Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Portrait of Wenceslaus Hollar - By Claire Alexandre

A Portrait of Wenceslaus Hollar
By Claire Alexandre

         Hollar was born in 1607 in the very dynamic and artistically booming city of Prague. From an early age, Hollar visited printer stalls and artist’s studios and was even known to design maps in school. His father highly disapproved of his son's choices and encouraged Hollar to go into Law but after the war that was raging in Bohemia ended, Hollar emigrated to Europe and followed the path he believed was destined for him. It’s in 1631 that he commences his life as an engraver in Frankfurt.
His engravings remained very objective, he illustrated a wide variety of things but never interpreted them. Hollar’s interests ranged from costumes, animals, plants, buildings, ships and landscapes of his time, all of which he recorded with extreme precision and diligence. His very unique perfectionist style was not universally appealing and often criticized for its overabundant lines.
An engraving of the Strasbourg Cathedral in contextual space in 1630. 
A good example of how Hollar understood and applied the concept 
of perspective and shading already at a very young age.

            At not even 30 in 1636, he was selected by the Earl of Arundel to be his artist in residence in England. For the next decade Hollar remained in the Earl's household which gave him many privileges such as being prince Charles drawing master in the 1640’s. 
His first major work in London was entitled The Long View of Greenwich published in 1637. In this engraving  we see how smooth and gradual the transition from foreground and background are which suggests Hollar had  a great knowledge of depth of field. 
The Crab and Its Mother, 1668, is another good example of how Hollar's
 engravings are very structured in terms of foreground middle ground and 

It is said that Hollar's detailed engravings of nature brought to England a new approach to landscapes, “He influenced the tradition that previously favored painted portraits and miniatures and considered landscape primarily as a background’.’ Dogged R, L Biggs J, Brobeck. C. Impressions of Wenceslaus Hollar, 1996.

         Many of his landscapes maps and architectural engravings of London are very helpful for Art Historians today in order to understand what the city looked like before the destructive Great Fire of London in 1666.
St. Pauls cathedral was one of the most important and impressive cathedrals at the time in London. Hollar’s illustrations was made up of a series of fourteen highly detailed engraved views of the inside and outside of the Cathedral, and close-up images of the most important monuments and tombs. (, Detailed Drawing of London's Old St Paul's Cathedral to Be Sold at  Sotheby’s).

The interior of the crypt of St.Pauls, 1658
Plan of St.Paul’s, Hollar (1658)

  Hollar also used to do engravings of the people of the 17th century thus reflecting the society and its various classes which is very valuable knowledge for social historians today.
In these particular engravings dated between 1638 and 1640, Hollar portrays the lady of the Caroline England (left with fan and veil, middle with fan and mirror) and a countrywoman with clogs and a basket. Here Hollar’s meticulous nature is particularly visible. The lack of background on these engravings demonstrates Hollar wanted the viewer to focus on the figures and the texture of their costumes

         In terms of technique, the engraving that Hollar used is considered a part of intaglio printmaking.
Details of the etched background from Hollar’s plate of Alexis 
Details of the etched background from Lombart’s plat of Menacles, Damoetus, and Palaemon
Details from Lombart’s plate with engraved lines over etched lines 

“It consists of using metal plates such as copper that is incised wither with tools or with a combination of tools and acid. Because the image is formed from inked channels that lie below the surface of the metal plate, intaglio printmaking requires great pressure and force’’. Dogged R, L Biggs J, Brobeck C. Impressions of Wenceslaus Hollar, 1996

         I chose this artist because his work is extremely refined and precise, which is very intriguing to me because my work is the complete opposite. His ability to reproduce the world of the 17th century around him wether it be portraits, animals or buildings in a fantastically accurate way is why this artist is so impressive. Because of his skills many historians are able to visualize what life in London was like during that time period.

Ressources :

S Van Eerd, K. Wenceslaus Hollar Delineator of his time, 1970

Parker J.W. and Son, WENCESLAUS HOLLAR, Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art, publicationBlock (Feb 6, 1875):(Vol. 1, no. 1)

Dogged R, L Biggs J, Brobeck C. Impressions of Wenceslaus Hollar, 1996, Hollar's engravings of women's gowns 1639

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nisha Semba - Roma Sonik

Nisha Semba

Nisha Semba is the first known South Asian American female graffiti artist,  a modern contemporary artist whose works explore the juxtaposition of  heritage/culture and modernity. She uses her work with youth in India as a platform to address and impact social change, self reflection, and decolonization.

