Archive for Pablo Picasso

Leslie Lew’s Red Shoes

Posted in Artists, Leslie Lew with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2010 by Park West Gallery

Comic books and Albrecht Durer. They formed the Alpha and Omega of my visual world as an only child immersed in the mysteries of art. In both I found superheroes.

Every now and then we encounter the ineffable, indescribable and unmistakable phenomenon known as “charisma,” a quality upon which the idea of the superhero was hatched. Whether we happen upon charisma in the physical presence of another human being or discover it in the fruits of their labors, their life’s work, it is undeniable. It may be something that “slipped in” from the “other side,” or came from another planet like Superman, as there is no explanation for it in this tangible world.

Leslie Lew has it in spades.

Leslie Lew, Morris ShapiroMe and Leslie Lew (notice her shoes).

My first encounter with the charisma of Leslie Lew was through her work itself. Funny thing about that… So many practicing artists reveal similar degrees of technical skill and render imagery of a similar nature, but few posses that immutable quality which resonates for viewers open to the aesthetic experience. The “it” factor. For me and Leslie’s work, it was a complete “no contest.”

When I first viewed one of her paintings, my eyes drank in voluptuous surfaces, and lavish, luscious colors, augmented by a textural relief technique (which Leslie invented, called “Sculpted Oils”) which was at once irresistible and formidable. The subject was “Wonder Woman,” and she appeared from the cover of a vintage 1960’s D.C. comic book (complete with a ten cent price button), leaping into action to save the day. Now most men my age, who grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s and succumbed to the lure of the “picture novel” (often to the overt distaste of our parents), and who are forthcoming enough to admit it, will agree that Wonder Woman was hot. Leslie’s “WW” is way hotter.

The contemplation of one of her paintings is a multifaceted experience. It’s difficult to discern which parts are most pleasurable as equally fascinating qualities of form and content compete for attention. For me (and many of her devotees) it begins with the reinterpreted nostalgia of her world. As represented to us through the unique prism of her own cumulative life and cultural experiences growing up as a child born in the early 1950’s, raised in the ‘60’s, artistically forged in the ‘70’s, paying her dues in the ‘80’s and emerging fully formed as a mature fine artist into the ‘90’s and beyond. This appeal appears to be without any boundaries and her work is savored by people from all walks of life, all ages and degrees of artistic sophistication. She seems to have that indefinable quality of the “great ones,” and certainly the enduring ones, of being instantly accessible and as “deep” as you care to go.

When I finally met Leslie, I encountered the other kind of charisma: the human kind; the kind of which everyone dreams and few posses. She is electric, magnetic and radiates an energy, enthusiasm and honest passion for her work and her life impossible to forbear.

Strike two for me.

Leslie Lew, Action #1 (Superman)“Action #1 (Superman)” (2010) by Leslie Lew

In my many years of discourse and interaction with artists of all cultures and ages, I’m hard pressed to think of another who was so comfortable in her skin, openly speaking of her art with an eloquence and insight that ran parallel to her artwork (as do the titles of her paintings). So many artists (no fault of their own) prefer communication to be visual. They are often uncomfortable speaking, especially to groups, about their work. To Leslie, it’s all “flow,” an opportunity to add another dimension to her already multi-dimensional artwork.

At an event that we both attended I watched her, for the first time, from a distance in her black and white designer blouse and red shoes. She spoke to our mutual clients of her life and work with a diffidence and approachability belied by her prowess as a painter and her extensive credentials. She invited the guests to come up and “paint” onto one of her mixed-media canvasses. I watched as they queued up, one by one, and saw the delight in their eyes and faces as they spun and twirled the brushes, and contributed their own impasto applications of color to areas and surfaces of the image, leaving their own mark on a slice of 21st Century art history. I couldn’t resist, had to partake, and that same night I got a healthy dollop of white paint on the sleeve of my black dinner jacket. Leslie had left her mark on me.

When I was able to finally spend some time with her, I was most intrigued by her “story.” For me as a dealer with an insatiable appetite for art history, it’s all about people, the tangible and concrete, the real lives of those who eschew the world of the “day job” and forge fearlessly ahead to conquer the problems of aesthetics.

Leslie is the eldest of four daughters of the legendary Chicago advertising executive Les Hopkins (she is “Leslie Jr.”), who was responsible for some of the most enduring ad campaigns of Baby Boom culture including, “Alka Seltzer” and “Sugar Smacks” cereal (he invented the Sugar Smacks Brothers) among others. Raised in New Jersey and Chicago, and inheriting many of her father’s gifts, she recognized at an early age her destiny to become an artist in the form of an epiphany while sketching Lake Michigan. Later, her father turned his back on his successful, but stress-ridden career, divorced, checked-out of the business world and moved the family to Oregon, where Leslie and her three sisters lived a frugal “hippie-esque” life. This in some ways prepared her for the hardships she herself would endure in years to come. She returned to Chicago and attended the prestigious school of the Chicago Art Institute to receive her BFA and MFA degrees. There she became part of one of most esoteric, but simultaneously unique and distinctive movements in the narrative of late 20th Century painting, the “Hairy Who.”

