News & Views


Work in Progress: Childhood’s Edge

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November 22nd, 2012

Skull Comes to Light

An updated image of the painting Childhood’s Edge can be seen on the Work in Progress page.  Details in the skull’s shadows have been added.  Now final lights will be applied, which will finish the skull, leaving just a couple of background areas and some touch-ups to the ball to complete the painting.


Upcoming Workshop: Traumatic Transference

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October 8th, 2012

Traumatic Transference:
Understanding its Role in Working with
Young Adults Neglected/Abused as Children

No matter what role we intend to play with our clients, they will assign us roles (often unconsciously) based on what they learned in early childhood.  This is their transference.  When those experiences include neglect and physical and sexual abuse (including incest), their expectations that we will treat them them badly  (traumatic transference) make them defensive.  Those defensive behaviors have the power to elicit negative responses from us.  In this workshop we will explore the nature of this traumatic transference, and practice ways to recognize and manage it.

November 6, 2012
9:30am – 4:30pm

Good Shepherd Services
Human Services Workshops
12 West 12th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212)243-7070 x479

Sign up for workshop #242


Art Review: Eric Fischl

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September 23rd, 2012

Constructing Narrative
Eric Fischl Paints the Unconscious

Eric Fischl in His Studio © Edgar Howard, Checkerboard Film Foundation.

When psychologists use the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)–a projective technique–they show drawings to their subjects and ask them to tell a story about each one.  Research has demonstrated that the narratives thus produced reflect projections from the unconscious and therefore can be used to assess mental states.  Unfortunately, in the case of the TAT, the images are hopelessly dated and far from neutral; reminiscent of film noir, they tend to produce rather depressive narratives.1

Untitled (Poolside, 3 Figures) (1979, charcoal on paper, 43″ x 94″).  Courtesy of the artist.

In developing compositions for his paintings, Eric Fischl relies on the same mechanism of projection that underpins the use of the TAT.  Beginning with disparate elements (initially drawings and more recently photographs), he plays with them until they assemble into an intriguing tableau.  Relying on his responses to these random arrangements to let him know when it’s time to paint, Fischl explains: “…for me it’s not a preconceived narrative, it’s a discovered narrative.”2

Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) “…let audiences look at the art of painting over Fischl’s shoulder,”3 an idea that grew out of a conversation between the artist and Susan Krane, executive director of the San José Museum of Art, where the show originated in collaboration with PAFA.  The accompanying catalog includes the transcript of an interview with Fischl about his artistic process, the film of which continuously played in a room at the exhibit.

Saturday Night (The Aftermath Bath) (1980, oil on glassine, 72″ x 84″).  Courtesy of the artist.

Fischl’s working method is far more obvious in early sketches like Saturday Night (The Aftermath Bath) (1980), where one can readily see the four painted glassine overlays, each with its own subject.  In the later digitally manipulated photographs, the artist’s hand is less evident.

In Saturday Night, the bathtub sets the scene within which a nude man shaves, a woman in a black slip and high heels–lit cigarette in hand–sits on the rim of a tub, crosses her legs and casually glances over her shoulder at her audience, while a young boy, standing in the tub, looks down at his small penis, held in his hands.  Despite the casual intimacy suggested by the setup, the figures are absorbed in their own concerns, oblivious to one another–a perfect depiction of the disengaged family.

Born in 1948, growing up during the fifties and sixties, Fischl has written candidly about his family.  “I came out of a white, upper-middle-class, Protestant suburban background…I lived in essentially a secretive environment.  My mother was a ferocious alcoholic…It was a family shame, something you kept out of public.”  He went on to describe the contrast between the outside, which was “nicely kept yards, clean pressed clothes, and going to school on time,” and the inside, “frightening and tumultuous and violent and dirty and disgusting.”4  Afterimages of scenes observed by the boy he was pervade Fischl’s oeuvre.

Now able to direct the cast of characters–both created and found–the grownup Fischl has become the puppet master, shedding the role of helpless bystander to the drama that played out between his parents.  In the scenes of suburbia that he produced in the 1980s, Fischl intimated all was not well.  In many of them, boundaries dissolved and left the viewer wondering, “What’s going on here?”

That’s just the kind of question Fischl likes to imagine people asking when they look at his pictures.  It’s also part of what happens to him.  “I’m just sitting there looking at it and basically I’m going, what the fuck is going on here?!  Who are these people and why are they this way?”5  Rather than getting mired in such musings, Fischl revels in the ambiguity, picks up his oil-paint-loaded brush, and takes swipes at a large canvas.  This artist is no “knuckle painter.”  He is at least a “wrist” if not an “elbow painter.”6  Creating an active surface covered with perfectly placed colors, he fills the rectangle with figures vaguely relating to each other and engaged in activities that seem oddly familiar yet totally strange.

In roughly chronological order, the exhibit followed Fischl as he experimented with different methods of discovering narratives.  Works were grouped according to their relationship to each other, particularly enlightening when photographs taken on the beach at Saint Tropez (1982-1988) and for the Krefeld Project (2003) appeared in the vicinity of their respective paintings.  Sketches, sculptures and the occasional print revealed the breadth of Fischl’s gifts and the depth of his explorations.

Dog Days (1983, oil on canvas, diptych, 84″ x 168″). Collection of the Hall Art Foundation.

With the diptych, Dog Days (1983), the artist exposed a private moment of early-adolescent lust juxtaposed with a cryptic comment on it.  Attention is drawn first to the right panel (rather than to the more usual left) of the two-painting set where on a balcony overlooking a tropical beachside road, a white cloth (perhaps a towel) has been spread out across a section of its sun-drenched concrete floor.  On it stands a boy wearing only a tee shirt (and perhaps briefs) who sports an erection as he reverentially touches the bare skin just above his nude companion’s red pubic hair as she, not quite finished kicking out of the bikini bottom that threatens to trip her, leans back and thrusts her crotch in his direction, making it easier for him to reach his prize.  Curiosity animates both their faces.

In the left panel, standing on a similar terrace, a grown woman clad only in white sandals and carrying a beach bag with a large water bottle emerging from its front opening, looks down at two mutts who return her gaze.  Her expression asks, “What do you want?” in response to their expectant looks.  A whisper of humor in both images lightens what could easily get crushed under the weight of psychological interpretation.  Fischl’s playful nature shines through in much of his work.

