ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Degas in Petaluma—Robert Flynn Johnson’s impeccable collection of Degas drawings are at the Petaluma Arts Center, opening festivities Saturday evening

Degas’ portrait of Mlle Dembowska, black crayon on pink paper, 1858-1859, 17.5 x 11.5 inches, is one of the most important works in Robert Flynn Johnson’s collection of Degas drawings, on display at Petaluma Arts Center through July 26, 2105.  Flynn Johnson acquired this work in 1978.  Degas used black crayon, a medium he was not very familiar with (he normally used pencil) and the heavy shadowing emphasizing the young woman’s face and its positioning vis a vis the angle of the chair, upsets the strict conventions of portraiture.  The catalogue entry associated with this drawing cites 1858 correspondence from Auguste De Gas that suggests the young artist was bored with drawing portraits to satisfy familial obligations. Image: Robert Flynn Johnson, Petaluma Art Center

Degas’ portrait of Mlle Dembowska, black crayon on pink paper, 1858-1859, 17.5 x 11.5 inches, is one of the most important works in Robert Flynn Johnson’s collection of Degas drawings, on display at Petaluma Arts Center through July 26, 2105. Flynn Johnson acquired this work in 1978. Degas used black crayon, a medium he was not very familiar with (he normally used pencil). The heavy shadowing, emphasizing the young woman’s face, and the head’s positioning vis a vis the angle of the chair, upsets strict conventions of portraiture. The catalogue entry associated with this drawing cites 1858 correspondence from Auguste De Gas that suggests the young artist was bored with drawing portraits to satisfy familial obligations. Image: Robert Flynn Johnson, Petaluma Art Center

 “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle or shorthand…“Degas in Petaluma”…. is Petaluma Art Center’s (PAC) biggest coup to date.  Featuring 100+ works on paper, the exhibition includes 40 drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas from his early days of making studies of works at the Louvre to late in his career.  Also included in the show are works on paper by artists in his circle, including Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this exhibit is that gives me another chance to meet the collector, Robert Flynn Johnson, and hear him hold court on his favorite subject, his art and his thought processes about art and collecting.  I met him 20 years back when he was the curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He was one of their most interesting and knowledgeable curators then, always giving us the juiciest tidbits, enlivening the small victories and defeats in the artist’s daily struggle and reveling in the connections between artists. His own eclectic collecting habits were revealed to us with his marvelous photography show, “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson,” at PAC in August 2011. (Click here to read ARThound’s review of that show.)  And late last year, Joe McDonald’s Ice House Gallery featured some of Flynn Johnson’s even more eclectic works in “Catch and Release: Works from the Robert Flynn Johnson Collection.”  It was there that we all had a chance to preview the chic and wonderfully informative catalog for Flynn Johnson’s Degas collection that Joe had shot the images for.  Flynn Johnson’s writing in this catalog represents decades of scholarly research and rumination and reveals Degas as a fascinating young man, oddly rebellious and immensely talented.  As Flynn Johnson explores the fine details and artistic choices in these artworks, they come to life.  He wrote the wonderful wall captions for the show too, so prepare to be wowed on all fronts.

You won’t want to miss the opening party or his two talks at PAC—

Edgar Degas'

Edgar Degas’ “Study for Plough Horse,” ca. 1860-61, graphite drawing, is part of the Petaluma Art Center’s summer show, “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle.” Forty drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas and over 100 works on paper from the private collection of Robert Flynn Johnson, through July 26, 2015. Photo: courtesy Robert Flynn Johnson

Saturday, June 20—Opening Reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres (5-8PM) (click here to buy $10 tickets if you are not a member of PAC; free to members)

Thursday, July 2, 2015—Chasing Degas:  My Four Decades Collecting this Artist and his Circle – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM).  $15 General, $10 PAC members.

Thursday, July 16, 2015—Public/ Private: Collecting for the Community while Collecting Personally, a Balancing Act  – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM).  $15 General, $10 PAC members.

Details:  “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle runs through July 26, 2015.  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma’s historic former train depot.  Hours 11-5 PM Thursday through Monday, open until 8PM Saturdays.  Admission for this special exhibit: $10 General.  PAC members, FREE.  Tickets may be purchased in advance, here.

Collector Robert Flynn Johnson. San Francisco artist Josephine Coniglio’s portrait “Robert Flynn Johnson, the Picture Inspector,” oil on panel, 24 x 20 inches.  Photo: © Josephine Coniglio

Collector Robert Flynn Johnson. San Francisco artist Josephine Coniglio’s portrait “Robert Flynn Johnson, the Picture Inspector,” oil on panel, 24 x 20 inches. Photo: © Josephine Coniglio

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June 20, 2015 Posted by | Art, Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time after Christmas? The de Young’s Paley Collection show closes on Sunday, December 30, 2012—it’s gorgeous, includes many of Modernism’s masterworks, and is doable in 90 minutes

Paul Gauguin, “The Seed of the Areoi” (1892), Oil on burlap, 36 1/4 x 28 3/8 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Paul Gauguin, “The Seed of the Areoi” (1892), Oil on burlap, 36 1/4 x 28 3/8 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

William S. Paley’s story is legendary: the determined son of a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant who was in the cigar business, Paley built Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from a small radio network into one of the foremost radio and television network operations in the United States.  He married two legendary American beauties—Dorothy Hart Hearst and style icon Barbara ”Babe” Cushing Mortimer and he enthusiastically built one of the 20th century’s greatest private art collections.  It was his first wife Dorothy and her friends, like Averell Harriman, who in the early 1930’s, first introduced him to European Impressionist and post-Impressionist artworks and he was smitten.  Soon, he was avidly courting Matisse and buying the best artworks of pioneering modern masters Cézanne, Gaugin and Picasso.  Upon his death in 1990, Paley’s legendary collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures went to the William S. Paley Foundation which transferred it to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), where it went on display in 1992.  Highlights of that collection are on display through Sunday, December 30, 2012, at the de Young Museum, the exclusive West Coast venue for The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism which opened September 15, 2012.   

The exhibition of over 60 artworks from Paley’s remarkable collection is the perfect post-Christmas excursion.  If you saw the phenomenal “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” at SFMOMA (2011) and liked it, you’ll appreciate this collection too, which also reads like the tops hits of Modernism.  Unlike the Steins who were expats living in bohemian Paris and collecting works directly from avant-garde painters like Matisse and Picasso, Paley’s early collecting was a function of his European travels and he often paid top dollar for works that caught his fancy.  But the tastes of these powerful collectors more than overlapped—Paley actually purchased several paintings that were originally owned by the Steins.  If you think you’re experiencing déjà vu while walking thorugh this show, you may well be.  A few of the Picasso’s were at SFMOMA in 2011 for “The Steins Collect.”   

