Campus Art

Happy end of the school year! I keep hearing the Elle Woods in my head squeak, “We did it!”

We conquered the weirdest school year ever! Way to go, guys! Now it’s time for parents everywhere to say those magical words: “I’m not cooking tonight. We have an Open House.” Graduates are trying to plan their futures in these super bizarre times- some are headed to college, some are taking a gap year, maybe going to a trade school, and some will skip all of these things and move to their parents’ basement to live out their fantasy of playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizon” for the rest of their glory days. Whatever summer or life plans you have, maybe you will find yourself in a college town and good news- colleges have great art.

If you follow me on IG, you may remember a couple months ago, I posted a few pictures from a walk around Michigan State’s campus. Here are a few of my favorites:

I’ve also had the pleasure of perusing art at Notre Dame, Oakland University, and Brown University, to name a few. There is no denying it: college campuses have fantastic art! Here are a few pictures from said universities:

Notre Dame: I wrote in this post about the extremely perfect layout of the school, including the ice arena, a Starbucks, and a sculpture walk/art museum/Touchdown Jesus all within a short walking distance of each other- a glorious little triangle of my favorite things. We’re planning to go back to that same tournament next hockey season, and I’m busting into that art museum, come hell or high water (a saying they take very seriously there.) In the meantime, here is The Word of Life (aka: Touchdown Jesus) ND’s most famous piece of art.

Be blessed in your athletic and java pursuits!

At another hockey tournament near Detroit, I was delighted to find Oakland University has a little art gallery! I took six hockey players with me to “check” it out (hockey humor!) I think the museum staff was really happy to see us roll in. All the kids gamely told me their favorite pieces of art there. The blue chain (it represents falling tears) was a crowd-pleaser, so were the paintings by Dick Goody. And of course, there were some giggles over part of Susan Evans’ installation, Artist’s Panties (not pictured). Underwear: never not funny.

Charlotte and I visited Rhode Island a couple years ago in the dead of winter (I’d rethink that move next time). Luckily, the art was big enough and bold enough on Brown‘s campus, it didn’t get lost in the snow. Hands down, our favorite piece was Urs Fischer’s aptly named Lamp/Bear. It is one of three 20-ton bears Fischer made, but the only blue one. The mural below is technically not on campus, but pretty darn close and you know I can’t resist a sweet mural. This was one of three in a row, each cooler than the next!

If you are graduating, congratulations! Way to matriculate! If you’re just attending Open Houses this year, let me give you permission: go back for seconds.

Who Painted It Best?

My favorite part about going to the dentist is leafing through magazines I don’t normally read. I catch up on celebrity gossip, learn mind-blowing facts like Jussie Smollett played Terry Hall in “The Mighty Ducks,” note some fashion fads I will never be able to pull off (I’m looking at you, septum rings) and of course, cast my vote for “who wore it best?”

There are lots of scenes painters have portrayed throughout the years that are so important to history or so stunning or so lovely that they’ve been done many times by many artists. Let’s compare some of these and decide who painted it best. And I promise not to drill your teeth afterward!

First up: The Last Supper. One of the most painted scenes in history. There are so many renditions of it, ranker.com has a Top 24 list, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of Last Supper paintings. Many monasteries commissioned artists to paint it in their dining halls, as was the case with da Vinci’s famous fresco. This is my favorite painting of all time, so it was hard for me to pick a comp, but I decided to go with Bassano’s depiction of Jesus’ last meal.

It seems like both scenes take place at the exact same moment- when Jesus announces someone at the table will betray Him. Didn’t He know you aren’t supposed to talk about money, politics, or betrayal of the Savior of the world in polite company?! Conversation explodes, and that is what da Vinci and Bassano capture. Look at Judas. In da Vinci’s painting, he has the guts to join the conversation, make eye contact, ask, “Who would do such a thing?” In Bassano’s rendition, Judas is sneakier, playing the “if I don’t look at them, maybe they won’t look at me” card. He’s all “Lalala. Mm, good wine!” Jerk.

Some other similarities and contrasts: John is his usual chill self in both paintings, Jesus is wearing similar garb in each, and is of course, the focus of each painting, slightly illuminated in both. The most interesting contrasts, I think, are that in da Vinci’s painting, the diners are wearing sandals (the term “flip-flop” wasn’t coined until the 1960s!), and in Bassano’s painting they are barefoot. Also, check out the animals in Bassano’s Last Supper. He was famous for his paintings of animals, and I like that he included them here. The cat symbolizes treason, the dog fidelity.