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man (1984, oil on linen, 85″ x 70″).  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

At the ripe old age of 36, riffing on the title of Joyce’s slim novel by gazing into the future instead of reflecting on the past, Fischl painted Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man (1984).  Hardly aggrandizing, this self-portrait positions the artist in front of a Jullian easel lacking palette and brushes but supporting a canvas with a thin wash demarcating sand and sky.  The white-haired, toothless old man, who wears only an open, short-sleeved blue shirt, looks up at the intruder from behind dark glasses and either modestly covers his partial nakedness or has been caught in the act of getting off, like a flasher exposing himself from beneath a newspaper discreetly positioned across his lap.

Defying compositional rules, Fischl placed the figure dead center, connecting the elderly artist visually via his shirt to the dark blue sky above, and to the ground underfoot by way of his skin tones.  He balanced the bright white of the surf on the left with the high value of the canvas on the right, sandwiching a band of bright yellow grasses between green immediately above and below.  The consummate craftsman, Fischl used a golden light and long shadows to denote late afternoon, a time of great opportunity for a landscape painter.

Untitled (1988, charcoal on paper, 29″ x 23″).  Courtesy of the artist.

Similar questions of propriety surfaced in a quartet of charcoal drawings–grouped together in a two-by-two grid at the exhibit–of a nude man seen from behind, a series providing the viewer with a wonderful example of the artist’s imaginative wanderings.  The original idea for the first one, Untitled (Study for a Man Exposing Himself) (1987), seems to have sprung from Fischl’s photographs of bathers at St. Tropez.  A very young girl runs off across the sand with her back to a man with wrinkled skin suggestive of aging; he stands awkwardly in the foreground as though caught off balance.

That both wear nothing creates little tension in the context of the outdoor setting of the picture and the photos of a predominantly nude beach displayed nearby.  With the title, the artist invites the viewer to project malevolence onto the story; a pleasant seaside scene holds little interest for him.  Commenting on the impetus behind his work, Fischl explained, “I long for a stronger reality, I long for a drama, I long for a life-and-death experience that makes me feel alive.  And so I paint these people…these desperate people trying to find a better life.”7  “I don’t paint heaven.  I’ve never painted heaven.  I wouldn’t know how.”8

Untitled (Study for a Man Exposing Himself) (1987, charcoal on paper, 24″ x 18″).  Courtesy of the artist.

In the other three drawings–each labeled Untitled (1988), Fischl anchored the compositions with the nude man seen from behind, then drew in different elements and erased others, searching for that stronger feeling.  The most neutral arrangement puts flippers in the protagonist’s right hand and places him poolside, facing a swimsuited man standing in front of a beach chair, arms raised perhaps in greeting.

Untitled (1988, charcoal on paper, 29″ x 23″).  Courtesy of the artist.

In a particularly quizzical version, the old man–maybe clothed in swim trunks–still carries flippers but now follows a woman whose headcovering and gown allude to wedding attire.  The lines Fischl used for the figures unite them as a couple, lending a sense of the ordinary to this most unusual pairing.

In the final drawing, confronting the nakedness of the man opposite her, a woman in full evening dress and highly-coiffed black hair stares directly at him with wide-open dark eyes and left hand on hip–her expression a cross between anger and alarm.  Ambiguity reigns.

Fischl found similar mystery in the lacunae he noted in the paintings of Thomas Eakins: “What’s compelling is what’s not there.”9  Several of the latter artist’s photographs were featured in the exhibit, their characters beckoning Fischl to incorporate them into fresh scenarios.  One especially compelling series showed the nude Eakins carrying a similarly undressed woman whose limply hanging arm, thrown-back head and closed eyes implied she’s sleeping or dead.

Once Where We Looked to Put Down Our Dead (1996, oil on linen, 98″ x 80″).  The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles.  Photo: Zindman/Fremont.

Undoubtedly intrigued by the narrative potential of those images, Fischl borrowed one for his monumental Once Where We Looked to Put Down Our Dead (1996).  Extracting Eakins’s nude duo from its original studio setting, situating it in a church interior and bathing it in sunlight streaming in from an unidentified source, Fischl confronted the enormity of death and questioned religion’s ability to provide solace in the face of it.

The painting was inspired, along with others in his Italian series, by the artist’s trip to Rome soon after his father died.  “If you need to mourn…Rome is the best place to do it…In Rome you live with great art, and great art talks to you about life and about death, about grief and about loss, and gives you permission to have all those feelings attached to them.”10

Toying with scale, Fischl shrunk the figures to enhance their vulnerability.  Bathed in light, the man carrying his dead moves in a dark and impersonal interior furnished with pews; a sarcophagus and memorial portrait speak to the traditional role of the church as a place to entomb the dead.  In this oil on canvas where forms have been blurred with smooth brushstrokes, lending them an insubstantiality, the figures’ starkly light impasto emphasizes their physicality and imperfections, setting them in opposition to the angular geometry of their surroundings.

For Fischl, the Eakins’s photo suggested “an essentially profoundly tragic moment, a scene of a man carrying a dead woman, presumably a lover.”11  In placing them in a church, he asked, “Is this a place that I can lay down my dead, my pain, my love, my tragedy?  Is this it and will it take care of it?  And again, that doesn’t get answered.”12

An opportunity to further ponder questions of attachment and loss arose in the early 2000s when Fischl was invited to develop a project using one of the Mies van der Rohe houses in Krefeld, Germany.  Whatever its architectural significance, to the artist the structure was first and foremost “a house, people did live there…I’d furnish [it], hire some actors, and take a bunch of photographs as if they lived [there].”13  To drive the action, using a common improvisation technique, Fischl would “set up these situations where I would only tell one of them something and the other one had to figure out what was going on.”14

The result was a collection of photographs (many at the exhibit, some matched with their paintings) from which Fischl selected and recombined elements to produce the Krefeld Project series.  Comparing a particular painting with its source photo did indeed offer a peak over the artist’s shoulder; one could pick out the elements he kept, the ones he changed and those he excluded.

Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4 (2002, oil on linen, 63½” x 92″).  Courtesy of the artist.

A symphony in primary colors, Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4 (2002) depicts a voluminous red robe inhabited by a blond woman with pasty face and hands emerging from it.  She is bracketed on the left by a curvaceous modern recliner–with cobalt blue highlights defining its arms and back–and in the right background by a bright orange vertical stripe and a deep-yellow vase whose color repeats in the shadows of its flowers.  A ghostly man stands near the right edge of the canvas, his lower half sized for a position in front of a nearby table, his upper half small enough to belong further back.  On the table rests an exquisitely constructed cup and saucer accompanied by a teaspoon, all economically indicated with just a few strokes of white.

