ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Five things you probably don’t know about the Legion of Honor’s “Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters”

John Everett Millais’ “Mariana,” 1851, one of the most beloved paintings in London’s Tate Gallery is now on display at the Legion of Honor, the first time the painting has been on the West Coast.  Painted in a glorious jewel-tone palette and bursting with references to nature, “Mariana” exemplifies the aim of the early Pre-Raphaelites to be completely modern by rejecting the contemporary art of their time and going back to the stylistic, symbolic and aesthetic elements of early Netherlandish painters, particularly Jan van Eyck.  Curator Melissa Buron has paired “Mariana” with van Eyck’s “The Annunciation” (c. 1434/1436) from Washington’s National Gallery of Art, also making its West Coast debut.  Photo: FAMSF

The Legion of Honor has pulled off a major coup with its ravishing summer show, “Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters,” which ends September 30.   This is the first major international exhibition to bring together several of the world’s most beloved of Pre-Raphaelite works and pair them with the medieval and Renaissance masterpieces that inspired them.   Melissa Buron, FAMSF’s Art Division Director, with the support of (soon departing) FAMSF Director Max Hollein, was able to secure over 30 important international loans from 25 private collections and museums to bring Britain’s gem Pre-Raphaelite paintings and masterworks from Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, and Paolo Veronese, as well as northern Renaissance painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.  There are 111 sumptuous paintings and objects on display that will most likely never been seen together again.

The exhibit focuses on three of the seven founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), all young art students at London’s Royal Academy in 1848—William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti—and traces their influences and protégées into the 20th century.  Fed up with the art of their time, the PRB took an active stance against the “Raphaelites,” the followers and imitators of Raphael who they believed regurgitated past methods without giving them new energy or significance.  Drawing on literary sources, poetry, and scenes from medieval and modern life, the Pre-Raphaelites (PRs) established themselves as the most radical contemporary artists of the Victorian period by creating an aesthetic dialogue with art and artists from past centuries, from early Italian art to genres and materials as varied as medieval illuminated manuscripts and stained glass.  Their commitment was noble but their aims were vague and contradictory which is a likely outcome from a group of young 20 something’s who sought to modernize art by reviving the practices of the Middle Ages.

The show has been widely reviewed, but ARThound brings you five facts about this exquisite exhibit to enliven your experience—

Inspiration for the exhibit:

Melissa Buron, FAMSF Director, Art Division in front of William Holman Hunt’s “Lady of Shalot” (1890-1905), an “exceptional loan” from the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Connecticut because it is so large and very beloved.   Photo: Geneva Anderson

FAMSF’s Melissa Buron is respected internationally as a leading expert on the Pre-Raphaelites (PRs) and the Victorian era.  Her love of the PRs began when she was a little girl and first read Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalot.”  Through this, she was introduced to PR images, which began to live in her imagination, and she has studied them most of her life.   The idea of pairing PRs with old masters came about shortly after Max Hollein came on as FAMSF director and exemplifies the support he has given his curatorial team during his short stay in San Francisco.

“It was incredibly exciting when Max told us that he wanted to empower curators to work on projects that were exciting to us,” said Buron.  “He was interested in ambitious ideas that were focused around masterpieces in our collection and that also brought great old master paintings to San Francisco.  As a Victorianist, this was a Eureka moment for me.  For the past decade, I had been here in San Francisco trying to explain the PRs with our second generation Stanhope by explaining that he lived in Florence and was under the spell of Botticelli.  This was 30 years into the PR movement and it was a challenge, explaining his complicated name (John Roddam Spencer Stanhope) and the significance of this rebellious group of artists.  I proposed this to Max and he said, ‘This is a good idea; we’re going to do this.’ He was always there to help with loan negotiations and back me up.  It’s been incredible to have that kind of support.”

Buron’s enthusiasm for Stanhope’s vivid masterpiece, on loan from the Wadsworth in Hartford, led her to place it prominently in the final gallery.  Swirling with energy, the painting depicts the Lady of Shalot, who has been shut away in a tower, being struck by the curse. The stanza of Tennyson’s poem in which the curse is unleashed long fascinated Hunt.  The PRs so admired Tennyson that he was placed on their 1848 list of immortals, implying that his work was to be studied and emulated.  Adjacent to this masterpiece, echoing several themes in the painting, is one of the Legion’s rarely seen treasures—an enormous 16th century wool and silk tapestry from Belgium, “The Combat of the Virtues and the Vices,” the seventh panel in the Redemption of Man series.  Click here for info on the tapestry’s symbolism.