Semba was raised in Berkley, California and attended San Fransisco State University’s Design and Industrial Arts program, gaduating very recently in 2011. Semba is the founder of the Kalakari (“Artistry”) movement, and has earned a name for herself as the first ever Indian graffiti writer to paint her name at the centerpoint of graffiti-  5Pointz in New York City. She currently works as a  freelance graphic designer and has been doing mendhi (henna) design for over ten years. Her work has been shown in venues in California, at the deYoung Fine Arts Museum and The Living Room Cafe (Delhi). Her website advertises “her most recent mixed-media solo exhibit called Word to Your Motherland (2012) that took place in Oakland, California and again in Sacramento California (2013); which has evolved into a dynamic new international exhibition series with educational workshop components that is the first of its kind.” The purpose of the project is to inspire new ways of engaging with the homeland and place of cultural origin within their medium and aesthetic.

Semba uses a variety of different mediums; amongst these, she focuses on digital, fine art, and graffiti/street art. She frequently collaborates with other artists in exhibitions with similar themes, and has historically preferred to work with audio-artists (spoken verb artists, rappers, and singers) in holistic exhibitions.

Much of her artwork finds themes in hip-hop and female roles. It is particularly interesting to view images of femininity juxtaposed with the harshness of pop-style art and graffiti medium. Additionally, a common trend in her pieces is the use of design henna and mendhi, which seems to be indicative of a reclamation of heritage.

The flavors of her art resonate with South-Asian American youth; her work is particularly applauded and featured in groups like The Kajal Collective and The Dead Shayar Society- informal international groups that connect young artists. Although Semba is a unorthodox choice of artist to be studied, I believe that she reflects a larger movement of Indian-American and British-Indian artists who explore intersections between societal norms, cultures, and youth.  This movement has a similar flavor to “The Namesake” movement, which addresses South Asian immigrants- one generation before our own. The collection of works, manifested through primarily film and literature, express a yearning to return to the motherland. Meanwhile, the movement that follows it, including Semba’s work, calls for confusion of home and a call to a culture that was never their own. It also holds expresses a degree of  chaos and rebellion.

There are many movements much like this one that are occurring all across the globe as a result of internationalization and capitalism. These youth-based movements represent a phase and form of modern and digital art that is raw, expressionist, and will be important to historians and future generations. While these art pieces may not always been printed and shown in galleries, the sale design t-shirts and the online print sales show a new kind of arena for the artists world in which the art literally permeates through to the real world, and no longer can remain restricted to the confines of a four-walled gallery. Personally, it serves as a wonderful inspiration for my own work and an interesting cross-section of the areas of art that have typically been very . Given the cultural contexts of these pieces, there is a strong sense of shock that is often associated with "Modern Art". In many ways, however, Modern Art- whatever may seem to fall under its title- has lost the ability to shock, or can only do so mutedly. Overlooked modern art in south asian cultures, however, has not yet fallen pray to this predicament and continues to shock, interest, and revolutionize.


Mendel Nguyen -- Alfred Kubin

Alfred Kubin
by Wieland Schmied, catalogue by Alfred Marks
Frederick A. Praeger

"The Shadow World of Alfred Kubin"
by Christopher Bentley
The New York Review of Books

Alfred Kubin: 1877-1959 
Shepherd W&K Galleries

"Alfred Kubin," Grove Art Online
by Christopher Brockhaus
Oxford University Press

A quick look through the works of Alfred Kubin should leave no doubt as to the reality of his inner demons. Born in 1877, the Austrian printmaker's troubled childhood began with the death of his mother when he was ten years old. His consistent failure in school earned him the disdain of his father, a former military officer, who would beat him and "[talk] to him as to a sick cow." At fifteen, he was apprenticed to a landscape printmaker, but found no success. As for his love life, his affections never found reciprocation. At nineteen, his despair reached a climax: "A dull depression swept over me, and... I left for the faraway town of my childhood, with a cheap, old gun in my pocket, to shoot myself at the grave of my mother." The firearm misfired, and Kubin, unable to pull the trigger again, would live on to create the creepy images to which he was so one-sidedly committed.

I had recently learned of Alfred Kubin through the cited article in The New York Review of Books, whereupon I immediately encountered The Moment of Birth (1903).
The Moment of Birth (1903): Facsimile prints on Japan paper, 229 x 318 mm
What struck me about the work was the understatement of its horror, and the puzzling narrative it presented. Its gray-cast depiction of this bizarre crab/spider-like monster flinging babies from the water gave me the feeling I was a silent observer of this grotesque dream. And what is it even about? Where do these babies come from? Where are they going? 

Such weird (often spidery) creatures are commonplace in Kubin's work. Equally commonplace are distorted depictions of humans, as in Old Man with Pike (c. 1920/25).
Old Man with Pike (c. 1920/25): Ink on paper, 349 x 260 mm
The portrait of the man is accurate insofar as overall shape and proportion are concerned. Instead, the distortions are of the features: deep wrinkles which sort of remind me of the layers of dried lava folded over itself, and a severely indented nose. 

Another common theme of Kubin's work is the entanglement of sexuality and violence. Take, for instance, the gesture-like Strangler (c. 1918/20). 
Strangler (c. 1918/20): Ink and watercolor on Bütten paper, 260 x 381 mm
The stray lines animate the actors, making the violence overt and immediate. Similarly there is The Spider (1902), which, in particular, presents another commonly found notion in Kubin: that of a woman as temptress and destroyer. 
The Spider (1902): Pen and ink on paper, 190 x 247 mm
I suspect that the principal source of my fascination with Kubin are the puzzling narratives of his work. They don't always work for me however, and in fact, I don't much care for any but the first of the images I've posted here. But The Moment of Birth and other works of his like it succeed in truly disturbing and confusing me. Looking at these, I feel like Alice in Wonderland, a foreigner in a world where strange creatures and people abound. But in this dark place of the imagination of Alfred Kubin, there is sometimes a sense of haunting familiarity. 

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele was born on June 12, 1890 in Tulln, Austria. Schiele is commonly known for his precocity in art. Not only did he start drawing at a very young age, but also he was extraordinarily quick to learn. Some of his most famous pieces of work were created when he was only seventeen years old. Schiele died on October 31, 1918, which means he was a young twenty-eight years old. His young age combined with his astounding abilities is the primary reason that I chose to research him. Many art historians have commented on his early death, lamenting the fact that the world was never able to see his artistic ability mature even more. Given the speed at which he excelled in the few years that he was alive, there is no telling what Schiele would have been capable of. 

Winterlandscape with Willows, 1909
Paintings, Oil on board
18.5 x 11.2 cm.

I chose the above painting because I wanted to demonstrate the fact that Schiele was capable of much more than paper-based sketches, even though that was his main medium. Schiele’s astounding learning abilities extending into watercolor, paints, and oils.

Squatting Woman, 1914
Prints and Multiples, Drypoint in sepia with toned ground on German etching paper
48.3 x 32.2 cm.

By comparing the above sketchy with the below sketch, one can begin to see the maturation that many art historians praise. Squatting Woman appears to be more “scribbly” while Girl in Underclothes has clean cut, more precise lines. Notice how the human form is more accurate as well.

Girl in Underclothes, 1917
Works on Paper (Drawings, Watercolors, etc.), Black crayon on paper
46 x 30 cm.

The above sketches are similar in that they demonstrate Schieles most common subject material. He would most often sketch naked women, but would also often do men. His figures are often placed in unusual positions and there is rarely a background.

Works Cited

Kallir, Jane. Egon Schiele: Drawings and Watercolors. Ed. Ivan Vartanian. London: Thames and Hudson, 2003. Print.

“Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-19180).” Artnet. Artnet, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.

