March 2011

Elizabeth Bishop, Poet-Painter

WE KNOW ELIZABETH BISHOP (1911-1979) as a poet.  An eminent woman of letters, she was poet laureate of the United States (1940-50) at a time that title carried weight. Deeply private, she avoided publicity as well as the public, steered clear of academic and literary discourse. She deflected blatant biographical interpretations of her work, refusing to be pigeonholed as a “lesbian poet” or tucked neatly into the Woman Poet’s corner. In the words of a friend:
Elizabeth was a very private person.
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Grashow vs. Ozymandias

A READER EMAILED ME TO TAKE ISSUE with a comment in the previous posting on James Grashow. The complaint was that my phrase create for the ages was a tad “overblown.” Point taken. Perhaps it would have been better, not so grandiloquent, to have said simply create for tomorrow. Create for the world our children will inherit. Create in the expectation of futurity rather than, in Grashow’s case, futility. Art that makes no gesture toward posterity is nothing more than a creature of the market. Continue Reading
James Grashow's Corrugated Fountain

“Everything in the cosmos exists to emerge as a Book” If Mallarmé were writing today, he might want to change that to Film. James Grashow worked for four years on “Corrugated Fountain, “ an installation of melancholy and ephemeral beauty. A lifelong woodcutter, he carved-and-pasted the work out of corrugated cardboard in anticipation of its eventual dissolution. In time, it will exist only on film as the protagonist, so to speak, of Olympia Stone’s documentary of its making: “The Cardboard Bernini.” // // Grashow’s unassuming material betrays no hint of the wit and strength of his art. Continue Reading
Thornton Willis at Elizabeth Harris

WHAT WE LIKE TO CALL THE “MODERNIST GRID” is really not modern at all. It is the application to painting of a structural pattern that is so ancient it can almost be thought of, in Platonic terms, as an Ideal Form. Grid patterns determine the layout of streets in antiquity on different continents. The grid template shaped Indus Valley town planning in the third century B.C.E.. It appealed to the Greeks and Romans. Ancient Mexican builders used it; so did the Chinese and Korean. Continue Reading
Calder at the National Portrait Gallery

WE ARE SO FAMILIAR WITH ALEXANDER CALDER’S kinetic mobiles and painted stabiles, we forget that he was also a prolific portraitist.  Throughout his career, Calder (1898-1976) portrayed entertainment, sports, and art-world figures, including Josephine Baker, Jimmy Durante, Babe Ruth, and Charles Lindbergh, as well as colleagues , Fernand Léger, and Saul Steinberg, among others. Herewith, the museum’s introductory précis:
Typically, Calder worked in the unorthodox medium of wire, a flexible linear material, which he shaped into three-dimensional portraits of considerable character and nuance.
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