“The Combat of the Virtues and the Vices,” from The Redemption of Man series, ca. 1500-1515, wool and silk tapestry weave, (164 x 314 inches) FAMSF. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Botticelli!

Sandro Botticelli’s “Idealized Portrait of a Lady (Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as Nymph),” from Städel Museum Frankfurt, ca 1475. The famously beautiful Italian noblewoman, Simonetta Vespucci, was Botticelli’s muse and the reputed model for his “The Birth of Venus.”  She represented a captivating subject for the PRB circle as an expression of pure beauty.  Photo: FAMSF

Buron’s first two big asks —Millais’ “Mariana” from London’s Tate Gallery and van Eyck’s “The Annunciation” from the National Gallery in Washington—were turned down.  (She persisted and got them later.)  Sandro Botticelli’s beloved “Simoneta” from Frankfurt’s Städel Museum was the first confirmed painting for the exhibition. “Within 48 hours, they answered back in support of our project,” said Buron.  In homage to that, Simonetta is on the back cover of the catalogue.  The gallery “Botticelli and the Tempura Revival” brings together six stunning Botticelli’s and two Cesare Mariannecci’s after famous Botticelli’s.

 

A revelation about the Legion’s Stanhope

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s “Love and the Maiden,” from 1877, has echoes of Jan van Eyck’s “The Annunciation,” where the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, telling her she will bear the son of God.  It also illustrates Stanhope’s interest in Botticelli. The figures and landscape are painted with a wonderful sense of color and clarity— delicate flowers, feathery angel’s wings, and the intensity of the two main figures’ expressions. The circle of dancers in the background—three women and a man together, holding hands—are possibly referencing figures that come from Botticelli’s “Primavera,” or “Spring.” FAMSF, Photo: FAMSF

The exhibition gave the curatorial team an opportunity to sample and study the pigments in the Legion’s beloved Stanhope, “Love and the Maiden,” which was always assumed to be a tempura work.  “It was sent to Wintertur in Delaware and we were shocked to learn that there was no evidence of egg as a binding agent and that our painting was actually in oil,” said Buron.  “This in no way impacts the value or significance of this painting but, for us, this was a major revelation.”  The painting can be found in the gallery devoted to the tempura revival.

Uffizi on board!

Max Hollein, FAMSF’s Director and CEO, admires Raphael’s self-portrait, ca 1504-1506, the first painting that Florence’s Uffizi gallery has ever loaned FAMSF.   Hollein, appointed in July 2016, will soon depart for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where in September he will become its new director.  Hollein has long championed putting contemporary works of art in dialogue with the older pieces that inspired them.  In 2012, when he ran Frankfurt’s Liebieghause Museum, he placed Jeff Koons alongside ancient works from the collection to rave reviews.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Rafael’s self-portrait has been at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1682 and is the Legion of Honor’s first loan from the esteemed museum.  Hopefully, more exchanges will follow.  Rafael painted this self-portrait when he was just 22 but already a rising star in the Renaissance art world.  His outward gaze suggests that his mind is occupied with higher matters, an important character trait for artists who needed to grapple with complex philosophical and literary themes in their work to succeed.  In 1848, when the PRB was just forming, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti penned a “list of Immortals” and Raphael’s name was placed alongside Jesus Christ. His work had the quality of authenticity that the PRs found so inspiring.

Frames as extensions of Paintings

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The PRs were inspired to create works of art that were total works of art that extended beyond the edges of the canvasses to the details of their frames as well.  The lush golden frame for Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “La Pia (La Pia de’ Tolmei)” was designed by Rossetti with raised carved medallions and a translation of the cantos “Purgatorio” from Dante Alighieri’s early 14th century poem, “Divine Comedy.”  The painting was created during the beginning of Rossetti’s affair with Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris.  Jane is depicted as the imprisoned Pia from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”   The painting is rich in symbolism which includes flying rooks (omens of death), a sundial (to pass the time) and Jane (as La Pia) fingers her wedding ring, the bauble given to her by her husband who trapped and imprisoned her.  Another stunning Rosetti on display his “Beata Beatrix” (1871-72), which drew a parallel between Dante’s despair over Beatrice’s death and Rossetti’s mourning of own his wife’s death.  The composition features both women in separate panels and a gilt frame with carved medallions.