Hieronymus Bosch - John Godbey

Heironymus Bosch was a Dutch painter born in 1516 in the town of 's-Hertogenbosch, which was located just south of the present-day Netherlands.  Bosch was descended from a line of painters and would marry into relative wealth, allowing him to pursue his craft and achieve substantial popularity during his lifetime.  Bosch was, and is, best known for his hellish depictions of sin, often including grotesque demons, imps, and acts of lust and depravity.  While he presumably produced a number of paintings by commission, only 25 can be conclusively attributed to his brush.  Some of Bosch's most notable surviving paintings are triptychs - a three-paneled painting where the outer two panels may fold over the inner panel.  Triptychs were frequently used as altar toppings, suitably matching the religious nature of many of Bosch's works.

I find Bosch particularly interesting due largely to the fantastic critters found in his more famous works.  Bosch's innovation could almost be seen as a precursor to surrealism in some cases, and I find the imaginative representations to be quite thought-provoking.

"The Garden of Earthly Delights"
Perhaps his most famous piece, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" is a triptych whose three panels show the serene existence (left), sin and lust (center), and the resulting hell on earth (right).  This painting is riddled with bizarre creatures and unfamiliar, imaginative structures.  

Sketches of montsers
While relatively few of Bosch's completed paintings survived, a number of fantastic study drawings were recovered.  In this study, Bosch explores a number of visualizations for various monsters and witches.  

"Adoration of the Magi"

In Bosch's "Adoration of the Magi," he channels the styling of Jan van Eyck and produces a piece representative of his final paintings.  In "Adoration," he contrasts the colors of the robes to indicate the "duality of the eternal and the ephemeral" while framing the whole scene in a beautiful panoramic view inspired by the Master of Flemalle's Nativity (Tolnay). 

Works Cited

Cuttler, Charles D., and Hieronymus Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch: Late Work. London: Pindar, 2012. Print.

Hieronymus Bosch: The Complete Works. Web.

Tolnay, Charles De. Hieronymus Bosch. New York: Reynal, 1966. Print.


Salvador Dali - Timo Santala

Dali's Mustache - photo by Philip Halsman, 1954

Salvador Dali is a Spanish painter world-renowned for his surrealism works. He was born May 11, 1904 in the town of Figueres, Spain. His deceased older brother had also been named Salvador, and being called the 'reincarnation' of his late sibling impacted his self-perception and art. At age 12 he attended a drawing school and by age 15 he displayed his first public exhibition of his work. A year later, his mother passed away - another death that greatly shaped Dali as a person. Through his artistic upbringing, Dali experimented in many fields. He revered Picasso and in his youth pursued cubism as a unique style in Madrid to impress his peers. He also demonstrated mastery over realism, perhaps best evidenced by his work 'The Basket of Break', shown below.

Basket of Bread - 1926

The fading due to age slightly detracts from the realism, but in the works prime, it appeared photo-realistic. The composition itself is fairly straightfoward - a basket of break nestled in white fabric on top of a table. The solid, dark background contrasts well with the lighter tones of the rest of the piece. I am most impressed with the bread in this painting (which is maybe surprising - many seem to most appreciate the basket); he is able to capture the relatively complex texture of slices of a crisp loaf of bread with a spongy interior.

Soon after painting the 'Basket of Bread', Dali visited Paris and met with Picasso and Miro, a famous surrealist of the time. These men both greatly influenced Dali's work, especially early on. His marriage to Gala in 1929 introduced another key figure in Dali's life. The marriage strained ties with Dali's father, and it is thought that the disconnects with his family (deceased brother of same name, losing his mother, and being 'disinherited' by his father) greatly impacted his work. Dali's first surrealism works began as representations of his dreams (a focus on sleep and dreaming can be seen across many of his pieces) and grew into one of the most impressive surrealism portfolios to date.

The Persistence of Memory - 1931

'The Persistence of Memory' is regarded as Dali's most famous painting. I have actually seen it numerous times at the MOMA! This work prominently shows three molten clocks and an overturned stopwatch covered in ants (which also appear in numerous Dali pieces). The sleeping figure centered in the piece also presents a familiar Dali-style creature. The clocks demonstrate a theme of 'hardness and softness' Dali would often experiment with. They also may convey the distorted sense of time when sleeping and dreaming. The ants are said to be a symbol of decay for Dali.

Sleep - 1937

Shown above is one of my favorite pieces by Dali, 'Sleep'. It depicts a large face precariously mounted on thin stilts, reflecting the notion that sleep is fragile and easily broken (i.e. waking up). I find this representation of sleep to be fascinating and though provoking. Moreover, I love the style of painting - the face is undoubtedly ugly and misshapen, the background is almost barren and lighting overemphasized around the figure, and the face itself tapers off into an unsettling stretch of flesh (which is also carefully mounted on a stilt).

Works Referenced

Patricia Pinckombe

Subject: Motoi Yamamoto
Returning to the Sea
Motoi Yamamato  is a world renowned artist who class Japan his native home. He was born in Onomichi, Hiroshima, JAPAN in 1966 and received his BA from Kanazawa College of Art in 1995. Yamamoto has exhibited his award-winning creations around the globe in such cities as Athens, Cologne, Jerusalem, Mexico City, Seoul, Tokyo, and Toulouse. He was awarded the Philip Morris Art Award in 2002 as well as the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2003. (1)
A contemporary artist, he’s known for his inclusion of salt in the works he produces. Interviews with Yamamoto help to understand the ideas behind his art. He began creating art with salt while mourning the death of his sister. This is was in effort to keep memories of her alive. (2)

Author Mark Kurlansky of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art states that Yamamoto views his own installations as exercises that are at once futile yet necessary to his healing. My reason for choosing this artist has to do with the installation aspect of Yamamoto’s work and the dismantling of it at the end where he delivers the salt back to the water, usually in collaboration with the public. (1)

(1) From sketching to the real deal:


tracing paper, pencil, acrylic color

“Hundred Labyrinths”

13.5 x 8.2 m 
Hundred Stories About Love
21th Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan
April - August, 2009


In Japanese culture salt is not only a necessary element to sustain human life, but it is also a symbol of purification. He uses salt in loose form to create intricate labyrinth patterns on the gallery floor or in baked brick form to construct large interior structures. As with the labyrinths and innavigable passageways, Motoi views his installations as exercises which are at once futile yet necessary to his healing.  (1)

(2) From sketching to the real deal:


wood, acrylic cokor, marker pen
200×300×24 mm
"Solo Exhibition - Drwing-"Casumi, Kanagawa

size : 5.7×7

Oct. 2004
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa 
[The Encounters in the 21st Century : Polyphony - Emerging Resonances]

Salt is a ubiquitous commodity, as it is found in all of the oceans of the world, and virtually all cultures use some variant of it in their diet.  What began as an exploration of the practices of Japanese death culture and its use of salt has now become a more philosophical enquiry into the importance of this substance to life on the planet.  He likes to think that the salt he uses might have been a life-sustaining substance for some creature.  Yamamoto is interested in the interconnectedness of all living things and the fact that salt is something shared by all.  For this reason, when his salt-works must be disassembled, he requests that the salt in his installation be returned to the ocean. (1)

(3) From sketching to the real deal: 


glass, matt film, marker pen
220×350×25 mm
"Solo Exhibition - Drwing-", Casumi, Kanagawa


size : 8×4
Solo Exhibition : Gallery K2, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
May. 2001


        On the surface, it would appear that Yamamoto’s works fall into the category of a maze. However, he states that it is his wish that the viewers may use his labyrinth installations as a tool for meditation and an opportunity to reach some final point in their own thoughts.  It is interesting to note the similarities between Yamamoto’s drawings and the circuitry of the human brain.  Knowing of his sister’s illness (brain cancer), it is not surprising that there is a visual connection between the installations and the source of their inspiration. (1)

According to the artist, “ Drawing a labyrinth with salt is like following a trace of my memory. Memories seem to change and vanish as time goes by. However, what I seek is the way in which I can touch a precious moment in my memories that cannot be attained through pictures or writings. I always silently follow the trace, that is controlled as well as uncontrolled from the start point after I have completed it.” (1)


(1) Yamamoto, Motoi, Mark Sloan, and Mark Kurlansky. Return to the Sea:
Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto. Charleston, SC: Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, 2012. Print.
(2) Yamamoto, Motoi. "Motoi Yamamoto "Salt Installation, Artist"" Motoi

Yamamoto "Salt Installation, Artist" Motoi Yamamoto, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.