The Best Painting in History? Diego Velázquez

One of Pip’s favorite art analysts is someone who calls himself The Nerdwriter and has a series of videos on YouTube. Although his discussion of artwork is excellent, there has been no occasion to mention him on Pigtails until now. Recently, he reviewed a famous painting called Las Meninas and featured center stage was a little girl, a princess of Spain. The Nerdwriter considers this work more worthy of analysis than any other in history. An important distinction between photography and painting is that with painting, the artist has complete control and no element is there by chance so that the presence of the smallest detail can be a valid subject of discussion. The critic engages in the usual discussion of composition but also why the artist chose to depict two of Rubens’ paintings displayed in the background. The solution to a long-standing mystery is also convincingly proposed and, in The Nerdwriter’s opinion, what is great about this piece is that it is a bold statement about the virtue of painting itself. At that time, poets and musicians were highly regarded but not painters. The fact that the Rubens paintings were about the divine source of creativity and that a reflection of the king and queen in a mirror is coming from a canvas at the edge of frame seems to bolster the argument that Velázquez was making a profound statement about the power of the medium. “This is a painting about painting.” says The Nerdwriter.

Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas (1656)

Diego Velázquez – Las Meninas (1656)

Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) was one of the most important Spanish painters and beloved court artist under the reign of King Philip IV. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted many portraits of the Spanish royal family, notable European figures and even commoners. The importance of Velázquez’ contribution was acknowledged by realist and impressionist painters starting in the early 19th Century and included Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon who all recreated several of the more famous works. Philosopher Michel Foucault devotes the opening chapter of one of his books to a detailed analysis of Las Meninas and Philip Roth also referred to that painting as a metaphor for the distracted attraction of courtship.

Velázquez received good training in languages and philosophy but showed an early gift for art. He first studied under Francisco de Herrera and remained with him for only one year. It is probably from this master that he acquired the habit of using brushes with long bristles. At age 12, he apprenticed under the somewhat undistinguished Francisco Pacheco for five years and married his teacher’s daughter, Juana, in 1618. The couple had two daughters.

Velázquez’ first visit to Madrid in 1622 was very timely as the king’s favorite court painter had just died. By August 1623, Philip IV sat for Velázquez for the first time and was pleased. The painter was then offered permanent residence in the court. In 1628, Peter Paul Rubens came to Madrid and met Velázquez, developing a high opinion of him. Rubens’ visit inspired the younger painter to visit Italy to study the works of the Italian masters. Velázquez’ career culminated in what is arguably his greatest work, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) in 1656. It featured Margaret Theresa, the eldest daughter of Philip and his new queen, Mariana of Austria. The artist was given the honor of knighthood in 1659 and it was only through this royal appointment that he was able to escape the censorship of the Inquisition. Otherwise, he would never have been able to release his La Venus del espejo (Venus at her Mirror), the painter’s only surviving female nude. Velázquez’ final portraits of the royal children are among his finest works and include the Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress.

Diego Velázquez - Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (1659)

Diego Velázquez – Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (1659)

A Gaze, a Glimpse from a Girl on Horseback

A gaze on horseback

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (1)

Close-up (1)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (closeup)

Where a trailer would want to be an introduction or characterization or an appetizer to the movie, can a film still from a movie or trailer be a characterization of the movie? And, secondly, can it stand on itself as a picture, without having watched the movie? Or even can one recognize it was from a movie? Did you realize, at first glance that the picture above was from a movie? And furthermore, can a picture taken from a movie stand on its own merit and characterize the movie? Can a “snapshot” produced by one of the several video players become a kind of artistic photography?

Yann Arthus Bertrand - Human (2015)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (2)

The two stills come from the documentary Human (2015) by the French photographer, reporter, film director and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. In 1991 Bertrand founded the Altitude Agency, the first press agency specializing in aerial photography. The film is composed repeatedly of aerial footage interspersed with first person stories told directly into the camera, and close-ups of other people during the telling of the story, giving the impression that they were listening. So this is a movie about humankind, with landscape scenes recorded at high speed to produce the effect of slowed down live action. That is the story and rhythm of a long and rather slow movie about humankind—its pains and joys: love, children, work, dreams and expectations, disappointments, death, the day to day mysteries of life. And about how we use the Earth, but also about—as in a line of poetry by Emily Brontë—“How beautiful the Earth is still”.

Maybe the slower landscape shot and aerial scene suddenly brought to my eyes a girl, gazing for a glimpse and then riding away. I saw her for the first time in the trailer. Maybe it was the briefness of the scene that made her gaze especially startling. I recommend both the trailer and, of course, the whole documentary (188 minutes long). And I wish to recommend these chosen film stills; first the gaze at first glance and, second, a logical end of the short scene. These pictures are not characteristic of the film in the sense that the film is not only about this girl. I do not even know her name, but she can stand for the title of the film. And I would like to add, she herself can stand for a kind of freedom—not merely a child riding her or his first bike, but on a horseback on the plains of her homeland. In this context, this behavior is probably quite usual for children, even girls. Nevertheless, in this brief passing by, there is a glimpse of freedom and a gaze of mutual understanding held in the eye of the everlasting beholder.