***

Another scene artists love to paint is that of Saint George slaying the dragon. Raphael painted the most famous portrayal of this scene. It is on the left. I picked Paulo Uccello’s depiction of the slaying for our purposes, because it is housed at the National Gallery of Art along with Raphael’s painting.

Raphael’s painting was done in 1506 and Uccello’s in 1470, but he doesn’t get points for that, since this is a scene that’s been painted since the early 11th century. Raphael shows George before he kills the dragon, the second painting shows the actual, gory action. Both feature indifferent princesses and white horses that, if you ask me, are more interesting than any of the other subjects. Whatever your opinion, I think we can all agree we imagined the dragon to be bigger.

***

The last piece in our “Who Painted it Best?” contest is not a painting at all. But we have to do it, you guys- we have to talk David. Like our previous artworks, these Davids capture a similar moment in time, if not the exact same moment. Donatello’s David includes Goliath’s head, so obviously this is immediately following the fight (if you can call it that). Michelangelo’s David is still holding his pebbles, so we assume this is right before he attacks the giant.

I have a clear favorite, though both are incredible. Donatello’s sculpture gets mad props for being the first free-standing nude of the Renaissance, and the first done in bronze. Very brassy, Donatello! It also differs in that Donatello outfitted David in boots and a… hat? I mean- okay, whatever. Michelangelo’s David is completely naked, much bigger, and (in my opinion) more David-y. Or how I imagine David, anyway. Youthful, but pensive; scared, but courageous; humble, but faithful.

Do you have a thought or opinion on who painted (or sculpted) these pieces best? I’d love to hear what you think!

Note: It cannot go without saying: I finally (unintentionally!!) put all four ninja turtle namesakes into one post!!

3 Paintings That Will Make You Feel Like You’re at the Lake

It’s that time of year! I can’t speak for other states, but in Michigan, Memorial Day weekend is a Big Deal. It is the unofficial kick-off to all things summer! Pools are opened, RVs are fired up, flags are hoisted, kids are done learning (whether or not school is still in session), stores run low on s’mores supplies, pasty skin readies for the first sunburn of the year, boats are launched, and grills are dusted off. And of course, there is the Memorial Day traffic to contend with as the entire population of Michigan migrates to one waterway or another, like flamingos to their breeding ground.

“As many as 2.5 million pink-feathered birds take to the skies for the journey as their breeding season arrives.” (www.dailymail.co.uk)

To get us all pumped about some time at the lake, here are three paintings that scream, “Relax by a body of water!”

  1. I have to hand it to Vincent Van Gogh. He really painted something for every occasion, and he does not fail me now. Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy is a quiet water scene. This is how people in his day would have celebrated Memorial Day if it existed. He didn’t know about the future, or he would have painted a scene featuring pontoons tied together, beer coolers floating beside donut-shaped inflatables, and tipsy vacationers singing Jimmy Buffet. He went the serene route, and nailed it.
Where are you Van Goghing for the long weekend?

Van Gogh was studying Seurat’s pointillism technique when he painted this, and the influence is clear, but not as… well, pointed. Rather than dots, VG’s strokes are more like dashes. It gives it a unique look from some of his other paintings, but still has a very Van Gogh feel. I think he used the blues and greens beautifully together.

2. You know we can’t talk waterfront, without mentioning Claude Monet, whose most famous paintings are aquatic scenes. We know his super famous water-lily and bridge paintings from his home in Giverny, but I like this one for the upcoming holiday weekend:

Garden at Sainte-Adresse. Fun fact: Monet introduced his gf to his family the summer he painted this. Some relations thought she was a gold-digger, just after his monet.

Substitute those flags for Old Glory and you might be looking at a home in Harbor Springs, Michigan or on Mackinaw Island. In truth, the models are his family members on vacation at his aunt’s villa in Le Havre. The flowers are vibrant and lush, boats are working and providing leisure, and this very much makes me wish I had a parasol. (Sidebar: Monet also painted Impression Sunrise at Le Havre, which is the painting I use as the heading backdrop for this website.)

3. This next painting takes us in a slightly different direction, but it’s a Picasso painting that I actually like, so it seems like I should include it:

Night Fishing at Antibes.

Picasso doesn’t strike me as a fisherman- I feel like he’d prefer a poetry slam to a late-night fishing trip, but what do I know? Maybe his home was full of Billy the Singing Bass and wooden signs that read, “Good things come to those who bait.” In any event, I love how he portrayed this fishing trip, with it’s bright, chunky shapes and determined figures in a too-small boat. At first, it strikes me as a fun, “let’s go to the lake” painting, but it was painted at a time of extreme distress. Picasso was still hopeful a war would not break out, but mere weeks after this painting’s completion, Nazis invaded Poland. So, while it isn’t a celebratory piece, it is appropriate for Memorial Day. This coming weekend does kick off summer, true- but most importantly, commemorates our beloved, courageous military men and women.

Have a fun and safe Memorial Day!

What is your Enneagram/Art Match?

When my family is going on a long road trip, I like to print out discussion questions to minimize screen time and torture my family. On our last trip, one of the questions was, “What is something you could talk about for thirty minutes straight, without any preparation?” My answer? The Enneagram. Whether you are brand new to the Enneagram, or a seasoned vet, my hope is you will find the descriptions below to be at least a little accurate. One of the awesome things about the Enneagram is that it takes into consideration how very onion-y humans are. I’m a Nine, but there are days I could be mistaken for a Three, moments you might swear I’m an Eight. People have layers! So, if the art or artist assigned to your number doesn’t resonate? No big deal! It’s art. You can like all of it or none of it. If the Enneagram teaches us anything, it’s how very complex we are. And your artistic tastes can be just as compound! What I’m trying to say here is: this is just for FUN!

If you don’t know what Enneagram number you are, there are approximately ten million quizzes online. Here is one. Have fun! Discuss with friends! I suggest taking it on a road trip for some good, old-fashioned torture conversation.

Enneagram 1 (The Reformer): If you won’t leave the house with a wrinkle in your dress, the dishes done, and every tissue box square with the table on which it sits? You may be a One. Ones are perfectionists, organizers, crusaders! You keep the cogs of society running. Recruit a One to pull off the best fundraiser the PTA has ever seen! Maybe they want to do an art drive. If so, Ones might be tempted to pick a lot of paintings from the Baroque period. They will appreciate the ornate details characteristic of Baroque art. The Baroque era began in response to a distaste for simpler art- a reformation perhaps led by artistic Ones. Many Baroque paintings are inspired by history, making great tools Ones can use in their crusade to educate others. I recommend Ones check out works by Caravaggio and Rembrandt, but especially Vermeer.

Vermeer loved to paint quotidian tasks. He was an expert at making the ordinary look extraordinary. Reformers do this same thing, I think. They appreciate stability and find joy in a job well-done, whether it’s a painting or an everyday task.

Enneagram 2 (The Helper): Twos are irresistible. They are generous and compassionate and make great friends. I can vouch for that- some of my best friends are Twos. My best guess is that these Helpers really enjoy Installation art. For one thing, lots of Installation art is also interactive, so Twos can bring a friend along to share in it. Installation art sends a big message to viewers. It is almost always found in a large space and is hard to miss. Twos send a big message as well- in how they interact with the world through their generosity and support. Installation art is a fairly new artistic genre. The Twos in your life may love discovering some of Carsten-Holler’s bright, funky work, or Olafur Eliasson’s trippy installations. The artist whose work I think will resonate with Twos best is Doris Salcedo.

Like much art, this work comes from a place of sadness. But Twos can handle sadness. They want to feel connected to people and the story behind this installment will accomplish that. Helpers have a knack for seeing people for who they really are… I bet they’re equally good at interpreting art.

Enneagram 3 (The Achiever): It’s hard not to admire the Threes in our lives. They are so inspirational and motivating! Threes put a lot of value on succeeding, whatever that means for them (it’s not necessarily financial.) Whether it’s getting an academic achievement award, completing an Iron Man, or making their first million, Threes make goals and achieve them. I think they may find themselves attracted to the art form known as Fauvism. Fauvism was a short-lived movement in Paris, but its influence rippled through the art world for years. Like Threes, it was influential and authentic. A new art form for its time, Fauvism served as a model (as Threes often do!) to subsequent art forms. Threes may be attracted to art by Gustave Moreau or Andre Derain, but Henri Mattise was the most successful of all Fauvism artists.

Le Bonheur de Vivre is considered the greatest painting in Fauvism, and I know Threes appreciate the greatest of anything! This painting is almost 6 feet high and 8 feet wide- it’s very “go big or go home.” Just like our beloved Threes!

Enneagram 4 (The Creative): As the rarest of all Enneagram numbers, it would be easy to assume Fours would be into a unique art form, like Intentism or Fluxus. Sometimes Fours are known for their comfort with melancholy, so we might guess they’d be into Picasso’s blue period. But actually, the kind of art I think Fours might be most attracted to is Surrealism. Fours are creative, they’re dreamers! And Surrealism is all about painting trippy scenes we may only see in a dream. Think Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” or “The Two Fridas” by Frida Kahlo. I think the painting that best embodies a Four is one of my favorites: “Over the Town” by Marc Chagall.

It is lovely and romantic, but this couple has a sad ending: it is a self-portrait of the artist with his wife, Bella, who died unexpectedly. Chagall grieved her for years, unable to work. I think the unique scene, sad backstory, and romance of this painting is very “Four-esque.”

Enneagram 5 (The Investigator): I really, really wanted to keep the Renaissance for Nines because it’s my favorite era, but if I’m being honest… I have to give it to the Fives. Renaissance paintings have elaborate stories behind them to dig into, and details for Fives to take a bite out of and savor. And when they’re done digesting the symbolism behind say, Thomas’ index finger in The Last Supper, there’s another detail to consider. Perhaps the table salt. Fives could really sink they’re teeth into paintings like The Last Judgement and Ecstasy of Saint Francis. But the one that will really set their minds reeling, that you may never be able to tear them away from? I think it’s Raphael’s The School of Athens.

Do you know a Five who would love to study each character in this painting and their backstory? It features Plato and Aristotle (were they fellow Fives? Good chance!), math books, architecture… it’s a virtual playground for our investigative, observant Fives!

Enneagram 6 (The Loyalist): Enneagram experts think there may be more Sixes in the world than any other number. What a comfort! I love knowing I could be surrounded by a loyal, prepared, ready-for-anything Six at any given time. The art style I think best represents Sixes is Impressionism. When Monet first introduced the technique to the world, there was some real push-back, but Impressionists believed in the art form and persevered, the same way Sixes do when they believe in something. Sixes strive to find peace even in the chaos of life, and doesn’t Impressionism do the same? The most famous paintings in this genre are haystacks, ponds, ballerinas, all painted in soothing strokes. Sixes may find themselves absorbed in the works of Edgar Degas or the father of Impressionism, Claude Monet. But I think they may especially love Mary Cassatt’s paintings.

Cassatt loved painting mothers and their children, and isn’t that relationship the epitome of loyalty? Sixes will find comfort in Cassatt’s calm paintings. But though they are calming they are still fun, never boring. A lot like many Sixes I know!

Enneagram 7 (The Enthusiast): Everyone loves a Seven! If Sixes are loyal golden retrievers, Sevens have the boundless energy of border collies. Sevens are exclamation points! They’re pogo sticks! They ride roller coasters with their hands up! If your little brother is a Seven you probably got a lot of wet willies growing up. They always have a project going, often several at once (sidebar: my husband is a Seven.) Sevens are fun and energetic. They are very similar to the art of Pointillism. Tiny little dots of energy making one beautiful masterpiece- just how Sevens are made! Van Gogh dabbled in Pointillism, and Paul Signac did some beautiful paintings that might resonate with you. But the master of Pointillism, of course, is Georges Seurat.

Did you think I was going to showcase Seurat’s more famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte? Nope! This is unexpected- like Sevens can be! These models are enjoying life, just as our dear Sevens are wont to do.

Enneagram 8 (The Challenger): Eights might have the nickname “Challenger,” but they’re also famously good leaders, protectors, and entrepreneurs. When I want an honest opinion, I go straight to an Eight. They will not sugarcoat the truth, which I appreciate, but are still polite and kind about it, which I appreciate even more. During a crisis, you want an Eight on your side. On your wedding day you REALLY want an Eight on your side. They are making sure nobody else wearing a white dress steps foot in the church, and that the DJ plays “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the hour. Eights are keeping it real, and it shows in their art preferences. You might find them admiring Rodin’s The Thinker or Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, but they might like Van Gogh’s The Skull of a Skeleton With Burning Cigarette best.

Our Challengers will appreciate the blunt subject matter in this painting. Moms who are Eights will wave this in front of their kids faces, exclaiming, “this is what happens when you smoke!” Van Gogh took an anatomy class to get the details of this skeleton just right, and Eights appreciate that accuracy and no-nonsense style of learning.