Leslie Lew, Sugar Smacks“Sugar Smacks Box” (2009) by Leslie Lew

As a young art student growing up in Chicago (Leslie and I are the same age), I was also heavily into the Hairy Who. I adored the “twisted” but riveting imagery of Jim Nut (think George Grosz meets R. Crumb), and Roger Brown (who remains one of Leslie’s heroes), whose stylized imagery takes the naïve approach of someone like Grandma Moses and launches into a completely new realm of urban sophisticated-primitivism. Leslie knew both of these artists, exhibited with them and studied under another heavyweight of the movement, Ray Yoshida. During these years she honed her drawing skills (which are striking), and minored in art history, a passion which still deeply absorbs her.

The next phase of her life took her to New York, where she bore extraordinary hardship and sacrifices for her art, raising her young son Sean (now, a practicing musician and songwriter) as a single mother and supporting her small family solely as an artist. This was a defining time in her life, eventually materializing artistically in Leslie’s use of “Wonder Woman,” as a symbol for the superheroes women often become to deal with the challenges in their own lives. Her entry into the emerging, “East Village” scene in the 1980’s brought her early recognition, and formed the launching platform for her impressive reputation and the extensive art world credentials she possesses today.

Leslie is no lightweight. Her works have toured in museum exhibitions sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Museum and the Guggenheim (upon whose walls her paintings have hung). She’s shown in the best “high end” New York galleries next to works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and Man Ray. Her works have been reviewed by untold magazines, art journals and newspapers, along with art professors (NYU amongst them) and museum curators. She is featured in the recently published coffee-table tome on the Martin Z. Margulies Collection. Mr. Margulies’ legendary collection is one of America’s premier collections of modern and contemporary works in all media. Being featured and reviewed in this collection (destined for an exclusive museum residence) is a benchmark for any contemporary artist, as it positions them alongside masterworks by Picasso, Miro, Pollack, Rothko and Calder, among many others. Her works have been collected world-wide by a “who’s who” of celebrities and luminaries.

And yet with all of these “legit” achievements in an unbelievably competitive art world, Leslie seeks not to remain rarified. She told me, “I have always felt that art should be for the masses not for just a few of the ‘elite.’ I have worked and established myself…for over twenty-five years. Now is the time to have fun and do what I was meant to do…share my work with the world…and the masses…”

And the masses love it, from what I can tell.

Leslie Lew, Still Life with Fruit“Still Life with Fruit” (2009) by Leslie Lew

Leslie defines three artists as prime influences. She begins with Peter Max. Max is the consummate media master. He has seamlessly bridged the division between “fine” and “commercial” art. In Max’s world, no limit exists on the expression or manifestation of his art. He believes the artist can use the media of our times fluidly. He can create imagery which may be reinterpreted into a limitless number of incarnations and expressions. From the most sophisticated (paintings on the White House lawn) to the most common (ice tea bottles), he sees no separation in his quest to bring his art to the world. Leslie completely agrees. It is only a matter of time, in my opinion, until her work reaches a similar degree of exposure. For now, she creates paintings, monotypes (a lavish combination of painting and digital printmaking), deeply embossed cast paper multiples (also heavily hand-painted), prints, and even extravagant series of tiny matchbook covers, with hand-painted collages affixed. For the future, who knows? I can only imagine what her fertile mind will envision as the next outlet for her imagery.

Next is of course: Andy Warhol. There is an irony in Leslie’s admiration for Warhol, and it deals with the subversive contributions he made to the definitions of what is and isn’t art. Distinguished art historian and Professor, Arthur C. Danto viewed Warhol as the ultimate apostle of Duchamp, and saw his Brillo Box sculpture (1964) as the extension of Duchamp’s “ready-mades,” but positioned in a contemporary American cultural context, which was ultimately responsible for the creation of the “Pop Art” movement. Leslie has inoculated this “art for art’s sake” virus in her work (more on this later), but embraces the notion from Warhol (and many of the most permeated artists of the movement) of the appropriation of imagery from our culture. But the notion of discovering something (often pedestrian or banal) that exists in one cultural context and “elevating” it to fine art through the artist’s identification, isolation, ascension and frequent disparagement so common in the “Pop” idiom, has virtually no place in her canon. Leslie’s pursuit attracts her to subjects from our culture with the intention to elevate us and to remind us of an enhanced quality of life which her cultural signposts embody. She prefers to present the uplifting qualities and values of American culture. It is clear these endorsements often reveal an unembarrassed nostalgic view, but her perspective is focused on messages of optimism and hope. And this is where her third articulated influence appears (surprisingly to many): Norman Rockwell.

Few American artists have been (or will probably ever be) as polarizing as Rockwell amongst fine artists. To his champions he achieved the highest degree of capturing his milieu, his culture, his time and the “spirit” of his generation (in my mind, among the ultimate achievements of any artist–consider Toulouse-Lautrec). To his detractors, he was nothing more than an “illustrator,” whose accessible, often sentimental, and unabashedly narrative imagery reached too broad an audience to enter the realm of “real art.”

