IMPROVE YOUR FLEA MARKET FINDS

Almost didn’t go to the flea market yesterday. Too tired. So lucky the “good-Lee” won the battle; our treasures were excellent yesterday. Spent an hour or so in total and really improved a wonderful little watercolor, bought for a buck. Many of my best things cost only a buck!

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Above is what I bought: a sweet little watercolor of a woman reading, in a water damaged mat, with spaces between the miters on each corner of the frame. The frame had to come apart.

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Decided to continue to use the original mat as it is a wonderful gold color that pairs up well with the gold in the painting and the natural wood frame. Since the water damage was only at the bottom, I cut a new cream colored new mat 1/4″ larger in the window than the original mat. Because of this decision it was not necessary to remove the brown paper on which the painting was created from the mat. They have been taped together for well more than fifty years and why disturb them? I know, others would argue this.

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Above is the back of the watercolor, done on a piece of a brown grocery bag. The old-fashioned mailing label is from West Virginia. There is no zip code used, so the painting probably was done before the early sixties. There is a fifteen cent stamp on the bag also. These too elements are interesting, but do they help to date the painting? Look at the cardboard used to support the painting and the mat.

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A Betty Davis movie? And she looks young here! I have never seen a cardboard advertisement like this, and correctly still haven’t. The ad was cut off at the bottom to use in the frame. I kept the old ad in the frame package.

Searching “Charles Washington Ranson” finds an old opera house in West Virginia that has been remodeled. Born in 1910, it was renovated in 2011.

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The miters were re-glued and nailed together. The frame itself was cleaned up with Old English Scratch Cover.

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On the back of the cardboard backing is written: “Compliments of e.e. Critcher”, in a European kind of hand, using small letters for the first and middle name initials. Also written is: “Eleanor Coleman states Mrs. Critcher painted this when Eleanor was a little girl”.

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I put the layers of the framing package together, and hung it in the bathroom with other small treasures.

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MANY SMALL WORKS

I first met Janet Kozachek years ago at the old House of Pizza in Orangeburg,  one of the only places to have lunch in that small town back in the day.   I was immediately touched.  She looked exactly like a character in one of my childhood story books.   It was about the golden goose, and how townspeople (in a long sticky line)  exhibited their greediness for gold by being unable to unhook from the chain of folks who tried to pinch a golden feather.  It is an old Russian tale.

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Janet looked just like the girl who was directly attached to the goose in my book.  It was stunning.  Russian in extraction, her almond eyes, and her Chagall-like wisps of hair connected me intimately with this old memory.

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Janet came to us with amazing recommendations:  she was the first non-Chinese person to earn a certificate of Graduate Study from the Bejing Central Art Academy (1985), and a graduate degree from Parsons School of Design (1991).  She studied ceramics in Holland in 1986, and also later with the granddaughter of Maria Martinez.  In 1999, she was the founding president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.  And her work is just as broad as this mosaic of an education.

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All of this background is represented in her exhibition of small works opening at the Orangeburg Arts Center on February 11, 2014.  In most of the works, one can detect the influence of multiple academic experiences, but clearly created by western hands.

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The series of little vessels (there are seventeen), done in acrylic,  stand boldly and aggressively on their trimmed ground, allowing examination of their surface creatures.  One can find small worlds  pictorially within these vessel walls.  The grounds on which the vessels sit seem likewise worldly-influenced, and all nervously vibrates.  Janet creates these little wonders by paint removal and scratching as much as paint application and calls them painting/monoprints.

Tango dancers done in quick calligraphic-like lines exhibit Janet’s Chinese self, again combining a fertile gene-mixing of her history and coming up with a hybrid.  To some Janet has added Chinese cartouches,  containing characters saying (in translation) “Chinese tango”.

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The most unsettling and evocative works are a series of paintings of troll dolls (yes, the ones from the late sixties), the doll shapes again dominating the clipped ground.  The surfaces of these examples are brilliant and shiny, completed in oil made with Renaissance techniques.  The detail and description of the dolls is masterly, including both fronts and backs.  But why troll dolls?

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In a way, the brilliant colors used in the dolls seem like pure light and heat that needs to attach to something.  Simple, geometric, vibrating Amish quilts come to mind as similar in color “heat” if not in visual language.  The trolls can be spooky, but their description is not.  Here’s why they exist:  Janet was very ill when the group was created.

Janet has suffered through an undiagnosed illness for some years.  During the time the trolls were created, she was at a low point, could barely leave the bed, and could lean up to paint just sometimes.  These dolls were collected by her, at hand, and she could lift them.  Therefore, she painted them.  That simple.

Could one make an allusion to the boomer experience with these paintings?  Maybe, who else would even know about these strange beings?

In general, this exhibition is a tribute to the healing nature of art.  All these small works being done during the years of her illness, it is proof that the time she has had to be quiet was not lost.

THE ART OF JANET KOZACHEK

Janet Kozachek created and gave this painting to me in 1993.  The artist in her studio, but not making art.

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Glenn and I hung her current exhibition of small works at the Orangeburg Art Center last week.  What fun!  The following is Janet’s description of the show.  It opens February 11, 2014 through March 31.  Read about it in Janet’s own words following:

http://kozachekart.blogspot.com/2014/01/hanging-exhibition-of-small-works.html

THE HOUSE ON BOSWELL STREET

Glenn gave me a painting done by our friend Janet Kozachek for Christmas this year.  Had seen it a couple of times in her Etsy shop, and in the flesh at her home.  It is a wonderful painting.

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=282+boswell+street+orangeburg+sc&ll=33.487706,-80.869052&spn=0.007158,0.009645&sll=33.488346,-80.869858&layer=c&cbp=13,337.26,,1,9.81&cbll=33.488155,-80.869803&hnear=282+Boswell+St,+Orangeburg,+South+Carolina+29115&t=h&panoid=5z27rV5Qu-NHoF0NAVGmrA&z=17

Click on the link above and wait until a single image of a house appears.  To readers not in the Deep South,  I imagine difficulty in comprehending this kind of shelter.  This is the house on Boswell Street.  Wish I could have captured a straight on shot from this site, but my skills are not high.

It has been a while since she completed the painting.  She told me that part of the stunning gate in the painting has fallen away now, and you can see it in the Google image.

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Janet is a Renaissance painter in terms of her medium.  She often paints on wood, and the wood for this piece is almost an inch thick.  She prepares the surface of her support with material that includes marble dust.  She creates and mixes her own paint.  In some of her work, the surface of the painting shimmers like a Northern Renaissance detailed jewel.  The description, in paint, of the shapes and masses in her compositions are deep and layered, complex with under painting, gutsy and refined at the same time.  Color has not the simplicity to stay local.
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We are going to make our own frame for it:  hardwood, fallen-away, with the wooden painting mounted in a box rather than framed with a box. There will be a “moat” around it.  It will have room to breathe.
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(We just had a pique of excitement.  Janet told me the house on Boswell Street was for sale for only a couple thousand dollars, and that of course would only be the land.  Any house is an “improvement” on the land.  We could have moved the improvement and resold the land!  What a fine addition to our acreage it would have been.  Oh, well.  Turns out the sign was for the house across the street, and it is only for rent.)
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If you want, give.  Janet wrapped up a little gift for me when Glenn went to pick up the painting.  Referred to this ocarina in a former post:
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MARTA’S OTHER MOTHER

Due to popular demand, here is our recently identified odalisque.  Marta sent it to me after reading the first post about her mother.  She assumed this image, done in 1946, was probably of the cheesecake variety.

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Oh no!  The position of Marta’s mom is purely art historical, absent some shape in the upper right to draw the viewer’s eye away, but briefly, from the figure.  The line of red fringe on the pillow in the center of the image helps some.

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The oriental rug and brass pitcher above suggest the “East”, and that the woman may be part of a harem (when artists began to use this motif as an excuse to paint a nude woman, it was understood that the woman was of low morals).  This work has a nice opposition element in the upper left of a musician, which fills the compositional need but also suggests low morals as we all know what music does to people!