Enneagram 9 (The Peacemaker): I felt morally obligated to give the Investigators the Renaissance, but I know you Nines won’t fight me on it (haha). The good news is Peacemakers like us are most likely to resonate with another beautiful art form: Expressionism. Expressionists take a situation and alter it to evoke particular moods or emotions. Raise your hand if you are a Nine who does the same thing. Expressionistic paintings aren’t literal interpretations of what the artist sees and Peacemakers aren’t always “what you see is what you get.” Van Gogh did plenty of Expressionism, and Edvard Munch became quite famous from his Expressionistic painting, The Scream. I think the artist that best captures the Peacemakers’ “Nineness” is Wassily Kandinsky.

Nines are at the top of the Enneagram circle. We can see (and embody!) the good and not-so-good characteristics of all the numbers in their beautiful cacophony. Kandinsky’s Composition VIII tells the story of a day in the life of a Nine: harmony, discord, straight edges, curves, bold colors and pastels. Nines make it all work together, as Kandinsky did in this painting.

Artworks of the Rich and Famous

I don’t want to be an annoying name-dropper, but I’ve almost had run-ins with some pretty famous people. We’re talking solid C-listers. There was the time my family saw Richard Simmons in the airport (I was asleep, but I’m still counting it.) Then there was the time I saw the mom and daughter from HGTV’s “Good Bones” in Atlanta. Or, I’m pretty sure it was them anyway. And in NYC my sister and I walked right past A-Rod getting out of his car. Jamie played it cool, but I played it even cooler since I didn’t know it was him until Jamie clued me in once we were out of earshot.

The even bigger celebrities are all dusting off their red carpet skills these days as awards season is in full swing! (What’s “full swing” for a pandemic, at least.) Below are three people who have won an award or two in their lifetime, but are also notoriously dedicated art collectors.

Leonardo DiCaprio: This guy owns over $10 million of art! What would the Seavers think?! His collection includes pieces like Basquiat’s Boxing Ring and Walton Ford’s The Tigress.

Aren’t they stunning? DiCaprio doesn’t shy away from bold colors or subjects. I never saw him in “The Great Gatsby” but I feel like Jay Gatsby would approve.

Neil Patrick Harris: It doesn’t take a child prodigy doctor to know NPH has impeccable taste, and his house does not disappoint! It appears he loves art as much as he loves magic. In fact, he named his son after Gideon Rubin. In addition to Rubin, Harris has works by Banksy and Kehinde Wiley in his Harlem townhouse.

Sofia Coppola: Oscar winner, famous since infancy, cousin to Nicholas Cage, director extraordinaire…. and collector of beautiful art. Coppola began her art collection with photographs, then began branching out. Now her home has art from painters like Elizabeth Peyton and Risaku Suzuki.

I feel like I also need to give Ed Ruscha a shout-out because all three of these celebrities (and many more) have Ruscha’s work in their homes. He has quite the celebrity following. I have to wonder- did he meet them all at the airport?

Three Mexican Artists That Aren’t Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera

Happy Cinco de Mayo! I love this holiday for it’s low-key, no pressure, let’s-just-eat-guac-and-drink-margaritas-but-not-feel-obligated-to-put-up-decorations-or-buy-gifts celebratory vibe! And speaking of guacamole, if you have a good recipe, send it my way. Since we got back from El Paso, I’ve been determined to perfect my guac. So far, I’ve purchased one avocado as a leap of faith that I would, in fact, attempt that lofty endeavor. It’s sitting by my fruit bowl mocking me. For more on avocados, see this past post!

I picked the following three artists because I like their art. If you are curious about other Mexican artists, you might check out Jose Clemente Orozco (his stuff was a little too dark for me) or David Alfaro Siqueiros (a little too Marxist for me) or Leonora Carrington (actually, her stuff is great, but the title of this post starts with “Three” not “Four” so someone had to get cut.)

  1. Remedios Varo: I gave Carrington’s spot to Varo for the sole reason that Carrington is British. She lived in Mexico for a long time, yes, but come on. Her last name is Carrington. To be fair, Varo is Spanish, but she did become a naturalized citizen of Mexico and she’s from a Spanish-speaking country, so she wins. Like Carrington and Kahlo, Varo was a Surrealist. No surprise, since she graduated from the same art school as Salvador Dali and worked as assistant to Marc Chagall for a time. Can you see the influence?