With her back to him, the woman looks down, attending to the complicated process of securing her wrap around her.  Likewise clothed in a robe, the man directs his attention to the open magazine he’s reading.  The scene begs for an explanatory title but the mischievous Fischl leaves it to his audience.

A precursor to the Krefeld Project, the painting The Bed, The Chair, The Sitter (2000) also arose out of a colleague’s challenge to the artist.  Asked to “[enter] into a dialogue with Edward Hopper, specifically using two paintings…Summer in the City (1949) and…Excursion into Philosophy (1959),”15  Fischl sat with the idea for a couple of years before coming up with The Philosopher’s Chair (1999), a painting he described as being about “the inability to connect, to find satisfaction in relationships, or to realize sexual desire.”16

The Bed, The Chair, The Sitter (2000, oil on linen, 78″ x 93″).  Courtesy of the artist.

The chair featured in that work reappeared in a number of other compositions including The Bed, The Chair, The Sitter, of which an earlier, more fully developed version (1999) exists.  On a very smooth linen surface, cool dark colors wash across the top of the painting, forming a backdrop for the action down in front.  Starkly illuminated by hot light originating off-stage to the right, a bare-legged woman sits on the floor with knees drawn up and head supported by her right hand.  She stares straight ahead as if watching something (television?) while a brown-suited man looms over her from behind, a few almost-white splotches for his hand and face set them off against the darkness from which he emerges.

A centrally situated overstuffed chair with wooden legs grabs focus, its red-on-beige vegetal pattern looking more like blood stains than decoration.  Washes of bright orange heat up the lower half of the picture, covering the floor, parts of both figures and the shadowed twin of the philosopher’s chair.  He (fully dressed) looks at her (minimally clothed) while she looks intently elsewhere.

Fischl’s quest for narrative is reminiscent of the small child trying to run away from home who endlessly circles his city block because he’s not allowed to cross the street.  This artist ends up at the same dimly lit corners of human relationships where estrangement rules.

Scenes from Late Paradise: The Parade (2006-07, oil on linen, 76″ x 108″).  Collection of the Hall Art Foundation.

Fischl’s attempt to connect isolated figures enhances the feeling of their separation.  Even when compressed together in a telephoto lens effect, like in Scenes from Late Paradise: The Parade (2006-07), his characters seem miles apart, including the three practically identical dogs who set the pace.  In preparing for that very large canvas, the artist photoshopped together several different groups of beachgoers from his St. Tropez shots.

Using broad bristle brushes, and long strokes, squiggles and dabs, Fischl captured the glaring sun of the Mediterranean through high-value lights and warmer, dark tones, emphasizing the heat of midday by setting them off against a chilly blue sea, spots of blue for the bikini on the right, and green striping on the towel, the sweep of which creates an arch connecting the couple to its left with the two men marching in front of it.  The three men in the lead bend their right legs in unison while shadows announce disparate light sources; the paraders head in the same direction but inhabit different worlds.

Once again Fischl has subtly portrayed the disconnect among cohorts of a particular socioeconomic class, the one in which he was raised.  With wit, skill and a spirit of adventure, this artist bravely probes the depth of his unconscious, uncovering a treasure trove of material from which to fashion thought-provoking images.  He challenges his viewers to join him in discovering new narratives based on his offerings and their own projections.  The APA17 could do worse than to commission him to create a new set of pictures for the TAT.
1 Feller, Deborah, The Effect of Color on the Emotional Response to the Thematic Apperception Test, unpublished master’s thesis, 1977.

2 Philbrick, Harry, et al, Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania of the Fine Arts), 2012, 18.

3 Ibid, 11.

4 Danto, Arthur C., et al, Eric Fischl 1970-2007 (New York: The Monaceli Press, Inc.), 2008, 43.

5 Fischl quoted in Philbrick, Dive Deep, 20.

6 Ibid, 29.

7 Ibid, 22.

8 Ibid, 21.

9 Ibid, 29.

10 Fischl quoted in Canto, Eric Fischl 1970-2007, 197.

11 Philbrick, Dive Deep, 29.

12 Ibid.

13 Canto, Eric Fischl 1970-2007, 312.

14 Ibid, 313.

15 Ibid, 102.

16 Ibid.

17 American Psychological Association.

Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and
The Process of Painting
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
128 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Catalog available.


Work in Progress: Childhood’s Edge

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September 3rd, 2012

The Skull Takes Shape

An updated image of the painting Childhood’s Edge can be seen on the Work in Progress page.  The first pass of lights is done.  Final darks are being added.  Final lights will follow, bringing cohesion to all areas of the skull.


Work in Progress: Childhood’s Edge

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June 19th, 2012

The Skull Comes to Light

An updated image of the painting Childhood’s Edge can be seen on the Work in Progress page.  The skull begins to assume form with the first pass of lights.


Art Review: Sue Coe

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June 17th, 2012

Spinning Anger into Art
Sue Coe Gets the Gold

The color red excites.  It increases the electrical conductance of skin (from sweating), quickens the heart and pulse rate, and raises blood pressure.1  Its intense chroma suggests brightness, yet placed in the vicinity of lighter hues, red reveals its darkness.  Associated with blood and fiery rage, it serves as a potent accent in black and white images.  When covering an entire canvas, red attracts immediate attention.

Dog of War (1983, mixed media on heavy paper, 38″ x 50″ [96.5 x 127 cm]).  Copyright 1983 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

Placed behind the reception desk at the Galerie St. Etienne, in the neighborhood of mostly graphite drawings, Dog of War (1983) drew focus.  A stand-out in the exhibit “Mad as Hell!” New Work (and Some Classics) by Sue Coe, the large painting features an alligator-headed canine with a human arm, impaled on several of its shark-like teeth, dangling from its wide-open mouth.  A man merges with the creature’s underbelly, three mostly white fighter planes pass above, angular buildings fill the background, and red letters spelling “WAR” float in front of the black spaces between the structures.

The only contemporary artist represented by Galerie St. Etienne, which specializes in expressionism (mostly German) and self-taught art, Coe seems to have taken her cue for Dog of War from George Grosz’s Metropolis and Explosion (both 1917) in her use of angularity and red.

