ARTISTS: Joseph Cornell

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Joseph Cornell “Untitled (Hotel Eden)”

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“Beauty should be shared for it enhances our joys.
To explore its mystery is to venture towards the sublime.”

-Joseph Cornell

After I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 2000, and spent some time absorbing the local art scene, I noticed something very different than what I was used to. I had come from Richmond, Virginia, where at the time painting was the predominant art form. In Phoenix I saw lots of assemblage. Assemblage Art is like making three dimensional collages, creating composed groupings out of just about any object imaginable. I’ve become a huge fan of this technique, which can be utilized to create such poetry: visual fragments shored against our ruins.

On thinking of assemblage art I think of Joseph Cornell (December 24, 1903 – December 29, 1972), the undisputed master of the genre. Looking at the mysterious little worlds he evoked out of dime store trinkets, you would never imagine the seemingly mundane life the artist lived. He spent his entire adult existence in a tiny suburban home in Flushing, New York, which he shared with his mother and invalid   brother, for as long as they lived. His workshop was in the basement. Here he created the shadow boxes that described his romantic dreams about legendary ballerinas, faded Continental hotels, contemplative aviaries, and the celestial heavens themselves. This painfully shy self taught artist was accepted as a colleague by the Surrealists during their War World II exile in New York City. They recognized true vision when they encountered it.

Untitled (Tilly Losch), c. 1935 - 38 Box construction 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 inches (25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4 cm) The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman, Washington, DC Photograph by Mark Gulezian/QuickSilver, Washington, DC © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Joseph Cornell “Tilly Losch”

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Joseph Cornell “Untitled (Celestial Navigation)”

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Joseph Cornell Naples, 1942 Box construction, 28.6 x 17.1 x 12.1 cm The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman (c) The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015 Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Press use is considered to be moderate use of images to report a current event or to illustrate a review or criticism of the work, as defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 Chapter 48 Section 30 Subsections (1) - (3). Reproductions which comply with the above do not need to be licensed. Reproductions for all non-press uses or for press uses where the above criteria do not apply (e.g. covers and feature articles) must be licensed before publication. Further information can be obtained at www.dacs.org.uk or by contacting DACS licensing on +44 207 336 8811. Due to UK copyright law only applying to UK publications, any articles or press uses which are published outside of the UK and include reproductions of these images will need to have sought authorisation with the relevant copyright society of that country. Please also ensure that all works that are provided are shown in full, with no overprinting or manipulation.

Joseph Cornell “Naples”

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Observatory: Corona Borealis Casement, 1950 Box construction 18 1/8 x 11 13/16 x 5 1/2 inches (46 x 30 x 14 cm) Private Collection, Chicago Photograph by Michael Tropea, Chicago © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Joseph Cornell “Observatory – Corona Borealis Casement”

ARTISTS: Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in Arizona

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Playing with Perception:

Surrealist Artists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in Sedona, Arizona

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“Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation.”
– Max Ernst

In the late 1930s and early 1940s there was a mass exodus of artists out of Europe, fleeing expanding Nazi power. Many came to America and settled in New York City, and went no further. They kept aloof from the local art scene and showed little interest in learning anything about their host country.

Surrealism was the dominant movement at the time, and most of the leading figures were present; they spent their time playing cruel parlor games, complaining about their exile and marking time until the war was over and they could return to true civilization on the Continent.

One notable exception was the German Dada artist Max Ernst. After the Allied victory he didn’t go home-he headed west to Arizona.

Ernst had lived a stormy bohemian life. After serving in the German military during the First World War, Ernst had helped found the Cologne Dada group. He worked with many experimental techniques, and became one of the earliest visual artists associated with the Surrealists, which had been a mainly literary movement.

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A French Nickname for “Hobby Horse”: Dada Artist Max Ernst

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In Paris Ernst met the French poet Paul Eluard, and his Russian wife Gala. This relationship grew into a longstanding passionate ménage a trios. The wealthy Eluard helped Ernst get out of Germany by letting him use his passport. Ernst lived with them in their Paris home, covering the walls with murals. The three traveled as far away as Saigon together.

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Threesome: Max, Gala and Paul 

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After this trip Ernst moved out on his own, and within a few years the Eluards marriage ended. Gala went on to become Salvador Dali’s wife and muse, and Ernst and Eluard stayed friends for the rest of theirs lives.

As World War II began, Ernst’s position was becoming less stable. As a German with ties to the radical Surrealists, Ernst was arrested by the French as a hostile alien. The well-connected Eluard managed to get him released, but after France fell, Ernst was in jeopardy again, pursued by the Gestapo.

Ernst had been one of the artists singled out by Hitler’s Degenerate Arts exhibit, and he was in danger of being arrested. He fled first to the south of France, where he was taken in by the American heiress and collector Peggy Guggenheim. A romance bloomed between them, and Guggenheim took Ernst with her back to America. As the United States entered the war, they got married-“I did not like the idea of living in sin with an enemy alien,” Peggy joked.

This marriage also did not last, and in 1946 Ernst was married again for the final time, to the brilliant American Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning. They fell in love when Ernst came to her studio to see her painting “The Birthday,” then stayed for a game of chess.

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Dorothea Tanning “The Birthday”

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While traveling across country to California, the couple drove through Arizona, and Ernst was amazed to find himself in a rugged landscape that could have come out of visionary world he painted.

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Max Ernst “The Entire City”

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The couple ended up moving to remote Sedona, Arizona, where they remained for the next seven years. Ernst said Paris and Sedona were “the only two places in the world that I would want to live.” Sedona was incredibly isolated at the time, very different from the upscale resort community it has become. Ernst built a cabin for a home, and they continued to paint.

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A Cabin in the Mountains

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Still Playing Chess

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Influenced by the Hopi Indian culture he encountered, his work came to show new geometric forms. He used cast concrete and found objects to make sculpture that showed Native American elements. Ernst also used his time in Sedona to write his manifesto, “Beyond Painting.”

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Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning evoke the spirit of the land

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During these years Ernst traveled extensively, which led to complications regarding his US citizenship. In 1953 Ernst and Tanning moved to France, where they lived together until his death in 1976.

Dorothea Tanning died in New York on January 31, 2012. She was 101 years old.

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“Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don’t see a different purpose for it now.”

-Dorothea Tanning

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Dorothea Tanning in her Sedona studio

 

 

ARTICLE: A Profile on Michele Bledsoe from 2005

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Michele Bledsoe “Moon Liquor” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 24″

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While searching through my email recently I stumbled across a long forgotten gem, from all the way back in 2005. It was a profile I had written for an online art site about my wife, artist Michele Bledsoe.

The website, “ARTish,” is long gone. It was based out of Phoenix, and at the time it was a nice venue to share images and happenings on the local arts scene. Looking at the submission email, I can tell I was still in the midst of my artistic crisis; the message I wrote was so tentative and apologetic about “being out of the loop.” But the response was positive, and the one article I produced for them was online for many years.

Full disclosure: this piece is written about the woman I consider the most wonderful and fascinating person in the world, so I am biased. But as a professional artist and cultural activist I stand by everything I said. In the decade that has passed Michele has continued and expanded her amazing creative work.

Some things have changed since then. This was before I discovered the international arts movement Remodernism; it was before we made “The Secret Kingdom.” But what I wrote then still holds up. Here, I present in its unedited entirety, a piece written almost 11 years ago.

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Like Writing Down a Good Dream

A Profile of Painter Michele Bledsoe

 

It’s hard to say when art started happening in movements. There has always been change in the visual arts, but cultural evolution used to take decades, even centuries, to manifest itself. Like any profession, most people working in the arts were competent rather than inspired, talented tradesmen fulfilling orders provided by the all powerful Church or State. Occasionally some regionally isolated genius would appear, and create innovations that would be refined and dispersed by acolytes and imitators, but this would be a slow process in an era when travel was difficult and reproductions of artwork were rare.

But easy mechanical reproduction, as it developed, changed everything. When photography came along, painters lost their role as the primary image-makers. The artists learned their lesson when machines replaced their jobs; they became moving targets.  Maybe this is when the pace picked up, as artists had to redefine their purpose in society. It seems like the definition of what is quality in art has been in constant flux for over a century. No longer would the powerful dictate forms or content, artists would figure out it for themselves, using the works of the past only for a contrast. When groups of like-minded people agreed at least temporarily to a set of artistic priorities, and created bodies of work exhibiting shared influences, a movement was declared, either by the artists themselves, or interested observers. The attitude was usually, forget all that other stuff that happened before-at last, it is we who have gotten it right.

One of the more memorable –isms that moved through the culture was surrealism. The idea of it survives today even to the mainstream, even if it has been reduced to a synonym for weirdness. Starting off as a mainly literary group, surrealism moved through the door kicked open by the irreverent Dada movement, who rejected the “rational” way of life that allowed the disasters of World War I. Dada might have been the work of some wry practical jokers, but what they unleashed took on a very serious nature. Through that door they breached lay all the darkness, perils and delights of the non-rational.

Surrealism embraced the darkness. It admired art by people considered uncorrupted by bourgeois concerns-primitive tribesmen, children, the insane. To discover the pure impulses that inspired these outsider artists, the surrealists looked to dreams, the subconscious, spontaneous gestures, and odd juxtapositions.

The idea of being part of an “art movement” seems kind of dated. The experiments and fads of the past can be analyzed more objectively now all the hyperbole has passed. And there is much to learn from the past for contemporary artists. Surrealism may be history, but the tools of exploration it identified are still useful today.

Phoenix painter Michele Bledsoe is a surrealist, although she didn’t set out to be one. All she does is represent what her imagination shows her. Looking inside, she views a twilight world of planes, steps and corners. Placed throughout these shadowy structures are seemingly unrelated objects-fragmented toys, body parts, plants and small animals, streaming ribbons, curling ivy leaves, pastries, all in a soft focus, but highly detailed. These items are familiar, solid-but they are also disarranged and jumbled. There is a feeling of contradictory movement between the various elements, a disorienting swirling sensation. A mysterious story is unfolding, a secret that only the artist knows.

Michele describes her choice of content as “Memories I have, things I saw or thought about when I was younger, mixed up with current thoughts.” When asked for an explanation for the various motifs that seem to repeat throughout her work, she rejects any calculated reasoning: “Not everything has some deep symbolic meaning; I think its more personal than that. Symbols are more universal. I’ve made up my own language.”

Surrealism is a tradition of art that prizes the unexpected, yet Michele’s painting technique is very methodical. She paints in acrylics on canvas, using tiny soft bristle brushes. There are no brushstrokes visible, even though every millimeter of the surface has been worked over and over again with layers of subtle analogous colors. She avoids the extremes of chiaroscuro, creating tonal works dominated by soft grays, purples and greens. There is also control exerted over composition: “The composition is intentional. I like to drag people through my paintings,” she admits. “It’s kind of a guided tour.”

But where the automatism of surrealism comes in is the objects that wind up appearing in the paintings. “The composition is one of the few intentional things that happen. I’m the one in control of where I put these things, and how I present them. But all the imagery is stream of consciousness.” As for the repetition of some of her content, she asks, “Ever get a song stuck in your head? It plays over and over.” She can’t verbally describe what goes through her mind while she is working. “While I’m painting I disappear. I disconnect-or maybe, reconnect. I can do it anytime I sit down to paint, for me it’s simple.”

Michele painted for almost ten years before she ever sought out any chance to exhibit her art. She worked alone, practically “in my closet” she laughs. “It never occurred to me to show them. It was my sister who finally convinced me to give it a try.” Now she has been exhibiting around the Phoenix area for about five years, and recently has become one of the studio artists of the Paper Heart Gallery. Experiencing public response to her work has been intriguing. “I paint for myself. I’m not painting for audience, I’d paint even if I didn’t have an audience; but I like to show my work because it’s nice to see the reaction. It’s almost like getting connected to somebody else’s imagination for a brief moment, plugging into some else’s deepest thoughts.”

Michele views her work as in a constant state of modification. “I like to look at my work in order; when I look at my work from 10 years ago, I see that I’ve come very far.” But she considers she has still further to go. “It’s a personal journey to get my skill to match up with my imagination, to bring it out clearer,” she says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

 

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Michele Bledsoe “Lost and Found Again” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 40″

ART QUOTES: Giorgio De Chirico

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Giorgio De Chirico “The Melancholy of Departure”

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“Profound statements must be drawn by the artist from the most secret recesses of his being; there no murmuring torrent, no bird song, no rustle of leaves can distract him.”

-Giorgio De Chirico

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Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico (July 10, 1888-November 20, 1978) understood the power that comes from experiencing the stillness inside. For a brief period running about a decade, from 1909-1919, De Chirico worked in a mode he described as Metaphysical painting. He explained:

“Everything has two aspects: the current aspect, which we see nearly always and which ordinary men see, and the ghostly and metaphysical aspect, which only rare individuals may see in moments of clairvoyance and metaphysical abstraction.

“A work of art must narrate something that does not appear within its outline. The objects and figures represented in it must likewise poetically tell you of something that is far away from them and also of what their shapes materially hide from us.”

 

Giorgio de Chirico Melancholia, 1916 The Menil Collection, Houston Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston

Giorgio De Chirico “Melancholia”

 These early works were hugely influential. An exhibit of these paintings hanging in a Paris gallery helped launch the Surrealist movement in the 1920s. While creating paintings under the Metaphysical influence, De Chirico created a visual metaphor for the haunted emptiness of the Modern era. The eerie depictions of timeless landscapes filled with a vague atmosphere of foreboding  captured a sense of dreams and the unconscious, which Surrealist writers and artists used as a departure point for their own mysterious explorations.

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Giorgio De Chirico “The Nostalgia of the Infinite”

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Giorgio De Chirico “The Disquieting Muses”

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Ultimately De Chirico evolved into a different kind of artist. He rejected Modern art and followed the example of Old Masters like Peter Paul Rubens.

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A later Giorgio De Chirico: “Two Horses by a Lake”

His more classical works never generated the same excitement that his youthful paintings did. Di Chirico spent the rest of his long life alternately denouncing his Metaphysical phase, and wickedly making profitable, backdated self-forgeries of his innovative early pieces.

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It must have been frustrating to be considered a has-been, but it seems to me working without integrity must have inflicted its own kind of terrible punishment. It’s hard to account for what goes on in the hearts of men, especially artists.

But for at least a few years, Giorgio De Chirico revealed an accurate vision of the Twentieth Century, with all its dread, precision and solitude.

“To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams.”

-Giorgio De Chirico

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Giorgio De Chirico “The Great Tower”