About This Work:
Mel Ramos (born 1935) has been an American Pop master of the erotic nude female figure since the 1960’s. Mr. Ramos’ art captures the enticing ideals of femininity through bright saturated colors in the aesthetics of pin-up magazines and famous nude paintings from art history. As many of his Pop artist contemporaries, Mel Ramos started his career in commercial art, making neon signs and also took courses in typography. Under the wing of his mentor, Wayne Thiebaud, Mel Ramos eventually dedicated himself fully to fine art.
Wonder Woman, Sheena – Queen of the Jungle, Camilla, Roma, Cave Girl, and Nile Queen were the female inspirations for the artist. Strong women from distant times and exotic places endowed with magical powers and overt physical charm were the heroines of body of work.
As his East Coast contemporaries, the artist also featured the branding of products and advertising in his works, addressing American post war consumerism but in a lighter, more playful manner. The woman figure, however, always remained the centerpiece and focus of the paintings.
In 1979, the artist produced a series of fine art lithographs based on a suite of “Animal Paintings”, which depicted a nude woman with an animal. In each of these paintings, the artist chose strong, exotic, and erotic animals, such as a rhinoceros, curassow or ocelot to feature alongside the nude female.
This week’s Work Of the Week is entitled Zebra, and it was part of the “Animal Paintings” suite. It is a fine example of the playful imagery of Mel Ramos’ work. A sexy, young, nude woman sits atop a zebra, looking directly at the viewer. Her hairstyle, yellow ribbon and tan lines add to the cheekiness of the image and also depict a more innocent era in which women were more coy and demure, leaving more to the imagination. The later works of Mel Ramos are more revealing and “in your face,” which reflect the shift of society’s acceptance of a more sexualized culture today.
About This Work:
Banksy is a British street artist and activist who, despite worldwide fame, has maintained anonymity. Although details of the artist’s life are largely unknown, it is thought that Banksy was born in Bristol more or less around 1974, and started his career in this city as a graffiti artist.
Whether plastering cities with his trademark gangsta rat, painting imagined openings and building hotels in the West Bank barrier in Israel, or stenciling “we’re bored of fish” above a penguins’ zoo enclosure, Banksy creates street art with an irreverent wit and an international reputation that precedes his anonymous identity. “TV has made going to the theatre seem pointless, photography has pretty much killed painting” he says, “but graffiti has remained gloriously unspoilt by progress”.
Banksy’s work features striking and humorous images, occasionally combined with slogans. The message is usually anti-war, anti-capitalist or anti-establishment. Subjects often include rats, apes, policemen, soldiers, children, and the elderly.
Banksy’s works need no explanation. Through his crafted signature and his immediately identifiable graphic style, he critically examines contemporary issues of consumerism, political authority, terrorism, and the status of art and its display. Grannies is another perfect example of how Banksy’s work can be thought-provoking, intense, shocking, intriguing and funny.
About This Work:
With the recent passing of James Rosenquist, Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art is dedicating this week’s Work Of the Week to the icon and pioneer of Pop Art.
James Rosenquist started his career as a sign painter of commercial billboards, which is often reflected in his large-scale paintings through a flat, uniform, and graphic style. Much of his inspiration was drawn from the advent of large-scale advertising and mass media. The bright hues and precise renderings convey the new, clean, and sterile environments so often used in advertising. However, while on the surface, his works appear to suggest the American Dream of the 1950’s and 1960’s, an underlining message addresses the potential issues American society will confront, and be confronted with, during this emergence of the thriving economy of the postwar.
One of Mr. Rosenquist’s most famous painting, F-111 is an 86-foot-long commentary on the duality of Americana in 1965 at the height of the Vietnam War. 23 panels juxtaposed a mushroom cloud, a smiling girl, a bomber jet, a beach umbrella, among others. Debuting at the Leo Castelli Gallery in NYC, the piece caused a sensation in the art world.