Born in 1951, Coe emigrated to the United States when she was 21, having studied illustration in her native England.2  Coming of age during the seventies and living through the politically reactionary eighties, she gravitated toward protest art when her work as an illustrator for The New York Times and other major publications failed to afford her the platform she craved for a more radical perspective.3

After producing enough work for her debut solo show in 1983, Coe illustrated her first book, How to Commit Suicide in South Africa, in collaboration with writer Holly Metz.  By doing so she joined the illustrious company of other artists who have used their work to protest the brutality of apartheid, particularly William Kentridge.

How to Commit Suicide in South Africa (1983, mixed media and collage on paper, 38″ x 52″ [96.5 x 132.1 cm]).  Copyright 1983 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

The cover-art painting, How to Commit Suicide in South Africa (1983), depicts two men shoving a third through a closed window while another man stands in the background, arms crossed in front of his chest, watching over the proceedings.  Near him, a door with a small barred window implies a prison setting.  As shattered glass flies toward the street far below so does the terrified victim.  The overall darkness of the painting is punctuated by the aura of white surrounding the doomed man’s torso, the bright headlights of the single car in the street, the cone of light emitted by a tall street lamp, and the bony rendering of a sharp-toothed dog with red tongue and eyes.  Red inscribes the book’s title and yellow its publisher.  Yellow also casts an eerie light on the cell’s interior, and defines the form of the falling man.

How to Commit Suicide in South Africa effectively leaves much to the viewer’s imagination, depicting not a suicide but a murder.  The implication that somehow the falling man is responsible for his impending demise makes one wonder what he might have done.  Along the base of the building, the black letters “ANC” followed by “The Future is Black” link his fate to anti-apartheid activities.

We Come Grinning into Your Paradise (1982, graphite, gouache and collage on heavy paper, 50¾″ x 70″ [128.9 x 177.8 cm]).  Copyright 1982 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

Another painting associated with the turmoil in South Africa, We Come Grinning into Your Paradise (1982), brings to mind a similarly macabre scene of executioners reveling in the torture of victims.  Like Max Beckmann’s The Night (1918-19), Coe’s large painting alludes to less-than-transparent political practices designed to dissuade upstarts from fomenting rebellion.

Across the top of the work in the manner of a ransom note, Coe collaged individual letters that spell out “We Come Grinning into Your Paradise.”  Under that banner, five beings bathed in light from a skeleton’s large flashlight and an overhead fixture cavort around a table on which a cadaver-like figure lies supine with arms and legs splayed.  Superimposed on the leg hanging over the edge, drops of red trickle down to the bottom of the picture, threatening to drip into the viewer’s space.  A short stream of red gushes from the body’s mouth.

The large creature in the foreground on the right, dressed in black and with the head of a jackal, opens its mouth to reveal white incisors embedded in blood-red gums.  Its arms, like those of another similarly dressed being in the background, jut out at right angles suggestive of a swastika.  Lest there be any doubt as to the identity of this brute, letters spell out “CIA” across its back like the name on a team uniform; one of its fingerless gloves sports the dollar sign and the other, the pound sterling.

A closer look at the imagery reveals that the black shadow cast by the CIA beast travels under the table (not across it) and morphs into its not-quite mirror image in the background, identical save for the reversed direction of the arms and the smiling humanoid face.  In back of the table, Death illuminates the body’s chest with its flashlight beam while an executioner wields a two-pronged instrument of torture that drips with crimson.  The fifth creature, wide-eyed, with arms raised perhaps in surprise, seems to have just come upon the scene from stage right.

Nine predatory critters tattooed over the body are accompanied by the names of eight countries plus the Vatican.  Clearly Coe intended to communicate some negative commonality they share, but absent extensive knowledge of the history of that era, a viewer would be left to guess at their meaning.

Untutored audiences would have the same trouble with much of Coe’s protest art.  Even those who do keep up with current events might miss some of her allusions in  much the same way they might miss some jokes in political cartoons.  Most of it, unfortunately, required no special expertise to decipher.  Torture, oppression, political corruption, and exploitation of the vulnerable continue unabated–mainstays on which the powerful depend in order to solidify and perpetuate their control; and for some, terrorizing others is powerfully erotic.

BP Shares Take a Dive (1987, graphite, watercolor and gouache on ivory Bristol board, 30″ x 22″ [76.2 x 55.9 cm]).  Copyright 1987 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

At her best, though, Coe successfully imbued universality into the time- and event-based medium of political cartoons.  Or perhaps it’s just that some things never change.  In BP Shares Take a Dive (1987), one needed no additional information to recognize that a record drop in share price of an oil company is related to the dead northern flicker lying across the yellowed newspaper announcing the financial disaster.

Executed in graphite and enlivened with yellow paint, BP Shares Take a Dive showcased Coe’s love affair with the immediacy of putting pencil marks on paper.  Although she struggles when having to choose a medium for embodying a new idea, she gravitates toward drawing because of its “honesty…urgency [and] elegance.”  “Drawing is my true north,” Coe declared.4  Viewers could gain an appreciation of that preference because, unlike previous exhibits of the artist’s work at Galerie St. Etienne, Mad As Hell displayed mostly drawings and some paintings, but very few prints.

Political Television (1986, graphite and gouache on white Bristol board, 12¾″ x 13″ 32.4 x 33 cm).  Copyright 1986 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

A couple of truly timeless political cartoons, Political Television (1986) and Politicians in the Pocket (1994) addressed the way money taints the electoral process in the United States, though the setting could be anywhere.  In the first, a rather literally-rendered donkey (Democratic party) and similarly drawn elephant (Republican party) toss bags of US currency into the shark jaws of a television, the legs and arm of which mark it as the personification of corporate media.

Politicians in the Pocket (1994, graphite and gouache on white board, 7¼″ x 9⅞″ [18.4 x 25.1 cm]).  Copyright 1994 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

Politicians in the Pocket, published in the Op-Ed section of The New York Times, zooms in on a jacket pocket in which are stuffed five suited men.  The paunchy wearer of the jacket, in white shirt and striped tie, pulls up the arm of one of his captives, as if selecting a politician for his next assignment.  In the background, a dark figure seen from behind is partly obscured by a domed building with cracks in its foundation.  All is not well in the capitol.