Setting aside the arguments on both sides (as time will be the ultimate arbiter) there is no denying Rockwell’s ability to tell a story and to hold up a mirror to American life. Leslie has embraced this idea with a new vision, a new timeframe and a new zeal. Her milieu is a different America–one that emerges from Rockwell’s pre and post-war periods to the next generation’s cultural touchstones, and the personal experiences which shaped her own idiomatic iconography.

Leslie Lew, Animal Crackers“Animal Crackers” (2009) by Leslie Lew

Leslie’s imagery is fertile and apparently unlimited just like her energy. Her comic book themes (which along with superheroes) feature subjects like, Felix the Cat, Blondie, Popeye, Dick Tracy, Lil’ Abner, Little Lulu, Barney Google, True Love and Boy Meets Girl comics. Early childhood memories emerge in Dick and Jane kindergarten readers; breakfast cereal box covers, amusement parks and other family memories and holidays. She’s also struck a strong chord through her use of circa 1960’s “comfort foods (Leslie’s interpretation of the “Animal Crackers” box cover has been a subject of numerous media reviews) and familiar locations of interest in New York, Chicago and other locales etched in her memory. She includes supermarket and toy store interiors (displaying their products in the glory of fluorescent lighting splendor); and her own interpretations of singular places she’s remembered including her ex-boyfriend’s mother’s apartment and her art school supplies store. She has written and illustrated a children’s book which focuses on building esteem for children and celebrating each child’s unique differences. This is the stuff of her generation’s fabric, and it resonates deeply with her audiences.

Another aspect of her work (which appeals to me personally) is her integration of great artist’s works into her own vision, a by-product of her deep knowledge of art history. Works of the masters often inhabit her imagery. Van Gogh appears in a bedroom scene (a visual pun) among other artists occupying interiors, along with a moving interpretation of his “Irises” painting in the Chicago Art Institute. But in particularly powerful manifestations during the years 1988-1995, she created a series of four and five paneled screens (some as large as 60” x 120”) reinterpreting, in her alluring “sculpted oil” technique, the works of Gauguin, Henri Rousseau, Japanese woodcuts, Kandinsky, Breughel and an unparalleled version of Picasso’s Guernica (which she told me she’ll never sell). Picasso has and will always be the paragon for me… So I’m “out”… strike three for me.

Beyond the unexpected impression Leslie’s physical presence and art has had upon me, I am fortunate to also know and to have known many world-class artists. In every case, when given the opportunity, I have spoken to them about the current state of the art world, and the vacuum that exist in the consciousness of our contemporary culture toward visual art. At a time when music, film, theatre, literature and dance remain ubiquitous in our society, and are publicly consumed at startling levels forming multi-billion dollar industries, we have to ask the question, “Where did art go?” It’s not hard to figure it out. When “artists” starve animals in public, slice up sharks and install them in formaldehyde-filled glass boxes, and affix dead flies to canvas in the name of “art,” there is little reason to wonder. Former Christies’ executive, Phillip Hook summed up this contemporary phenomenon succinctly in his book, The Ultimate Trophy (Prestel, 2009): “We live in an era which, more than ever before, equates novelty (emphasis mine) with quality.”

Leslie Lew, Art in America“Art in America” (2008) by Leslie Lew

In almost every case, I can attest that the artists to whom I speak, the “Aesthetic Olympians” like Leslie, sense a “collective consciousness” transformation occurring right now. It is found in the imperative to return to beauty, in the resistance and diminution of “art for art’s sake” and reflected in an awareness of the true hunger in the world once again, for the ideals that can inspire and enrich us, and amplify our lives and experiences. These artists identify with that searching, questing restlessness to answer the same age-old mysteries: “Why are we here? Why do we as homo-sapiens exist as the only species that can create, and what do our creations reveal?”

I was excited when Leslie informed me, as we discussed these issues, that she had chosen to align herself with Park West Gallery for these very same reasons, and had declined requests from some of the “heavy weight” New York galleries who had been vying for a contract with her. I asked her if she had taken any “heat” for it. She laughed and responded, “I love to push the edge…I have been tormenting my ‘fine art/museum crowd’ for years… but not with ‘anti-art, scary art’…but with making gorgeous surfaces, colors—but somehow using relevant concepts. Boy does this confuse them!”

I am certainly grateful to her for choosing Park West Gallery as her conduit to bring a new, expansive audience and greater exposure to her than she has previously experienced, but my elation was quickly tempered by a sense of heavy responsibility. Would we do her justice?

I was comforted however; when she relayed a childhood story to me (It could easily have appeared in a Dick and Jane reader).

Leslie Lew, Once Upon a Time“Once Upon a Time” (2004) by Leslie Lew

As a child Leslie was “pigeon-toed.” Her mother rejected the urging of doctors who recommended surgery. Instead, she proclaimed that she would study ballet, and conquer her affliction. She was enrolled in a ballet class only to be refused by the instructor (a woman who trained Maria Tallchief, renowned American dancer who performed with the Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet Russe and Balanchine) who told her parents that she had no talent, and would never become a dancer at any level. Undeterred, Leslie herself (even at such a young age), refused to accept this assessment and began a painstaking practice routine (for as many as eight hours a day) for more than a year, at the ballet barre she had asked her parents to install in their home. As an incentive, her mother bought Leslie some very “cool” red dancing shoes, in which to practice and ultimately perform. They were a joyful motivation amidst a formidable and serious challenge. A year later in a live recital, she performed a flawless Nutcracker, to the delight and approval of her previously unimpressed teacher and her parents with (it goes without saying) perfectly positioned feet. To this day Leslie often wears red shoes when she desires a shamanistic and symbolic “power source.” She was wearing some when I watched her for the first time.