The exhibition hosted by the de Young includes major works of Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, with significant works by Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Roualt, and Andre Derain.  Not to be missed masterpieces include Gauguin’s “The Seed of the Areoi” (1892) from the artist’s first visit to Tahiti (first gallery); Degas’ large-scale pastel and charcoal “Two Dancers” (1905) (second gallery); Picasso’s celebrated monumental painting, “Boy Leading a Horse” (1905-1906) (next to last gallery), Derain’s vibrant Fauve painting “Bridge over the Riou” (1906) (final gallery), and Matisse’s “Odalisque with a Tambourine” (1925-26) (next to last gallery).   

Paul Gauguin, “Washerwomen” (1888), Oil on burlap, 29 7/8 x 36 1/4 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Paul Gauguin, “Washerwomen” (1888), Oil on burlap, 29 7/8 x 36 1/4 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

As you enter the Herbst Exhibition galleries, you are hit by the color in these artworks and the tremendous power of color to convey emotional energy.  Gauguin’s large and vibrant “The Seed of the Areoi,” painted during the artist’s first trip to Tahiti in the 1890’s opens the exhibition.   The immensely popular painting retells a Polynesian version of a universal story of creation and Gauguin’s mistress is the model for the queen of the Areoi clan.  Masterful is the only word for its color, from the complementary purple against yellow in its background to the neighboring shades of brown, yellow and red in its foreground.  While Gauguin claimed he found this palette in the natural Tahitian landscape and in villages, scholars point out that no such colors co-existed naturally there at the time.  While pleasing to our modern eyes, his palette would have also been quite shocking to his turn-of-the-century European audience.   

Equally enchanting is a smaller Gauguin gem, “Washerwomen,” which he painted during his two-month stay with Vincent van Gogh at Arles in 1888.  Four women are shown bent over on their knees on a riverbank, lost in the timeless rhythm of scrubbing.  With postures evoking those adopted by figures kneeling in prayer, Gauguin superimposed a symbolic meaning on the tranquil scene that links these women to religious ritual practice and to the larger cycle of life. 

Henri Matisse, “Odalisque with a Tambourine,” Nice, place Charles-Félix, winter 1925–1926, Oil on canvas, 29 1/4 x 21 7/8 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Henri Matisse, “Odalisque with a Tambourine,” Nice, place Charles-Félix, winter 1925–1926,
Oil on canvas, 29 1/4 x 21 7/8 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

The six Matisses in the exhibition attest to his stature as the legendary colorist and master of red.  From his 1903 “The Musketeer,” which is an early expression of his understanding of how color can be used to block spatial relationships to his bold “Odalisque with a Tambourine” (1924-5), “Woman with a Veil (1927) and “Seated Woman with a vase of Amaryllis (1941), we see his imaginative pairings of natural forms of flowers, fruit, women juxtaposed against the simple geometry of inanimate objects such  tables, walls, floor tiles to create motifs bursting with energy and sensuality and color.  The placement of these spectacular Matisses alongside eight of Picasso’s paintings and drawings acknowledges the great rivalry between the two artists who engaged in a kind of mental chess game all of their adult lives.  Picasso, the younger of the two, was always trying to get Matisse to notice him while Matisse was no doubt jealous of Picasso’s flamboyance and success.  Paley appreciated the genius of both.

Pablo Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” (1905-6) has been given its own wall in one of the later exhibition galleries.  The painting was originally owned by Gertrude Stein and was at SFMOMA for “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” (2011).  Paley bought it in the 1930’s while he was on a ski trip in Saint-Martiz, Switzerland, after it was carried into the lobby of the Palace Hotel by the famous Swiss art book publisher Albert Skira, who also served as his dealer of sorts.  The painting has been smuggled out of Nazi Germany by the dealer Justin Thannhauser and given to Skira to sell and he went right to the Paley, who immediately fell for it.  This important work from Picasso’s Rose Period (1904-6) marks a point in Picasso’s career when his work was on the brink of ingenuity and, at the same time, steeped in history.  As William Rubin, MoMA’s former Director Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, explains in the catalogue, the work was pivotal in the context of the artist’s oeuvre and within the spectrum of art history as a whole.  Picasso both draws inspiration from his contemporaries and demonstrates his extensive art historical knowledge, even referencing as far back as Ancient Greek sculpture.  Ruben also suggests that boy in the painting, P’tit Louis, acts as the artist’s surrogate and that the work can be read as Picasso himself leading his loyal steed into the future, into the age of Cubism.  

Other Picasso pieces included in the show are “Nude with Joined Hands” (1906) inspired by Picasso’s trip to the Pyrenees village of Gósol with his muse Fernande and “The Architect’s Table” (1912), his highly abstract Analytical Cubist masterpiece. 

Pablo Picasso, “Boy Leading a Horse” (Paris, 1905–1906), Oil on canvas, 86 7/8 in. x 51 5/8 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Pablo Picasso, “Boy Leading a Horse” (Paris, 1905–1906), Oil on canvas, 86 7/8 in. x 51 5/8 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

As an avid grower of old European roses and gardener, I was struck by the paintings of flowers in the exhibition.  Édouard Manet’s “Two Roses on a Tablecloth,” is less than 8 inches high but captures what we gardeners live for.  With its creamy impasto of peachy yellow and off white and the softest pink, Manet alludes to the ephemeral beauty and pure delight of the rose in the peak of its bloom.  The placement of the roses on the table away from water which would sustain them mirrors Manet’s own fragility at the time.  His painting was inspired by the numerous bouquets that visitors brought to him in the winter of 1882-83, when he was mortally ill.   

Henri Rousseau’s delightful naïve still-life “Flowers in a Vase” (1901-02) alludes to the vibrancy that flowers can bring to any setting.  While the painting seems freely executed,Rousseau took great care in the arrangement and coloration of the flowers as well as in creating the green that runs through the bouquet’s foliage, the complimentary green wall behind the arrangement and the ornamental spray of green ivy at the bottom of the composition.    

Renoir’s “Strawberries” (circa 1905), featuring freshly-picked bright red strawberries loosely laid out on a creamy linen tablecloth beside a delicately patterned tea cup is poetical.  The appeal of the freshest possible food with no fuss is timeless.     

As for the exhibition’s many sculptures, the small and simply-posed terra cotta nudes of the French Catalan artist Aristide Maillol are exquisite.  Their faces are quite crude, showing no emotion but the compositions in totality convey a myriad of complex feelings.  Maillol took his inspiration from early classical sculptors but imposed his own modern and expressive take on form, creating fluid and rhythmic female portraits.  In contrast to Maillol stands the detailed perfection of Auguste Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais,” a half-dozen small commemorative portraits meant to depict the varied and complex emotions the six burghers of Calais actually underwent as they offered their lives to save their fellow citizens from King Edward III during the Hundred Year’s War.  