Another well-known work is Marilyn Monroe I. Measuring 7’ 9” x 6’ ¼”, this large-scale oil and spray enamel on canvas is a tribute to the sex symbol, created shortly after her sudden death in 1962. Through this work, Rosenquist took upon himself to share with his viewers a more sophisticated message – one that consisted of more than the usual glamourous image of Marilyn Monroe so many artists have utilized. The imagery we are so accustomed to associate with the movie star was transformed, and Rosenquist chose to present her in a manner that denied the immediate recognition, while preserving her coquettishness. One must observe the piece very closely to understand who it is the viewer is confronted with. Monroe’s face is divided into six panes removing her instant recognition, however, Rosenquist demonstrates a unique ability to transmit her spirit. All of Monroe’s features, her eyes, lips and hand, have been fragmented and placed together in an incoherent manner, with bold lettering painted on top in the same disjointed configuration.
Clearly visible, but also in a fragmented manner, is the Coca-Cola logo, but on closer inspection, overlaying letters of Marilyn Monroe’s name also become apparent. James Rosenquist, being very familiar with the force of branding, mass-production and popular culture, was able to draw attention to the idea that Marilyn Monroe was as important to commercialism and industry as any every day products such as Coca-Cola, drawing upon the message beyond her as a person, but as Marilyn Monroe packaged in the mass media and marketed based on her sex appeal. Rosenquist’s painting of Marilyn Monroe is one of countless others painted by his contemporaries, including Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning, that attest to the increasing power of mass media and its impact on art production during the 1960’s.
The Marilyn lithograph became available in 1974 and was published by Petersburg Press Inc. in an edition of 75. It is housed in the MoMA and Tate, among many other prominent collections.
Rosenquist was born in 1933 and passed away in New York City on March 31st 2017 after an illustrious career, which cemented him as one of the most important and influential American artists of our time.
About This Work:
Frank Stella (b. 1936), an American minimalist and geometric abstract expressionist is known for producing works emphasizing the picture as object rather than as representation. He has said: “a picture is a flat surface with paint on it – nothing more.” Stella’s works do not have a clear reference to the world, they are compositions of the basics of the elements of art and geometry. Color, line, and form are what inspire him.
The Sinjerli Variation Series of six lithographs, was published in 1977 by Petersburg Press in New York, seven years after the artist’s first retrospective at MoMA. Aged 41, at the time, he was the youngest artist to receive such an honor.
The Sinjerli Series is derived from Stella’s original painting Sinjerli I of the Protractor Series, dated from 1967 to 1970. The inspiration of the Protractor Series, in addition to the names of the works, came from the circular shape of cities from the ancient civilizations of Asia Minor. Sinjerli was a city of the Ancient Anatolian people of the Hittite Empire, which reached its height in the 14th century BC. It is located at the foothills of the Anti-Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey. The fortified citadel of Sinjerli was outlined by an almost perfect double walled circle, which connected with the geometric inspiration of Stella’s body of work.
Each Sinjerli variation is composed of two semi-circles, or protractors and positioned to the left of the sheet, slightly lower than midlevel. Each lithograph is composed of elaborate patterns of intersecting circular forms, arranged in a manner that removes any indication of depth. While at first, the form is seemingly symmetrical, the interweaving of the arcs also gives the illusion of unending line-work.
For the series, Stella made use of bright and vibrant colors. The hues are not tinted as a flat application, but rather have a painterly texture and this result was accomplished by a three-step process. The first step required the deposition of a toned ground, the result of a broadly drawn plate, also known as “full crayon.” Secondly, a looser, textured drawing was applied, the “smear crayon.” Finally, the finishing touch was a high gloss glaze, named “loose crayon.”
Today, Frank Stella continues to live and work in Manhattan and commutes to his studio in Rock Tavern, NY on the weekdays. His most recent retrospective took place at the Whitney in NYC from October 30, 2015 to February 7, 2016.
About This Work:
Claes Oldenburg is an American sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring very large replicas of everyday objects.
Many of Oldenburg’s works depict ‘mundane’ objects and, at first, they were ridiculed before being accepted by the art world – but they were also defined “brilliant”, due to the reaction that the pop artist brought to a ‘tired’ abstract expressionist period.