When I heard that story, I knew I had nothing to fear. Leslie’s conquering of the Park West Gallery world and her determination and commitment was a “done deal.” We just needed to get out of the way. I’ve learned that contrary to popular belief, our childhood does often prepare us for whatever life throws our way.

Leslie Lew, Morris Shapiro, Park West Gallery, Wonder Woman“Wonder Woman-Making a Splash” (2002) by Leslie Lew

I finally asked Leslie who were her artistic idols. I needed to know. We all have them, those of us who can’t get enough of the glories of art. Those who savor and pursue the inscrutable mysteries of that “thing” that serves no purpose other than to thrill us, to inspire us, and to keep us moving toward revelations which can only be described as “charismatic.” She told me of her four artistic superheroes:

Fra Filippo Lipi (1406-1469), Florentine master and teacher of Botticelli, whose technical mastery at his time was unparalleled (Leslie studied in Florence during summers for three years as a student, where she fell under his spell).

Rembrandt van Rijn, Master of the Baroque, who’s depiction of the quintessential dramatic mood in painting is still without peer. Rembrandt’s experimentation with the qualities of painting and his delight in the nature of applying paint to canvas is still the stuff of legend.

Vincent Van Gogh, the “Father of Expressionism” and an artist who believed art was for everyone and never to be withheld for any reason, from any person. Van Gogh’s tactile application of paint, his textures, and surfaces, luminosity of color and sheer power of visual impact has surely been the “seed” of Leslie’s astonishing techniques.

And, ironically… Albrecht Durer, arguably the greatest draftsman of all time, and for whom I share the same admiration as Leslie…

…and for “Comic books and Superheroes…”

…oh, and by the way, Wonder Woman wears “red shoes” too.

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Csaba Markus, Aesthetic Olympian

Posted in Art Videos, Artists, Csaba Markus with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by Park West Gallery

In the contemporary world of art a battle is currently raging. As the 20th Century clicked over to the 21st, it provided a convenient demarcation point for this struggle, but it has really been ongoing for at least 90 years. The conflict is about the search by artists of our time for the fundamentals of aesthetics which have long ago been “thrown under the bus.”

Csaba Markus, Veritas“Veritas” (2006) by Csaba Markus

The word “aesthetic” is derived from the Greek word “aesthesis,” which means “perception with feeling,” and in so simple a joining of two phenomena, the entire history of western art criticism has rested. Perception of course deals with the sensorial response to art: what we perceive and experience through our limited senses as we take in what exists before us for contemplation. Feeling, results in what we take from that contemplation and from whatever “information” our senses provide. That is, how the information affects the perspective we bring to the contemplation of an artwork. That perspective is made up of our emotions, our experiences, our education, our dispositions, our passions, our prejudices and the myriad other qualities that define who we are each individually.

All through the storied evolution of aesthetic philosophy two halves have formed the whole of the aesthetic experience. They are the “yin and yang” of art and their measure must each be taken to develop a true analysis of any work of art in any medium. “Form” is the physical body, the manifestation in concrete reality of the work of art before us. In the visual arts (for which we will confine our discussion here) form may include the medium employed, the size or format of the work, the use of line, color, texture, contrast, the composition of the work, or any number of other “physical’ attributes. “Content,” on the other hand, is what the work of art is communicating to us as we experience it during contemplation. All art has something to communicate, even if the communication is about the absence of communication.

In 1917, when French artist Marcel Duchamp created the first “Readymade” by signing with a fictitious name an inverted urinal and titling it Fountain, the true iconoclastic struggle of aesthetic “life and death” began. By proclaiming that something was art, because the artist claimed it to be, the aesthetic experience was transformed into a kind of artistic narcissism, a constant contextual rumination by art asking itself, “Am I art, or am I not art?”

For nearly one hundred years now, artists, historians, museums, art educational institutions, galleries, auction houses and collectors have embraced and legitimized these types of artistic creations and conceptualizations. It serves no purpose here to dwell on the embodiment of these “artworks.” We are all familiar with the dirty ashtrays, the sharks in formaldehyde, the crucifixes in urine, the Plexiglas boxes of trash and the thousands of other manifestations of what author Donald Kuspit in his book, The End of Art (2004, Cambridge University Press), has aptly named, “postart.”

“Post-artworks” have been included in exhibitions with great fanfare and have fetched in the auction and gallery markets dramatically high prices, especially when compared to works by artistic masters of the past. To some extent, these “works” have been derided and ridiculed in the popular press and have caused their fair share of controversy, but essentially they have continued to flourish unimpeded in their own elitist milieu, where they focus on lifting up those things which were once considered banal, meager, ordinary and even repulsive into the highest realms of “Fine Art.”

Csaba Markus, Dance and ConquestCsaba Markus “Dance and Conquest” (2008)

The Pendulum

A comprehensive investigation into the history of art ultimately reveals that if only one thing can be counted on, it is that artists (and consequently their creations) will react strongly to the art of their time. Often this reaction will be in the form of pushing back against the grain of the accepted art of the times, i.e. the art that is seen as respected, legitimate, important, and valid.

Even deeper investigation will often reveal that the polar opposites that drive the pendulum of art history from one side to the other are grounded in the artistic ideals found in form and content and these in turn can be seen as the overarching characteristics of the pendulum’s extreme positions. A good example of this can be found in the distinction between classical art, which is grounded in the principles of purity and adherence to nature’s forms, and romantic art, which is about imagination, myth, and mannerism. Again, this is not the appropriate place for a long discussion of these historical observations, but suffice it to say that the difference between Caravaggio (classical) and El Greco (romantic), is a good example. These artists existed in nearly the same time and yet Caravaggio, by embracing the notion of a kind of painting that was focused on a depiction of true reality (right down to the dirt under the fingernails of the subject), created a new form of art in direct opposition to El Greco’s flamboyant and mystical interpretations of another world that existed beyond the tangible one.

“So what does any of this have to do with Csaba Markus?” you might ask. Well, I have had the good fortune to have many discussions with Csaba about these very subjects. And Csaba is a true student of art history. Just by looking at his art one assumes this. And like every great artist I have met (and the great ones from the past that I have only read about), being well steeped in the history of art, and understanding their place in its context, is of paramount concern to them.

I am fortunate to have a life immersed in art. It surrounds me every day. I research it, buy it, sell it, talk to people about it, and teach others to speak of it. I hear the questions, comments and concerns of collectors, both novice and seasoned. And when I speak of these contemporary issues, of art which causes the viewer to scratch his head and say, “So what?” after contemplating the “postart” that has besieged our world, I get more often than not, the same response: “Please teach me something. Enrich my experience. Enlighten me through the labors of your art. Show me something about life and the world in which I live that I did not know before I experienced your creative spirit. Help me to walk away from the contemplation of your art and feel enhanced.” Sadly, in most cases none of these questions are answered or desires fulfilled. Here it once again appears (after 3,000 years of human artistic consideration): the cry for a true aesthetic experience, “perception with feeling”—and people are indeed crying out for it. They are deprived and starved for it.

Enter Csaba Markus. An aesthetic Olympian, a man whose entire existence is driven to create an art which elevates, amplifies and exhilarates those who encounter it. Csaba, through his art and his complete emersion in its creative processes, is at the forefront of this battle for aesthetic supremacy in an art world which has mostly turned its back on the ideals of beauty.

Csaba knows this. He sees the big picture. He senses that something big is happening now. He understands his place in the history of our time, and he is positioning himself and his art now to be experienced far into the future. He talks to other artists when he is brought together with them through the events sponsored by Park West Gallery. He sees a new way in which art is being brought to the world. A new way in which people who would never have previously had any inclination or disposition to even contemplate experiencing and collecting art, are now engaged and even passionate about the change in their lives brought to them through these experiences. When Csaba speaks of these things his eyes widen, his gestures become broad, his voice booms and he communicates in a bold and vivid manner that runs parallel to his art. A manner that makes him instantly recognizable as a champion, a gladiator for the ideals that formed millennia of masterpieces but are often eschewed and ridiculed today. The quest for beauty: Csaba sees the pendulum beginning to swing back the other way, and he is pulling on it hard.

Stand before a painting by Csaba Markus. At once you know it’s the “real deal.” Before your eyes is a work of art that immediately communicates to the viewer the technical mastery possessed by this artist. Csaba has “chops.” He has studied the techniques of Leonardo, Durer, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt and one hundred other old masters. Likewise, he commands the compositional devices and nuances of the abstract painters and the expressionists. His intention, he has told me, is to create a work that bridges centuries of artistic stylization. And one that is beyond any categorization, any label or generality.

When you look at a painting by Csaba he wants you to bring your own experience to the work. He wants it to be the point of departure for your imagination as your eyes drink in the face of a gorgeous, timeless woman; an airy iconic space full of floating images, symbols and visual touchstones for poetic association; gestures of pure shape and pigment, tonal flourishes, fields of color, ribbons of linear arabesques dancing across the surface. Csaba’s works introduce an artistic world that is fully formed. They present an ideal and harmonic blend of form and content. They are rigorous in their artistic vocabulary and express themselves effortlessly, and yet they are also full of stories to tell, as long as our intuition, spirit and imaginations are willing to listen. To Csaba, the act of creating beauty is once again paramount. To leave the viewer with a sense of wonder and awe that the human imagination can be so potent, that miraculously from nothing but a blank canvas and some pigments, a work of art so evocative and powerful can be born. This is Csaba’s goal. To bring back aesthetic beauty into the art of our times is the reason why he was put on this earth.

Who can say how his work will be viewed in one hundred, two hundred, five hundred years? God willing that there are still people on this planet. And if so, I know that art will still be here. I know that people will still look at a Rembrandt painting and weep. I know that future generations will still be moved by the spiritual purity and sacrifices made by Van Gogh to create his art. I know that people will still attempt to grasp the protean genius of Picasso. I also know (or perhaps believe is more appropriate), that the pendulum will have swung back sometime in our 21st Century. And future historians my scratch their heads and wonder, “What were they thinking?” when they look back in the history books at the remnants of paintings made of spaghetti, sculptures made of old shoes lying in a sled, and “artist shit” in cans (Piero Manzoni). They may very well then set the book down and glance over at their two hundred-year-old Csaba Markus painting hanging on the wall, and be grateful for the artistic crusaders of the early 21st Century who brought back the love of beauty and set humankind and art back on the path of aesthetic glory.
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Click the player below to join me on a private tour of Csaba Markus’ atelier in Mission Viejo, California. During this segment, Csaba and I discuss the old masters who continue to so greatly influence his personal aesthetic.

Art Marketing Tips for Aspiring Artists

Posted in Art Marketing with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Park West Gallery

Although the world is in a challenging time, the future of the young artist is hopeful. 

In the Spring of 2009, I gave a lecture to students at the prestigious College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. I shared with the students some advice about commissions and contracts, marketing and promotion, and spoke to them about what gallery directors look for in artists and their work.

Morris Shapiro, College for Creative Studies
At the College for Creative Studies, Spring 2009. Photo credit: Barbara Jacobs

Following are my 5 key tips for aspiring artists:

1. The distinction that you are either a “commercial” artist or a “fine artist” is a thing of the past.  Today, fine artists need to know commerce; commercial artists need to keep their artistic “flame” alive to keep their work up to par. You can achieve any success for which you strive with no limiting “labels.”

2. The art world today is hungry again for aesthetic beauty and for the artist to point the way to the beauty, mystery, and miraculous in life. The world is tired of dead animals in glass boxes, ashtrays full of cigarette butts, and starving dogs tied up to leashes that are all called “art.”

3. Art was the “spearhead” of culture and throughout history a narrative was created, with one generation of artists building upon the last. Now is the time for young artists to pick up the thread of aesthetic beauty that was cast aside by the conceptualists, and re-engage the narrative.

4. Work is the key – your art is not “precious.” It’s all about the hard work, determination and perseverance. There are no shortcuts to excellence. Look at Pablo Picasso, arguably the greatest ever – the amount of work he created is nearly incomprehensible. The Zervos catalogs of Picasso’s paintings and drawings consists of 34 volumes.

5. Know art history. All of the great ones were heavily steeped in the important art that came before them. They sublimated it and then it came through them in their own new incarnation. It’s now the young artists’ responsibility to reach back into time, to bring the history of art into this time, and move it forward.

A Tribute to Marcel Mouly (1918-2008)

Posted in Artists, Marcel Mouly with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Park West Gallery

I was with Marcel Mouly (February 6, 1918 – January 7, 2008) in Paris in November 2007. Marc Scaglione had organized a small ‘artist party’ at a favorite restaurant of Marcel’s a few blocks from Arts Litho, the atelier where Marcel worked creating his lithographs for so many years. Along with Marcel’s studio collaborators were his wife Maguy, Linda Le Kinff and her husband Jacques, Fanch Ledan, Jean-Claude Picot and his wife Christiane, Victor Spahn and his wife Elizabeth, Emile Bellet, Shan Merry, and my wife. 

We were all so pleased when Marcel arrived. And although an air of optimism abounded as we all took in how great he looked and seemed, the inevitable understanding that this may be the last time any of us would see him again shrouded us all.

Marcel Mouly (L) and Morris Shapiro (R)Marcel Mouly (left) and I in Paris, November 2007

The photograph shown here is no doubt one of the last taken of Marcel as he died just a few weeks later. As I look at it, it fills me with conflicting feelings and emotions. In it I see a smiling me, all optimism and posing for the camera and although I am aware that I have more yesterdays than tomorrows in my own life’s story, I am still looking forward to many more years of the richness that life has to offer. In Marcel, I see the face of a man who has already confronted his inevitable destiny. He looks frail and wan, and although he was obviously not feeling well, he soldiered on that evening, laughing, telling stories, drinking his beloved scotch, and showing all of us so unfailingly, that no matter what lies ahead for us, we must grasp every moment of life fully and embrace the time we are given as an irreplaceable gift. In the photo I also see a man who achieved so much in his life and although obstacles of the greatest kind were placed before him, now and also throughout his entire life, he chose to accept them, overcome them through sheer willpower and the commitment to work, and become stronger at each conquest. That night as we sat together at dinner I noticed the fresh paint on his hands and under his nails.

In the last few years it has become increasingly difficult for me to present his work in public. I’m not sure when I will be able to do it again. Many of my associates at Park West Gallery will attest to seeing me choke up and be unable to continue when talking about him. Most of this has been due to the realization that as his health began to fail and he was in and out of the hospital, we would not have him with us much longer. But also, a great deal of it came from my first-hand experiences, at seeing how truly humble and grateful he was for all that life brought him. For me, he really was a father-like figure in many ways and I looked up to him as an example of how a man could be in his life and in his profession.

In 2004, we did our first VIP event in Michigan and Marcel was the artist we featured. We knew we would probably not have many more opportunities to have him come overseas, and I am so grateful this event happened as I will never forget the effect it had on me and everyone else who was present. He was 86 years old at the time.

We held the event at a beautiful Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The event was first-class and we had approximately 100 guests for the evening. Our guests were in from all over the country and Canada, and had been waiting–in some cases–years for a chance to meet Marcel and collect a painting by him. The cocktail area outside of the ballroom was packed and when Marcel arrived, a throng of people descended upon him for pictures and autographs. Inside the ballroom, we had set up approximately 20 paintings of all sizes and subjects.

We had elected not to auction the paintings but to make them available on a first-come first-served basis (a mistake in hindsight), and when we opened the doors and the crowd rushed in, within 30 to 40 minutes, every painting was sold. Most of the paintings had multiple red stickers on them (some as many as 5 or 6), whereby clients wanted to be next in line for a particular work if the first person reserving the painting changed his or her mind the next day (when the entire exhibition would be shown). In all my years as a dealer, I have never seen such frenzy. Marcel had clearly conquered America.

He had flown overseas from Paris and had stopped the day before in Chicago, as he wanted to see the illustrious collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. The AIC has an extensive collection of modern masters, and one of the greatest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings on earth. In particular, Marcel wanted to see their Van Goghs.

Now, here he was, at the height of his career, in his later 80’s, having achieved a pinnacle position in the art world where he could fly across the globe to an adoring international audience of collectors, experience their adulation, and sell out a room full of his art (at 5-figure prices) in about a half an hour in a luxurious American hotel. For an artist who has worked his entire life tirelessly, could there be a greater triumph and validation of his efforts?

When Marcel was asked to speak, Albert Scaglione introduced him and he rose to take the stage. There, accompanied by his friend and translator, Kathryn Stewart-Hoffman, he began to cry.

He said only a few words and they were these (I paraphrase): “I thank you ladies and gentleman for the warm welcome. I do not like to speak in public. I choose art because it is an international language and now, as I stand here before you, all I can think of is my trip yesterday to Chicago, and the Van Goghs there. And now I think of Vincent…and how important his work has been to me and his inspiration for all my life…and when I think that he only sold one painting in his life…” and he began to cry again and was unable to go on. He left the small stage to a standing ovation, and to everyone in the room wiping the tears from their eyes, me included. I will never forget as long as I live that communal moment of intimacy and insight that everyone in that room shared into a man of such eminence.

The next day at the opening to the public, Marcus Glenn came to see him. I was standing next to Marcus when the footage was shot that is included in our Mouly Artist Profiles segment, where Marcus says to him, “It is a pleasure to meet you sir, because you are my favorite artist, and a master, and in my opinion the best artist and most important artist in the world today,” Marcel quietly lowers his head and dismissively says, “Thank you. But that is not for us to say. History will decide how great an artist I am.”

I count myself so lucky to have been there to experience the two events I recount above. They profoundly shaped my view of Marcel. His honesty, self-effacing humor, deep humility and genuine love and gratitude for his life will forever be the traits for which I will most remember him.

Just take a moment to think about his life. He came from humble beginnings. His parents and family had no interest or attachment to art of any kind. In his youth he was a bad student, a mischievous child. He dropped out of school at 13, never finishing his elementary education. He took on various menial low paying jobs, including back-breaking physical labor. When he delivered baskets of wine (sometimes over one hundred flights of stairs), afterward he would go to art school and draw until late at night only  to get up early the next morning and begin again. He was imprisoned by the Gestapo during the German occupation of France, suspected of being a spy, and was in solitary confinement for months. Here is where he made sculptures from his bread rations, which led him to his work in ceramics. Eventually he was able to focus on his painting and he worked for years in the medium before showing his paintings and offering them for sale. He said, “I nurtured my painting long before it nurtured me.”

As the quality of his work grew, so did his experience. As a young student, his early professor Andre Auclair introduced him to the world of the modernists, principally Picasso and Braque. Later he met Pignon, and although they struggled through hard times, he and Pignon eventually rented the studio of the great modernist sculptor, Jacques Lipchitz in Bologne. In 1946, he moved into the famed “La Ruche” area of studios where artists like Chagall and Soutine had lived before him. There, he met Jose Fan, Picasso’s nephew who took him to meet the master. That experience would forever change him. No one of us can image what it would have been like to walk into the studio of Picasso, and drink in the fabric of his life with him standing there to greet us. Marcel tells us he was working on his series of large “cafetieres” a subject which would forever become a part of Marcel’s oeuvre. He saw paintings, ceramics, African sculptures and masks everywhere, and lithographs en masse, as Picasso was then heavily into his period of work with Mourlot.

Marcel Mouly seated next to Pablo Picasso, May 1953.