In the late 1980s, not content with the limitations of conjuring images from secondhand sources, Coe sought an injustice for which she could bear witness through direct observation.5  One subject, the slaughtering of animals for human consumption, had lurked in her unconscious for years.

In the exhibition essay, Galerie St. Etienne director Jane Kallir wrote about Coe’s childhood experience of seeing a pig escape “from a nearby slaughterhouse.”6  Yes, the artist explained in an email interview, at nine years old she had watched “all the people…standing around laughing as the escaped pig wove in between traffic, being chased by men covered in blood, with knives.”  Then she added, “[t]he building behind our house was the hog factory farm, and that terrified us, as the pigs would be thrown against the tin walls, as they were getting them out to go into the slaughterhouse at 4am….it was very loud, lots of shouting and screaming pigs.”  The physical setting for that soundtrack was the “bombed out streets and buildings of [World War II]” in the English town where Coe grew up.7

Few artists possess the skill to successfully translate trauma into artwork that emotionally engages rather than repels and, at the same time, adequately communicates the extremity of life-threatening events.  Spanish artist Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) in his Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War) (1810-1823) and German Expressionist Otto Dix (1891-1969) in his Der Krieg (War) (1924) convincingly used prints derived from drawings to depict the horrors of combat.  Artistic style and skillful handling of the medium invite viewers closer while the fantastical nature of the compositions creates just enough distance to prevent avoidant or dissociative responses.

Coe’s depictions of the trauma of apartheid rose to that level but few of her images of animal suffering adequately conveyed the feelings of that vulnerable child subjected to the predawn sounds of the neighborhood slaughterhouse.  To evoke in viewers the same empathic pain she felt for the terrified pigs, the artist faced the additional challenge of depicting animals as sentient creatures with the same emotional capacities as humans, and hence deserving of the same rights.

Slaughterhouse Trenton (2006, oil on canvas, 42″ x 30″ [106.7 x 76.2 cm]).  Copyright 2006 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

In the painting Slaughterhouse Trenton (2006), Coe painted three lambs in the lower right corner about to step through the picture plane.  The closest one gazes at a visitor innocently and hopefully, as do some others who make similar eye contact.  The ears of all of them are pierced with number tags.  In the middle ground, two men lead a white lamb that looks back at the others into a room where another man tends a moving rack of not-quite-dead animals, each suspended by one leg from a hook, blood dripping onto the floor from their wounds.  The lamb on the far right has raised its head, an indication that it’s still alive.  The white lamb will soon hang like the rest.

Coe used value and color to create depth, to lead the eye toward the background, and to call attention to the slaughterhouse workers’ next victim.  The sheep’s yellow ear tags mark their hours as numbered, and their emotionally expressive eyes elicit empathy, perhaps sufficiently enough to move an audience from denial to engagement.

Out of Sight Out of Mind (2010, graphite, gouache and watercolor on heavy white Strathmore Bristol board, 23″ x 29″ [58.4 x 73.7 cm]).  Copyright 2010 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

In a smaller piece akin to a political cartoon, Out of Sight Out of Mind (2010), Coe juxtaposed a parade of jacketed men–one carrying a red and yellow McDonald’s takeout bag–against a backdrop of a couple of stores, several parked cars and a line of receding poles carrying electricity wires.  The sign on one store announces “Rib Pit” and on the other, “Farm Fresh Organic.”  Above the latter store a vertical, arrow-shaped sign points the way to “Liquor,” illuminated in yellow and red–the only two colors Coe used for this otherwise stormy gray and black scene.

A splatter of red that attracts attention to a young animal in the middle ground seems to originate from a dripping red gash in its throat.  As they go about their business, the men in the front leave behind red footprints after passing through the puddle of red.  Behind them in the store that promises “Farm Fresh Organic,” instead of the usual display windows, a cut-away view of the interior of a slaughterhouse treats passersby to the truth about the fate of those free-to-wander animals.  If they cared to look, they would see several butchers going about their business of transforming animals into oven-ready meat.

Out of Sight Out of Mind  illustrates the disconnect between vendors’ and customers’ claims of free-range, antibiotic-free, contented cows, and the anything-but-compassionate killing of food animals.  It highlights the enormous capacity for denial inherent in the human species,8 epitomized by one reviewer’s reaction to Coe’s graphic depictions of abuse and suffering.  “Our world isn’t quite as cruel or decadent as Ms. Coe makes it out to be,” he declared with great authority, apparently oblivious to the news appearing elsewhere in his publication, The Wall Street Journal.9

Murder in the Gulf (2010, graphite, gouache, watercolor and oil on heavy white Strathmore Bristol board, 29″ x 23″ [73.7 x 58.4 cm]).  Copyright 2010 Sue Coe.  Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, NY.

In another tour de force, Murder in the Gulf  (2010), Coe reminds her audience of the high cost of crude.  On the far horizon, a white-hot explosion shoots up orange and red flames from a burning oil rig.  A glow of similar colors advances on the water toward the foreground where a seabird (perhaps a brown pelican), dripping inky black and tattooed on its breast with BP’s clean energy logo, lifts its open-mouthed head to the sky as if in a scream, while futilely attempting to protect two sleeping chicks in a nest at its feet.

Questionable adherence to safety practices in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 cost eleven men their lives and exacted an environmental toll the extent of which rapidly faded from public awareness but still goes on.  Again and again, Coe employs the power of images to confront people with the devastating harm that humans are capable of inflicting on others, demanding notice and response.

Curiously, though, the exhibit included no artwork dealing with interpersonal violence.  When asked about her advocacy for animal rights rather than, for example, the rights of children, Coe responded, “activists, who feel responsible, feel responsible for Everyone [sic], they do not discriminate between those who suffer, or make a hierarchy of need.  Perhaps a better question is to ask why are trillions of dollars spent on wars and not on children, or the environment, or health care, or education.”10

After looking at this reviewer’s artwork depicting childhood trauma, Coe shared Raped at 8 (2006), a drawing inspired by her work in Texas with her friend Dr. Eric Avery.  In interviewing nine imprisoned, HIV positive women, they found that all but one had been sexually abused as children.11  For this and the other images appearing on the artist’s website under the heading Through Her Own Eyes, Coe collaborated with her subjects to “make sure [the] images of their lives were accurate and they approved.”12

Raped at 8 (2006, graphite and watercolor, 20″ x 30″ [50.8 x 76.2 cm]).  Copyright 2006 Sue Coe.