The purpose of Oldenburg’s art is to uncover the mystery and power of commonplace objects by morphing their scale, shape, and texture, embracing what he calls “the poetry of everywhere”. As source of inspiration, the artist always uses things made and utilized by human beings. Used, out-of-date or simply banal, they look rescued from oblivion by the artist. While recreating objects, Oldenburg alters their specifics, transforming them through changes in material, scale, context and exaggerations of forms that lend them more than one identity.
This week’s Work Of the Week, Geometric Mouse Scale E “Desktop”, is a great example of Oldenburg’s personal way of making art.
As in Oldenburg’s other artworks, this image blends high and low art, but is more personal. The artist has even suggested that the Geometric Mouse is his alter ego, stating that he first took the subject of the mouse from one of the most iconic and popular characters ever: Mickey Mouse. The mouse is an extremely recurring subject in Oldenburg’s body of work. It is considered his artistic symbol par excellence, for his typical humor and use of obsolete objects and iconic characters as main source.
The concept/name of the mouse ‘desktop‘ also plays on the concept of fast paced movement toward technology in today’s world, but is a nod to the past of how fast the world is actually moving. The Desktop Mouse can also be seen by today’s generation as a play on a computerized mouse on the old style green mouse pads. A mouse on a mouse pad.
By deforming and decontextualizing the object, Claes Oldenburg helps it to become estranged, so that we are finally able to look at it in a different perspective: as a work of art. This happens because the artist believes that this object possesses a certain aesthetic quality, stemming from its appearance, and therefore displays it for the appreciation of others.
Oldenburg has said himself that “If I didn’t think what I was doing had something to do with enlarging the boundaries of art, I wouldn’t go on doing it“.
To watch the video of Claes Oldenburg explaining the Geometric Mouse, click on the image below:
About This Work:
Robert Longo was born in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Long Island.
Although Longo extensively studied sculpture during his years as an art student, drawing remains his favorite form of expression. The sculptural influence prevails in his drawing technique, as his “portraits” have a distinctive chiseled line that seems to give his drawings a three-dimensional quality.
Longo had a childhood fascination with mass media: movies, television, magazines, and comic books, which continue to influence his art to this day.
About four years passed before Longo turned the vision of a man shot in the back into a monumental series of drawings. He produced about 60 Men In The Cities between 1979 and 1982. Taking in also the rock star poses popularized by music videos of the 1980’s, the preppy men’s clothing and the rise of Wall Street, these pictures embody the spirit of the age in a way that few works ever manage to.
Fascinated by the arrested gestures of the figure, which reminded him of the spasmodic movements of punk musicians and fans, to achieve these gestures, Longo invited his friends to the rooftop of his Manhattan apartment, tied ropes around them, and pummeled them with tennis balls and other objects and made them over-react to loud noises, while he photographed their reactive movements. The images were then projected on to paper, and Longo drew over them in great detail.
Those friends included the fellow fine artist Cindy Sherman and Larry Gagosian. Today, both Sherman and Gagosian are towering figures within the art world, yet 35 years ago their future, as well as Longo’s, was far from assured. “Robert shot us in free fall, looking like we were dead” Sherman recalled in 2009. “A feeling of force and energy emanates from these photographs. Now I see their choreographic aspect. I see youthful optimism. Creating these poses became a sort of dance, and I think that’s why I remember having such a good time”.
These aggressive movements of men and woman in business attire, have an elegance and grace that is entirely unexpected. They are protective reactions and exaggerated gestures that have here been turned into a choreography, a ballet, if you will. The movements are fresh and vital, full of energy and life. They document an essence of human motion, boiled down to pure expression.
About This Work:
Jasper Johns is one of the most acclaimed and influential American artists of the 20th century.
Born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, Jasper Johns grew up wanting to be an artist. He studied briefly at the University of South Carolina before moving to New York in the early Fifties. After a visit to Philadelphia, with his good friend Robert Rauschenberg, to see Marcel Duchamp’s painting, The Large Glass (1915-23), Johns became very interested in his work. Duchamp had revolutionized the art world with his “readymades” — a series of found objects presented as finished works of art. This irreverence for the fixed attitudes toward what could be considered art was a substantial influence for Johns.
