, of course, that men have traditionally held power over women, children, animals and property.

In other words, men made the rules.

And everyone else fell in line.

This was certainly true in Biblical times.

Israelite women prayed to be blessed with male children for several reasons.

One of the most important was this:

A woman's eldest son held the power and the responsibility to look after his mother in her old age - assuming the woman's husband preceded her in death.

Under most of the world's social systems, daughters were strictly watched over by their fathers.

If the father died, the daughter's eldest brother inherited that responsibility.

If the eldest brother died, the daughter's next youngest male sibling took on that job.

Eventually, uncles and cousins would be pegged for the job of overseeing the life of a single female relative if the immediate family had no more males to carry out the task.

On and on it went.

Down the line of familial patriarchal responsibility.

It goes without saying that a daughter's husband took over this assignment on the day of her marriage - often at the tender age of 13 or 14 years old.

If we fast forward through history, we discover that little improvement had been made in the societal and political status of women by the time of the ancient Greeks.

In fact, most Greek women of the Golden Age were forbidden to leave their marital homes unless their husbands or other male relatives accompanied them outside to the larger world.

Occasionally, these women would be allowed to visit a next door neighbor - if their husbands knew about their plans in advance and gave their blessing.

In Renaissance Italy, women born into aristocratic families served as little more than bargaining chips in the marriage market.

Daughters were married off for economic and political reasons.

These well-born ladies were told who they would marry and then they were counseled "to make the best of it."

Now let's jump way, way ahead to the Victorian era.

During this period, men reasoned that women should be "elevated" and figuratively "placed on pedestals" due to the supposed moral superiority of the fairer sex.

Male thinking went something like this:

"Because women are moral, gentle, emotional and delicate creatures, they must be "protected" by men from the nastiness of life. The best way to accomplish this is to assure women that their place is in the home - not in the harsh outer world of commerce and business."


That's a sly way of saying the same old thing, isn't it?

The point is this:

Traditionally, men have wanted to keep power in male hands.

Today, power hungry males are alive and kicking throughout the world.

These men use the same old arguments to bolster their case against the freedom of women.

That's why in some modern cultures, women have not been allowed to drive on the world's roadways.

Cars, after all, are the vehicles (no pun intended) that bring education and understanding to the traveling throngs.

Travel leads to the acquisition of knowledge.

Knowledge not only about the greater world around us but also knowledge and enlightenment about ourselves.

Now, in the case of women, we can't have that, can we?

Because if we do have that, female drivers just might want more freedom to move themselves around the world.

If that happens, women are going to possess wider views of the planet they live on.

That could easily lead to the acquisition of new ideas, thoughts and ambitions.

And before anyone realizes what's happened, these world savvy women are going to demand - dare we say it?


(Otherwise known as control over their own lives.)

We don't know whether French painter, Julius Lablanc Stewart, was bothered by the idea of female drivers.

But it certainly looks as if he frankly promoted the concept, doesn't it?

The truth is, of course, that we don't know Stewart's political opinions about women drivers.

But I believe it's safe to say that he was - at the very least - intrigued by the idea.

Stewart was an American artist - he was born in Philadelphia.

Julius's father was a wealthy man who made his fortune in the sugar industry.

He moved his family to Paris in 1865 and became a dedicated art collector.

The fine arts were in the blood of this family.

So it was no surprise when Julius showed an early interest in painting.

He studied with many of the most polished masters of the day at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

Because of the family's wealth, Stewart was able to live a  privileged life of his own choosing without having to worry about money issues.

Julius painted what pleased him.

And what pleased him were large scale group portraits of upper society people - people who were often his friends.

Stewart earned his creds in the art world.

He exhibited frequently at the Paris Salon and helped organize the "Americans in Paris" section of the 1894 Salon.

His beautiful painting, "The Baptism," was shown at the 1893 Chicago World Columbian Exposition and it received honors at the 1895 Berlin International Exposition as well.

(The Baptism, Julius Leblanc Stewart, 1892, Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

I had the privilege of viewing "The Baptism" in Los Angeles a while ago.

It is a huge painting.

But that's not what draws you into the piece.

The painting depicts the gathering of a notable, uppercrust family who is experiencing some degree of distress.

The baptism of an infant is taking place in a gorgeous, spacious room at the family's mansion.

Several people are on hand to witness this sacred event.

But the baptism of the infant is not the focal point of the painting.

In the foreground of the work, we see a young mother languishing on a chaise lounge.

Though she is beautiful and well adorned, it is obvious that she is not physically well.

Bringing forth her child into the world has taken its toll on the young mother's health and well-being.

Stewart has expertly placed this woman at the center of his canvas and because he has done so, our hearts are easily drawn to this new mother's trials and personal worries.

As I studied this painting I imagined that this mother might be thinking,  "Will I live long enough to raise my child?"

That would not have been an unthinkable question at that time in history.