Raped at 8 powerfully demonstrates Coe’s virtuosity at deploying color and illumination in an otherwise dark interior to immediately direct the eye to its intended location.  Radiating from under the tilted shade of a lamp set on a nightstand, an almost pure white light with hints of pale yellow silhouettes the left shoulder, back and bare buttocks of a seemingly headless man climbing onto the foot of a bed.  A sliver of white from the same source connects his right shoulder with the left one of his intended object–a young black girl whose white shirt with green and red designs rides up to expose her navel, while her yellow-tinted, pushed-up skirt forms several folds around her waist and underneath her very white underpants.

Coe’s sparing use of color in this otherwise black and white image forces the viewer to contemplate the fate of the girl, whose wide-eyed expression speaks to her dissociated terror.  One small, red flip-flop hangs from her right foot, while the other has been knocked off, coming to rest near the shod feet of her assailant.  That, plus the way her right foot peaks out from underneath his crotch, heel to heel with his right foot, emphasizes an-eight-year old’s littleness against the grownup’s massiveness.  The bed sags under his weight but makes no imprint under her.

The sexual nature of the assault is suggested by the perpetrator’s pulled down pants and the victim’s exposed underwear.  Her pink foot situated just under his crotch, looking unnervingly like a scrotum, leaves no doubt as to his intention, as does the title of the work.

The strength of Coe’s image was also its weakness.  When shared with a survivor of years of father-daughter incest, Raped at 8 evoked a visceral response of nausea in her; it struck too close to home.  An audience that finds itself front and center at a common offense many believe a rarity might quickly move along to the next piece of art, letting unconscious defense mechanisms erase the previous image.

The same holds true for Coe’s animal rights work.  Carnivores with an appetite for flesh aren’t led willingly to slaughter.  Art about the ugly must be attractive enough to compel attention, mysterious enough to invite reflection, and clear enough to enlighten the unknowing.  When Coe arrives at the right combination, her artwork confronts viewers with uncomfortable truths about the human capacity for cruelty.
1 Keith W. Jacobs and Frank E. Hustmyer, “Effects of four primary colors on GSR, heart rate and respiration rate,” Perceptual and Motor Skills 38 (June 1974):763-766 quoted in Deborah Feller, The Effect of Color on the Emotional Response to the Thematic Apperception Test, unpublished master’s thesis, 1977.

2 “Chronology and Exhibition History; Biography Sue Coe,” Artists and Inventory (Galerie St. Etienne, 2012).   <>

3 Jane Kallir, exhibition essay, 2012, 1.

4 Sue Coe, email response to questions, May 21, 2012.

5 Kallir, exhibition essay, 2.

6 Ibid.

7 Coe, email response to questions.

8 Cordelia Fine, A Mind of Its Own: How the Brain Distorts and Deceives (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006).

9 “Mad as Hell” New Work (and Some Classics) by Sue Coe,” The Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2012.

10 Coe, email response to questions.

11 Sue Coe, email correspondence, May 20, 2012.

12 Sue Coe, email correspondence, May 22, 2012.

“Mad as Hell!” New Work
(and Some Classics) by Sue Coe
The Galerie St. Etienne
24 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019


News & Views Takes a Brief Break

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April 6th, 2012

Vacation Time

News & Views is taking a brief sabbatical to do some traveling.  In May, look for a review of an exhibition of graphic artist Sue Coe’s work, scheduled to open at the Galerie St. Etienne in mid-April.


Art Review: Van Gogh Up Close

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March 20th, 2012

Zooming In on
Van Gogh’s
Zooming In

Sunflowers (1887, oil on canvas, 17″ x 24″ [43.2 x 61 cm]).  The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Naturally the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened the Van Gogh Up Close exhibit with its well known treasure, Sunflowers (1888 or 1889), but it was the far more striking Sunflowers (1887) from the master colorist’s Paris years that stole the show.  Two yellow ocher blooms, one presenting its face to the viewer, the other its back, vibrate against a background of mostly cobalt blue.  Assured brushstrokes of crimson limn the edges of the petals (actually leaves) and crisscross each other, not quite capturing the Fibonacci spiral of the flower’s brown center (a collection of tiny florets).  One can imagine the obsessed artist squinting intently at his slowly wilting subjects to better grasp the complex patterns of nature.

Because the wildly popular Vincent Willem van Gogh guarantees a crowd for any museum mounting an exhibit in his name, many such shows have cropped up over the years.  Remarkably, guest curator Cornelia Homburg managed to conjure up a fresh perspective from which to examine this artist’s oeuvre.  Noticing within his body of work paintings that share a cluster of traits, she proposed the current show to the National Gallery of Canada in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum.

Homburg began her exploration with the 33-year-old van Gogh’s sojourn in Paris (1886-1888), during which time he lived with his art-dealing, younger brother Theo, met and socialized with fellow artists in art class and at exhibitions, and absorbed the radiant hues of Impressionism and the alluring compositions of Japanese prints.  During this brief respite from inner turmoil that invariably surfaced,1 van Gogh diligently applied himself to learning the newfangled painting techniques of his peers in hopes of churning out a more marketable product.

Many paintings from then and the rest of his all-too-brief life (he died of a gunshot wound to his abdomen in 1890) display close-up views of still-life objects in simplified settings, and foreground details in landscape views with high horizons.  Influenced by Japanese printmakers like Utawaga Hiroshige I and others (on view in their own room at the exhibit) and drawn to their philosophy of contemplation, van Gogh sought elusive solace in emulation of them.

In 1889, from the asylum in St. Remy, the artist wrote to his sister Wilhelmien, “I…am always obliged to go and gaze at a blade of grass, a pine-tree branch, an ear of wheat, to calm myself.”2  In choosing to focus his visual attention in that way, van Gogh practiced a now well-recognized method of trance induction.

The central thesis of Van Gogh Up Close–that his propensity for zooming in on nature, still or wild, was unique to his last few years and certain of his paintings–overlooks the obsession with which van Gogh approached all endeavors in his life.  While honing his draftsmanship early in his career, the fledgling artist wrote to his brother, “I still believe that the way to get that boldness and daring later is to quietly carry on observing as faithfully as possible now.”3

In learning to draw the figure, van Gogh demonstrated a monomaniacal ability to focus in on one object, spending hours intensely concentrating on his poor beleaguered models4 and, in landscapes like Behind the Schenkweg, The Hague (1882),5 demonstrated the same fascination with details and dramatic shifts in perspective that characterize his later work.

Perhaps there was something about Paris–that Vincent was manifesting his long dreamed of artistic reunion with Theo, that he was participating in the albeit often strained comradery of other artists–that allowed him to again sit still for a while.  Whatever the fortuitous precipitants, the results of those labors enjoyed expert illumination (no glare here despite all the framing under glass) throughout the exhibit and especially in the introductory gallery, which featured six floral still lifes and one pair of shoes.

Bowl with Zinnias and Other Flowers (1886, oil on canvas, 19¾″ x 24″ [50.2 x 61 cm]).  National Gallery of Canada.

In one offering, Bowl with Zinnias and Other Flowers (1886), van Gogh sculpted the flowers with abbreviated strokes of impasto, working wet on wet with great precision.  A transparent, thinly applied reddish brown backdrop contrasts with the thickly brushed table on which sits a vase whose form is modeled with green and highlighted with pure white.  A bloom in the lower left of the bouquet, defined by the red one behind it, begs to be smelled.  The ocher flower surrounded by all the white ones and set off by the light blue abutting it, might that represent the artist himself?

Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies (1887, oil on canvas, 31½″ x 26⅜″ [80 x 67 cm.]). Triton Foundation, Belgium.

Further along, the visitor encountered the stunning Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies (1887), a prime specimen of van Gogh’s attachment to the power of simultaneous contrast, a concept he knew from Charles Blanc’s treatise on a subject6 originally explained by textile chemist Michel Eugéne Chevreul.7  In this animated painting, a profusion of pale blue flowers and a similarly hued background provide the stage for impossibly bright red-orange blossoms that crown the spray and lead the eye to a red-accented green table with a vase that adds more blue.

Adhering to the theory of simultaneous contrast, which states that a color’s chroma is intensified when placed adjacent to its color wheel opposite, in Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies, van Gogh juxtaposed red-orange with its complement blue, and green with its antithesis red.  Then he scattered strokes of dark blue and added a number of pure white daisies, using extremes of value for heightened impact.

Crown Imperial (Fritillaria) in a Copper Vase (1887, oil on canvas, 28¾″ x 2313/16″ [73 x 60.5 cm]). Musée d’Orsay, France.

With a nod to the pointillists in the somewhat different Crown Imperial (Fritillaria) in a Copper Vase (1887), van Gogh sprinkled stars across the dark blue background, adding a bit of heaven to his art.  With smooth strokes, he blended yellow into red to describe the fritillaries, and stippled yellow onto the red-brown vase to suggest copper, varying his paint application as the object required, in complete control of his medium.

A Pair of Shoes (1887, oil on canvas, 12⅞″ x 165/16″ [32.7 x 41.5 cm]). The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Thrown in among the pretty plants, A Pair of Shoes (1887) provides humble evidence of van Gogh’s accomplished draftsmanship.  Like the pair of Sunflowers sharing views from above and below, these shoes show off their tops and bottoms.  In this study of blues, red-browns and pinks, the artist used smaller brushes to rim the shoes’ edges, dot in the cleats and squiggle on the laces, indicating the concentration with which he painted during those years.

Grapes, Lemons, Pears and Apples (1887, oil on canvas, 185/16″ x 21¾″ [46.5 x 55.2 cm]). Art Institute of Chicago.

Accompanied by some other still lifes in the last room of the exhibit, Grapes, Lemons, Pears and Apples (1887) epitomizes van Gogh’s aptitude for innovatively integrating disparate artistic styles.  While channeling Cezanne in his apples and pears, the artist also referenced Dutch Golden Age still-life painters in the translucent quality of his grapes.  With radiating and encircling dashes of pastel colors, he suggested the opening of a cornucopia and, after the paint had dried, layered on deep blue marks of shadow.  In the upper right, a starburst of olive and ocher enliven a pointed leaf while a barely begun one in the foreground already casts a shadow, marking the work as still in progress.

In between the first and last galleries, landscapes predominated and mirrored van Gogh’s change of scenery.  In the winter of 1888, the artist fled the overstimulating environment of Paris and headed south to rural Arles.  There he hoped to establish a community of artists practicing a new art in a contemplative setting like that of his Japanese idyll.

Blossoming Acacia Branches (1890, oil on canvas, 13″ x 9½″ [33 x 24.2 cm]). Nationalmuseum, Sweden.

Throughout the last two years of his life, van Gogh reflected in his work both his growth as an artist and his deteriorating mental state.8  The high horizon line that he borrowed from Japanese prints disappeared entirely in closeups like Iris (1889), and in paintings like Blossoming Acacia Branches (1890) and Ears of Wheat (1890), which border on total abstraction, van Gogh took the lead in the race toward modernity.

Iris (1889, oil on thinned cardboard, mounted on canvas, 24½″ x 19″ [62.2 x 48.3 cm]). National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

With Iris, the artist zoomed in on a single plant thriving in its natural environment instead of dying in a vase.  The shock of the bright blue bloom and its accompanying buds saves the painting from dissolving into a mass of hyperactive green brushstrokes.  Unsure of when his mind might desert him again, van Gogh unwittingly represented in this and many of his other late landscapes his futile efforts to stanch the flood of agitated thoughts that beset him during bouts of illness.

Wheatfield (1888, oil on canvas, 21¾″ x 26¼″ [55.2 x 66.7 cm]). Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawaii.

Representing a time of clarity and control, Wheatfield embodies perfectly van Gogh’s perception of the seasons.  Writing to Theo in 1884, the artist waxed poetical: “The spring is tender green (young wheat) and pink (apple blossom).  The autumn is the contrast of the yellow leaves against violet tones.  The winter is the snow with the little black silhouettes.”9

In a field of purple earth with yellow stubble, three sheaves of wheat crowned with flecks of gold lean against each other like the three Graces.  Behind them stretches an expanse of ocher interrupted by stripes of green and yellow that stop before a horizontal band of deep blue mountains and trees that turns green as it extends to the right.  Clouds of white applied wet on wet over a green-blue sky demonstrate the dexterity with which van Gogh could throw paint.  A single cypress towers above all else on the right while a smaller tree occupies the center, perhaps expressing the gulf between the artist and his world.

