Friday, September 28, 2007

cascada post 22

Art Circles -- Part 2

Recently I learned that 'tondo' a shortening of the Italian 'rotondo' i.e. 'round' is the word used in the art world for round paintings as shown in my last post. Today let me move temporarily away from tondos and show some interesting art involving circles in which the paintings are not circular. First is a painting by Arthur Dove (1880-1946), arguably the first American abstract painter. Here it is:

Arthur Dove, 'Red Sun', 1935

I really like that large red sun, at once a natural object, a three dimensional spiral, and a symbol. The muted red stripes in the foreground seem agricultural. The image is both austere and yet warm. Even the artists signature in the lower middle seems part of the composition.

The next image is a painting of Chagall. I am not sure I can put into words why I find it compelling. Stare at it a bit, because it will just have to speak for itself.

Chagall, 'Compostion aux Cercles et à la Chèvre', 1920

Next is a strange glowing circle in a sort-of landscape by Christopher Orr. I hope you like it.

Christopher Orr, Untitled (Circle), 2006

Christopher Orr is a contemporary artist, born in 1967. You can find more about him, and see more of his work, by looking at his CV at IBID PROJECTS, London.

Now, let us step back two millennia and compare Christopher Orr's painting with this image on a classical Greek bowl:

Classical Greek Ceramic Work, 2000 or more years ago

There is a similarity in that both images feature a man seemingly enamored with a circle. In the first image the man seems amazed that he can make a circle of light with his finger, while perhaps in the Greek image the man is simply enjoying the pleasure of rolling a hoop. Certainly I do not know. Perhaps a more knowledgeable person can explain the symbolism, if any, of the circle. The rooster in the Greek image is the symbolic gift of love, or perhaps more often an offer understood to imply a desire for sex. But, in this case, there is no other person in the image. I still have to wonder if Orr might have been influenced by this or some similar Greek image from another era.
For today's last image let us move forward, past the Renaissance, to the Dutch Golden Age and examine this self-portrait of Rembrandt in older age:

Rembrandt, 'Self-Portrait with two Circles', 1665-1669

I think the circles add something important to the picture. Without them the painting would be much less interesting.

This series of circles in art will be continued in some future postings.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

cascada post 21

Art Circles

For a while now I have been collecting images of art in which circles played an important role. My collection now has over 350 images, mostly snagged from the Internet, some from Usenet groups, a few from photos I took, a few from things I scanned or created. For the most part I know little of the artists. Still I thought it would be fun to share some of these images and in some cases say something about the artists who created them. In the beginning I set myself some ground rules, such as no crop circles, no religious paintings in which a large halo around someone's head is the circle, no mandalas, no spheres or 3D sculptures, no plates or bowls, no manhole covers, no large moons or suns, no coins or medallions, no amazingly circular breasts, etc. In the end I occasionally broke many of my self imposed rules and just saved what caught my fancy. So it will be a little of everything that you see here, but always involving a circle in some way. Some of the artists are famous and some are nearly unknown, and perhaps some (for example me) are not even artists.

Let me start with Banksy's dictum. Banksy, as you may know is a famous (or infamous) graffiti artist many of whose works you can find on walls or buildings in London and elsewhere. His homepage with many interesting images you can find here
. Next, as one of his pieces of 'art', is his dictum:

banksy's dictum

Mind you, I am not arguing that this is one of Banksy's better pieces -- in fact it may be self-refutational -- but it was an easy lead-in for this article. So far as I know, Banksy mostly did not follow his own advice. I have only seen one of his other pieces that featured a circle. It is a sort of modern day Iwo Jima image with a political statement, but not particularly noteworthy otherwise, so I won't show it here.

Following this idea let me first show you some art pieces which, it seems to me, are rather arbitrarily framed by a circle. The circle in these cases does not seem to have much to do with the art other than to frame it. Let us start with the early Renaissance artist Botticelli (1445-1510). He is most often known as Sandro Botticelli, but his original name was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi. Most of his life was spent in Florence, Italy. Probably his most famous work is Birth of Venus (c. 1485). Here we see a circular painting by Botticelli in which the Virgin offers her breast to the Christ Child:

Botticelli, 'The Madonna and Child with Three Angels', 1493

Notice that the hands of the angels at the left and right are chopped off by the circular frame and the base of the ceramic at the bottom is also truncated. It seems unlikely that Botticelli would have painted it that way. It seems more likely that a circular frame was imposed on a larger painting, maybe even a rectangular one. However, I have seen a digital version of this painting where noticeably more of the angles hands were visible, so this version has most likely been digitally cropped to a slightly smaller circle. Compare this with another of Botticelli's circular paintings:

Botticelli, 'Madonna of the magnificat', c 1485 (diameter 118 cm)

In this tranquil, peaceful painting the arcs above the crown and the leaning figure on the left suggest that Botticelli intended a circular frame. The bisected hand at the left may indicate that the circular diameter was a little smaller than Botticelli expected or wanted.

Botticelli's work, in addition to religious paintings like the above, includes many depictions of classical Greek mythology and many wonderful portraits of the powerful Medici family. The vast majority of his work is not framed by circles.

The next painting is by the Dutch artist Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) who painted mostly landscapes in the Netherlands and in Germany.

Jan van Goyen, 'Summer', 1625, diameter 33.5 cm

I downloaded this image from a usenet group a few years ago. A larger version (1600x1600 pixels, 400k bytes) can be found at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is well worth clicking here to see the large version. A second Goyen circular painting is entitled 'winter'. Here it is:

Jan van Goyen, 'Winter', 1625

In the second image parts of the black diamond (or tilted square) shaped frame can be seen, insuring that the full extent of the circular painting is visible. The people seem to be carefully arranged to fit in this circular frame so Goyen must have consciously designed the piece for a circular frame. The circular frame does not seem to serve any artistic purpose, other than perhaps giving one the illusion of looking through a circular window or perhaps through a telescope, since low power telescopes were readily available in the Netherlands at the time this picture was painted. See here for an interesting history of the telescope. I do not know if Goyen made paintings for 'Autumn' or 'Spring'. Certainly most of his over 1200 paintings and 800 drawings were not circular.

Now let us jump to the year 1740, where we find this wonderful painting by the Dutch artist Jacob de Wit. Yes, it looks 3D, like maybe it is made out of plaster. But that is not the case. It is a painting. The children may be playing with fire, but they are also keeping warm in the winter.

Painting by Jacob de Wit, 1740

Now here is a curve ball for you:

Picasso, 'Nature morte à la chaise cannée', 1911-12 **

You are right if you are saying 'wait a minute', because, so far as I know Picasso did not paint any circular pictures. The original of the above is elliptical and you may well like it better. It should be easy to find using google image search. Still, the circular version above, which I created using Irfanview, doesn't look too bad. The rope and the cane are not painted -- at least I don't think they are -- as this is a multi-media picture.

I will continue with more 'art circles' in a future posting, and I will include non-circular pictures in which the circle plays an important role.