Incidentally, Carrington’s name is sprinkled throughout all Varo’s bios. They were the kind of friends that could work together and remain friends, as evidenced by the plays they co-wrote. In fact, in the name of friendship, here is a Carrington painting, even though her name may as well be Lady Fish ‘n’ Chips.

And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur. I love a lengthy title.

2. Fast forward several years, where Gabriel Orozco is currently producing awesome artwork after awesome artwork. I looked at some of his stuff before I read about him and was immediately drawn to his thought-provoking pieces, several of which have an eternal theme. Like his installment, Horses Running Endlessly, in which all the players are knights. Or the four-player ping-pond table encouraging a continuous, watery game. Or the painted skull (Black Kites), immortalizing the dead. Maybe his real theme is “play games until you die!” In any event, Orozco is alive and well and still creating cool stuff.

3. The third Mexican artist I want to mention is Rufino Tamayo. As was the trend during his career, he did plenty of murals, but was not considered one of the big three Mexican muralists (los tres grandes). They didn’t make this list because (spicy take!) I don’t like them or their art. Instead, I give you much cooler artwork from Tamayo, who has part of today’s holiday in his name and must be listed for that reason alone!

I appreciate Tamayo’s “less is more” philosophy when it came to color. Wikipedia quotes him as saying, “As the number of colors we use decreases, the wealth of possibilities increases.” He might use minimal color in his paintings, but he used them wisely. I appreciate that “less is more” philosophy. Unless we’re talking guacamole and margaritas. Then, it’s go big or go home.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Quentin Blake: Cartoonist Extraordinaire

The other day someone posed a question on Facebook: “What author (or book) made you fall in love with reading?” (Note to self: add this to discussion questions for our next road trip.) Please, please, tell me your answer in the comments because I love this question! I tie books to memories like some people remember their childhood head colds when they smell mentholatum. I remember the first book I claimed to read: Three Billy Goats Gruff (my mom politely informed me I had only memorized it), the first book I actually read (Hop on Pop), the first book that made me cry (Bridge to Terabithia), what I was in the middle of on the day I got married (Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix), the first book I read as a new mom (Harry Potter: Deathly Hollows), and the first chapter book I read to Molly, then Adrienne, then Charlotte (The Twits by Roald Dahl). Which brings me to my point: Roald Dahl made me fall in love with reading.

Sure, I liked the Babysitters’ Club and the Sweet Valley Twins, but getting my hands on a Roald Dahl book was even better than a new Hypercolor shirt. Better, even, than a trip to ShowBiz or an afternoon of duck hunting on our snazzy new Nintendo.

I had a friend, that had cooler things than me because, my mom explained, “her dad’s a doctor. They have more money.” I distinctly remember coveting an amazing baby blue lockbox, and books. They had more books than I could shake a bookmark at. And in addition to hand-me-down hockey gear for my brother, they passed on their books, including the complete collection of Roald Dahl. The Twits, Boy, Matilda, The Witches, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Danny: Champion of the World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory… all of it, all of it, all of it.

And if you’re a Roald Dahl fan, then you for sure know his cartoonist of choice: Sir Quentin Blake. Literally, he’s been knighted with the likes of Elton John and Bono. So he’s a big deal.

Here are a few Dahl books we currently have on hand at our house:

The Witches is the last surviving Dahl book we own from my childhood, as you can probably tell from the pages that fell out and are stuffed back in.

Something about Blake’s penchant for scrawny, big-nosed kids with an air of mischief about them resonates with readers, and totally jives with Dahl’s characters. When I visited Blake’s website, I found that at eighty-eight years old, Quentin Blake a) is still alive and drawing up a storm b) has an impressive social media following, and c) has an air of mischief about him, I think. I took one look at him knew he is a guy who can stir up some trouble. Not to mention, he resembles a well-fed Charlie Bucket at age 88. Something tells me he has spent some time in the mirror drawing his characters.

There are other children’s illustrators I have grown to love, of course: Jan Brett, Tomie DePaola, and Kevin Henkes to name a few. But none are so connected to my childhood memories of reading as Sir Quentin Blake.

Caravaggio’s Rage

For Christmas, I like to give each of my kids an “experience,” and yesterday Molly and I finally had some time to go throw axes. Neither of us had ever been- it was a blast! When I booked the tickets, I saw the same place also offers Rage Sessions, so I tacked that on too, even though Molly and I are a couple of the most rage-free people you’ll ever meet. Sometimes chill people need to unleash their suppressed rage more than anybody though, don’t you think? And rage we did.