By the end of 1888, van Gogh’s dream of establishing a studio in the south had dissolved along with his mental health in the acid of his neighbors’ reactions to his off-putting behavior and the fallout from his cohabitation with Paul Gauguin.  After several bouts of illness and hospitalizations, the bedraggled artist conceded defeat and admitted himself to an asylum in St. Remy, where he remained until the spring of 1890 when, frustrated by the restrictions of institutional living, he headed north.

At the asylum, van Gogh took advantage of his good days to first draw and then paint the fields and mountains visible from his window.  Once stabilized and permitted to venture off the grounds, he resumed his habit of trekking around the countryside in search of subjects.

Road Menders at Saint-Remy (1889, oil on canvas, 28⅞″ x 36⅛″ [73.4 x 91.8 cm]). The Cleveland Museum of Art.

In Road Menders at Saint-Remy (1889), the artist’s attention settled on three giant London plane trees and some workers repairing a road glistening with puddles alongside a wavy street in town.  Although some blue peeks out from behind the houses and background trees, the overall air is one of claustrophobia.

Borrowing pastel tones from the Impressionists, van Gogh created drama with bright green shutters, deep blue figures, and dark outlines that contain the busy grey, violet, pink and blue of the peeling bark.  Perhaps the solid, enduring qualities of these ancient plants attracted him and contemplating them brought him some small comfort.

Almond Blossom (1890, oil on canvas, 2815/16″ x 36¼″ [73.5 x 92 cm]). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Ever chasing an elusive family reunion, van Gogh was elevated to new heights of hope by news of the birth of his nephew and namesake, Theo’s firstborn, early in 1890.  To celebrate the new arrival, he painted in the dead of winter a symbol of spring and renewal as a gift for the child.10

Inspired to levels of concentration often missing in many of the rapidly executed landscapes of his last few years, van Gogh spent sufficient time on Almond Blossom (1890) to layer wet paint over dry and carefully delineate the outlines of branches where they abut the background blue.  Like he did in his Parisian still lifes, the artist here constructs the flowers with impasto white, hints of green and touches of red, once again in complete command of his brush.

The dream did not last long.  Van Gogh crashed along with his hopes in the spring of 1890 during a brief stay in Paris at Theo’s.  After a blowup with his financially stressed brother who, despite having new responsibilities of wife and child, continued to support the demanding, chronically broke Vincent, the unnerved artist relocated yet again, this time to Auvers-sur-Oise, a short train ride from the big city.

Undergrowth with Two Figures (1890, oil on canvas, 19½″ x 39¼″ [49.5 x 99.7 cm]). Cincinnati Art Museum.

Undergrowth with Two Figures (1890) emerged soon after van Gogh’s flight.  Related to other images of the forest floor (sous-bois) but distinct in its bright coloring and the inclusion of figures, this double-square painting is tinged with foreboding.  Oddly, in describing the picture, “[v]an Gogh never mentioned the human inhabitants…instead describing its colour [sic] and composition.”11

An alignment of trees outlined in black and covered with blue and pink bark pens in a well-dressed couple strolling arm in arm amid a profusion of yellow and green underbrush and shadowed by a midnight blue background.  The scene obliquely references the nature walks conducted regularly by van Gogh’s parents for the benefit of their children back in the artist’s rural hometown of Zundert.

Born into a family too conventionally close and religiously observant for his inquisitive and singular temperament, Vincent quickly acquired the role of problem child.  Shipped out for schooling and then employment, eventually banished completely from returning home, van Gogh spent his life dreaming up artist colonies and instant families.

In Undergrowth with Two Figures, a much thicker tree, centrally placed, bars entrance to the flowered walk and parental figures, a representation of the impossibility of ever returning home.  But in his unrelenting pursuit of that longed for reunion, van Gogh adopted mentors, sought fellowship with others, absorbed a variety of artistic styles and created an art that only he could.


1 See Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh: The Life (London: Profile Books, 2011) for the pre-cradle to post-grave details of van Gogh’s tumultuous and tragic life.

2 Anabelle Kienle, “Poetic Nature: A Reading of Van Gogh’s Letters” in Van Gogh Up Close (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 43.

3 Quoted in Cornelia Homburg, editor, Vincent van Gogh: Timeless Country–Modern City (Milan: Skira, 2010), 228.

4 See Colta Ives, et al, Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), the catalog for the show of the same name, for a look at van Gogh’s earliest artwork.

5 See Timeless Country–Modern City, plate 5.

6 Charles Auguste-Alexandre-Phillipe Blanc, Grammaire des arts du dessin, 1867.

7 Michel Eugéne Chevreul, The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts, translated by Charles Martel, 1854.

8 Convincingly diagnosed as the inherited disease of acute intermittent porphyria by Wilfred Niels Arnold in “The Illness of Vincent van Gogh,” Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 13:1 (2004), 22-43.

9 Quoted in Timeless Country–Modern City, 243.

10 Exhibit wall text for Almond Blossom.

11 Jennifer A. Thompson, “Sous-Bois” in Van Gogh Up Close, 208.

Van Gogh Up Close
Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive
P.O. Box 427, Station A
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1N 9N4
(613)990-1985, (800)319-ARTS
May 25 – September 3, 2012.

Catalog available.


Work in Progress: Childhood’s Edge

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March 15th, 2012

The Eyes Have It

An updated image of the painting Childhood’s Edge can be seen on the Work in Progress page.  Shadows now define the orbital and nasal cavities, and are being added elsewhere to give form to the skull.

Note that there will be a pause in the work in preparation for several weeks in Italy.  Expect the next update in late May.


Addendum: Degas and the Nude

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March 1st, 2012

Clarification of Degas’s
Visual Abilities

The following paragraphs and related notes have been inserted into the review of Degas and the Nude.  They appear after the explanation for the omission of Degas’s visual problems from the discussion of his later work:

Ambrose Vollard thought the same and insisted in his Degas: An Intimate Portrait that the artist “…used to pretend to be more blind than he was in order to not recognize people he wanted to avoid…Immediately after such a refusal, Degas took out his watch and said, without the slightest hesitation, ‘It’s a quarter past two.’”9

The statements of both the curator and Vollard “…reflect the simplistic view that vision is all about acuity and little more.”10 But such a dichotomy is “…not at all inconsistent [with] serious central vision loss.”11 “The fine details of a person’s face…would not have been clear to a person affected by central retinal disease…However, a watch face with large, dark hands [on] a light-colored background would have been easily seen…It’s image spread out broadly on the retina.”12