By the mid 1940s, Mouly was exhibiting with Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Brancusi, Lipchitz and others. In 1945, he exhibited at the prestigious Salon d’Automne where the careers of Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck were launched in the early 20th Century. His favorite show was the Salon de Mai, where the most progressive artists were featured. In 1953, his work was shown there in the same exhibition with Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Leger, Pignon and others. This is where the famous photo of Mouly, his colleagues and Picasso pose joyously as they take a break from hanging the exhibition. In 1948, the French government bought its first Mouly painting and after so many trials and tribulations, challenges, near misses with fate and countless hours honing his skills, his career was in full swing.

We all know what followed: decades of powerful, compelling, insightful, moving, awe-inspiring and truth-filled art. Great canvasses, lithographs, drawings, ceramics, books and catalogs, all testifying to a life lived in the complete immersion of the quest for aesthetic beauty.

Mao Shi An, an art critic from Shanghai, in a catalog created for Marcel’s shows in China in 1995 and 1996, described his work this way: “…one realizes that he is not trying to paint an imitation of nature, but rather he is seeking to recreate man’s internal connection with the ‘real’ world. Mouly has understood that the only way to search for truth is through a collaboration of the soul and (the) imagination.”

I think of Marcel every day now, at least once a day. Today, as I write this, I have deeply pondered his life, his work, the living, breathing man I knew, and the body of work he has left us: a lifetime of work. I was so lucky to have known him, to have laughed and drank and joked with him. To have watched him fill with genuine delight as a client approached and complemented him. To see him engage and play with small child. To hear him push away the compliments so many heaped upon him. To be a small part of his life was for me a deep honor and among the fondest memories I will ever have as an art dealer.

That night at the party, I told him of how I had just returned from visiting Marseille and how we went to Paul Cezanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence. There, in that little room, Cezanne had created some of the most influential paintings in the history of modern art. There, I touched the table where he laid out his still life props, the table that occupies so many of those paintings I have contemplated in museums and books. I touched the box of paints that lies next to his easel, the box of paints from which so much of modern art has sprung.

As I told Marcel of this and he sensed my excitement, I saw his eyes light up and I glimpsed a spark of that same passion in him as a younger man. He smiled and shook his fist and put it down on the table and said, “Ah Cezanne…he was ‘The Rock.’”

As we all got up to leave that night, we one by one hugged him and told him we’d be coming back for his 90th birthday party in February. But this was not to be.

Instead we all have our memories of that night together and, of course, his art.

Rest in peace, Marcel. You will always be “The Rock” for me.

Welcome To “Who Killed Art?” a Blog by Morris Shapiro

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by Park West Gallery

The age of the “Gatekeeper” is over.

We now live in a time when anyone, anywhere can produce anything and hurl it into the universe of the internet… an anarchist’s dream.

Funny though, how in this new paradigm, everything at first seems to have the same “weight,” no matter how vapid, rabid or misinformed it may be. Ravings and inventions of dilettante lunacy can be positioned right next to the writings of a distinguished historian, and be delivered up in the same gastronomic scoop of Google’s detached information hash.

But also, because of this unprecedented level field, those who used to control the information and determine the “darlings” of the culture are now engaged in a losing struggle to hold on to their power. Now anything can “bubble-up” to the top of the stew and fill our craving (If enough of us deem it delicious). Consider the teenager who becomes an overnight singing “Star” from a YouTube video, or the socialite, absent of any talents, whose every move and whim becomes the obsession of bored Americans everywhere.

Morris Shapiro, Marcel Duchamp, Pompidou Museum, ParisMe with Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” at the Pompidou Museum in Paris.

And what about art? 

The result of all of this, in my view, now heralds the end of the “Age of Conceptualism.” For nearly one hundred years now the “religion” of the conceptual deity, Marcel Duchamp has reigned throughout the lands. The anti-aesthetic “Crusaders” swooped down upon the world’s artistic topography and vanquished all that was once transcendent, illuminating, ecstatic or healing.  Their disdain for beauty, order, sacrifice and the discipline necessary to achieve technical mastery, was manifest in their adulation for “The Emperor’s New Art.”  And the result was the creation of an elitist world: the gallery and the contemporary museum in conjunction with the international auction houses, winking at each other as the river of conceptual flotsam and jetsam flowed by and filled their pails.

The rest of the world (not “enlightened” enough to be invited into the club) at first was outraged back in 1917.  “How can this be art?” they shouted, “Just because someone says it is?” Decades later they became bewildered by the prices being fetched for things that were incomprehensible both artistically and functionally. This was followed by the inevitable apathy and eventual disdain which brings us to where we are today.  Dead art…  a slow and long, agonizing demise of any relationship between the culture and the rarefied expressions of the culture. We are all widows and widowers of what was once our culture’s spearhead.

My writings herein are about a resurrection.

If there is to be only one truism in the rich history of art, it must be that it is a “pendulum,”  swinging back-and-forth between one extreme and another. I’m excited now because there is a world full of gifted and dedicated artists who are pulling hard on it. There are others who are gone too, but their works have kept the flame alive (with very little oxygen, I might add).  Both living and deceased, these artists write the continuing narrative of the quest for the sublime and seek answers to the same age-old questions that were pressed onto the walls of the caves of Altamira, asked in Picasso’s “Guernica,” and seen in the liquid eyes of Albrecht Durer’s self-portrait.

I invite you to let me know what you think about my articles and the thoughts that follow.