 

Details:

“Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters” ends September 30, 2018 at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.  Tickets: $28 general admission; $25 (65 and older); $19 students; $13 (6-17).  Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.  Closed Mondays.  For more info, visit: www.famsf.org

 

 

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August 31, 2018 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

Richard Avedon at SFMOMA: A Powerful Retrospective of the Legendary Photographer through November 29, 2009. SFMOMA is the show’s only U.S. venue

Richard Avedon, Self-portrait, Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Throughout his celebrated six-decade career, Richard Avedon (1923-2004) has always drawn huge crowds.  His fashion photography, portraiture and reportage, an innovative juggling of commercial and fine art photograph, have seared themselves into our memory.  His current show at SFMOMA, “Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004” July 11 through November 29, 2009, is the first comprehensive retrospective his work since his death in 2004 and delivers over 200 of his signature photographs along with some surprises—lesser known photographs that are remarkable.  SFMOMA is the only US venue this show.  The exhibition was organized by Helle Crenzien in 2007 for The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art Denmark in cooperation with the Richard Avedon Foundation and it has traveled to Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  It is installed here by Sandra Phillips, SFMOMA Senior Curator of Photography, with support from SFMOMA curator Corey Keller, Norma Stevens and James Martin from the Richard Avedon Foundation and the Jeffrey Frankel Gallery.

Richard Avedon, Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris, August 1955; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Aside from the famous models (Dovima, Suzy Parker, Veruschka, Twiggy), there are movie stars (Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn), rock stars (the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Björk), world leaders (Eisenhower, Kissinger, Ted Kennedy), writers and poets (Ezra Pound, Renata Adler), artists (Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol) and non-famous people.  It all adds up to a show that equals the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2002 blockbuster show “Richard Avedon: Portraits.”   Now that Avedon is dead, what kind of artist we judge him to be is ultimately based on the work we see and its presentation, which makes posthumous retrospectives vitally important. 

This exhibition is organized chronologically, highlighting the major themes and benchmark moments in Avedon’s prolific career—his early post WWII street scenes; his breakthrough into fashion work in the 1950’s; his expansive reportage of American counterculture in the 1960’s and 1970’s; his Reagan-era series of portraits of non-famous people—cowboys, drifters—on the fringe and his iconic portraits of the influential and famous.  The galleries are filed with unforgettable gorgeously printed pictures–medium-sized, large, larger and really really large, like the 31 foot long 1969 mural of Andy Warhol and several of his Factory gang, buck-naked. 

Avedon, Homage to Munkacsi. Carmen, coat by Cardin, Place Franḉois-Premiere, Paris, August 1957, @2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

 With Avedon, it’s all about people—capturing them at that perfect moment in time when you sense you can read them— against a backdrop that is either a highly-stylized fashion environment infused with energy and movement or, for the portraits, a stark sheet.  Either way, Avedon was in full control of everything down to the finest detail.

 Of his early fashion photography, certainly the most famous images are those of his beloved models– “Dovima with Elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955” and “Homage to Munkacsi, Carmin, Coat by Cardin, Place Franḉois-Premier, Paris, August 1957”  which captures Carmen gliding effortlessly in mid air as she steps off a curb into a Paris street.  Avedon was inspired by the Hungarian-born Martin Munkacsi, whose work he had come across in Harper’s Bazar and Vogue.  Munkacsi was a former sports photographer who revolutionized the static world of fashion photography by injecting it with movement. Avedon added to Munkacsi’s pioneering work by infusing the movement with soul and emotion.

Richard Avedon, Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

 As Avedon quickly found his expressive groove in the fashion work, his career took off and he successfully and seriously embraced portraiture.  His stark portraits have been described as unforgettable, as being unusually good at capturing character.  The truth is that we read into these whatever we want to see.  We all have an internal filter–whatever we think we may know about that person, we project onto their image.  Critic Michael Kimmelman writes “The tradeoff with Mr. Avedon is between style and substance.  It’s the tension he has made into his art.” (Art Review, New York Times, September 27, 2002.) Avedon’s  1957 portrait of Marilyn Monroe captures a weary starlet who seems smaller than life, whereas his 1963 portrait of a young Bob Dylan seems “charged with future” (Gabriel Celaya). 