For these reasons - and many others -  "The Baptism" is a wonderful work of art.

Now, then.

Let's turn to happier thoughts.

Stewart's painting, "The Goldsmith a Peugeot" is simply an undisputed joy ride, isn't it?

Here we see two young women - I've named them "Sadie" and "Mae" - out on the road with their trusty canine friend - let's call him - "Blaze."

Sadie, looking particularly spiffy in her sienna hued driving coat, is captain of the Peugeot.

She is the driver of this early "convertible."

And there is no doubt that she is in command.

Those eyes of hers are staring straight ahead as she steers that bumpy buggy down the road.

She's taking care of business.

She knows exactly what she's doing!

And even if she doesn't, you'd never know it by looking at her.

Stewart's Sadie is competent and cool under what could be possible pressure to perform well.

What about Mae?

Look at that obvious grin on her lovely face.

She's enjoying every second of this driving experience.

Mae's left hand is grasping the brim of her perky straw hat.

She doesn't want to lose it to the breeze that is kicking up as the vehicle plows through oncoming air.

Mae's right arm is stretched across the back of the seat - perhaps to provide stability and balance for her as the vehicle rambles forward.

That gauzy scarf in her clasped fingertips is flying for all it's worth, isn't it?

Everything about Stewart's Mae says:  "I'm loving this!"

And then we have Blaze riding out front and center.

He's in his element!

Look at that taut torso and those sturdy legs!

His left ear is busy flapping in the wind.

The dog's eyes are virtual slits.

We can't tell if he can see anything at all.

But who cares?

Blaze is living in the moment and enjoying the brisk breeze as it flows across his body.

This animal - his body pressed forward into the wind - knows how to live life!

There's a lesson in this for each one of us.

Just as Sadie, Mae and Blaze are embracing new opportunities - and challenges - in their lives, should we not step forward in our own lives and brave the unknown?

Of course, the answer to that question must be a resounding "yes."

Stewart's Sadie and Mae are literally and figuratively driving into their futures.

Not only that, they are paving the road that will lead to joyful movement and purpose-filled freedoms for all women down through the decades of time.

Drive on, my dears.

Drive on!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


("Carolina Child", Stephen Scott Young, 2000, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, Alabama)

Stephen Scott Young's painting, "Carolina Child," knocked my socks off the moment I laid eyes on it.

This is a stunning work of art!

Young, born in 1957,  is an American contemporary artist from Honolulu, Hawaii, who is primarily known for his watercolor paintings and etchings.

In "Carolina Child," Young changes things up a bit because this is an oil painting done on masonite.

One of this artist's favorite themes is everyday life in the American South but he also creates work depicting the Out Islands of The Bahamas.

This modern master focuses on social concepts such as coming of age, class and race when he creates his art.

He is known as a "hyper-realist" which means that he is a painter who emphasizes highly intricate details in his realistic works.

His creations are also noted for their beautifully rendered simplicity of subject matter.

It's not difficult to see all of these qualities in "Carolina Child."

Let's look more closely.

We notice, first of all, that the composition of this painting is unusual.

Our subject is not standing front and center in the foreground of this piece.

Instead, she is standing at the lower left corner of the painting.

This deliberate placement helps catch the viewer's attention, doesn't it?

Next, we see that this child has been captured in shadow.

The dark tones of the shadows and the hues of her rich, brown skin are in direct contrast to the massive white spaces which surround her.

This painterly device should give us some clues into the artist's probable intentions.

Let's zero in on the young girl's pose and her facial expression.

Her head has been placed at a slightly downward slant.

And it has been turned to the right - but just barely.

The child's head is turned just enough so we, the viewers, can easily distinguish her facial features.

Glimmering shades of white settle on her ear, cheek and eyes as well as on the side of her nose and lips.

Just in case we have missed those glimmers, Young has given us a second chance to notice them with the sweetly scalloped lace collar that rests against her neck.

The collar is a larger splash of white and it serves as a pedestal of sorts for the child's head.

None of this was an accident, of course.

Young is using these whitewashed glimmers and poised scallops to draw our attention to the emotional temperature of his "Carolina Child."

She seems lost in her own thoughts, doesn't she?

Do we know what she is thinking?

No, we do not.

And, frankly, it's none of our business.

Still, it is readily apparent that she is in a contemplative state of mind.

She is mulling things over.

With these observations, we quickly identify with this girl and we share in her humanity.

For we are all thinking beings, frequently bent on pondering the circumstances of our lives in order to make sense of them.

The whitewashed walls and the sepia-tinged shadows seem to envelop "Carolina Child" in a cozy embrace while she meditates.

She is safe there.

Safe to think.

And safe to feel.

Next, we instantly recognize that the "pearls" in this painting are not real.

They are much too large to be real.

And it's a pretty good bet that they did not cost a fortune.

They are not precious jewels.

Except perhaps to our "Carolina Child."

