Monthly Archives: December 2014

Marie-Denise Eyes

A Woman Cannot Paint; She Hasn’t the Hand

I thought “There must be more stories where a woman’s artwork has been presented as a man’s,” after seeing Tim Burton’s film Bright Eyes, the story of Margaret Keane, whose paintings are among the best-known and loved popular images of the past 40-50 years. Many reviews of the film mock Margaret’s “Big Eyes” images, and the NY Times art critic (played by the terrifying Terence “Kneel Before Zod!” Stamp) echoes one of the easiest ways to stop a female artist – mock and denigrate her honest work. Sure, he was criticizing work he thought was painted by Frank Keane — but when it was Frank, it just gave Frank more publicity (“The snobs don’t like it – but regular people do!”) and encouragement since Frank was all on about money and fame.

Judith_Leyster_-_Self-Portrait_-Dutch MasterThanks to the internet, these stories are now being told. Of course there are more.

Here is Judith Leyster, a Dutch Master (“Mistress”). Her paintings were sold to the public as by Frans Hals, the “lively” Dutch Master. She painted work “after the manner” of Hals.

Judith looks like someone I’d love to know.

Judith_Leyster_SerenadeOh yeah, like this is by Frans Hals. It’s a  completely different (better, in my opinion) hand and eye. Most notably, it uses negative space, and I think this is a woman’s eye. This is an amazing picture.

It really is by Judith Leyster. Much of her work was credited to Frans Hals and other Dutch Masters — some dealers even went so far as to obscure her signature image (a logo that was a play on her name) and put the other artist’s name over it, Frank Keane-style.

Thinking Judith had a pretty good life all-told. She married twice, and apparently her second marriage, to another painter, was happy. She died in 1660 at age 50 in Haarlem in the Netherlands.

Marie-Denise_Villers_Young_Woman_Drawing

This beautiful painting is by Marie-Denise Villers, and was originally shown and attributed to Jacques-Louis David, with whom she studied. The painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

It is thought now to be not only a painting by Marie-Denise Villers, but also a self-portrait.

It’s simple to see the similarities in style between this painting and David’s work.

Jacques-Louis_David Oath of the HoratiiIsn’t it?

David also painted the famous picture of Marat in his suicide bath, “one of the most famous images of the French Revolution.”

So, only 213 years later, do people look at Marie’s painting, and see what it really said and says. There are millions of words now-written about the “male gaze” (Oath of the Horatii is a fine depiction).

Marie-Denise EyesThis is the female gaze (detail, Young Woman Drawing – 1801).

I like it better than Girl With the Pearl Earring – a picture about which an entire film has been made, an image which has now been shown to have been created in a process using optics – i.e. a Dutch Master version of a photograph, not a painting as it’s traditionally created.

Here is another painting by Marie-Denise,

Marie-Denise_Villers_study of woman in natureStudy of a Young Woman in Nature; Une etude de femme d’apres nature. I have my limitations in learning about this painting, because it is on Marie-Denise’s Italian Wikipedia page, not the page in English.

Look at the “big eyes!”

 

 

But there are some women who achieved success as themselves — even if women with a background in art and BA’s in studio art never heard of them before.

Isabel_von_Valois_by_Sofonisba_AnguissolaBefore there was “Las Meninas,” (Philip IV of Spain and his queen and the Infanta), there was Philip II of Spain and his beautiful Queen Elisabeth of Valois (depicted at left) in a painting made during the 1550s.

And their court painter, Sofonisba Anguissola, whose long, notable career included informal studying with Michaelangelo and hundreds of accomplished paintings that smoke the pants off her contemporaries. Sofonisba lived to be 93 years old, and achieved extraordinary recognition and success during her lifetime.

According to an early art historian, “Anguissola has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings.”

This most-fortunate of women received the following epitaph from her second husband, wealthy sea merchant Orazio Lomellini, “To Sofonisba, my wife, who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man. Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love, in 1632, dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman.”

And born in 1855 in Philadelphia, a self-described “new woman,” Cecilia Beaux, painted and lived similarly to her contemporary, John Singer Sargent.Cecilia_Beaux_-_Man_with_the_Cat_(Henry_Sturgis_Drinker)

If you’re as familiar with Sargent’s painting as I am, you’d recognize that this portrait of Henry Sturgis Drinker (Beaux’s brother-in-law) gives him a run for his money — it’s very similar to the other informal portraits Sargent made of well-known men.

Cecilia Beaux is not as well-known today as some of her contemporaries in every major art collection such as Mary Cassatt. But Sargent also experienced denigration as a portrait painter of high skill during a time when gallery artists were going increasingly non-representational.

During her life (she lived to be 83 years old), she was well-recognized, received major commissions (though perhaps, not so “major” as Teddy Roosevelt’s White House portrait) and William Merritt Chase, who founded the school that is now known as Parsons School of Art and Design, said, “Miss Beaux is not only the greatest living woman painter, but the best that has ever lived. Miss Beaux has done away entirely with sex [gender] in art.”

Cecilia_Beaux_self-portraitThis is her 1894 self-portrait.

According to her biography, “she thought it best not to marry,” and in this, is similar to other notable female creators during the same period, including Mary Cassatt and Julia Morgan (architect of Hearst Castle). They did call themselves “new women” and chose to pursue their vocations over family life.

Women, today, of course, experience success as fine artists and experience no issues regarding creative freedom and recognition whatsoever.

There are some female performance artists featured in ArtForum right now. This is coverage, not financial remuneration. The top 10 art auctions of 2014, according to Art News, were Giacometti, Barnett Newman, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Modigliani, Warhol (again), Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Manet, and Andy Warhol (again).

A Woman Cannot
So They Say

A woman cannot paint; she hasn’t the hand.
A woman cannot kill; she hasn’t the stomach.
A woman cannot see; she hasn’t the eye.
A woman cannot love; she hasn’t the heart.

So they say.

But I was born with the heart of a lion.
And this lion does hunt.

Like all good beasts of prey,
I take only what I need.

And I can paint, I have the hand.
I can kill, I have the stomach.
I can see, I have the eye.
I can love.

I have the heart. And oh, do I love.

Enough to paint, to kill, to see.

Oh and one more thing.

A woman cannot write; she hasn’t the voice.

Well so a lifetime taught.

Ever in the soft night,
Ever in the pale morning light.
This word, my voice — always and ever.

Like a lion’s heart, like Wilfred Owen.
Wilfred I would have been at your side.

Always they told us we could not go.
But the things you carried?

We carried them in our hearts, Wilfred.
You were our sons, our brothers, our lovers.

And we – we – remember you always and speak true.

 

Big Eyes Big Talking Guys …

Maybe I need to stop seeing movies again. Bruce and I went to see a Christmas movie yesterday along with the rest of Aliso Viejo, and our choice was Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, which tells the story of well-known artist Margaret Keane and her earlier years. The movie stars amazing Austrian actor Christoph Waltz and equally marvelous Amy Adams as Margaret. Most people will enjoy this movie, although it could cause some fights between couples, and it’s far from a “typical” Tim Burton film.

margaret keane come play with meYou’ll know the artwork of Margaret Keane – most of us grew up with it. She’s the artist who created the “Big Eyes” waifs who were  *everywhere* during the 60s and 70s. I knew the artist’s name was “Margaret” and prior to seeing the film, knew absolutely nothing about the 10+ year fraud perpetuated by her husband Frank that forms the basis of the movie’s story. I had no idea that “Frank Keane” was the “famous artist.” To me, it had always been Margaret. I couldn’t imagine anyone thinking a man, much less an aggressive blowhard as Frank Keane is portrayed in the film (by Christoph Waltz) , could paint these very feminine images. In this respect, the fight for recognition and personal and creative freedom that Margaret fights, which is portrayed in the film, has been successful.

As we left the theater, I said to Bruce, “I don’t think this is the only time something like this has happened. I bet there are a lot more people like that out there.”

Most people will see this film as a wild, outrageous story — as wild and outrageous as Christoph Waltz’s performance. The final courtroom scenes (Perry Mason-like, art-style, complete with a “paint-off” showdown during which Frank suddenly experiences a crippling “I can’t paint” shoulder injury) are circus-like. It’s a freakshow, of course. It’s a Tim Burton film.

Absolutely zero reviewers have seen the movie for what it is, and I give Tim Burton credit for recognizing an amazing 20th century story about a woman artist, and bringing it to life on the screen. The end of the film shows a still photo of Amy Adams and Margaret Keane today — it’s a picture of a young creative artist and an inspiration or mentor. Tim Burton is a big enough director that any film made by him will have a good audience, and I doubt this was an expensive film to make, focusing on a personal story, not special effects. It will make money.

So how will I say this? The movie opens with a quote from Andy Warhol, himself not that much of an artist, praising the total non-artist Frank Keane. Would Andy have said such praise had he known at the time, the massive self-promoter and “world’s most successful artist” was in fact, Margaret, painting very personal visions that just happened to be massively popular?

No.

Warm Worlds and Otherwise introMargaret’s story reminds me of the numerous quotes about how well “James Tiptree, Jr.” understood the female and the male psyche from Isaac Asimov and numerous other sci-fi luminaries of the 60s and 70s. It reminds me of Robert Silverberg’s introduction to the 1975 edition of Alice Sheldon’s story collection of her notable work, Warm Worlds and Otherwise. Tiptree voluntarily wrote as a man; there’s no question “he” wouldn’t have achieved the attention “he” did in the 60s and 70s as a female sci fi writer. In 1976, it seems clear that Tiptree’s active writing career and correspondence with “famous sci-fi writers” ended, and she entered the world of “name notoriety” and official “nowheresville” — a writing legend who published little new work between the late 70s and her death by her own hand in 1987. People know the names and work of writers like Tiptree and Cordwainer Smith (another, non-gender related pseudonym for the great sci fi short fiction writer Paul A. Linebarger). They don’t know that their work, unlike Margaret Keane’s, wasn’t particularly lucrative or monetized.