Aristide Maillol, “Seated Woman with Chignon,” 1900, Terracotta on black marble base, 6 7/8 x 4 x 5 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Aristide Maillol, “Seated Woman with Chignon,” 1900, Terracotta on black marble base, 6 7/8 x 4 x 5 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Mid-way through the exhibition is a fascinating series of large-scale color photographs that show many of the paintings showcased in Paley’s 20-plus-room apartment at 825 Fifth Avenue in New York City, where he lived with his second wife, socialite “Babe” Paley.  Their brightly colored and patterned apartment occupied a full floor in one of the most prestigious buildings in Manhattan and was decorated by the renowned Sister Parish and Albert Hadley (or Parish-Hadley), the French firm of Jansen (which assisted with the Kennedy White House), and Billy Baldwin.  Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” was the first thing people saw as they entered the front door and stepped onto the 18th- century parquet floors which perfectly accentuated the natural hues in painting’s lower register.  The foyer was the only room where people remained standing.  In the other rooms, intimacy and comfort were the rule and smaller artworks were gracefully intermingled with furnishings and personal objects.  As William Ruben writes in the catalogue “Paley’s collecting was entirely personal.  He thought of his paintings as the most important elements of a seamless private world…”  (p. ix) 

Catalogue:  The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism (revised 2012, 176 pages, $39.95, on sale for $29.88) lets you get acquainted with the artworks that Paley lived with.  The catalogue was originally published in 1992 to accompany an exhibition celebrating MoMA’s acquisition of his extraordinary personal art collection.   This newly-redesigned edition of the book has been released to accompany the collection’s second tour throughout the United States and Canada, which commences at the de Young.   Authored by William Rubin, MoMA’s former Director Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, and Matthew Armstrong, the catalogue is organized in alphabetical order by artists.  It devotes at least two full pages to each artwork in the collection—a full page photo and at one full page of analysis by Rubin, who worked with Paley as he made his purchases.  

Édouard Manet, “Two Roses on a Tablecloth,” (1882-83), Oil on canvas, 7 5/8 inches x 9 1/3 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Édouard Manet, “Two Roses on a Tablecloth,” (1882-83), Oil on canvas, 7 5/8 inches x 9 1/3 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, (MOMA) with which Paley began a long affiliation in 1937.  Serving as trustee, chairman of the Painting and Sculpture Committee, president of the Museum and chairman of the Board, Paley was chairman emeritus from 1985 until his death in October 1990. 

For other ARThound coverage of the Paley and Nureyev exhibitions, click here.

Details:  The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism closes Sunday, December 30, 2012.  The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Parking:  By entering Golden Gate Park from 8th Avenue (at Fulton Street), you can park for free for 4 hours on the street on John F. Kennedy Drive and have easy access to the museum.  Otherwise, enter on 10th Avenue (at Fulton) and park at the Music Concourse Garage (M-F $4.50/hour and $5/hour on weekends).  Tickets:  $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students with I.D.; $10 youth 6-17; members and children free.  Fee includes access to all museum collections and exhibitions including Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance (October 6, 2012 – February 17, 2013).  More information:   (415) 750-3600 or  deyoung.famsf.org.

Exhibition Venues:  September 15-December 30, 2012—de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco;  May 2- September 8, 2013—Portland Museum of Art in Maine; October 10, 2013-January 5, 2014—the Fine Arts Museum of Quebec;  and  2014—the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Related Lecture: “The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism,” Docent Lecture by Rita Dunlay, Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 2:15 p.m., Koret Auditorium, Free to public.  Museum admission is not required.

December 26, 2012 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

interview: Marin artist Michael Schwab talks about his latest poster for San Francisco Opera’s “Nixon in China”

Marin artist Michael Schwab signs copies of his “Nixon in China” poster at the Opera Shop at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House on June 17, 2012. Schwab has created three posters for SF Opera and has been commissioned to create a poster for Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” which has its world premiere at SF Opera next summer. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Well before John Adams’ opera Nixon in China opened San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season, a striking poster featuring Richard Nixon’s silhouette in profile set the mood across the Bay Area.  That artwork was created by Marin artist Michael Schwab, one of our country’s leading graphic artists, whose iconic posters, images and logos for the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, Robert Mondavi, Peet’s Coffee, Muhammad Ali, Nike, and others dynamically capture our lifestyle.  With his signature use of large, flat areas of color, dramatic perspectives, and bold, graphic images of archetypal human forms, Schwab’s work also lends itself perfectly to opera.  His Nixon in China poster was especially commissioned by San Francisco Opera to celebrate the first time San Francisco Opera is presenting the work, the 25th anniversary of the opera’s premiere, and the 40th anniversary of the historic trip that President Nixon made to Communist China in 1972.  The artwork, which also graces the opera’s program cover and appears as a huge three-sheet outside War Memorial Opera House, completely transcends Nixon’s dubious post-China legacy and is destined to become a classic.

Schwab’s sense of color is integral to his memorable compositions.  Nixon’s huge silhouette is executed in a subdued gray-red-mauve, an unusual color, that is set against a vivid orange-red background, evoking the red field of the Chinese flag.  As Nixon hovers in the background, the viewer’s eye is directed to the expectant figure in a black suit at the bottom, on stage, with outstretched arms, beckoning.  Behind him, in a darker hue of that unique gray-red-mauve, there’s a crowd of onlookers, in silhouette, that form a strong horizontal. Together, they evoke a poignant scene in the opera’s last act.  Blazoned across the top in a custom typeface, in a bright yellow gold that recalls the stars of the Chinese flag, is “John Adams Alice Goldman Nixon in China,” set against a black backdrop.  And on the bottom, in gray text, surrounded by black, is “San Francisco Opera June July 2012.”  In terms of mood, the poster has an ominous feel and lends itself to endless reflection on the fascinating personalities associated with this historic trip, primarily Nixon, but also Kissinger, Chairman Mao, Pat Nixon, and Chaing Ch’ing (Madame Mao) and their aspirations as individuals and as public figures.

Twenty years ago, in 1992, San Francisco Opera commissioned Schwab to create a poster to commemorate Mussorgsky’s great Russian opera, Boris Godunov, and last year, after interviewing several artists, SF Opera again commissioned Schwab to create a poster to commemorate Francesca Zambello’s new production of Richard Wagner’s four-part Ring cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).  And did he deliver!  His poster features a striking image of the heroic Brünnhilde, silhouetted against a fiery orange background evocative of the final immolation scene in Götterdämmerung, the cycle’s concluding opera.

“People came to the Ring from the four corners of the globe,” said Jon Finck, SF Opera’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs. “They bought that poster and took it home and it serves as reminder of that extraordinary experience they had here in San Francisco.  We’re looking at these posters as artworks, not advertising and we don’t include a lot of wording, we don’t need that.  Michael’s work has a lot of energy in it and it marks with a punch, evoking the drama and splendor of our operas.  There’s just no second guessing that this is Michael Schwab’s work.  His palette is bold and the typography is exciting and is a combination of a contemporary look that also harkens back to a more classic look from the 1930’s and 40’s, so it’s very classic but contemporary.”

Michael Schwab’s “Nixon in China” artwork is available in two sizes as a poster; it appears as three-sheet outside the opera house and it graces San Francisco Opera’s program cover for “Nixon in China.” Image: Michael Schwab.

San Francisco Opera has also commissioned Schwab to create three additional posters, so that there will be a set of five posters, not counting the Boris Godunov poster, that will mark the final five years of David Gockley’s tenure as General Director of San Francisco Opera.  In addition to The Ring (2011) and Nixon in China (2012), Schwab will create a poster for Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene that has its world premiere at SF Opera next summer and two additional, yet to be named, commissions.  “There will be not only local but national and international attention on Adamo’s work,” said Jon Finck.   “It will be a very daring and provocative opera given the libretto which suggests a particular relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.  This will be powerful on stage and David Gockley felt that we needed to have a powerful counterpart in terms of the image and Michael’s our guy, no question.”

After last Sunday’s riveting performance of Nixon in China at the War Memorial Opera House, I caught up with Michael Schwab in the Opera Shop, where he was busy greeting audience members and signing the poster he created to commemorate San Francisco Opera’s production.   Earlier in the week, I had conducted a phone interview with him about his artwork for San Francisco Opera.  Below is our conversation—

Are posters really influential in people’s decision to go to an event?

Michael Schwab:   Absolutely.  A poster is like a label on a bottle of wine―it’s visually representing what’s inside.  There’s creativity in that bottle – and the label, like the poster for the opera, should evoke the personality of the wine.  It’s an integral part of the opera.  It’s exciting to arrive dressed for the evening and walk up the steps of the War Memorial Opera House.   The 3-sheet poster out in front and the program that you are handed are the first creative impressions of the evening and should reflect the excitement, thrill and integrity of the opera.

What makes a really effective poster?  And, why are so many posters today so bad?

Michael Schwab:   Simplicity.  There’s way too much visual noise out there.  Graphic messages are conveyed much more effectively when the design is simple, bold and efficient.

What was your conception for the Nixon in China poster and how did you approach a design project like this?

Michael Schwab:   I started out attempting to portray the two men, Mao and Nixon, shaking hands in that historic moment.  I eventually realized that the image of Nixon alone was more intriguing. It was more powerful to have the big Nixon head as opposed to two men with more detail, shaking hands.  It was a more effective composition.  More dynamic.

Michael Schwab’s first commission for SF Opera was a poster for Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” in 1992. Image: Michael Schwab.

My designs work better when they are very singular in subject matter.  People typically want to say too many things with one design – rarely the best strategy. You’ve only got one or two seconds to earn someone’s attention.  For me, less is more.

Because this was a poster for opera, was there anything inherently different about it?

Michael Schwab:   As a graphic artist, I have much more freedom with these projects.  The artwork should be lyrical and unique.  It’s like an album cover—it’s part of the event.  If I wasn’t a graphic designer, working on posters and logos, I would probably be involved in theatre somehow.  Part of the success of my work is drama – there’s some theatre in my artwork.  At least, I hope so.

Did you listen to the opera or music from Nixon in China while working on the poster?

Michael Schwab:   Yes, and it is a great opera.  I was able to watch the video of the Vancouver Opera (VO) production (March, 2010) whose physical sets, scenery and costumes are the ones that San Francisco Opera is using in its production.  I usually listen to music in the studio.  Typically jazz.

What types of source materials do normally you use?

Michael Schwab:  When appropriate, I work with models—human or otherwise.  I pose and shoot my own photos myself.   For Nixon, of course, there was no model, so I had to rely on historic photographs.

How much of your work is done on a computer and how has that changed over time?  Do you start with freehand drawing?

Michael Schwab:  When computers first came out, most of my illustrator and designer pals were going over to the digital world.  I knew that I really enjoyed working at the drawing table – not a keyboard.  I decided to go in the opposite direction and keep my work very hand-drawn, with obvious craftsmanship.  And I still work at a drawing table, with pencil and paper, and then pen and ink.  I first draw rough pencil sketches, then create technical pen and ink drawings that eventually get digitally scanned.  We then work with Adobe Illustrator fine tuning the colors and shapes precisely.

How did you settle on the colors? 

Michael Schwab:  For the Nixon project, I knew up front that my poster was going to be a very strong red with golden yellow evoking the Chinese flag.

After you’ve nailed the image you’ll use, how do you decide on a font and it’s size and positioning?

Michael Schwab’s 2011 poster for Francesca Zambello’s new production of Richard Wagner’s four-part Ring cycle, “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” was an instant hit. 15 x 21 inches, digital studio print on archival paper. Image: Michael Schwab.

Michael Schwab:   Many times, I use my own font, “Schwab Poster,” created back in the ‘90’s.  I work with that typeface a lot.  It’s not commercially available but I have it here in the studio.  I used that for the National Parks series.  For the Nixon poster, I used an old wood block font because it just felt right.  We altered several of the letters to make it just right.

In your creative process, do you work up several different images, or, focus on just one?

Michael Schwab:   I usually work up two or three ideas for myself and typically show those to the client.  With Nixon in China, I shared 3 or 4 sketches with Jon Finck and David Gockley and told them why I thought the singular image worked best and they agreed.

What is your lead time in developing a poster like this?

Michael Schwab:   Is this case, I had a month or two, so it wasn’t too bad.  Sometimes deadlines are two weeks and sometimes two years.  There are no rules.

When I see some of your images, the word ‘bold’ comes to mind, but there is also a romantic/nostalgic aspect as well, harkening back to old woodcuts.  I get that sense from  the color, strong line and the overall energy in a lot of your works.

Michael Schwab:  My heroes were always the old European poster artists—Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and A.M. Cassandre, from France, and Ludwig Holwein, from Germany, and the Beggarstaff Brothers from England.  There’s lots of graphic romance and drama in those images.  I also have a deep respect for old Japanese woodcuts.

What’s the first poster you made?

Michael Schwab:   My first professional poster was for Levi’s, back in 1975, for creative director, Chris Blum.   I’ve been a graphic artist now for almost 40 years.   My first opera poster was for San Francisco Opera’s Boris Godunov in 1992.   Talk about bold and simple—that was extremely bold and simple.

Yes, not much more than a silhouette but it really communicated the pagentry of that opera.

Michael Schwab:   Next time you look at it, tell me if you’re in the audience looking at him from the audience or if you feel like you’re on the stage behind him.   That was a silk-screen poster with gold metallic ink border, which was probably toxic as hell…but it was gorgeous.  A couple of decades went by and here I am, at the opera again and thoroughly enjoying it.

