Welcome back to our series of arts roundups! Lately, they have each focused on an American city, but we’re taking a break to share staff picks again. Since we haven’t had any takers on the offer to cover knock-knock jokes or decorative pillow-making, this week’s category is a classic artform – painting.
Painting hasn’t exactly been practiced since the beginning of time – not by a long shot. But archaeologists estimated its origin to go back at least 45,500 years ago, 1,600 years earlier than previously thought, when they discovered a fragmentary image on the wall of an Indonesian cave. It may depict an epic contest between wild pigs.
At CreativeFuture, our taste skews more modern. We’ve got some images of animals, but only one selection pre-dates the nineteenth century. Curiously, it didn’t come from our aficionado of early literary history.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Boy on a Ram (1786–87)
Goya, the artist behind etchings like The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, supported himself by working for patrons including several Spanish kings and Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Joseph, who briefly ruled Spain. Although Goya once complained that commissions “give no scope for fantasy and invention,” there is much to admire in his commissioned, as well as independent, work.
A case in point, Boy on a Ram is the selection of Senior Director of Policy and Communications JC Taylor. Goya painted it to guide weavers at the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Bárbara. JC explained, “For whatever reason, I get this sense of warmth and safety from it – probably because the ram has this calm and unbothered expression. Even with the child looking like he’s about to fall over, the ram doesn’t pay him any mind, and just looks out over the hillside. I’ve always wondered what he’s looking at!”
To that philosophical question, we can only reply, Perhaps the ram is looking for ewe?
John Martin, The Fall of Babylon (1819)
Born in Northumberland, John Martin worked in Newcastle as a painter of coaches and china before moving to London, where he made epic paintings and engravings of biblical subjects. Victorian critic John Ruskin criticized them for “reckless accumulation of false magnitude.” William Makepeace Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair, likewise considered them “tawdry.” Nonetheless, Martin’s work was popular in its time and enjoyed a 2011 revival at London’s Tate Britain Museum.
Communications Manager Davis Read isn’t fooled, either, by Ruskin’s gray-bearded opinion – or Thackeray’s grumpy yet shaven one. Admiring The Fall of Babylon’s “massive scope,” Davis said, “I love this painting because it makes you feel like you’re witnessing the fall of an empire in real time even though these events occurred thousands of years before the artist was even born.” Martin first made The Fall of Babylon as an oil painting but later created mezzotint engravings. As Davis remarked, one 1831 black-and-white print is “almost more striking” than a water-colored version. You’ll see why when you click the links!
Vincent van Gogh, Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette (1886)
Almost everyone has heard the story about van Gogh’s ear, but not as many people realize that his artistic reputation rests on endeavors from a short time span. Although van Gogh may have overworked himself in his final decade, he proved astonishingly prolific, leaving an oeuvre including over eight hundred oil paintings.
Among them, a portrait of a smoking skull deserves more love than it usually receives, according to Creative Producer Nim Kaufman. Where Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum sees a “juvenile joke,” Nim finds an exemplary approach to art. “I like the imperfection of his style,” Nim said. “Every bone is obviously a bone, yet you can easily tell it’s just a swipe of his brush that made it.” The morbidly funny portrait would make an outstanding addition to Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. We can’t imagine why it was omitted.
Vasily Kandinsky, Autumn Landscape with Boats (1908)
The Russian-born artist Vasily Kandinsky spearheaded the artistic transition from expressionism to abstraction, but his career’s trajectory ran counter to the preferences of authoritarian states. When the Soviet regime began to favor realism, Kandinsky left Moscow for Berlin, where he became a German citizen in 1928. When the Nazis similarly cracked down on abstract art, Kandinsky left Berlin for Paris, where he became a French citizen in 1939.
Kandinsky’s Autumn Landscape with Boats, a relatively early work, is the selection of Coordinator Connor Leak. Connor explained, “[Kandinsky’s] choice of vivid colors and broad strokes gives the piece a calming, playful quality, but it’s not lacking in attention to detail, based on his use of lighting and the reflections in the water.” After describing the painting, Connor remarked, “This piece is a good bridge between the expressionism that dominated the time and what would be Kandinsky’s pioneering abstract style.” Someone should give this guy a column as a professional art critic!
Working closely together in the years before World War I, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered a style called Analytical Cubism. As scholar Marilyn McCully observes, their geometrically fragmented depictions appear to project forward from the canvas instead of retreating toward a vanishing point, as images had in the tradition of Renaissance perspective.
Cubism is an erudite, cerebral artform, so Chief Executive Officer Ruth Vitale referred us to an insightful essay on two favorite works. The essay’s authors break down portraits of guitarists by each artist, showing where to find referential elements like a fretboard or shoulders. By featuring two paintings, Ruth stayed true to the spirit of cubism, which never shows its subjects from just one view.
Jasper Johns, Map (1961)
An early contributor to the Pop Art movement, the Georgia-born painter Jasper Johns eventually won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his innovative renderings of everyday objects. Johns once remarked that maps, for instance, are typically “seen and not looked at, not examined.” Like many modern artists, Johns challenged audiences to take a fresh look at things that seemed boring or familiar.
His exuberantly colorful map of the United States is the selection of Senior Writer Bryan Alkemeyer. “Generally, I prefer art that tells a story,” Bryan confided, “but Johns can get me interested in an image as an image.” Math nerds and the quantitatively averse may have different opinions on the subject, but Map defies the four-color theorem by using at least five colors and by assigning the same color to adjacent territories. Take that, proponents of austerity!
David Hockney, Nichols Canyon (1980)
Most famous for Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which commanded an astonishing $90 million at auction in 2018, English artist David Hockney has lived in Los Angeles since 1978. For more than forty years, the Golden State has inspired his art across old and new media. About ten years ago, a San Francisco exhibition featured Hockney’s luminous paintings of Yosemite, created on an iPad.
After Brett Williams, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, left New York City, he made his new home in Nichols Canyon, the subject of one of Hockney’s paintings. Brett said, “I love Hockney and find his California painting to perfectly capture the colors and magic of the California I have come to love.” In fact, a print of Nichols Canyon appears on the bag that Brett brings to work every day, so it truly is near and dear to his heart. Aww!
Wyland, Whaling Wall No. 67, Earth Day Hawaii (1995)
The Detroit-born artist known simply as Wyland first saw the ocean from Laguna Beach, California, as a teenager in 1971. Now, the seaside town is the base for his public art initiatives to promote water conservation and empathy for marine life. From 1981–2008, Wyland painted more than one hundred murals of whales in cities around the world. Today, he is working on a similar project to install one hundred sculptures of great whales and other endangered species.
Located in Honolulu, the 67th of Wyland’s whale murals – or Whaling Walls – is special to Office Manager Jeannie Lalau. “When I first saw it,” she recalled, “I was in awe of how the artist captured the whales in the ocean. It was so majestic and peaceful especially seeing it on my daily commute to college.” Although the mural was completed in 1995, Jeannie pointed out a video that shows Wyland retouching it in 2018. It’s amazing to watch him work.
Casper Brindle, Portal Glyph V (2020)
Another southern California transplant, Toronto-born artist Casper Brindle layers automotive spray paint around horizon lines or vertical columns to create meditations on light and color. Since studying with Eric Orr, Brindle has produced an impressive and original array of works, which have been exhibited mainly in California but also in Miami, New York, Brussels, and Milan.
This rising star was introduced to us by Community Outreach Consultant Adam Krentzman, who always stays on the cutting edge of culture and the arts. Using Portal Glyph V as an example, Adam explained, “The gradations of color are encased in a harder surface, which creates depth, light and texture – as well as a sense of time and space.” Through these techniques, Brindle creates works as immersive as those of Mark Rothko, but more radiant and perhaps more multi-dimensional.
That’s our roundup of favorite paintings! Although prehistoric cave painters set a high bar, we still admire later artists, who somehow managed to innovate.
Next time, we’ll resume place-based roundups. Until then, find some creativity wherever you can, stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative