Art of the Week

Japanese, Edo (1615-1868)
Tea Bowl (Chawan) with Hagaki Fence Pattern, 1700-99
Pottery, Shino Kiln, 6 cm. diam

The Edo period is the period between 1615 to 1868 in the history of Japan. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social orders, isolationist foreign policies, an increase in both environmental protection and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. During this period, Japan studied Western sciences and techniques through the information and books received from Dutch traders. The studies included geography, medicine, natural sciences, astronomy, art, languages, physical sciences, and mechanical sciences. The flourishing of Neo-Confucianism was the major intellectual development. This system increased attention to a secular view of man and society. Ethical humanism, rationalism, and historical perspective of neo-Confucian doctrine appealed to the official class.

A chawan is a bowl used for preparing and drinking tea. There are many types of chawan used in tea ceremonies, and the choice of their use depends upon many considerations. Chawan are classified according to their place of origin or manufacture, color, shape, materials and other characteristics. Chawan are also classified according to the type of tea that will be served in them. Although the Japanese word for the tea ceremony, chanoyu, literally means “hot water for tea,” the practice involves much more than its name implies. Chanoyu is a ritualized, secular practice in which tea is consumed in a specialized space with codified procedures. The act of preparing and drinking matcha, the powdered green tea used in the ceremony, is a choreographed art requiring many years of study to master. The intimate setting of the tea room, which is usually only large enough to accommodate four or five people, is modeled on a hermit’s hut. In this space, often surrounded by a garden, the participants temporarily withdraw from the mundane world. In the tea room, the emphasis is on the interaction between the host, guests, and tea utensils. The host will choose an assemblage of objects specific to that gathering and use those utensils to perform the tea preparations in front of the guests. Each tea gathering is a unique experience, so a particular assemblage of objects and people is never repeated. When presented with a bowl of tea, a guest will notice and reflect upon the warmth of the bowl and the color of the bright green matcha against the clay before he begins to drink.

Shino ware is Japanese pottery and stoneware made in Mino Province, in modern-day Gifu Prefecture, Japan. It is identified by thick white glazes, red scorch marks, and a texture of small holes. Shino ware is one of the Mino styles that dates to the late 16th century. Like other Mino wares, the Shino style is based on older Seto ware with changes to shape, decoration, and finish. Forms are usually squat and cylindrical, thick but lightweight. Dishes, bowls, and tea utensils are most common. Pieces can be grey, red, or white, painted with iron oxide or decorated with glaze. Firings of Shino tend to be of lower temperature for a longer period of time, and then a slow cooling process. These conditions do not allow the glaze to melt fully, and the result is a thick glaze that often has a crawling pattern.

Hagaki is a postcard or other paper.

Lee, Sherman E. A history of Far Eastern art / Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall, 1994. PERRY QUARTO N7336 .L43 1994
Mason, Penelope E., History of Japanese art / New York : Abrams, 1993. QUARTO N7350 .M26 1993
Munsterberg, Hugo, The ceramic art of Japan : a handbook for collectors / Rutland, Vt. : C.E. Tuttle, 1964. NK4167 .M85 1964
Pekarik, Andrew. Japanese ceramics from prehistoric times to the present / Southampton, N.Y. : Parrish Art Museum, c1978. NK4167 .P44
Sanders, Herbert H. The world of Japanese ceramics, Tokyo ; Palo Alto, Calif. : Kodansha International, [1967] TP804 .J3 S3 1967
Mikami, Tsugio, The art of Japanese ceramics. New York, Weatherhill [1972] NK4167 .M4613
Japanese tea ceremony. By: Hoar, J. W.. Design for Arts in Education, May/June 1982, Vol. 83, p37-39, 3p
Some Japanese tea taste ceramics. By: LEE, Sherman Emery. Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, November 1973, Vol. 60, p267-278, 12p
Tea-ceremony pottery and export porcelain. By: LERNER, Martin. Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, November 1967, Vol. 54, p266

New Acquisition

Simpson, Lorna (b.1960, U.S.)
Untitled, 1993
Photogravure with silkscreen and watercolor, 90 x 116 cm
Gallery purchase, The Art Collection Fund

Lorna Simpson was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York, and received her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York, and her MFA from the University of California, San Diego. When Lorna Simpson emerged from the graduate program at San Diego in 1985, she was already considered a pioneer of conceptual photography. Feeling a strong need to re-examine and re-define photographic practice for contemporary relevance, Simpson was producing work that engaged the conceptual vocabulary of the time by creating exquisitely crafted documents that are as clean and spare as the closed, cyclic systems of meaning they produce. Her initial body of work alone helped to incite a significant shift in the view of the photographic art’s transience and malleability.

Lorna Simpson first became well-known in the mid-1980s for her large- scale photograph-and-text works that confront and challenge narrow, conventional views of gender, identity, culture, history and memory. With unidentified figures as a visual point of departure, Simpson uses the figure to examine the ways in which gender and culture shape the interactions, relationships and experiences of our lives in contemporary America. In the mid-1990s, she began creating large multi-panel photographs printed on felt that depict the sites of public – yet unseen – sexual encounters. Over time she turned to film and video works in which individuals engage in enigmatic conversations that seem to address the mysteries of both identity and desire. Throughout her body of work, Simpson questions memory and representation, whether in her moving juxtaposition of text and image, in her haunting video projection Cloudscape and its echo in the felt work Cloud, or in her large-scale video installation Momentum which recreates a childhood dance performance. Using the camera as a catalyst, Simpson constructs work comprising text and image, parts to wholes, which comment on the documentary nature of found or staged images. In Simpson’s latest works, characteristic ambivalence is presented with hazy ink washes to present isolated figures amidst nebulous spaces- a return to and departure from her earlier unidentified figures in a deepened exploration of contemporary culture.

Brooklyn-based artist Lorna Simpson is best known for her photographic works that address issues ranging from racial and sexual identity, to ideas of the body, to interpersonal communication and relationships. Her works are inspired from various sources, including personal experience, the current political climate, and African-American culture and history. She presents her subjects indirectly through metaphor, suggestion, and personal biography. She often pairs isolated details of the human figure or objects with fragments of text to evoke emotional responses. Simpson’s works typically engage the viewer’s own experience as a means of interpreting her images and use of language.

Lorna Simpson. Burlington, VT : Annenberg/CPB Collection, c1996.  VIDEO CASS 3090
Felt Surface, Visible Image: Lorna Simpson’s Photography and the Embodiment of Appearance. By: Belisle, Brooke. Photography & Culture, July 2011, Vol. 4 Issue 2, p157-178, 22p; DOI: 10.2752/175145211X12992393431214
Lorna Simpson. By: Wilkes, Andrew. Aperture, Fall93, Issue 133, p14-23, 10p
Lorna Simpson: Echoes of the Unspoken. By: Valdez, Sarah. Art in America, December 2006, Vol. 94 Issue 11, p106-111, 6p

New Acquisition

Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012, U.S.)
Mimi, 2007
Linocut, 20 x 25 cm.
Gallery purchase, The Art Collection Fund
Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The granddaughter of former slaves, Catlett was raised in Washington, D.C. Her father died before she was born and her mother held several jobs to raise three children. Refused admission to Carnegie Institute of Technology because of her race, Catlett enrolled at Howard University, where her teachers included artist Loïs Mailou Jones and philosopher Alain Locke. She graduated with honors in 1935 and went on to earn the first the first M.F.A. in sculpture at the University of Iowa five years later.

Grant Wood, her painting teacher at Iowa, encouraged students to make art about what they knew best and to experiment with different mediums, inspiring Catlett to create lithographs, linoleum cuts, and sculpture in wood, stone, clay, and bronze. She drew subjects from African American and later Mexican life.

In 1946, a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation enabled Catlett to move to Mexico City with her husband, printmaker Charles White. There she joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular, an influential and political group of printmakers. At the Taller, Catlett met the Mexican artist Francisco Mora, whom she married after divorcing White and with whom she had three sons.

Catlett taught at the National School of Fine Arts in Mexico City from 1958 until her retirement in 1976, producing realistic and highly stylized two- and three-dimensional figures. Her subjects ranged from tender maternal images to confrontational symbols of the Black Power movement, to portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and the writer Phyllis Wheatley.

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Elizabeth Catlett created sculptures that celebrate the heroic strength and endurance of African American and Mexican working-class women. With simple, clear shapes she evokes both the physical and spiritual essence of her subjects. Her hardy laborers and nurturing mothers radiate both power and a timeless dignity and calm. Whether working in wood, stone, bronze, or clay, Catlett reveals an extraordinary technical virtuosity, a natural ability to meld her curving female forms with the grain, whorls, color, or luster of her chosen medium. The beauty of her subjects is matched by the beauty she reveals in her sculptural materials.

Throughout her career, Catlett was a political progressive committed to improving the lives of African­ American and Mexican women, and she often used her art explicitly to advance their cause. She also protested, picketed, and evenwas arrested in her quest to win justice for those she describes as “my people.” Moving from the United States to Mexico in 1946, she was eventually identified as an “undesirable alien” by the U.S. State Department. For nearly a decade she was barred from visiting the United States.

Despite these struggles, Catlett’s art reveals no trace of bitterness or despair. Indeed, she has remained true to the universal, life affirming themes that first animated her sculpture in the 1940s’the beauty of the human form and the nobility of the human condition.

Though primarily known as a sculptor, her output of graphic works would make any printmaker proud. She utilized the medium as yet another vehicle for her powerful visual messages of racial, gender, and social equality.

  • Herzog, Melanie Anne. Elizabeth Catlett: an American Artist in Mexico. Seattle: University of Washington, 2000. NB259.C384 H47 2000
  • Elizabeth Catlett in Mexico: identity and cross-cultural intersections in the production of artistic meaning. By: Herzog, Melanie. International Review of African American Art, 1994, Vol. 11 Issue 3, p18
  • Elizabeth Catlett: a life in art and politics. / cover story By: Sims, Lowery S.. American Visions, Feb/Mar98, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p20-25, 6p
  • REFLECTIONS ON ELIZABETH CATLETT. By: HULTGREN, MARY LOU. International Review of African American Art, 2016, Vol. 26 Issue 4, p40-50, 11p

Art of the Week

PreColumbian, Mayan (Costa Rica)
Early Classic Tall Necked Jar with Negative Painting of Underworld Creatures, 250-550
Ceramic, 19 cm. h.
Loan of Dr. J. Philip Keeve ‘48

The Pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.

The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the Pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to AD 250), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period (c. AD 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish.

Maya art of their Classic Era (c. 250 to 900 CE) is of a high level of aesthetic and artisanal sophistication. The carvings and the reliefs made of stucco at Palenque and the statuary of Copán, show a grace and accurate observation of the human form that reminded early archaeologists of Classical civilizations of the Old World, hence the name bestowed on this era. We have only hints of the advanced painting of the classic Maya; mostly what has survived are funerary pottery and other Maya ceramics, and a building at Bonampak holds ancient murals that survived by chance. A beautiful turquoise color (‘Maya Blue’) survived through the centuries due to its unique chemical characteristics. Late Preclassic murals of great artistic and iconographic perfection have been recently discovered at San Bartolo. With the decipherment of the Maya script it was discovered that the Maya were one of the few civilizations where artists attached their name to their work.

Mayan ceramics are important in the study of the Pre-Columbian Maya culture of Mesoamerica. Through the years, the vessels took on different shapes, colors, sizes, and purposes. The intense artistic mosaics that grace the walls of the ancient masterpieces reveal stories of rulers, the underworld (Xibalba), Mayan creation, and even the particular function of the vessel. Used for a plethora of daily activities, such as the storage of food and beverages, ceramics were also a canvas of commemoration. The utilitarian ware of the common people usually possessed only modest decoration. The funerary ware of the elite was often more elaborate. Strategic Mesoamerican ballgames, rituals, and death were key subjects painted or inscribed on the vessels.

Middle Preclassic (900/800-250 BC) Late Preclassic (250 BC-250 AD): Early Mayan ceramics stemmed from a past that began even years before the Maya became a group. Originally, the early Maya used gourds cut into useful shapes to create vessels to carry liquids and foodstuffs. These portable and durable gourds made excellent containers. The first ceramics closely resembled gourds and many were decorated with rocker stamps and simple slips. During the Late Preclassic period, many of the ceramics took on appendages of tetrapod mammiform supports. These supports were four legs underneath the pot holding it up. Characteristic cream-on-red stripes colored these unique vessels.

The pottery of the Maya Early Classic dated from 250 to 550 AD. The Maya soon began using polychrome slip paint, meaning they used many different colors to decorate the pots. This method of decoration became almost homogeneous for Mayan potters, thus signaling the beginning of the Classic Period. The Classic Period of the Maya provided beautiful ceramics in many forms. The lidded basal flange bowl was a new style of potter to add to the already growing repertoire. This type vessel usually had a knob on top in the form of an animal or human head, while the painted body of the animal or human spreads across the pot. Many of these pots also had mammiform supports, or legs. These unique vessels are usually found in great condition signaling a ritual function.

Negative painting includes both true and false techniques. In the former the design itself is painted in a protective substance, presumably hot wax, over which a coat of a darker pigment is applied; a subsequent melting of the protective substance reveals the lighter design. In the false technique, the darker background is painted around the light design.

Ancient Maya pottery classification, analysis, and interpretation / Gainesville : University Press of Florida, c2013.
Arnold, Dean E., Social change and the evolution of ceramic production and distribution in a Maya community. Boulder, Colo. : University Press of Colorado, c2008.
Maya iconography / Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1988. F1435.3.A7 M27 1988

Art of the Week

American, Anonymous, 19th century
Basilica di San Marco, Venice, 1850-95
Albumen, 39 x 52 cm.

Early in the 1800’s, the first experiments took place attempting to make images on paper surfaces that had been coated with light sensitive material. The process worked, but a lot of logistical problems needed to be solved. The first major problem was making the captured image on the chemical coated surface permanent. This problem was finally solved with the Daguerrotype image and made a huge impact on the world when it was announced in 1839. However other difficulties remained to be solved. When this process was perfected enough for common use, for the first time ever, portrait studios popped up all over the place. For a very small cost, people could get their portrait made. Finally, we begin to see photographs of poor and working class people who could now afford a family portrait once in a while.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the rapid development and increasing recognition of the art of photography, along with a growing fascination with other countries and cultures, marked the beginning of the formation of a “global visual culture.” In the decades following the invention of photography in 1839, professional photographic firms appeared in the major cities of Western Europe, as well as in more remote travel destinations such as Greece, Egypt, India, Asia, and the Middle East. The earliest travel photographers produced images primarily for publications which functioned as surrogates for travel, spurring curiosity and inspiring Grand Tour travelers who, by the 1870s and ’80s, were flocking to exotic sites to visit the monuments of the ancient and medieval past.

Catering to this influx of European and American tourists, a growing number of travel photographers documented historical monuments and archeological sites, as well as scenes of daily life. Technological developments enabled these photographers to produce relatively large numbers of images that were chiefly intended to satisfy the burgeoning tourism trade and the thirst for images of the Orient, the term traditionally used in the nineteenth century to refer to the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. As the techniques of photography became less cumbersome, transporting equipment became more practical. Photographers began to sell their pictures on-site to tourists who collected them as souvenirs during their travels.