 Avedon is one of the very few artists who started in a so-called non-serious branch of photography and transitioned into serious branch and was able stay there, not only as a fully accepted but also as a highly esteemed practitioner of photography as an art. (Helle Crenzien essay p 22 in Richard Avedon Photographs 1946-2004, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2007)  His first major retrospective was in 1962 at the Smithsonian (he was 39), just as photography itself was being recognized by arts institutions.  His fashion work drew the crowds, who also reacted enthusiastically to his vital portraits.  The situation now is radically different—today, it is generally accepted that a commercial photographer can be an artist. 

Walking through the exhibition, I had a talk with Sandra Phillips, SFMOMA Senior Photography Curator, and with Norma Stevens, Avedon’s long-term “person” (friend, colleague, and Founding Executive Director of the Richard Avedon Foundation in New York) and with James Martin, Managing Director, The Richard Avedon Foundation, who worked closely with Avedon as a technician up until Avedon’s death in 2004.  

 Geneva Anderson:  As Avedon became more and more famous over the years, did his work process change?  Did he become more and more picky about who he worked with, selecting subjects himself, or did he work on commission?  

SANDRA PHILLIPS:  He worked pretty much only through commissions.  He had a very strange egalitarianism mixed with celebrity.  I think what he tried to do was to show that people were remarkable and that famous people were as remarkable as people who are remarkable in different ways. 

His work did change over time.  It changed, I think, because the market place evolved. Harper’s became a less interesting magazine.  It is significant that his last position was at The New Yorker which was kind of like Harper’s Bazar had been and he was very interested in making that a vital magazine.   He also did these commissions In the American West—these people who are not celebrities, they are unknown and that was an interesting challenge for him.  They are not humanitarian pictures; they are very serious pictures though that show the dignity that people have acquired through living as they have and where they have.

Richard Avedon, Willem de Kooning, painter, Springs, Long Island, New York, August 18, 1969; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

I believed the 1960’s shaped him profoundly in the way it shaped us–a period of tremendous upheaval whose resonance we still experience.  He photographed all the players, the heroes and villains, from Janis Joplin, to the Beatles, to Warhol, to the

Vietnam Generals, to George Wallace.  And his pictures of art aristocrat’s Robert Frank, Willem de Kooning and Jasper Johns come from the same special family as those more broadly known. Avedon saw them all as an individuals and all as models.

NORMA STEVENS:  He worked both ways. He worked for Harpers, Vogue, The New Yorker, so if he wanted a photograph someone, like say Ezra Pound, that request came from him through the magazine.  If the magazine brought him someone, he would do that too.  It happened all along the way and I am talking about the portraits–they were something that were of enormous interest to him.  He had fascination with the arts—artists like Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning and writers like Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Parker. By the time he got to The New Yorker, it was wonderful because they were interested and would bring him people that he might not have even known about and it was a wonderful collaboration.

Geneva Anderson:  Did he ever refuse to photograph anyone?

NORMA STEVENS:  Well, Madonna.  When a celebrity comes, they have their idea of how they want to look and you can go along with it but Dick would always want to add his creative mark, how he saw what they wanted to portray.  There might be a little struggle but, with her, she was not interested in working with him and he was definitely not interested in working with her.

Geneva Anderson:   Did she approach him?

NORMA STEVENS:  With celebrities, it’s usually mediated.  She sent her people to our people (and that was me).  She has people she loves working with like Steven Meisel. Dick was not her time of day.  It would have been interesting though–don’t you think?– to see what would have come out of that?

Geneva Anderson:   Did he strictly adhere to no cropping?

NORMA STEVENS:  He rarely cropped.  The prints you see here with all the black edge—that’s the entire photo.  He did it in the camera and that was it.  He used a big 8×10.  The printers would go all through the night and prepare images for him to review in the morning and he would make comments like “it needs a little more drama.”  And they had to interpret that.

Geneva Anderson:  How did the advent of digital photography impact him?

SANDRA PHILLIPS:  I am inclined to say it didn’t.

NORMA STEVENS:  He tried it and it didn’t really impress him.  He might have gone around and said no further prints can be made.  He was very strict about that.

Geneva Anderson:  What was it like over the years?   How did you make it?

