Franz Marc’s The Tower of Blue Horses

tower of the blue horses

By Matt Carey-Williams

The evolution of Franz Marc’s pictorial language is one that charts a journey from expressionism via Der Blaue Reiter and then funneled through Cubism and its sunnier dialects of futurism and orphism. Marc’s passion for animals — depicted as dynamically torqued vortices painted in a rainbow of hallucinatory colours — served to signify the social and political angst that so bubbled away at this time and which would, eventually, burst in to the sulphuric horrors of the Great War.

From 1910 through 1913, one witnesses Marc’s beasts become increasingly abstracted; their already amoebic forms experiencing a more intense transmutation into daggers of colour and shards of light. Such is the case with Marc’s masterpiece, The Tower of Blue Horses (1913). A tornado of four beefy blue horses charge at us out of the picture plane. Dynamic diagonals clash with equally virile verticals, eschewing depth and exacerbating compositional propulsion. The horses are made of latticed blue and white arcs, crescents and obliques and are set against a pulsating yellow, bleeding from the sky and raining down on a small village-scape like nuclear fallout, punctuated only by a rainbow. This most vivid of paintings is about fear. The fear of an impending war; the fear of death — a fear captured most profoundly in the hearts of that most Teutonic of subjects, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Marc clearly alludes to here. But it is also about hope, which Marc saw the colour blue signifying and which is whispered in the distant rainbow.

Sadly, Marc’s fears were not unfounded given that he would die whilst serving for Germany in World War l. The whereabouts of this painting remains unknown. Originally considered degenerate, that status was revoked by the Nazis because of Marc’s ultimate contribution on behalf of his country. The painting ended up in Göring’s infamous collection and, since 1945, has never been seen. It was March 4, 1916 that Franz Marc died. He was 36.

— Matt Carey-Williams, London

Above: Franz Marc (German, 1880-1916): The Tower of Blue Horses, 1913.
Oil on canvas, 200 x 130 cm./79 x 51 in.




Contemporary Photographers and the Camera Obscura

Manhattan Bridge

By Laura Gardner Heyrman

In this digital age, many contemporary photographers are turning to techniques from photography’s early years. One of the most popular of these is the camera obscura. In this post, we’ll look at the camera obscura and five photographers who have created compelling images with it.

Above: Abelardo Morell (Cuban, b. 1948): Camera Obscura: View of the Manhattan Bridge, April 30th, Afternoon, 2010 © Abelardo Morell. Inkjet print; 60 x 75 in. / 152.4 x 190 cm

Illustration of the camera obscura principle, possibly from the 18th century

The camera obscura actually predates the invention of photography. Though sometimes called a pinhole camera, that term more properly refers to a device that uses photographic film to capture an image. “Camera obscura” means “dark room” and the device consists of a lightproof box or room, with a small opening through which light is allowed to enter. An upside-down image of whatever is outside the opening will be projected into the box. Mirrors and prisms can be used to re-orient the image and a lens can be installed in the opening to sharpen the image. The theory of the camera obscura was described as early as 500 BCE and experiments with the device are described by a number of authors as early as 500 CE. By the Renaissance, artists were probably using the images projected using a camera obscura as a drawing aid, since an artist could trace the image projected into the box. In the early 19th century, the camera obscura device was combined with light sensitive films or plates to create true photography. Our term “camera” for a photographic device derives from the name of the earlier device.

Contemporary photographers are using the camera obscura in various ways as part of their image-making process. An artist who has been working with the camera obscura for many years is Cuban-born American photographer Abelardo Morell. (image above) For Morell, the camera obscura has always been a means of blending interior and exterior. The use of a lens gives both equal weight in the final image. By photographing the projected image in works like “Camera Obscura: View of the Manhattan Bridge”, Morell conveys the sense of amazement that camera obscura projections often inspire.

giza-pyramidVera Lutter (German, b. 1960): Chephren and Cheops Pyramids, Giza, April 12, 2010
Gagosian ©Vera Lutter. Unique silver gelatin print; 14 3/8 × 21 1/8 in. / 36.5 × 53.7 cm

In contrast to Morell’s approach, German photographer Vera Lutter uses only the camera obscura and sheets of light-sensitive paper to create her images. Since she projects the image directly onto the paper, the image is negative – the light areas are seen as dark and the shadows as light. Many of Lutter’s images have a deliberately mysterious look, like this example created during a visit to Egypt in 2010. For Lutter, using the camera obscura and reversing dark and light are deliberate efforts to make the familiar seem strange.

china-bird's nestShi Guorui (Chinese, b. 1964): Bird’s Nest Stadium, 15 Jan 2008
Kunstmuseum Bern © Shi Guorui. Gelatin silver print; 4.5 × 11.25 feet / 137 × 343 cm

Like Lutter, Chinese photographer Shi Guorui creates images directly on light-sensitive paper, often huge sheets well-suited to his panoramic views of urban landscapes. This example is four and half feet tall and over eleven feet wide and depicts the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium constructed in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Shi chooses places that play important roles in human life, but his long exposure times cause any moving objects or figures to disappear from the image. The resulting image, Shi believes, will make the viewer aware of the permanent and the temporary, of the past, the present, and the future.

Marja Pirilä (Finnish, b. 1957): In Strindberg’s Rooms 2, just when I walk here, 2017
Galleria Heino, Helsinki © Marja Pirilä. Pigment print: 44.88 x 57.48 in. / 114 x 147 cm

Finnish artist Marja Pirilä uses the camera obscura in a wide variety of applications, often constructing installations of the devices through which viewers can move. In 2015, the artist lived in a darkened room for six months, creating various apertures to turn her living space into a camera obscura. Pirilä says “The lens holes in the windows were an interface between the inside and outside worlds, just like the lenses in my eyes are the interface between me and the world. With that interface and light, the reflections of the outside world became part of the room, just like the world becomes part of me.” For “In Strindberg’s Room 2 – just when I walk here,” she photographed the camera obscura’s projected image, but moved into the image so that her body disrupts the camera obscura’s projection.

Robert Calafiore (American): Torre di Vetro (Glass Tower) 09.27.12, 2012
Klompching Gallery, Brooklyn © Robert Calafiore. Unique pinhole c-type print; 40 × 30 in. / 101.6 × 76.2 cm

American photographer Robert Calafiore uses a hand built pinhole camera to create his vividly colored still lifes and figure studies. His still life subjects, as in “Torre di Vetro (Glass Tower) 09.27.12,” are arrangements chosen from a family collection of glassware. In addition to exploiting the characteristics of his wide-angle lens and light sensitive paper, Calafiore’s long exposures allow him to manipulate the still life objects and alter the apparent colors and transparency of the objects in the final image. The unique prints that result from his efforts show what could never be seen by the naked eye and make the ordinary appear fantastical.

More by and about these artists:

Calafiore, Robert:
Lutter, Vera:
Morell, Abelardo:
Pirilä, Marja:
Shi Guorui:


The Price of Everything?

Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929

By Aldis Browne

On November 13th Hopper’s 1929 masterpiece ‘Chop Suey’ set a record at nearly $92 million at Christie’s, New York.

In the spotlight of a contemporary art sale at Christie’s on November 15th, David Hockney’s monumental ‘Pool With Two Figures’ sold for more than $90 million. Like the Hopper, this, too, was extensively reported.

On the same day the Hockney was sold, the sale of another painting by Edward Hopper slipped by virtually unnoticed. ‘Two Comedians’ was Edward Hopper’s final painting. His eloquently moving farewell self-portrait, bowing from a stage beside his wife – and muse – Josephine, changed hands at an American sale at Sotheby’s for $12.5 million, below its pre-sale estimate.

Hopper loved theater and cinema. ‘Two on the Aisle’, 1927 – ‘New York Movie’, 1939 and ‘ First Row Orchestra’, 1951 chart a direct path to Two Comedians. Jo Hopper described the painting as “A dark stage and two small figures out of a pantomime” where she and Hopper take their final bows dressed as Pierrot and Pierrette from the commedia dell’arte.

Is price alone driving press perspective? There is more to report about art than record results – far more. Following the test of time, who will be judged as the wisest buyer? Perhaps another story is lurking here… one just waiting to be told.

We invite your comments.

Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939

Edward Hopper, First Row Orchestra, 1951

Edward Hopper, Two Comedians, 1966

David Hockney, ‘Pool With Two Figures, 1972

Election Day, 1852, By Aldis Browne

George Caleb Bingham’s The County Election (1852) is described as “a crowded voting scene on the main street of a town in front of an open porch.”  What is its more profound meaning? The artist depicts an election through several vignettes in an era when slavery prevailed and only men could vote. Augmenting the museum’s notes, my interpretation, reading from left to right, is:

Almost certainly poured by a slave, a voter is given another drink–clearly more than ‘one too many’. Over his left shoulder, a seated voter has passed out.

Boys in the foreground play a game of mumble-the-peg. The game, played by tossing a knife in the air, may symbolize the potential peris of politics

Behind the boys, perhaps this is a self-portrait of the artist seated on the steps, sketching.

On the porch a hopeful candidate tips his hat while handing his card to the next voter in line. The wary voter keeps his hands in his pockets.

Beside the recalcitrant voter, another voter is sworn in, attesting he has not voted elsewhere.

Beneath them, three men discuss the election.

To their right, a gentleman reads a newspaper, perhaps looking for endorsements, while another looks over his shoulder.

At the far right a symbolic figure, beaten and bowed with head bandaged and trousers torn, has clearly lost his fight.

In Bingham’s Missouri of 1852, slaves had no rights at all, and many men asked: “Why should women have the right to vote, they’d only vote the way their husbands tell them?”

“Bingham believed slavery to be immoral and an issue that threatened the future of the Union. On these grounds, as a state legislator he advocated against the expansion of slavery beyond its original borders.” (Deborah Keating, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO)

Robert Rauschenberg: Canyon

by Matt Carey-Williams

Executed in 1959, “Canyon” is one of Robert Rauschenberg’s greatest works and an eponymous example of his Combine series. Begun in 1954, Rauschenberg’s Combines fused both two-and three-dimensional elements together, manifesting themselves as visual and intellectual hybrids that concurrently spoke the languages of painting, sculpture, collage, installation and, even, the readymade. Rauschenberg’s Combines were creatively cacophonous — like artistic Towers of Babel — with the multi-laminated, interdisciplinary and chance-driven nature of their production vital to any understanding of the object itself. “I think a painting is more like the real world if it’s made out of the real world,” Rauschenberg once said. And so, in the 1950s, Rauschenberg would scour the streets around his studio in downtown New York, sourcing and then repurposing materials he found. The surface of “Canyon” is made up of a collage of painted canvas; a collared shirt; some floral fabric; a flattened drum; a wrung-out tube of oil paint and a photograph of Christopher, Rauschenberg’s son. Two elements — quite literally — jump off the surface of the work and dominate the composition. Dangling pendulously, like a pair of testicles, a pillow harnessed in netting, hangs off the bottom of the painting from a piece of string. The androcentricity innate in this form is further announced by the startling addition of a stuffed bald eagle — that signifier of American pride and prowess — adhered to the canvas. His friend, the artist Sari Dienes, found the taxidermied eagle in a pile of junk belonging to her recently deceased neighbour, who happened to be one of the last of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. “Canyon” is a painting about America and simultaneously a selfportrait. It’s the Grand Canyon; a portrait of the artist as a man and as a father; it’s the great American landscape; it’s a work that scrutinises the power of abstract and expression yet inveighs against the Billy-Big-Bollocks-ness of Abstract Expressionism. It’s one of the cleverest art works of the 20th century, by one of its greatest artists. “Canyon” is now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Robert Rauschenberg was born on this day, 1925.