Michael’s Schwab’s popular series of posters for the National Parks are synonymous with Northern California. “Golden Gate Bridge,” 1995, 22 x 30.75 inches, 7 color, silk screen. Image: Michael Schwab

 Is silk-screen still used?

Michael Schwab:   Yes, but it’s so much easier and cleaner to create a digital print.  They can really match colors beautifully on archival paper.  However, I still love serigraphs (silkscreen prints).  They are like paint on the paper.

Do you do your own print work as well or do you work with a printer?

Michael Schwab:   I work with several printers, but for the opera posters, I work with David Coyle at ArtBrokers Inc. in Sausalito.  He is a master printer and publishes many artists and photographers.   He and his staff did a stunning job.

Your website has a fabulous gallery of work, which are your favorites and why?

Michael Schwab:   It’s kind of like asking which children I like the best. I’ve had a few home runs, not everything works incredibly well, but the images for the Golden Gate Parks are a favorite.  I’m also proud of the work I’ve created for Amtrak over the past several years.  Several individual logos I feel very good about—the Robert Mondavi corporate logo,  Pebble Beach,  David Sedaris, to name a few.  And the opera posters—Nixon is my third.  I have a commission for the next 4 years with them.

 What are you working on right now?

Michael Schwab:   The big project on my drawing table now is the poster for America’s Cup 2013.   It hasn’t been printed at the time of this interview, yet but it’s been approved, and everybody seems to like it.  I’m also working on the graphic for a highway project up in British Columbia—The Sea to Sky Highway.  It seems like I always have a wine label project going on too.  Currently, it’s Area Code Wine Company.

Information about Purchasing Schwab’s posters:  

Michael Schwab’s Nixon in China poster is printed on archival fine art paper and is available as an unsigned 16″x24″ poster ($75) and a signed 24″x36″ collector’s poster ($150) through the San Francisco Opera Shop at the War Memorial Opera House and online at www.sfopera.com .  A limited number of his out of print Boris Godunov posters, 24″ x 36″ are available for $625 through the San Francisco Opera Shop at the War Memorial Opera House.

To visit Michael Schwab’s website, click here.

To read ARThound’s previous coverage of Michael Schwab, click here.

Details about Nixon in China performances: San Francisco Opera’s Nixon in China runs for seven performances June 8-July 3, 2012 at the War Memorial Opera House.  Tickets and information: www.sfopera.com or call (415) 864-3330.

June 24, 2012 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview: renowned artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, talks about his “Napoleon” poster, especially commissioned for the U.S. premiere of Abel Gance’s reconstructed silent film masterpiece

New York artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, who created the poster for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's exclusive screenings of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” signed his posters at Oakland’s elegant Paramount Theatre on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Abel Gance’s riveting silent film, “Napoleon,” presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), has taken the Bay Area by storm—and there are just two remaining opportunities to catch the reconstructed classic: this Saturday and Sunday at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.  Equally amazing is the film’s poster, essentially a huge portrait of Napoleon, evoking the tri-colored French flag, created especially for the event by legendary artist and illustrator Paul Davis.  Even if you’re not familiar with Paul Davis, you’re likely familiar with Paul Davis’ work, especially if you went to any Broadway or off-Broadway shows in the 1970’s or 80’s, where you would have seen his posters, or if you read magazines like Time, Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Esquire, etc., where he’s done both illustrations and covers.   When the prestigious Centre Georges Pompidou opened in Paris in 1977, Davis was the first American artist to show his work there—his solo show was part of the museum’s opening festivities.  His artwork is also included in  MOMA’s poster collection.  His career spans 50 plus years and his creative voice has helped define that world where art, illustration, design and typography all spill brilliantly into each other.  

His Napoleon poster, too, is sure to become a classic: on the top is an evocative portrait of a young Napoleon, the man who would defend a nation during its greatest Revolution.  Executed in rich hues of blue, with strands of seafoam hair framing his pensive face, the young leader stares imperiously—right at you and right through you.  On the bottom, in red, there’s a subtle use of an epic battle scene from Napoleon’s Italian campaign which closes the film.  Blazoned across the center in a gorgeous typeface called Eagle is “Napoleon” set off by a white backdrop.  Full size posters and window placards are all around the Bay Area and, last weekend, a few were brought to Sonoma County.  

Bruce Goldstein, of New York’s Film Forum, on the advisory board for SFSFF and handling the national publicity for the Napoleon event, suggested Davis for the poster.  “All Paul’s posters have a real psyche,” said Goldstein, who first worked with Davis in the late 1990’s, when his company, Rialto Pictures, commissioned him to do the poster for the special re-release of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937), one of the greatest movies of all time.  “We needed something special, not a run of the mill poster, and Paul Davis, was the illustrator who came to mind who was worthy of Grand Illusion.  And he delivered!  I might also add that his image for Grand Illusionbecame the very first image used as a DVD cover by the Criterion Collection, which was quite an honor for Criterion.”

 “Most movie posters today, even those for so-called art house films, are filled with clichés—it’s just ridiculous,” said Goldstein.  “We didn’t want the Napoleon poster to be an advertisement but rather an enduring work of art in the tradition of the great poster designers of the 19th century, like Toulouse-Lautrec.  You’ll see textual information, which had to be there, but you won’t see any critical quotes on this poster.”

“A poster makes an incredible impression and it’s really a very important factor in the decision to go and see a film,” said Anita Monga, Artistic Director, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, “This is an artwork that makes you want to see the film and that you’ll want to have afterwards to commemorate the screening.  It’s all we’re using.”

I couldn’t wait to speak with Davis about his poster and I caught up with him at last Friday’s dress rehearsal for Napoleon at the Paramount Theatre.

How did you approach a poster design project like this?

Paul Davis:  I first saw the film in 1981, when it was at Radio City Music Hall with a live orchestra and it was quite dramatic.  I remember that feeling of being swept up in it, the emotions, but not so many of the details.  I managed to download the whole thing from the internet on my computer and I really looked at it and that’s where I got most of my reference material from too.  I knew I was going to do a portrait of Napoleon right away.  It was really hard to find that right image–I did a half a dozen portraits before I did this one.   This was from a frame right out of the film itself.

The creative process also has a lot to do with intention.  When I set out to do something like this, I go to the material and I go as deeply as I can go, finding out what moves me and working off of that.  I started on this project last summer and I had several versions and that’s how it’s done.  Sometimes there’s a great film and it really suffers from this lack of attention and that always mystifies me.

Why are so many movie posters today absolute turn-offs?

I ask myself that all the time.  You can look at a movie poster and you say, ‘I know that genre; I don’t want to see the movie.’  But these designers so often miss the point of the movie—they’re so interested in making sure that you know the genre and in capturing a given audience that they are unwilling to experiment in capturing what’s actually moving about that film.  As a result, a lot of posters are negative advertising.     

A film frame of French actor, screenwriter, film director and novelist Albert Dieudonné, who plays the adult Napoleon in Abel Gance’s silent film “Napoléon,” was the basis of artist Paul Davis’ limited edition poster that was commissioned by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for its special Bay Area screenings of the newly restored masterpiece. Image: courtesy SFSFF

For me, what works about the Napoleon image you’ve created is that he is both looking at us and right through us, as if he’s fixed on more important things, which seems so appropriate.  We have a glimpse of his internal world and there’s an almost filmic saturation of the colors. 

Paul Davis:  I do try to capture as much of the character as I can.  There is an emotional quality as well.  He’s looking out into the world.  He was such an unusual character, so very confident and such a leader.   People don’t do what he did without tremendous courage, audacity, and arrogance.  

In terms of a subject for a portrait, it’s hard to take your eyes off Albert Dieudonné−those penetrating eyes and his total embodiment of a complex and driven personality.  

Paul Davis:   Actually, they weren’t sure they were going to cast him; he really had to convince Gance, who thought he was too old.  He dressed up in the uniform and went over to visit him―they were friends―and he got the part.

The portrait that is so familiar of Napoleon though, that is in everyone’s mind, is the one of Napoleon with his hands in his coat, with that kind of permanent scowl, which is so grim.  I wanted to make the poster a likeness of Dieudonné, with an echo of what we all know about Napoleon−that fierce grin on his face.  Actually, if you look closely at the poster, at the face, you’ll a great difference in the whites of his eyes too.  If you look at people’s faces and divide them, there are two different people in everyone.    

So the inspiration is a film still, but you had a real vision of what it should convey.

Paul Davis:  Well, I took the frames I liked off the film, literally hundreds and hundreds of them, and then I loaded them all in iPhoto and I studied them.  I was really looking for very subtle types of emotion and when I finally arrived at that, I printed those out and drew from a few of those.  I actually made several finished portraits.  I was trying to depict that moment when he internalizes that he is the revolution, with him gazing upwards and having the light come from behind his head.  I was working and working with that but I couldn’t get it―it wasn’t convincing.  The one that I chose was the last one that I made.  I knew I had it because it did everything I wanted it to do.

Beyond the idea of a portrait, how did you approach designing this?

For the battle scene at the bottom, I started with a chaotic scene from the film but it was so blurry and it didn’t have everything I wanted, so I started inserting figures and objects into that, that you could read and identify.

Would you say you’re very influenced by and even dependent on photos? 

Paul Davis:   Of course, but when I do the theatre things, if I could get access, I’ve always tried to take my own photographs and to spend time close to the heart of the performance.  I try to see the person separately so that I can have an idea of their character.   For me, I felt that I need to get to know them.  I attempted that here too, to capture Napoleon’s personality.

Paul Davis designed the limited edition poster for the 1999 theatrical re-release of Jean Renoir's 1937 "Grand Illusion. His same poster image also serves as "Spine #1," the first DVD, for the Criterion Collection's elite collection of classic films. Limited-edition U.S. one-sheet, matte finish, 27 x 40 inches, created for the 1999 theatrical rerelease. image: courtesy Paul Davis

When do you add color?  Also, how did you handle the division of space and how it all comes together?

Paul Davis:  First, I compose the image and the color comes last.  I painted the portrait blue and the battle scene red with Photoshop.  I had the idea for the tricolor from the film itself because, at the end of the film, the screen is tricolor, pretty hard and intense―the left screen is blue; the middle is white; the right is red.  The images are just sort of boiling over those colors and that’s the end of the film.

But before that, I basically have the two images in the computer and I set up the size of the poster and start playing with the scale so that I could make the battle scene wider or narrower or deeper or shallower.  Then, I added the white in the center.  I also had to add all that text at the bottom. At that point, it becomes more technical, just trying to fit everything in.  I knew that I didn’t want any text above his face so I convinced everyone to put the title in the middle and everything else beneath that. 

You’ve chosen a very simple typeface but the color makes it pop.

Paul Davis:   That typeface is “Eagle” and it’s one of my favorites. I don’t pick them by name but there’s an eagle in the movie that keeps appearing, so this is the perfect typeface.  It’s from the 1930’s and it’s very useful and you’d be surprised at how many places in the world that it appears.  Once you start noticing those spiky m’s and n’s and the perfectly round o’s―it’s really gorgeous.  Napoleon has this wonderful “o” in it and “n’s” on both ends and it’s such a great word that really works with that font.

What was the feeling you wanted to evoke though the typeface?

Paul Davis designed the poster for Joseph Papp's 1976 production of "The ThreePenny Opera," by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, starring Raul Julia as Mack, and performed at the 1976 New York Shakespeare Festival. Image courtesy: Paul Davis.

Paul Davis:  I wasn’t trying for nostalgia at all, maybe the opposite.  I tried another typeface of Cassandre’s (pseudonym of the legendary French artist Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron) called “Bifur.”  Cassandre was a great poster designer who did all those great 1920’s posters we know of steamships and so forth.  Bifur is an experimental font from that era which I always wanted to use but haven’t yet.  It just didn’t work for the poster, so I used Eagle instead, which is from also that era and from that same period in which Gance was working, that very modern age.  The colorization was handled through Photoshop.

Sounds like you reply on your iPhone, Photoshop and the new design tools.

Paul Davis:  Photoshop, an Apple computer, iPhone and quite a lot of software—it’s all standard for artists now.  The only thing that is a little unusual about the work that I do is that I also do a lot of illustration and I also do design.  The illustrators all want to know if I had to learn about type and the type designers all want to know if they have to learn about drawing.   My attitude is why wouldn’t they want to know−it’s like consciously choosing to remain crippled. 

Your website has a fabulous gallery of work.  I recognize several of these images.  Which are your favorites?

Paul Davis:   The early theatre posters I did for Joe Papp―The Three Penny Opera and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.   Those were the first real theatre posters I did.  That was over 30 years ago.  I did most of these within a year or two of each other and I was exploring new ground and I was very receptive to trying many different things for new effects.  To kind of begin a career with an opportunity like this was really good because it gave me the chance to do the type of work that I wanted to do.

How many movie posters have you done and how are they different from your theatre posters?

Paul Davis:  There are different contractual agreements.  In terms of film posters, I’ve done:  Small Circle of Friends (Rob Cohen, 1980, starring Brad Davis, Karen Allen and Jameson Parker), Secret Friends (Dennis Potter, 1992, starring Alan Bates),  Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937, starring Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Eric von Stroheim) and Napoleon.  I’ve done quite a lot of sketches for movie posters that were rejected and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do them.  We’re doing another Grand Illusion poster for the 75th anniversary.  They are doing a digital version of the original print, so I’m doing that too.

What makes a movie poster work for you?