Johns’ richly worked paintings of maps, flags, and targets in the late 1950’s, led the artistic community away from Abstract Expressionism toward a new emphasis on the concrete. Johns laid the groundwork for both Pop Art and Minimalism. Today, his prints and paintings set record prices at auction.
In 1958, gallery owner Leo Castelli visited Rauschenberg’s studio and saw Johns’ work for the first time. Castelli was so impressed with the 28-year-old painter’s ability and inventiveness that he offered him a show on the spot. At that first exhibition, the Museum of Modern Art purchased three pieces, making it clear that Johns was to become a major force in the art world.
This weeks Work Of the Week is Jasper Johns’ Target With Plaster Casts.
Targets by Johns, feature a depiction of an actual target that is, for all practical purposes, utterly interchangeable with the real thing. However, unlike the flag or the numbers, which are also familiar images from this period of the artist’s career, the flat target is simultaneously representational and abstract (a number or a flag can never be divorced from its status as a familiar sign). This makes the target susceptible to even more ambiguities.
The target allowed Johns to explore a familiar two-dimensional object, with its simple internal geometric structure and a complex symbolic meaning. He was attracted to painting “things the mind already knows“, and claimed that using a familiar object like the target freed himself from the need to create a new design and allowed him to focus on the execution of the painting.
Johns worked on this target with a sort of deadpan irony to test what one expects a work of art to do. A painted target automatically negates the use of a real one, and its use is lost. It stops being a sign and becomes an image, where the center is not more important than the other circles that form it.
Meanwhile, the “plaster casts” on the top part of the artwork represent bits of the human body (foot, nose, face, hand, ear, penis, heart, breast, and lungs) set in their boxes. They are transformed in exactly the opposite way. Their anonymity makes them like fossils or even more, like words, signs that stand for classes of things. One would like to see them as elements of a portrait, but they cannot be read in that way. They are images turning into signs.
And so, in Target With Plaster Casts, two systems of seeing are locked in perfect mutual opposition, the sign becoming a painting and sculpture becoming a sign.
These kind of works by Jasper Johns were extremely new to the museum goers and art lovers, especially at a time in which the art world was searching for new ideas.
Over the past fifty years Johns has created a body of rich and complex work. His rigorous attention to the themes of popular imagery and abstraction has set the standards for American art. Constantly challenging the technical possibilities of printmaking, painting and sculpture, Johns laid the groundwork for a wide range of experimental artists. Today, he remains at the forefront of American art, with work represented in nearly every major museum collection.
About This Work:
Alex Katz is an American painter of portraits and landscapes. He started working on these themes during years dominated by non-figurative art, which he always strongly avoided.
As for his portraits, the people he depicts are colleagues that surrounded him during his career, members of his family, friends or neighbors. Alex Katz’s portraits are always very recognizable. They are all characterized by an unmistakable flatness and lack of detail. Color and light play a central role in his works and the design of his pictorial reality always appears with sharp, clear edges.
Well known for his many portraits of his wife and muse, Ada, Katz has also dedicated himself to printmaking and freestanding sculptures of cutout figures painted on wood or aluminum. This is the case of this week’s Work Of the Week, Ariel.
Ariel is a three piece aluminum cut out set, created after a painting and a screenprint that he did in 2016 of the same name, that depicts a woman in three different perspectives in a sequence. This idea, the theme of variation, is very important to the artist. According to Katz, he was the first artist to start using the technique of repetition in his works, before the other artists of the time. He even says that Warhol took this concept from him. His studies on repetition start with a work called Ada Ada, which is one of his earliest work, and continue until today with this week’s Work Of the Week, Ariel.
One can see how Katz’s highly graphic depiction of his subjects adds a strong sense of individualized personality to his paintings, and his attention to details, particularly when it comes to fashion, firmly characterizes the work in his own unique aesthetic.
Alex Katz’ works convey a surprisingly seductive detachment from his emotions and personal references. For example, Ariel is a recurring subject in his most recent works. But who is Ariel? Is she someone relevant to the artist or is she only a model? The answer, in the end, is not important. These portraits do not own a clear narrative – it is not important for the viewer to know the person or the story behind the artwork. What Katz tries to emphasize is actually the beauty of the subjects. The use of gentle colors, the emphasis of fashion details in his paintings turn the coldness of the sharp lines, lack of detail and flatness into an artwork warm for the viewer to enjoy.
In many ways, both conceptually and technically, the art of Alex Katz can be considered to be the bridge that gaps the traditions of abstraction and figurative art.
About This Work:
Son of a taxi driver and a housewife, Murakami grew up in Tokyo, then attended Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, the country’s most prestigious arts institution. He holds a Ph.D. in Nihonga – the refined hybrid of European and traditional Japanese painting that was invented in the late 19th century. Nihonga paintings are employed to render likenesses of bouquets and landscapes, in accordance to traditional Japanese artistic conventions, techniques and materials, to suit the influx of European tourism and an export market to the West.
Prior to 1868, Japan’s Meiji period, the word for “fine art” did not exist in the Japanese language. It was only after this time that the country imported this foreign ”art” notion and created a vocabulary for it. The blurring of high and low, of West and East, remains characteristic of Japanese society.
Takashi Murakami is the one that, better than any other Japanese artists, has been able to incorporate all the cultural contradictions and influences of Japan that even today permeate the Japanese society. He is one of the most well-known Japanese contemporary artists.
Murakami aligns himself with the geeky, obsessive fans and collectors of the Japanese manga, anime and animations, whose name is ‘otaku’. By combing Nihonga painting with otaku aesthetic, merging tradition with contemporary, he has literally changed the face of Japanese art. Some years ago Murakami elaborated a theory under the clever rubric ”Superflat”, linking the flat picture planes of traditional Japanese paintings to the lack of any distinction between high and low in Japanese culture. On stylistic grounds he grouped together some traditional artists of the Edo period (1603-1868) with the creators of modern-day animated films, arguing that there were important formal similarities in the flatness of their work. Now, having analyzed Japanese pop culture aesthetically, he is turning his scrutiny to the function that superflatness might be serving in contemporary Japanese society. Superflat can be described as a flattening process that conveniently released both the artist and the viewer from grappling with the contradictions of Japan’s wartime experience as predator and victim and postwar status as economic rival of, and political subordinate to, the United States.
Murakami maintains that respectable Japanese artists largely ignored the horrors of World War II and the humiliations of the postwar occupation, relinquishing the subjects to the ‘otaku’, who transported these tough realities into the realm of cartoon fantasy. In many of the classic manga and anime stories the plot revolves around a bomb or radiation device that devastates Tokyo. ”I thought: why does otaku culture so many times have an explosion that looks like an atomic bomb? I was trying to find out why otaku people are always repeating the same scene and why I was so interested in it myself“. He concluded that otaku raised ”a mirror” to a reality that the larger culture preferred to ignore. In childlike animated forms, anguished truths were stripped of their historical context.
This week’s Work Of The Week, KiKi With Moss, is from a two parts suite consisting of Kiki and his counter partner KaiKai. KaiKai and KiKi loosely translate into good and evil or the Angel and Devil. These characters have come to be seen as avatars of the opposing aspects of Murakami’s own character and they can be interpreted to be his ultimate self-portrait.
KiKi With Moss and KaiKai With Moss, 2004
Murakami’s work embodies some interests that extend far beyond Japan. It’s a blend of fantasy, apocalypse and innocence. He speaks about important themes such as the atomic bomb, the war, the issues that are affecting Japanese culture and society past and present, the relationship between the Western world and Japanese culture – and he does it through colorful, cartoon-like characters that at times have smiling faces and mesmerizing flowers, and at times have disturbing jagged teeth like fangs, making the cute violent. It’s all the disparate elements combined that speak to the moment and reveal a deeper meaning to a culture that Murakami sees as divided, confused, confident and progressive. A culture full of hope for the future, but one that needs to remember and embrace its past.