Larry Clark’s “Billy Mann”

This image is taken from Larry Clark’s seminal photobook Tulsa (1971), which centres life and habits of a number of speed freaks. He took images in 1963, 1968 and 1971. This example features Billy Mann, one of the dysfunctional young men who appear throughout the book.

He is also featured on the book’s cover, posturing with a gun. Mann died of an overdose in 1970 and the book has become a memorial to him and his lifestyle, with the epitaph “Death is more perfect than life”.

Tulsa was startling and raw when it was first published and remains so. It depicts the violent and troubled lives of a group of drug addicts. Clark’s photographs show them injecting drugs, having sex and taking part in violent exchanges.

The images have a sense of foreboding and death, emphasized by their dark black tones and Clark’s use of low lighting. Accustomed to Clark’s presence with a camera, Mann seems oblivious to the photographer.

Mann also appears unaware of the baby on top of him; his arm supports its head but not in an embrace. The book’s photo-diary style and Clark’s close relationship to the people portrayed in it reveal that he lived the experience he documented, as opposed to just observing it, which has been key to its influence on future generations of artists.

Mann looks as if he has stepped out of a movie about drug culture and alienated male youth. Clark’s images resemble film stills and inspired visuals in Taxi Driver (1975), Rumble Fish (1983) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989) directed by Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Cus van Sant respectively. Read more

“Chair with Pipe” by Vincent van Gogh (1888, National Gallery, London)

One of the best-known artists in the world, Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-90) only painted for ten years of his life but during that time he produced more than 2,000 works of art, including paintings and drawings. Although he experienced almost no success, he helped to lay the foundations of modern art.

A troubled man, Van Gogh experienced many rejections, was plagued by mental illness and attempted several careers before deciding to be an artist at the age of twenty-seven. The eldest surviving child of six, he grew up in North Brabant in the southern Netherlands. His father was a Protestant minister.

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Piet Mondrian and the “De Stijl” group

A pioneer of abstract art, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), started his career painting landscapes until he developed an interest in the mystical principles of theosophy and began radically simplifying his paintings to create non-representational art.

He became an important part of the De Stijl group, which means “The Style”, and the group advocated a way of life as well as a style of painting. His influence on art and design of the 20th century came as much from his theoretical writing as from his painting.

Mondrian was born in Amersfoort in the Netherlands; he dropped an “a” from his surname after 1906.

From 1892 to 1897, he studied painting at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in Amsterdam. He painted local landscapes reflecting a variety of styles including Symbolism and Impressionism, as well as the traditional Dutch painting style of The Hague School.

In 1908, Mondrian became fascinated with theosophy, a form of religious mysticism based on Buddhist and Brahmin teachings. In 1911, he moved to Paris, where he experimented with a form of Cubism. He returned to the Netherlands for the duration of World War I.

There he commenced reducing elements in his paintings until they only contained straight lines and pure, flat colours. In 1915, he met Theo van Doesburg and within two years, they and the architects J. J. P. Oud and Jan Wils were collaborating on a journal they called De Stijl. Along with several other artists and designers, they formed a group with the same name.

Through De Stijl, Mondrian explored his theories about art, which were based on his philosophical beliefs about the spiritual order inherent in the world. Back in France in 1919, he developed Neo-Plasticism by simplifying the subjects of his paintings to the most basic elements. These paintings consisted of a white ground, upon which he painted a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and the three primary colours.

Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red is an example of his constant modification and refinement of the elements of his paintings. He started painting it in Paris in 1937 and completed it in New York in 1942. Read more

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962)

Originally a successful commercial artist, Andy Warhol (1928—87) became the internationally recognized, flamboyant Pop artist Andy Warhol. He challenged basic assumptions of what art is, and what materials, techniques and sources should be used, blurring the boundaries between high and low art.

The third son of Czechoslovakian parents, Warhol was bom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied pictorial design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology from 1945 to 1949.

On moving to New York, he worked as a commercial artist until 1960. Then he began making silkscreen prints, photographs and three-dimensional work, based on newspaper front pages, advertisements and other mass-produced images, including household goods such as Campbell’s Soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and Brillo pads, and celebrities including actress Marilyn Monroe and singer Elvis Presley.

From his silver-painted studio he called The Factory, he expanded into performance art, filmmaking, sculpture and books, always exploiting and exploring consumerism and the media.

In 1962, Warhol held his first solo Pop art exhibition in New York at the influential Stable Gallery. It included his prints Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) displayed on a shelf to resemble a supermarket, visually expressing the culture of mass consumption that was seizing the US public.

Using assistants, his detachment in the production of the prints also reflected the ambivalent nature of US society at the time: wealthy or poor, everyone consumed the same products, but class distinctions nevertheless remained firm.

At the same show, he exhibited this work featuring Monroe, which fuses two themes: the cult of celebrity and death. The former is emphasized on the colourful panel, while the black and white panel that blurs and fades suggests mortality.

Made of two canvases, the work references Christian diptychs made for the worship of religious icons, but Warhol has shown Monroe as a grotesque product of the media and a victim of her fame.

Warhol’s visual commentary on society’s obsession with celebrity and the expansion of mass media was prophetic, and he initiated new attitudes towards art and artmaking that continue to this day. Read more

“Rebellious Silence” by Shirin Neshat

In the image the woman gazes with dignity past the barrel of the gun that she is holding, proud to be wearing her veil as a sign other religious and cultural identity and willing to protect that identity at all costs, although potentially melancholic about the need to do so.

Neshat says: ‘Despite the Western representation of the veil as a symbol of Muslim women’s oppression, the subjects of these images look strong and imposing. In fact, the use of the black veil as a uniform has transformed the feminine body into that of a warrior, determined and even heroic.’

Like many artists investigating the issue of identity from the late 1980s onwards, including Lorna Simpson (b.1960)—creator of The Waterbearer — Neshat chose to incorporate text into her photography because of what she saw as the limitations of a purely visual language. In the image above, as in much of the Women of Allah series, she includes Farsi text, taken from prose and poems written by contemporary Iranian women.

Her placing of this on the woman’s face—the only part of her that is visible—acts as a reminder of the intertwined and indivisible nature of individual and cultural identity. Meanwhile, Neshat’s use of a script that is indecipherable to most people in the West has the effect of placing Westerners as the “other”. Read more

“Man with a Guitar” by Georges Braque (1911-12, MoMA, New York, USA)

Through his collaboration with Picasso, Georges Braque (1882-1963) was at the forefront of the development of Cubism. He was also one of the first artists to include decorators’ techniques in paintings and introduced the idea of using unexpected materials in fine art.

Although born in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil, Braque grew up in Le Havre. He trained to be a house painter and decorator like his father while also taking evening classes in drawing and painting.

In 1902, he moved to Paris and studied at various art schools. After visiting the Salon d’Automne in 1905, he contributed his own Fauvist paintings to the Salon des Independants the following year.

In 1907, he became fascinated by Cezanne’s retrospective exhibition and by Picasso’s new painting Les Demoiselles d Avignon, which he saw at Picasso’s studio. Abandoning the exuberance of Fauvism, he and Picasso began producing new forms of painting, presenting multiple viewpoints on single canvases.

In 1908, the art critic Louis Vauxcelles derisively described Braque’s paintings Houses at Estaque  as being composed of “bizarre cubes”, which resulted in the name Cubism.

Braque and Picasso felt that their approach was a more descriptive way of representing the three-dimensional world on two-dimensional surfaces than the established traditions of linear perspective.

Yet the resulting images were not always easy to understand, so to assist interpretation, Braque began stencilling letters and numbers onto his works. This phase became known as Analytical Cubism.

From 1912, the two artists began experimenting with papier colie, a collage technique that Braque took even further by glueing various fragments of other objects and materials onto his canvases. He also mixed paint with sand to create texture, and used trompe Voeil effects of marble and woodgrain that he had learnt while training to be a decorator.

This phase became called Synthetic Cubism. Although Picasso moved away from Cubism in 1914, Braque continued experimenting with it throughout his career. In subdued colours, this painting forms part of his Analytical Cubist phase. The similarity of colours, layers and broken planes make it difficult to decipher. Read more

“Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying” by Kazimir Malevich (1915, MOMA, New York, USA)

Immediately after the Russian Revolution, the non-objective paintings of Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) were admired by the Bolshevik regime. His pioneering Suprematist paintings were embraced by the new authorities as a radical art that discarded the past. But in the 1920s, these experimental ideas were suppressed.

Elsewhere, however, his rigorous and philosophical ideas about forms and meanings in art influenced innumerable other artists working in a variety of media, and profoundly influenced the evolution of modem art.

Bom in Ukraine to parents of Polish origin, as a child, Malevich moved constantly around Russia as his parents searched for work. He studied art at schools in Kiev and Moscow and with painters including Leonid Pasternak (1862-1945). His early work mostly featured scenes of provincial peasant life, influenced by Post-Impressionism, Symbolism and Art Nouveau.

From 1907, after becoming acquainted with artists such as Kandinsky and Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964), he began painting in a style that blended elements of Cubism, Futurism and Primitivism.

In 1915, at “0.10: The Last Futurist Exhibition” in Petrograd (now St Petersburg), Malevich unveiled his new type of abstract painting that abandoned all reference to the outside world in favour of coloured geometric shapes floating against white backgrounds.

Concentrating on the exploration of pure geometric forms and their relationships to each other, this art demonstrated his belief that art should transcend subject matter; the truth of shape and colour should reign ‘supreme’ over the image or narrative, and it should express pure sensation and experience devoid of illusion.

He called the art and his theories about it Suprematism. That same year, he published his manifesto, “From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism.

The basic units of this visual vocabulary were planes, stretched, rotated and overlapping.

The style evolved from his involvement with Russian Futurism, where artists explored the dynamism of trains, planes, cars, moving pictures and other aspects of the modem machine age. This painting was displayed at the “0.10” exhibition along with other similarly radical works. Read more

The Unique History of the Ukulele: How the Ukulele Found Its Home in Hawaii

Many people are familiar with the ukulele. But where did it come from? Hawaii, of course!

Well, sort of. There’s a little more to the story.

For this short history lesson on the origins of the ukulele, we’ll have to look at another island – one thousands of miles away, in another ocean. This island in the Atlantic is called Madeira and is part of Portugal, and it’s among the Portuguese that the ukulele has its roots.

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How Art Can Help Cancer Patients Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Healing Art

Stress and anxiety are a major problem for terminal cancer patients. This is especially true for aggressive cancers, like mesothelioma, because there’s no cure and a lot of patients are tempted to simply give up. But stress and anxiety lead to mental illness and reduce the ability of the body to fight back against the growth of cancer cells.

The fact is that access to social services can reduce stress and anxiety. Art classes are just an example of activities that are beneficial for terminal cancer patients.

So how does art help in reducing stress and anxiety?

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Sculptures: Incredible Metal Works of Art

What do you think of when you think of art? Most people envision paint on a canvas, or pencil sketches. With a mix of appropriate metalworking machinery and traditional techniques, artists can do amazing things with metal as the primary medium. Perhaps the most striking thing about metal sculptures is their magnitude, artists often work on a large scale to create breath-taking installations.

Cold, and often harsh metal can be manipulated to create soft movement and elegance, or it can be harnessed to display an impressive feat of engineering and geometry, perhaps securing it as one of the most versatile materials. The range of metals these artists work with support the message of the final product, whether its solid steel, or recycled materials. Here we have listed five of the most impressive sculptures, formed entirely from metal.

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