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Simply with the head wrap, the artist suggests that this woman is a member of a harem.  Notice that the counterpoint to the strong line of the figure here is a window lightening up the composition and subtly drawing the eye away from the left side.  Any kind of shape can do this balancing act for a composition.  The single red rose may symbolize love, as it did in Roman times.

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Moving into the Twentieth century, consider the envelope being pushed!  If this is a “reclining nude” enough for your definition, we see my outlaw, clothing symbolizing pure sex, with a counterpoint of the ironing board at the upper left.  This makes me think of an episode of “Mad Men” we viewed last night.  Jackie during the day, Marilyn at night!

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Walking further into the bizarro world, we see Gracie, the late love of another outlaw, displaying what she knows about the motif of the odalisque.  Her seductive stare is so memorable.

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Corot’s odalisque above is more simply rendered, like that of Marta’s mom.  And her position is close to Gracie’s.  I find it interesting that he felt the need to fill that empty space that usually has a correspondent with words—Marietta____Roma.  It works!

SOMEBODY’S OTHER MOTHER

Marta had something to spill, you could tell that.  She walked up to me fairly bursting.  She lately has been doing lots of renovation on her fine two story log house.  They love wood, all kinds.  Inside and out, the contrasting grains of wall, old furniture and objects creates a frenzy of lemoned earthiness.  Thought she wanted to tell me about her latest wood project.

I found a painting, Marta said.  In my mother’s attic.  It’s going in the bedroom; the finishing touch for the area after adding the new (woody) bath in there.

It is of a nude, she said.  Stretched out, you know, in the “Titanic position” .  And it is my MOTHER, in her twenties, no doubt about it.  Nobody even knew it existed.  We recently found it in her attic.  Marta’s mom has been gone for a while now.

I was blown away.  What a story.  Jealous. Realized that better writers than I could take this gem of a little experience and run like a marathoner with it.  It is a perfect notion around which one could build a classic read.  German war bride comes to the US, later mother of twin girls, with an unknown history.

It could teach a lesson.  Mothers are not just mothers.  They are people.  Children can be selfish enough not to want to know that.  What a bind for a whole person, being a mother.  Or perhaps the best ones are the best jugglers, until, you know, the old painting in the “Titanic position” shows up.

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As an artist and teacher, I was equally thrilled about Marta’s story in the way she described her newly found painting.

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Both of the images above are what we call “odalisque”.  A reclining nude.  And this is what Marta meant in her description of her mother.  I was so interested in this.  As a teacher of art history, and always collecting contemporary facts or events which highlight  the old stuff I asked my students to learn, that iconic scene in the movie presented a teachable moment.   “Titanic”, was a pop culture moment of the time for sure.  Everybody had seen it, and knowing this, suddenly and for a short time, art history was contemporary pop culture.  Loved that connection for my students.

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Viewing the three above, you can see what the tradition of this kind of image is.  Ingres, Manet, Gauguin:  all created in this old art motif.  Stretched out lady, on a bed, countered by something in the far corner, a maid servant, a curtain, a voo-doo figure.  That is the compositional history.

The history of painting the image of a nude lady is far more complex.  It simply wasn’t done for a while.  Did the Greeks, Romans sculpt nude women?   No.  The nude male was the symbol of perfection, and that was used all the time.  No unclothed women were done.

Always pushing the envelope, artists DID want to depict the female figure.  How did they bully into this idea?  They painted harlots, concubines, prostitutes.  Women of low morals.  You could not see a naked lady in those days without a moral judgement attached.  Oh women have suffered so throughout history!  This idea makes me almost nauseous:  men have the sexual response, but we will blame it on the women.

The public was appalled when Manet painted his odalisque, the middle image above.  It shocked all of Paris when shown in the salon of  1865 (it was finished in 1863).  Think of this as our civil war time.  A prostitute stares out at the viewer, showing no shame, and in her work venue as well.  The john who just left sends flowers back with the maid.  The public was shocked, but the breech had been crossed.  That is how we move forward.  The public and art critics of the time were equally shocked at the way the odalisque was rendered.  The paint was flat and the planes of the body merged into description only as you moved away from the image, mounted on the wall.  The critics were wrong about their “take” here as well.

Beware, beware if the old fogies of art  like your work too much.