Are we smiling under those helmets? Wouldn’t you like to know!

Our venting session got me thinking about aggression and how people cope with it. Some people go to rage rooms, some punch pillows, some sign up for kickboxing… and some people paint. Take Caravaggio for instance.

Here is a guy who had some pent up anger, and the history books chronicled all of it. He was a notorious gambler, thief, slanderer, and oh yeah- murderer. Many of his arrests were for throwing temper tantrums. Like the time he threw a plate of artichokes at the waiter, who famously replied, “Yeah? Well, your art makes me choke!” Haha. What’s not funny are his more serious crimes, like beating a man with a stick, attacking another man with a sword, and killing another while mutilating him.

But man, could he could paint.

As in his daily life, Caravaggio did not shy away from violence in his paintings. Arguably his most graphic painting is Judith Beheading Holofernes.

Ew. I’m sorry, guys. I made it tiny so it wouldn’t be so “in your face.” (Accidental pun!)

Gross. I know. But look at what he does with the light on Holofernes’ arms and chest! It was revolutionary for the time. Say what you will about Caravaggio, but he led the artists’ charge toward light and shadows. The emotion (or lack thereof) on Judith’s face is super intriguing as well. She only looks a little bothered by the situation. Incidentally, there was another version of this painting that many experts think Caravaggio also did, discovered in 2014. The Judith in that painting is significantly more disturbed.

Caravaggio painted some other beheadings too. Several, actually. (Heehee. Sever-al? I’m just trying to lighten the mood.) There’s The Beheading of Saint John, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, David with the Head of Goliath, and Medusa. To name a few. But I can’t include them here. I have a rule about posting only one graphic painting per blog entry. Just instated that rule this very moment. Instead, I will give you a lighter, Caravaggio.

Confession: I didn’t know “cardsharp” was a term. I had only heard “card shark,” which is a derivative of “cardsharp”!

I would like to make the argument that this painting still jives with our theme. In this scene we are witnesses to the moment before rage. Everyone looks chill now, but so did Molly and I before we entered our Rage Session. Someone in this painting is about to Lose. Their. Cool. My money is on the boy being cheated. Again, Caravaggio illuminates the situation beautifully. Even though it’s one of his earliest works, he has already proven he can do magical things with light.

For a guy so good at painting light, he sure did walk a dark path through life. Lucky for us, he was a fast painter and prolific. In his 36 years, he painted at least 80 pieces (probably more). Even if he did have as many arrests under his belt as he did paintings, we have him to thank for influencing greats like Rembrandt, Peter Paul Reubens, and Vermeer. He may have been a bad boy, but he had so much talent, you might say it’s criminal.

Marfa, TX: Big Art in a Small Town

Last week was our glorious, long-awaited Spring Break! I hadn’t been on a plane since January of 2020. I’ve traveled plenty in that time, but always via oversized, smelly, SUV. As much as I love a road trip, even I wasn’t willing to drive the one million hours to western Texas, where we randomly decided to vacation with our dear friends. We started out in El Paso, hit Guadalupe Mountain National Park (because if not now, when, really?), then moved south to Big Bend National Park. It is a desolate, desert drive, friends, except for one bizarre oasis of art three hours out of El Paso: Marfa, Texas.

A friend who used to live in El Paso told me about Marfa ahead of time, thank goodness. Otherwise we would have written it off as a half-town and drove directly past. But she sent me an article that claimed it was “an unlikely must-go-once-in-your-life-at-least for the cultural elite.” And you know me- nothing if not culturally elite.

Ha.

Jim is resigned to my road trip whims, and our friends were willing to humor me, so we stopped. Here are a few things about Marfa:

  1. They are pretty liberal with the city limits. We saw our first piece of Marfa art about thirty miles before entering the town, and then nothing but dust devils and tumbleweeds until the town “really” begins half an hour later. The art is an installation piece that is hilarious, because you haven’t seen anything not brown for three hours and then this:
Erin is classy enough to actually shop at Prada. Me? Not so much.

It is a tiny, unemployed, eternally locked Prada store. It houses some pieces from Prada’s 2005 collection, and is the headlining act in the show that is Marfa. Around the outside, people have begun adding locks to the fence, which I always love. Romantic! There were two other tourists there taking selfies in front of the store, but like us, nobody knew to bring a lock to secure our love with our significant others. Maybe next time.