In this respect, Big Eyes is a happy story. Margaret Keane’s persistence and quiet courage did prevail.

The Boston Globe film critic’s response to the film is typical. Ty Burr is most interested in thrashing Tim Burton’s directorial skills and Christoph Waltz’s acting, but he selects one paragraph to assail Burton for “hanging Amy Adams out to dry.”

In the process, the movie strands her character without an inner life, a psychology, or anything that would indicate what makes her tick. What secret sorrow made Margaret create her Big Eyes paintings?

I don’t know, Ty – did you watch the movie? Maybe it was her crappy first husband that forced her to leave home without a job or prospects? Like, when the guy at the furniture factory informed her she’d be painting cribs, not paintings? Maybe it was the total dick Frank – clearly portrayed at top volume in every scene? You could SEE her daughter (with the “big eyes” – get it, Ty?) You could see the repeated scenes with her leaving with her daughter in the car, saying she “wasn’t a good mother.” How about the scene where she got the letter from her ex saying he was going to take Jane away – and her only solution was marrying Frank the giant douchebag? What type of person would paint the sad “Big Eyes?” Well, look how happy the recent dolphin picture is that I used to illustrate this response to the film. A happy Margaret painted that; a sad one forced to paint in secret even from her own daughter painted all those other pictures.

You got a cake job, Ty. Maybe you better thank your lucky stars for that, and try opening your own “Big Eyes.”

According to Newsweek, which somehow holds on to life, Big Eyes is “An American Dystopia.”

No.

It’s America. It’s still America. I’ve been listening to slummy pop all morning. David Guetta (French) has 6.6 million followers on Spotify, Rihanna, 4.7 million. Fergie has 149,000 followers; will.i.am 787,000. Justin Timberlake has 1.2 million followers; Selena Gomez about the same as Fergie — 769,000 followers. Ke$ha almost 1 million at 951,000. Gaga has 1.2 million followers. Katie Perry, coming up on Rihanna with 3.2 million followers.

Now even Ke$ha has put on the looks for her career, and has been criticized for not being as feminine or attractive as performers like Rihanna and Selena Gomez. Lana Del Rey, who did a song for Big Eyes, has picked up many new followers and is now over 2 million, but she wasn’t earlier last year when her album Ultraviolence came out and had only a few thousands of listeners for weeks. I’ve listened to this a few times and it sickens me how much I relate to songs like “F**ked my Way up to the Top” and “Pretty When You Cry,” “Sad Girl” and the title song, which covers her relationship with a recovery guru “Jim” – who hits her and it “feels like a kiss.”

At Two Bunch Palms in November, we saw a psychic who gave us an angel reading. She said that everything was going to change December 22. She said that men had been “in charge” for 10,000 years and it was all going to change on that day. Then it would be the woman’s turn. She said men sensed this change, and it was so hard for many of them that they were choosing to pass on rather than stay. Big Eyes doesn’t really show the sad ending for nasty, cruel, selfish Frank, but the character as portrayed by Christoph Waltz is about as sad as they come. He wasn’t just a poor painter — he couldn’t paint at all. All he could do was exploit Margaret (she gives him credit for popularizing her work and creating a self-promotional money machine, which is probably true — but Frank got a little help from the stinking world we live in).

So why did these waifs have such sad eyes, Ty Bush?

For the reason you didn’t get the movie, Ty. For the reason you didn’t see what an incredible performance Amy Adams gave, and the same reason you think this is one of Tim Burton’s worst movies, rather than among his best. For the reason you can’t see that the gentle, visionary film maker, whose lady love Helena Bonham Carter has very large, expressive eyes, might just be making art that fits the way the world is changing …

Because Big Eyes is the first film to tell the story of a female artist and her amazing success and journey to creative and personal freedom. It’s not a “freakshow” though the story is perhaps, a little freakish, thanks to our freaky world and the freakish obsession of abusive Frank, played by one of the world’s best actors.

Because Margaret Keane is one of the world’s most successful artists whether you like her pictures or not. I can imagine how people may have made fun of Margaret’s art in art school, probably did on the streets before Frank began promoting, and I’ve seen many gallery owners like the snobby one in San Francisco, whose abuse of the “Big Eyes” paintings (and “representational art”) is a minor, telling subplot. Only hundreds of millions of women endure the type of abuse Margaret did. Every day, thousands leave their homes with their little girls in the back of the car.

Margaret was and is the artist, is all. This is the story of a female hero, Ty. That’s why you and your pals don’t get it. And the hat I don’t wear is off to Tim Burton for having the balls to make it. That’s what art is. It’s not the story you want to hear. It’s the story you need to hear.