Paul Davis:  I really love the posters from the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s.  They had very exciting graphics but they weren’t taken very seriously in terms of being an art form.  Some movies had as many as 1,000 printed pieces that went with them to the exhibitor and, to capture different audiences, they would do two and three posters for some movies.  They would also put little contests into the posters too to find out whether people were actually looking at them.  They would print small things like, “Mention this when you come to the theatre and you’ll get a prize.”  I was amazed at how intense some of these posters were and how creatively they were designed and how they made real statements.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s, they used some of the very best artists in New York for these—like Al Hirshfeld.  When it came to prizes, these artists never won any prizes for these things because I think they were considered kind a low form of art.   That whole era, when they were churning them out and were so experimental, is very exciting for me.

Paul Davis’ 1968 portrait of Che Guevara, based on a photograph by Alberto Korda, became the February cover of liberal “Evergreen Review.” The public response was instant and intense—copies of the poster were defaced and a bomb was thrown into the Evergreen offices. 30 x 45 inches. Image: Paul Davis

What poster artists inspire you?  I’ve read that you really appreciate Toulouse Lautrec.  

Paul Davis:  The best posterist at the time was Jules Cheret, known for his rainbow of color…an almost impressionistic splatter of color…but Lautrec, one of the very best artists, really breathed life into his art.   And because he was wealthy, and could do what he wanted, he was such a great artist.  Lautrec, Cheret and Cassandre—the high art they brought to the poster was unexcelled.  So the poster, for me, really starts in France and then it goes to a lot of other places.   I heard that Lautrec used to go and stay in the country with some friends of his and, every day at their house, he would write the menu for dinner and make a drawing and would do this in multiple.  The woman who owned the house would throw them away afterwards.   And apparently he never objected at all to her behavior.  It just makes me sick to think of throwing out those drawings.

What are you working on right now?

Paul Davis:   Two things.  A promotion for a new project about Eleanor Roosevelt (a video) and I really want to do a portrait of Obama for the election. I had this idea four years ago but the Shepard Fairey inauguration poster just swamped everything and it was so good, very graphic, and you really remember it.  I also thought I ought to do a poster of Mitt Romney too, just to be fair.  Norman Rockwell did this.  He did Nixon and John F. Kennedy and he did Eisenhower and Stevenson and he would do these portraits every 4 or 8 years, and he was so even handed.  I really want to do this.

But it sounds like you’re not so interested in being even handed?

Paul Davis:   No.

Do you have any personal connection to Napoleon?

Paul Davis:   Well, I grew up in Oklahoma.  In 1803; Napoleon sold that land, which included Oklahoma and 14 others states, in the Louisiana Purchase to Thomas Jefferson.  If he hadn’t sold this, I might be French today.  So that’s my connection.

If you could somehow go back in time to Napoleon’s era when he was the most important figure in world politics and the frequent subject of caricature, how might you have depicted him?

Paul Davis:  I don’t know what I would have done.  The fact is that they were sending English caricaturists to jail in France for what they did…but the satire back then was quite sophisticated.  I recently saw an image at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their exhibition, “Caricature and Satire From Leonardo to Levine” of a caricature done by the famous English artist, James Gillray, dated 1805, showing Napoleon and William Pitt, who was England’s Prime Minister, though they didn’t use that title at the time.  The two of them are carving up the world―depicted as a big plum pudding with the Earth drawn on it.  The thing that struck me as fascinating was that Gillray was criticizing the English military mandate in the same way that he was criticizing Napoleon.  You saw Napoleon slicing off Europe and the

The political cartoon first appeared in England. Here two famous individuals, Napoleon and William Pitt, are the butts of the artist James Gillray, who is satirizing both France and England. "The Plumb-pudding in danger-- or State Epicures Taking un Petit Souper" 1805," colored engraving, 240 x 340 mm, British Museum, London. Image courtesy: British Museum.

English guy slicing off another side, like the Americas.  Napoleon was trying to unite Europe and started out with a very noble cause, wanting to bring about real change.  In the beginning, the French Revolution was supposed to bring liberty, equality and fraternity and it did remove a lot of obstacles to progress but it brought along a lot of horrible things as awful people came to power.  Napoleon came in at the end of that and he was lucky that he didn’t get caught up in it, or killed.  He seemed set to really change things but he became a total nepotist and had members of his direct family made kings (of Belgium, Italy and Spain) and that flew in the face of everything the revolution had fought for.  I’m sure I would have found a way to comment on that, but it was also dangerous. 

Paul Davis’ Artwork appearing in film and television:  Paul Davis’ artwork has appeared in many movies and TV shows. When Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason share an apartment in The Goodbye Girl, it is decorated with Davis’s poster for the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Henry V.  Davis’s poster of Che Guevara appears both in Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! and Rob Cohen‘s A Small Circle of Friends.  In the film adaptation of John Guare‘s Six Degrees of Separation, Davis’s mural for New York City’s Arcadia restaurant is featured.  Paul’s iconic poster for the Public Theater production of Three Penny Opera is on the wall of Jonathan Eliot’s apartment in the NBC sitcom The Single Guy. In the 2009 film Precious, Paul’s poster for the 1975 production of Ntozake Shange‘s For Colored Girls adorns the teacher’s apartment.

Click here to purchase a limited edition Napoleon poster by Paul Davis.  (27” x 40”  $30.00 and 11” x 17’ $15.00)  Posters will also be available at all four screenings.

More about Paul Davis:  There’s a very good article by Steven Heller about Paul Davis (click here to read) at AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Paul Davis’ Napoleon poster was printed by Jeff Baltimore of XL Graphics, Inc., in NY.

Napoleon Event Details: 

What:  Silent film historian Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 reconstruction, the most complete possible restoration of 1927 5 ½ hour film in the original 20 frames per second, with the finale in polyvision, requiring 3 screens. The Oakland East Bay Symphony will be conducted by the eminent British composer, Carl Davis, whose score will be the live accompaniment to the film. This is the U.S. premiere for both the reconstruction and the music. 

2 remaining performances: Saturday, March 31, 2012, and Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where: Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Time: All four performances begin at 1:30pm. There will be three intermissions: two 20-minute intermissions and a 1 hour, 45 minute dinner break starting at 5:00pm. View Places to Eat for nearby restaurant recommendations and make reservations in advance.

The film itself is 5½ hours long; with intermissions included, the show will let out at approximately 9:45pm.

Tickets: Buy tickets for all Napoleon performances here.

More Information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA presents “Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation,” at YBCA’s Novellus Theater, August 18 through 21, 2011

Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein looking over the score for Four Saints in Three Acts, ca. 1929; Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University; photo: Mabel Thérèse Bonney

Among the outtakes from Woody Allen’s recent hit film Midnight in Paris might well have been a scene showing Gertrude Stein being asked by the obscure young American composer Virgil Thomson to create an opera libretto for him.  There, in Paris in 1927, began one of America’s quirkiest creative partnerships, yielding not only the unique, wacky, and strangely moving operas Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947), but opening the floodgates for new modernist thought in music, literature, and art in America.

Stein’s typically nonlinear libretto for Four Saints, more focused on the sounds of words than on plot, is a sort of fractured fairy tale starring two 16th-century Spanish saints—the theologian Ignatius of Loyola and the mystic Teresa of Avila—and a gaggle of imaginary cohorts (St. Plan, St. Settlement, St. Plot, St. Chavez, etc.) who have visions of a heavenly mansion, enjoy a celestial picnic, and dance a tango-inflected ballet.  Thomson’s accessible music draws upon the snappy rhythms of American speech and the warm melodic shapes of American folksongs and hymns. 

On the occasion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s major exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Bay Area Now 6 (BAN6), SFMOMA in association with YBCA will present a new production of Stein and Thomson’s opera. The new version, titled Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation, will play at YBCA’s Novellus Theater this Thursday, August 18, through Sunday, August 21, 2011.  The 50 minute performance will be preceded by a “A Heavenly Act” (2011), a brand new stand-alone curtain-raiser with an original score by Luciano Chessa and new video and performance elements by Kalup Linzy, inspired by a streamlined 1950s version of Thomson and Stein’s opera.  Four Saints, which follows it, will be augmented by video projections from Chessa and Linzy’s opening piece.

Four Saints is vintage Thomson/Stein, simultaneously All-American and countercultural,” said New York opera dramaturg Cori Ellison.  “Avant-garde yet sweetly ingenuous, it’s always been a magnet for the most imaginative theatre and visual artists, from Robert Wilson and Mark Morris on down.  I’d say any performance of this rare and charming opera is a must-see.”

SFMOMA in Association with YBCA Presents:  Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation

An Ensemble Parallèle production

     Nicole Paiement, conductor/artistic director

     Brian Staufenbiel, director

Music by Virgil Thomson and Luciano Chessa, with libretto by Gertrude Stein

Featuring Kalup Linzy

Novellus Theater at YBCA

Preview: Thursday, August 18, 7:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20, 8 p.m.

Sunday, August 21, 2 p.m.

For tickets ($10–$85) visit ybca.org or call 415.978.2787

The Art of Four Saints in Three Acts, gallery talk

Thursday, August 18, 6:30 p.m. • Contemporary Jewish Museum, Free with museum admission

See original music, art, and ephemera connected with the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thompson collaboration Four Saints in Three Acts in a gallery talk directly preceding the preview performance of SFMOMA’s new staging of the opera at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories exhibition at Contemporary Jewish Museum, May 12, 2011 – September 6, 2011:

Drawing upon a wealth of rarely seen artistic and archival materials, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories illuminates Stein’s life and pivotal role in art during the 20th century.

SFMOMA exhibition: The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, through September 6, 2011

American expatriates in bohemian Paris when the 20th century was young, the Steins — writer Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Sarah — were among the first to recognize the talents of avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Through their friendship and patronage, they helped spark an artistic revolution. This landmark exhibition draws on collections around the world to reunite the Steins’ unparalleled holdings of modern art, bringing together, for the first time in a generation, dozens of works by Matisse, Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others. Artworks on view include Matisse’s Blue Nude (Baltimore Museum of Art) and Self-Portrait (Statens Museum, Copenhagen), and Picasso’s famous portrait Gertrude Stein (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Yerba Buena Neighborhood Celebrates Gertrude Stein, May–September, 2011

Join the Yerba Buena neighborhood this summer in celebrating the life of writer Gertrude Stein and her influence on modern art, literature, and culture. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival will each host related programming: from art exhibitions to opera, poetry readings to salons, there’s definitely a there there. Visit  www.sfmoma.org/celebratestein   for a complete list of programs, discounts, and members-only specials throughout the neighborhood.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In its Final Days: “Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism,” Legion of Honor, San Francisco.

Left: Hiroshige, Gion Shrine in the Snow (Gionsha setchu), from the series Famous Places in Kyoto (Kyoto meisho no uchi), ca. 1833–1834. Right: Henri Riviere, La Tour en construction, vue de Trocadero, pl. 3 from the book Les Trente-Six Vues de la Tour Eiffel, 1902. Color lithograph © 2010 ARS, New York / ADAGP, Paris

Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism” at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor closes this Sunday.  The show consists of roughly 250 prints, drawings, and artists’ books that trace the development of the Japanese print over two centuries (1700–1900) and reveal Japanesque’s profound influence on Western art during the era of Impressionism.  Most of the works are from the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts which is the works on paper department of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FMASF).  See this show now, because it’s likely you won’t see these prints together again for at least 20 years according to exhibition curator Karin Breuer.  The long interval between exhibits is necessary to preserve the prints as prolonged exposure to light will cause fading.  The lighting in the show is subdued but more than adequate to view the prints.  Each print in the show is being tracked to monitor how long it is out of its archival box and exposed to light.  The show complements “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay,” at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, through January 18, 2011. Many of the paintings from the Musée d’Orsay are aesthetically indebted to concepts of Japanese art.

Japanesque unfolds in three sections: Evolution, Essence and Influence.

Evolution: Evolution presents a chronological development of the Japanese print in Edo (presentday Tokyo), beginning with early black-and-white woodcuts and handcolored woodcuts. They are followed by delicate three- and four-color prints by early masters of ukiyo-e such as Suzuki Harunobu and Kitagawa Utamaro that feature the courtesans and beauties of the “floating world.” Landscape prints from the 1830s by Katsushika Hokusai and Ando Hiroshige are shown as examples of that important Japanese genre.

Essence:  The Essence section features the Japanese aesthetic in print, and particularly highlights those subjects and compositional concepts that Western artists admired and imitated.  Iconic images such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave and Fuji above the Lightning from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (1831–1834) are shown here, as well as Hiroshige’s Plum Orchard from his famous series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1857).

Influence:  A large group of works by European and American artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist eras who were influenced by the Japanese print includes prints and drawings by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.  The artists collected Japanese prints and often produced their own graphic work that, in composition, color, and imagery borrowed directly from the Japanese aesthetic.  Henri Rivière’s homage to Hokusai Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower (1902) is featured, as well as the work of American artists such as Arthur Wesley Dow and Helen Hyde, who traveled to Japan to enhance their knowledge of the Japanese color woodcut.

Artist Studio featuring the Craft of the Color Woodcut:  Color woodcut techniques developed by the Japanese and adopted by Western artists are featured in a special education gallery within the exhibition. The “artist studio” includes woodblocks, tools, preparatory drawings, and progressive color prints that demonstrate the process of designing, carving, and printing color woodcuts.

Details: The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco. For information, visit http://www.legionofhonor.org  or call (415) 750-3600.

Tickets to “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond” at the de Young are good for same-day admission to “Japanesque” at the Legion of Honor.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment