Victorian Radicals @ SAMA

Victorian Radicals: From the PreRaphaelites to the Arts and Crafts Movement at the San Antonio Museum of Art brings the art of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt, John Millais and other artists and artisans of mid-19th Century England together in a stunning exhibit, showing through January 5th. The lush romanticism, idealization of nature and return to medieval mythic themes and legends grounded the bohemian and early avant guard members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (preferring Medieval and Renaissance art before Raphael), whose members represent some of the most well-known works in the exhibit. The brotherhood challenged the constraints of the formal art academy with vivid colors, flair for detail and a bold vision to bring beauty into the minds and homes of Victorian citizens, faced with the harsh and often ugly reality of the industrial revolution. Many adopted the egalitarian principals of socialism and encouraged women and working class artists, poets and writers to join their nascent aesthetic movement. They were inspired by the poetry of Shelly and Keats and encouraged Oscar Wilde, August Swinburne and emerging Decadent and Art Nouveau artists and writers to join in their Bohemian rhapsody.

Works below by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sydney Harold Meteyard, William Holman Hunt, Samuel Colman and John Brett

Wistful, idealized landscapes, beautiful male and female archetypes and love of myths and classic literature fed their romantic fantasies. The first image below, by Florence Jane Camm, is a beautifully detailed scene in stained glass depicting Beatrice turning away from Dante (from his autobiographical work, La Vita Nueva, 1295). The second portrait of Bacchus, by Simeon Solomon was painted during his residency in Rome, openly embracing pansexual Hellenistic legacies popular in the 19th Century. Rossetti’s Proserpine features his muse, Jane Morris as the Greco- Roman Goddess of the Underworld. These Medieval and mythic themes with the lush romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelites remain an enduring influence in Fantasy fiction, easy to see in the works of Le Guin, Tolkien and Lewis Carroll.

“I made a new religion of poetic tradition, of a fardel of stories, and of personages, and of emotions, inseparable from their first expression, passed on from generation to generation by poets and painters. I wished for a world where I could discover this tradition perpetually, and not in pictures and poems only, but in tiles round the chimney piece and in the hangings that kept out the draft.”  William Butler Yeats

The Arts and Crafts movement in England heralded a return to handcraft, emphasizing quality materials and the relationship between an artist and their work. The opaline glass goblet and copper tea service were produced by WH&B Richardson and William Arthur Smith Benson, both members of the Arts and Handicrafts Guild. William Morris & Company carried the banner of the Pre-Raphaelites, heeding Yeats’ call to bring art into the home with meticulous interior designs and beautiful objects to be used in daily life. Art Nouveau and American handicrafts movements were inspired to continue the tradition of artisanship as manufacturing and industry became the dominant aesthetic.

More on the American Arts and Crafts Movement

The Getty Villa

J. Paul Getty started collecting antiquities (Greek, Roman and Etruscan art) in the late 1930’s, deciding to bring the ancient Mediterranean culture to life by creating a museum on his property in Malibu.  He never saw his vision completed, but oversaw the construction of a remarkable replica of the Villa dei Papiri, a luxurious Roman residence in Herculaneum, Italy that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The architects at the Getty Villa referenced plans from other ancient Roman sites excavated in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae to ensure the integrity of design, including flowering plants and trees from the Mediterranean. Walking through the gardens is an olfactory delight; the variety of floral perfumes enhanced the atmosphere and tickled my imagination.

The Villa is a mirror of its prototype, built around the reflecting pool and main garden courtyard, open to cooling breezes. The scale and symmetry of the architecture is sumptuously elegant, but the real artistry lies in the details.

GrecoRoman culture was humanistic – focused on our ideal expression of beauty, culture and intellect. The art was figurative, with sculptures and pottery featuring men, women and children or deities made in our image. This was certainly in stark contrast to the Aboriginal exhibit I just saw at the Blanton, but also different from modern depictions in many ways. I only include a few examples below, but the expressions on the faces of the figures were much more complex and nuanced than the smiling selfies we see today. The art and the gardens were immersive, seducing my body/mind to imagine a younger humanity – connected to nature, exploring the world, creating culture and philosophy – aesthetically aware.

“Wonder is the feeling of the philosopher, and philosophy begins with wonder.” — Plato, (Theaetetus, 155d)

The Greek philosopher Plato is one of the founding figures of Western civilization. His legacy encompasses ethics, politics, theology, and poetics. In this exhibition, some of today’s most celebrated artists consider Plato’s impact on the contemporary world. Through sculptures, paintings, drawings, and large-scale installations, they respond to his contribution to philosophy—from defining the ideal to understanding the human condition—while fostering the ultimate Platonic experience: contemplation.

From the exhibit of contemporary art submitted for Plato in LA

Intellect to Opinion, 2017, Joseph Kosuth

“As being is to becoming, so is pure intellect to opinion. And as intellect is to opinion, so is science to belief and understanding to the perception of shadows. But let us defer the further correlation and subdivision of the subjects of opinion and intellect, for it will be a long enquiry, many times longer than this has been.”

– Plato, (born 428/427 BCE, Athens, Greece—died 348/347, Athens), ancient Greek philosopher, student of Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE), teacher of Aristotle (384–322 BCE), and founder of the Academy, best known as the author of philosophical works of unparalleled influence.

Immersed – Global to Local Art Sensations

I’ve been eager to see the Immersed exhibit at the McNay in San Antonio. When I discovered they waive the admission fee on Thursdays between 4 – 9,  I sauntered down to take a look. Yoyoi Kusama’s Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity is a light and mirror installation that invites the viewer to step through a door into an enclosed room pulsing with mirrored light that flows into seemingly endless vanishing points in all directions. The impression of being suspended in a universe of twinkling stars is brief but uplifting. No more than two people at a time share the space.

Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters was one of the most entertaining, interactive exhibits – fun for kids of all ages.

San Antonio artist Chris Sauter’s Pleasure Principle was created for the exhibit, a peek a boo living room full of holes that let the outside in.

My favorite video installation was Jennifer Steinkamp’s mesmerizing Orbit 8, part of the standing collection.

The McNay is a great day trip from Austin, with restaurants, galleries and museums galore. Immersed runs through September 2nd and reservations are required, even on Thursdays when the $20 fee is waived but the $10 exhibit entry is not.

June 2018 Johnson City Art Walk

Off to Johnson City again for an art walk saunter.  My friend and I stopped in at the 290 Vinery and were introduced to a lively sampling of their 2017 varietals, including Caught Red Handed, Little White Lies and Seriously Red. Like many inviting outdoor patio and garden spaces in town, the gorgeous oaks that frame their simple, elegant winery will provide a great Autumn tasting experience. Alison Lanik (our host and  manager) works with her mom, Susan Kirchman, who co-founded the Taste Gallery with her husband, Warren Vilmaire, which evolved into the 290 Vinery. Definitely a family with style.

TeXCeTerA Gallery was our next stop. Featured artists Cindy Cherrington and Deb Wight in the Nature of Glass show team up at other hill country events and have some beautiful pieces at prices you won’t find in Austin.  Art lovers can’t go wrong with this easy drive and the promise of something for everyone. Echo, the non-art art gallery is more than an art or curio shop, it’s a collector’s field of dreams. I included a few pieces in the gallery below, which cannot adequately represent the overwhelming array of objects d’art. Janet Haynes, a long time Johnson City resident, was featured in the small gallery in the back of this sprawling store.

After revisiting the A.Smith Gallery and Texas Arthouse, we went to Studio Massaro and had a great talk with Catherine, the artist and gallery owner. Like many of the artists and gallery owners I’ve met in Johnson City, she is well-traveled and accomplished.  They are happy with their growing community and welcome art lovers and foodies alike.  I’ve been impressed in both my visits, finding kindred souls who are thriving and living their passion.

Johnson City – crossroads of Art & Science

After a tip from the Austin Monthly about the growing art scene in Johnson City I sauntered over to see for myself. Despite construction along parts of 290 (and whatever Dripping Springs is morphing into) I felt more like a friend than a stranger driving through the scenic hill country. I skipped Lyndon’s boyhood home (which is actually cool) stopped for a quick view of the Pedernales River and headed into town.

My first stop was the A.Smith Gallery. Amanda Smith and Kevin Tully are the  gallery directors and artists in residence. The current exhibit of juried (by  Kate Breakey) photographs and sculpture is tastefully curated in an inviting gallery and salon space.  Amanda and Kevin offer workshops and events to keep things lively in between last Saturday art walks, which I’m looking forward to.

Mark L. Smith , one of the founding members of Flatbed Press and owner of the Texas Arthouse Gallery, has a storied history in Austin as both a University of Texas professor and dean and as a fine art consultant for museums and collectors. He is a self-described Raushenbergian, who remains a strong influence on his style. My conversations with Amanda Smith and with Mark Smith at the Texas Arthouse were lively and inspiring, which didn’t leave me time to visit other galleries. I’ll remedy that when I attend the art walk on June 30th. Both galleries are open by appointment and on the weekends, don’t miss them.

I stopped at the Science Mill briefly, which was abuzz with children of all ages. Mark Smith at the Arthouse Gallery said the cultural scene in Johnson City was focused more on fine art and its intersection with science, rather than the typical hodgepodge of antiques and collectibles. Don’t despair, Johnson City still has a few shops for flea market fans. For families considering a day trip to the hill country, the exhibits at the Science Mill offer a nice variety of kid friendly options  between gallery and restaurant strolls. Their Summer Camps are also getting rave reviews and increasing a broad array of sponsorships.

By the time I checked in at Bryan’s on 290 for lunch, I was hot and hungry.  The lightly dusted shrimp with cajun grits and roasted brussel sprouts were delectable and the conversation engaging. News of Anthony Bourdain’s passing that day shook the food community and we toasted to his life over a glass of Vino Bianco, a special selection from “The Piedmont Guy“. Servers and management were friendly and knowledgable and I insisted on taking a picture of the kitchen crew as a tribute to Bourdain’s friendship and support of cooks everywhere. I highly recommend Bryan’s, but there are many other enticing options in and around town.

I visited Johnson City in April of 2012 but it has since grown into a vital arts community with something for everyone.  It will be interesting to go back for the Last Saturday Art Walk on June 30th to visit some of the galleries and restaurants I missed this time.  Enthusiastic two thumbs up for a day trip!

Yachats, beautiful gem of the Oregon Coast

From Cannon Beach, I headed south to Yachats, often referred to as the Gem of the Oregon Coast. The beaches got rockier and towns dotting the coastline smaller and more picturesque.  Depoe Bay, where grey whales come to graze along the shoreline, is a magnet for tourists. I caught a glimpse of a whale back nearby and two spouts offshore, which I heard was a mother and her calf.

In Yachats, I stayed at the Fireside Motel, up close and personal with the spectacular, rocky ocean views that make the Cape Perpetua area such a draw.

You can’t have too many transporting moments on a nature trip. But, it was at the Drift Inn, while enjoying a rare offering of Mediterranean mushroom crepes, that I experienced that special feeling of connection. Maybe it was the waitress with the blue hair, the murals keeping it weird, or Richard Sharpless on guitar, but I felt a gemutlichkeit as I listened to the music and watched people of all ages and kinds enjoying a communal meal. Nothing like a warm, golden glow and friendly people to make your visit memorable.

Another beautiful sunset greeted me on my way back to the hotel.

The next morning I was off and sauntering, in search of tide pools and sea creatures. The wind rippling the water created some fabulous painterly effects, an unexpected bonus.

All in all a wonderful, rejuvenating jaunt. When one experiences major life changes, it always helps to pause, recenter and find your compass. Between the ocean’s roar, the towering forests and the gorgeous beaches, I found mine in resonance with the beauty of the Oregon Coast. I’ll be heading back, sauntering north along Washington’s Pacific Coast trail  and looking forward to taking the train into Vancouver.

The Rock of Ages

I didn’t really remember the Pacific Ocean’s booming, rowdy surf and immeasurable depth.  It’s very different from my usual haunts in the Gulf of Mexico. The vast horizontal embracing the towering vertical of mighty spruce trees resonates through the coastland in a deeply grounding spiritual wave.

This is what I came for – to put my tap root into the earth – to remember that I am.  My reset begins in Forest Park, on the way to the Oregon coast.

The drive to Cannon Beach on Hwy 26 is an easy ride, rolling through sun-dappled forests, reminding me of biking through the woods as a kid in Germany.  The breeze is cool, the forest fragrant with earth and the sap of evergreens, and the sun beams through the trees painting my skin with warm and cool stripes. The joy of being a kid – the energy, the excitement of discovery and delight – kindled a light in my bones that flowed out into the woods in waves of gratitude and love.

My first view of the beach in Seaside reminded me to play.

When I got to Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock was just outside my balcony. It is a beacon to people from all times and traditions. The ancient ones abide.

The moon rising over Haystack rock
the waves caressing the shore
bring me back to Center
where I am

Meditation in Portland’s Japanese Garden

So much green, lush old growth forest and elegant, unobtrusive meditation paths in Portland’s Japanese Garden park.  The Bonsai Garden is exquisite, with trees ranging in age from 35 to 500 years.  Beautiful.

The Hidden World of the Maya @ the Witte Museum

I continue to be a fan of San Antonio’s art museums. The Witte has been on Broadway since 1926; I remember going there on field trips as a child and every few decades since. After hearing about the new  Mays Family Center exhibit  Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed I decided to see how much it had changed. I was impressed.

Many of the stations were interactive, fun for all ages. And in the fine tradition of Curly, the maitre d butler at Earl Able’s restaurant, the Witte has a robot who greets you with “Como etas.”

Entering the world of the Maya means opening your imagination to a remarkable culture that knew as much about the stars as it did the Earth and built pyramids and cities in the jungles of Mexico and Central America. Like Atlantis, it vanished mysteriously, leaving behind monumental cities, sign and numeric alphabets with sound and picture hieroglyphics and an ongoing farming tradition featuring corn, squash and beans called the three sisters. Mathematically and astronomically, they established epochal calendars without a telescope, based on centuries of recorded observations.  The model city and pyramid below are from the city of Caracol, thought to have had a population of around 150,000.

There were hundreds of villages and cities, trading, warring and forming alliances, with a peak population of more than 2 million.  Rulers were Gods, they gave their blood to ensure continuing prosperity while priests observed and recorded the movements of Venus, the moon, sun and stars using a 13 month calendar crafted over hundreds of years. Caves and other sacred portals to the underworld conveyed the God of Maize from death to rebirth in an ongoing cycle of resurrection, a theme common to cultures the world over.

Mayan folk paid taxes in woven textiles, an artisanal  tradition alive and well  today. They mined jade, used for making beautiful jewelry and as adornments embedded in teeth by dentists, whose practices flourished alongside other healers and surgeons.  Advanced mathematical, architectural and astronomical insights are preserved in the few remaining codices, rescued from destruction by conquistadores and Catholic priests, who considered them the devil’s handiwork. Like the Library of Alexandria, the loss is incalculable.

Some credit the Maya with inventing the game of basketball. While there are some similarities, the stakes were much higher for the warriors at their ball courts. Ball Court The ball was made of rubber, drained from trees and layered until it was an 8-10 pound missile. The players strapped on 20 pound stone waist guards and used their amazing core strength to keep the ball in play.  Losers were often sacrificed and winners were richly rewarded with the losers’ wealth.  The game changed over centuries of play, with some suggestion that it served as a ritual substitute for warfare.  Hero Twin myths point to the origin of the game as a transitional space between the underworld and the land above.  The court was a place to work out the disputes and manage competition that allowed for alliances and trade to flourish.

I highly recommend this great end of summer day trip for the whole family.  It will be interesting to see how the Witte integrates the programs at the Mays Center into exhibits that have kept Texans informed and entertained  for almost a century.