These unique photographs have artefactual value for the history of photography, as well as documentary value for the study of the architectural and social history of the regions in which they were produced. Since the nineteenth century, many of the monuments recorded in these images have been altered through architectural restoration, damaged, or, in some cases, completely destroyed. Images on glass plates and paper are often the only surviving records of these monuments and of certain aspects of nineteenth-century daily life in both urban and rural areas. The nineteenth-century travel photograph also provides a singular historical record, documenting cultures and landscapes that have been radically altered by development and modernization.

Mace, O. Henry. Collector’s guide to early photographs / Radnor, Pa. : Wallace-Homestead Book Co., c1990. TR15 .M24 1990

  • Lindquist-Cock, Elizabeth. The influence of photography on American landscape painting, 1839-1880 / New York : Garland Pub., 1977. ND1351.5.L56 1977
  • Photography : the whole story / Munich : New York ; Prestel Publishing, 2012. TR15 .P479 2012

American century of photography 1840-1940. Camera (english Edition)., June 1978, Vol. 57, p3-41, 39p
Photography and American history. Camera (english Edition)., December 1976, Vol. 55, p3
Photography in America. By: Jay, Bill. British Journal of Photography, July 11 1980, Vol. 127, p660-663, 4p
The Camera and the Press: American Visual and Print Culture in the Age of the Daguerreotype/A Familiar Strangeness: American Fication and the Language of Photography, 1839-1945. By: Saltz, Laura. CAA Reviews, 1/10/2013, p1-4, 4p; DOI: 10.3202/

Art of the Week

Stanley Lewis (1941-)
O. C. Backyard, 1985
Oil on paper

Lewis draws and paints on- site what he sees, his own backyard, views of Lake Chautauqua where he teaches in summer, the Westport train station near his children’s homes, the hemlock tree out his window or the studio where he works. A modest feat yet endowed with incredible ambition- “It almost kills me!”

The proposition is a constant that all painting is abstract. A problem solver by his own admission, Lewis works for years on a drawing or painting attempting to grasp the detail, “the little things,” while holding on to the planes of the painting or surface of the drawing. In the current exhibition both the paintings and works on paper reveal his ambitious cut and assemble process as he marries the minute with the whole. The canvas is cut and added to, piled on layers of paper and canvas unified by an active painted surface. Similarly, the works on paper are multi-layered resulting in a bas relief as in Hemlock Trees Seen from Upstairs Window in the Snow, where the layers work both as cubist planes as well as single twigs.

His gloppy paint surfaces are aggressive and sensual though he differs in that he is much more involved with a direct naturalistic transcription of the casual, disheveled, white bread American subjects.  These he paints directly and laboriously on the spot, including everything in his field of vision, weeds, trash, cars, power lines, etc. Lewis is a master colorist. His unfailingly authoritative skill for painting real, rich and crystalline.

Stanley Lewis, or Stanley Lewis is an artist and art teacher. He was a member of the Bowery Gallery in New York City from 1986 to 2008 and is still a member of Oxbow Gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is represented by Lohin Geduld Gallery in New York City. His work has been shown recently at Salander O’Reilly Galleries. An Emeritus professor from American University, Lewis also taught at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1969 to 1986, and currently teaches part-time at the New York Studio School. In addition, Lewis has taught at Smith College, and the Parsons School of Design. In 2001, he was Artist-in-Residence at Dartmouth College. Recent group exhibitions in 2009 include the American Academy of Arts & Letters Invitational; Haverford College and Gross-McCleaf Gallery, Pennsylvania. Lewis has been the recipient of many awards, including the Altman Prize, a Henry Ward Ranger Purchase Award from the National Academy of Design, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005. He was also a Danforth Fellow. There was a major retrospective of Lewis’ work at the American University Museum in the Katzen Arts Center in Washington, D.C. in 2007. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and received both a BFA and an MFA from the Yale School of Art.

Professor Michael Bogin on Stanley Lewis:
Metaphor in painting; the struggle for a tradition. By: ROSENTHAL, Deborah. Arts Magazine, June 1978, Vol. 52, p136-141, 6p