NORMA STEVENS:  I am still here.  It wasn’t always fun.  It was an awful lot of work. Look at the energy in those portraits around us…he was just like that…he was so full of energy.  We had an understanding.  I am taller than I look.

 James Martin, Executive Director of the Richard Avedon Foundation  worked as a dark room technician for Richard Avedon during his final years.

Geneva Anderson:  Take me through a typical printing experience with Avedon.

JAMES MARTIN:   I did a lot of his printing.  If you look at the way he has printed, it hasn’t changed that much. Earl Steinbicker, who worked with him from the 1950’s onward, is writing a book about the experience and his blog describers the printing technique.  The process for a single print involves making ten different prints with slightly different contrast ratios—darker or lighter and picking the four that they—the team–think Dick would want.  Those were printed 16 x 20 and put on his kitchen table in morning and, of course, they would all be wrong.  He would say things like “the ear is perfect–you should focus on the ear.”  And so you would go back down to the dark room and spend 4 or 5 hours and make another range of say 6 images based on his comment.  You would bring these up to him and you would get closer but he would say these are garbage.  And so it went.

Geneva Anderson: He had the capacity to use very technical terms to describe precisely what he wanted but it sounded like he chose to communicate in a non-technical way.

Richard Avedon, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano, New York, October 1, 2003; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

JAMES MARTIN:   Yes. He would communicate with us using phrases like “this “needs to have more passion” which, in a sense, is not technical but you know exactly what you need to do as a darkroom technician.  “More passion” is a nuanced way to work with the printing process.  Everything was done downstairs in the basement and you would work all day long on a single print, sometimes at 3 in the morning and he would talk in a very non-technical way–“More drama here, less drama there.”  It was a very intuitive way of going about it—it’s also talking with the other technicians you are working with and trying to determine what that means, what does that translate to.  It was a lot of teamwork and a lot of team building.

Geneva Anderson:  Is there a photograph here that you were responsible for printing?

JAMES MARTIN:  There is only one in this show—the portrait of the singer Lorraine Hunt Leiberman. It’s really fairly close towards the end of his life.  He was 82 when he did this project and was aware that it was his last major effort and he knows it and he knows he needs to come up a last important series of photographs.  And this was for The New Yorker but it was also for himself.  He working on this book Woman in the Mirror , photographs of hope, woman that bring that sense of coda to his story, to the work of Avedon.

 These are different portraits. This is a very tender tender image.  You do not see that forgiving quality in his earlier work.  That meant lowering the contrast in her face with one filter, yet pumping the contrast up in the hair.  But once you did that, you ran into the problem of what does that hair convey?  She had red hair and as I took the photo back to him, he would say that it doesn’t look like a photograph of a redhead.  I had to translate that into technical printing—how do you make that hair look red and preserve the contrast with the softness in the face?  It was certainly a challenge and you make choice and it probably took me 20 hours just working on the contrast ratios in the hair alone to really pull it up.  Now that I am looking at it here, I am seeing that in certain light, it looks a little more brown than red.  It’s very hard to look at this without seeing the other photos, the history.

Richard Avedon, Marian Anderson, contralto, New York, June 30, 1955; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Contrast that with the 1955 portrait of Marian Anderson  the contralto singer who is captured in a moment of intense inner concentration on song.   By waiting for the moment when her eyes were closed, all the attention is drawn to her mouth, to her total embodiment of voice.  There is strength in this portrait rather than the tenderness and vulnerability in his last portraits of women. 

When Avedon died unexpectedly in San Antonio, Texas, in October 2004 on assignment for The New Yorker magazine, he left iron-clad instructions about how his $60 million fortune was to be used and how his artistic legacy should be preserved.

Geneva Anderson:  Norma, you have worked for the past five years to establish and make The Richard Avedon Foundation financially secure.  We are living in very tumultuous times–how secure are you?

NORMA STEVENS: “We are financially secure for the foreseeable future, at least the next five years.   Dick knew what he wanted done to protect his legacy.  The copyrights of his work alone, which he bequeathed to the Avedon Foundation totaled nearly $300,000.  The estate’s biggest asset is his printed pictures.  His biggest worry was what would happen to the prints after his death and he left directives indicating that no prints or reproductions were to be made posthumously, except for contact sheets, which could be used for educational purposes.

November 11, 2009 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment