Bob Ross Redux

July 15, 2019

Further to my recent piece on Bob Ross, Open Culture has a wonderful 10 minute video about him, and why none of his paintings have ever been for sale.

Sit back and relax and enjoy.



Lucian’s Nudes

May 19, 2019

I have on several occasions before written of my admiration for Lucian Freud.  So it was with great interest that I read Lucian’s Mountains of Flesh by Thomas Michelli at Hyperallergic, a review of the Freud exhibition Monumental.


Portrait on Grey Cover

Freud’s nudes, both male and female, are definitely not to everyone’s taste, and I strongly disagree with the political judgement laced within the review, but the article has its moments and is worth reading as one perspective on an important chapter of British art..

A Great Sucking Sound

May 17, 2019

This is one of the most important weeks of the high-end art market. Estimates for sales at the various New York shows this week exceeded $1.5 billion, and I was planning to write something each day.  However, along came the $91.1 million shiny toy


… and the whole thing seemed pointless.  I have had my say about Jeff Koons before and I haven’t changed my mind about the waste of it all.

It has been an interesting week in New York and perhaps I’ll be in a better mood to write about it tomorrow.

Bob Ross and the Dynamic of Modern Art

May 7, 2019

When I paint, I use acrylics and tend to abstract expressionism, minimalism, and colour theory. I have never adopted any technique or style from Bob Ross. However, I have to admit to having watched literally hundreds of his Joy of Painting shows on YouTube. I may paint nothing like Bob Ross, but his quiet certainty has helped drive every brush stroke I have ever made. He was a great technician and source of inspiration if not a great artist.

Bob Ross has never had an art gallery show. But that is about to change.  Four of his original works will be included in a group show in Chicago which is

“aiming to … move Ross’s evaluation from the king of kitsch to a conceptual artist …  not as a mere novelty but as the forefather of a newer self-help trend in contemporary art … Ross represents a shift in post-war art away from suffering and trauma, away from irony and academicism, toward optimism, fantasy, community healing and teaching. It turns out Ross is right in line with contemporary art movements.”

Bob Ross is a cultural icon and it is good to see him receive the recognition he deserves.

Deconstructing Constructivism

April 28, 2019

In advance of a major sale of Constructivist art that takes place in Amsterdam next week, Christie’s online magazine has a useful guide to the movement that began in revolutionary Russia and swept across the world with far greater success than the politics of the same origin.

“As supporters of the political ideologies propagated by Russian revolutionaries, Constructivists imagined art as an active agent in the Socialist cause. Art should reflect the modern industrial world, and, above all, be accessible to the masses. Members of the group strived to make art that was relevant in a rapidly changing world, that was free from academic tradition, and devoid of any emotive or subjective properties.”


“Constructivists considered their art a product of an industrial order, rather than a unique commodity, and a precursor to the factory-produced mass-made object. They often explored collective ways of working, and regarded the object-maker as a builder or engineer rather than as an individual artist … Many of their works, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional in form, are characterised by their austere, angular geometric shapes.”

Their influence in early Soviet life was profound.

Textile designs by Varvara Stepanova

However, after Stalin suppressed the Constructivists, the movement moved abroad influencing the Bauhaus, De Stijil, Zero, and Geometric schools through the 1980s.  The precepts of the movement has inspired artists such as Paul Klee, Piet Mondran, Vasily Kandinsky.

Peter Struyken, “Structuur II” (1969)

Does Constructivism survive today?

“Absolutely. Constructivism has influenced many contemporary artists making art with computer programmes, with a lot of today’s abstract art having roots in the Constructivist movement of the 1970s.”

A useful article.

Mood and Emotion: The History of Blue

April 5, 2019

French historian Michel Pastoureau has written Blue: The History of a Color. The Claremont Review of Books published a review that describes the work as:

“an exhilarating and richly informing book on how the European peoples from the Iron Age until today have decorated themselves and their cultural artefacts with the color blue.”

Early Mediterranean civilizations had little use for blue:

Homer’s sea was “wine dark”; blue would not be used as water’s color until the seventeenth century .. [T]he Romans associated blue with the savage Celtae and Germani, who used the woad herb’s rich leaves for their blue pigments.

And this remained the state of affairs going into the Middle Ages.  However:

“Artisans employed by the mysterious twelfth century Abbot Suger of St. Dennis Abbey developed what would become known as “St. Denis Blue.” Its beauty inspired Christians to adopt it as fitting for heaven, nobility, and the Virgin Mary, who had traditionally been shown in dark clothes highlighting her suffering.”

Pastoureau’s book carries the history of blue (and often green and red and black, too) through the medieval period, the introduction  of indigo in the 1640s, of Prussian blue in the 1700s, the adoption of blue by the Romantics, the French Revolutionary militias, the Napoleonic army, Levi Strauss, and on into today.

“For Pastoureau, color schemes are the essential building blocks of our conceptualization of the world … The introduction of blue, yellow, and other colors in the Western palate reflected not simply a broadening of the easel, but a broadening of consciousness, which entertained increasingly new ideas.”

The effect of colour on culture and society is a fascinating subject and I can thoroughly recommend the review.

For related material, I wrote about the strange history of Prussian Blue some time ago.

The Soviet Revolution in Art

April 4, 2019

For good and ill, the revolution in Russia in 1917 proved to be a major event in world history.  The politics of this event and its evolution during the 20th century are subject to serious differences of opinion.  What is unarguable, however, is that the Russian Revolution opened a door to a remarkable flowering of creativity among Russian artists. This renaissance is discussed in a fascinating review article at Hyperallergic.

The Woodcutter, Kazimir Malevich

There is a tendency is to believe that Socialist Realism, “a glorified version of truth where misfortune does not exist, and [which] utilizes the party’s hegemonic power over representations of reality to sculpt the public’s perception of their lived reality, as favoured by Stalin from the mid-1930s, is all that the revolution brought forth. This article makes clear that this was not the case, at least in the beginning.

There were the Constructivists, Cubists, and the Supremacists (such as Malevich), but there were also “traditionalists” such as Yuri Pimenov who adapted their work to the new century.

The New Moscow, Youri Pimenov

By 1935, Socialist Realism had become the only acceptable art to be supported by the State, a position that lasted for decades.  “During the 1960s, even after the Communist Party’s pressure on the artists was loosened, Socialist Realism remained predominant in Russia, and its lasting influence on Russia art was detectable until the 2000s.”  It is still the only sponsored art in North Korea.

Well worth the read.