2. Most things are closed on Mondays. Nothing more on that, but you should know. I made everybody stop again on Wednesday, on our way back from Big Bend. They were all really happy with me.

3. Your best food option, in our experience, is “The Water Stop.” The food was delicious, it had a very “Big Sur” vibe with things like this ancient Coke machine, and you will have plenty of time to chat while you wait for your food. Plenty.

4. Back to the art scene. There are great art stores in Marfa, since that’s what they’re known for. Definitely don’t miss “Wrong,” which carries tons of art by Donald Judd, a minimalist artist, who laid down roots in Marfa. Pop into “Esperanza Vintage and Art” to check out some great art, and eclectic vintage finds (I had to tear my husband away from the giant belt buckles.) Across the street is “Communitie Marfa”, which gets a special shout-out because my friends found their dream hats there and now look authentically Texan. I cannot pull off a cowboy hat the way they can, so I settled for a cap I found across the way at a store I don’t know the name of, but here’s the hat if that’s helpful (it’s not, I know.)

5. Go to the Hotel Saint George. We wandered in on a whim and were so glad we did! It is beautiful! And historic! James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson filmed “Giant” there. On your way north, you can stop at the massive signs touting this historic movie to stretch your legs and take some pictures (which we did not.) I particularly liked the James Dean board. Pretty dreamy for a piece of cardboard.

Five seems like a good place to stop, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the natural art of Marfa. Yes, it’s surrounded by gorgeous desert landscape, but there’s more. There’s the night sky. This area of Texas claims to have the darkest night sky in the lower 48 states, which is totally believable. I think I saw every glistening star in the sky. It was stunning. But in typical Marfa fashion, there is an artistic twist to the night sky every now and then. Since the beginning of the 19th century, people have seen otherworldly lights illuminating the dark skies of Marfa. They haven’t found a rhyme or reason to the timing of the lights, but scientists attribute the illuminations to magic.

Just kidding.

Truly, though, nobody seems to be able to provide a satisfactory explanation. There are theories about ghosts, UFOs, mirages, and much, much more. Personally, I think the lights are simply nature’s art finding a comfortable home with the art enthusiasts of Marfa.

Fun Art for a Fun Day

Before I knew better, I thought all non-fiction books were boring. Likewise, I thought art was stuffy and dull. (I know! Talk about being wrong!) The joke was on me. Now I know better. Sure, art can be boring… or it can be beautiful! Delicious! Hilarious! In honor of this mischievous holiday, I dredged up some comical artwork for your Fool’s Day pleasure.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger often painted pictures depicting morals or lessons. For instance, you may be familiar with his painting titled, The Drunkard Pushed into the Pigsty. If that isn’t a life lesson, I don’t know what is. Similarly, Brueghel Jr. was well-aware that money = friends. Maybe fake friends, but friends. Maybe a bunch of butt-kissers, but friends. In one of his earliest paintings, he drives this point home by painting people crawling into some guy’s backside. We know the guy is rich because even though he’s missing pants, he has a barrel of coins. The frame around the picture reads: “Because so much money passes through my purse, therefore I am always surrounded by flatterers.”

Looks uncomfortable.

There are no fewer than one million spoofs on da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, but I especially love Duchamp’s classic addition, beloved by adolescents everywhere: the moustache. The title is a tough one to figure out… until it’s not. It’s as risqué as it is clever. When said out loud, L.H.O.O.Q. is the French equivalent of- well. See if Google translate can’t help you out with that. And while you’re Googling, check into some more of Marcel Duchamp’s work if you like. His sense of humor is fantastic.

I think there are a couple photos in my old yearbook sporting that same moustache!

Lastly, we have this very happy violinist. I like to imagine one of his bandmates spiked the punch bowl at the after-party on April Fool’s Day. Painter Gerrit von Honthorst studied Caravaggio’s work very closely, so The Happy Violinist has a great dark/light contrast, but is cheerier than Caravaggio’s typical subjects (I’m looking at you, cut off head.) The violinist glows in a way that only a guy with a great sense of humor and bomb moustache can glow. He is jovial and tipsy and completely enamored with that goblet. It’s impossible not to be happy for him.

I’ll have what he’s having.

Happy April Fool’s Day! I hope your day is as joyful as The Happy Violinst’s day was. May you be crowned “Trickster Extraordinaire” and if someone ties your shoelaces together, may you fall with grace.