And that's all that is important, after all.

She wears those four gigantic pearls proudly.

These pearls are workers.

They bind and twist the strands of her hair into a ship-shape, upswept "do."

A crimson red, fluttery bow - or is it a fabric butterfly? -  is placed at the back of her head.

That brilliant shot of red draws attention to those humongous pearls, doesn't it?

For many centuries,  the pearl has been a primary symbol of good taste and elegance.

Pearls, above all other gems, have decorated, highlighted and emphasized the countenances of women (and men) the world over.

They are symbols of innocence and purity as well.

In some ways, they lend a divine sort of light to their wearers.

It is this divine light that shines upon our "Carolina Child."

As we gaze upon her lovely countenance, we feel her innocence and purity.

She is no longer a stranger to us.

Without knowing the internal workings of her thoughts, we somehow share in them.

And that is a very godly thing to do.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


("Profile of a Young Woman", Mino da Fiesole, 1455, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama)

As much as I love sculpture, this art form usually takes second place to the magic I find in color-splashed oil paintings.

That being true, I have to admit that the really wonderful thing about sculpture is that it is usually three dimensional.

That means it has body, weight and mass.

Simply put, you can walk around a work of sculpture and enjoy the view from several vantage points.

There's just something very enticing - and humanizing - about that.

"Bas Relief" sculpture is another thing altogether.

This is a form of sculpture in which figures are carved on a flat surface so that they project only a little from the background.

By their very nature, bas-relief sculptures do not have the same body, weight or mass as do three dimensional sculptures.

I have always been enamored by bas-relief works of art

They have a delicate beauty that simply can't be reproduced in any other art form.

Mino da Fiesole's "Profile of a Young Woman" is a perfect example of bas-relief at its finest.

Sculptor Mino was alive, well and working smack dab in the middle of the Italian Renaissance.

He was born in the pretty little Tuscan town of Fiesole which is just five miles north of Florence.

Mino's master teachers were the talented Desiderio da Settignano and Antonio Rosssellino - don't you just love Italian names? - who set him on a course to bigger and better things in the medium of sculpture.

Mino and his masters were fellow workers and good friends as well as academic cohorts.

Although most sculptors of his time were not able to travel to Rome for further study and work, Mino was blessed to live in Rome on two separate occasions.

Without a doubt, Mino's sculptural skills benefited from both of these study/work periods in Rome.

Mino's sculpture is distinguished by its finely polished surfaces and its delicacy of details.

He is known for his finesse with sharp, angular, richly carved drapery as well.

But his work is primarily noted for its strong sense of spirituality and its excellent representation of devotional feelings.

This is obvious when we look at his "Profile of a Young Woman."

Mino pulled at my heartstrings - again  - just a few days ago.

Bob and I walked into a splendid room containing lovely Renaissance oil paintings at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama.

And there was Mino's young woman, glowing in her subtle radiance on the center wall.

She is a woman not to be missed for many reasons.

But one of those reasons is this:

Spotlights are directed upon her elegant countenance from above.

Then its up to her viewers to admire her spiritual majesty.

And I, for one, did just that.

Let's take a closer look.

Although the young woman's head is seen in profile, her torso is actually turned just a bit forward, toward the viewer so we can get a better look at that gorgeous gown.

Scholars have determined that Mino's young woman is arrayed in the classical dress of Roman antiquity.

The gauzy material of her gown is gathered in a traditional knot on her chest.

Small, round buttons hold the diaphanous fabric together at her shoulder and upper arms.

Mino's rendering of the woman's delicate features creates the feeling of facial reality which is usually not found in lesser bas-relief art.

The texture of the woman's skin is a sight to behold.

It appears to be as smooth as a newborn's silky bottom.

How in the world does a sculptor - working with hard, cold marble - manage to convey that feeling to his viewers?

Only the best of the best are able to accomplish this feat.

The young woman's smooth-as-glass skin provides direct contrast to the finely pleated, angular folds of her gown.

And it is those striking contrasts that envelope Mino's viewers and brings them to a new appreciation of his mind-blowing talent.

Finally, we look at this young woman's hair.

It is tied up with narrow ribbons in at least two places on the back of her head.

Believe it or not, the woman's hair is covered with a nearly transparent veil.

(You'll have to take my word on this.)

The veil is edged with the most classic of all jewels - a magnificent string of graduated pearls.

Mino's pearls serve to highlight -  and decorate - the well proportioned forehead of his young woman.

Additionally, they follow the feminine curves of her head - gently grazing her ear and then slowly disappearing into the shadows at the nape of her neck.

This is Mino at his most sublime.

I feel privileged whenever I am able to experience Mino's work.

For it is, indeed, an experience.

And one of the highest order.

The simple truth is this:

I become a better person each time I immerse myself in one of Mino's sculptures.

And, for me, that is the high and holy purpose of all true art.