Returning to the questions asked in the beginning, it is by chance whether one first sees the full movie, a trailer or just a single image. In my case, it was the trailer with the sudden appearance of the girl on horseback and that gaze. In that instant it became a film still in my memory, long before the use of technology allowed me to express it. From now on, I can choose to look at every film still as a picture and every picture as a film still from a movie. However, it is the eye that judges the picture’s quality and decides whether it represents the tone of the movie. This way of watching is helpful when writing about movies where the focus is on a specific girl or girls—or about the “girl” archetype—here derived as a kind of subtopic, not from a typical coming-of-age movie, but from a beautiful movie about humankind in general.

Yann Arthus Bertrand - Human Official Poster (2015)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human Official Poster (2015)

Human by Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Official Trailer on YouTube

Human (Extended version, Vol. 3) on YouTube

Modern and Vintage Dolls

In a previous article last year, I introduced the topic of porcelain dolls, illustrating it with my own acquisitions. My collection having grown both in quantity and in diversity, I think that the time has now come to post a sequel.

There are many types of dolls. First they can be made with various materials: cloth, plastic, etc. The ones I own have their head (and generally the visible body parts such as hands) made from a matte type of porcelain (without enamel) called bisque (biscuit in French). But the rest of the body can be made in several ways, as I will explain. Then they can represent different types of people. Mine belong to the category called baby (bébé in French), which means in fact small children; but in that category, I never buy babies and toddlers, nor boys; I collect only girls looking to be between the ages of 5 and 12. Finally, dolls vary according to the epoch of their making. My previous article showed what one calls modern dolls, most of them were recent models produced for the tourist market.

I will start with five modern dolls bought since last year. Their head, hands and forearms, feet and lower legs are in bisque, but the rest of the body is made with padded tissue. The assembling of limbs is not always perfect, so that while they are held from their waist on a metallic holder (under their dress), their hanging legs can slightly slant to one side, and their feet be somewhat turned. One can minimize this defect in photography by taking the picture from a suitable angle and rotating it by 1 or 2 degrees.

I show first a small redhead (40 cm without the hat), with rustic clothes.


The next four dolls (as the last two in the previous article) were made by the German company Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH, whose brand name is rf collection. On the label one can read:

Decorative doll for collectors, minimum age: 14 years!
No toy! Small parts can break and be swallowed!

Indeed, they are not intended for little girls, but for adults. I show here my two loveliest ones. I consider them twins: I bought them on the same day, they have the same size (42 cm without the hat), and their clothes are similar.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection no. 120691 (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection no. 120691 (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection no. 120707 (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection no. 120707 (2016)

The next one is peculiar; she is not standing, but she has to sit on a chair (her knees are folded); she is approximately 55 cm long.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection (2016)

I call the last one (54 cm without the hat) the green fairy, because of her green dress, but also because she stands next to the glass cabinet where I keep my absinthe.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection (2015)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection (2015)

Photographed from another angle, she seems to be dreaming.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection (2015)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection (2015)

Now I show my big doll, she measures exactly one meter. I bought her last year in a flea market in Strasbourg. As with modern dolls, her head and hands are in bisque, and her body in padded tissue, but her lower legs and feet seem to be made of painted tissue covering some light and flexible matter, maybe cardboard. As it often happens with second-hand dolls, her soiled face needed some washing, and her dusty bloomers and petticoat required a laundry. She has been featured in Agapeta, where I showed her sprawling on a sofa. But I decided that her dignity (and my comfort) required buying a chair for her. And she even got her own doll, a very old one.


Before describing the latter, I must introduce the topic of vintage bisque dolls. They often date from the early 20th century, sometimes from the 19th. They are rather expensive, generally costing several hundred euros; I even saw a beautiful 19th century doll by a renowned maker, in perfect condition, priced 13 000 euros! The body can be made from various materials, such as tissue, wood, “composition” (imitation of bisque), or a kind of painted papier mâché. Often the arms are articulated, and instead of dropping, they can be held raised thanks to elastic rubber attached to them inside. Generally the hair and the clothes are recent replacements; in fact they often have real human hair, in contrast to modern dolls that have synthetic hair (hence, because of reflections, they should be photographed without a flash). Given the sophistication of their moving body parts, it seems that they were not decorative dolls, but real toys.

German dolls from the early 20th century usually have the brand name, model and geographic origin engraved at the back of the head. This one is a series 250.0 of the maker Ernst Heubach in Koppelsdorf, Germany. I bought it from an antiquarian in Strasbourg, who dates it from around 1900. As another site states: “The Germany inscription reinforces the early 1900 date. Starting in the early 1920’s the US started requiring the ‘Made in Germany’ mark on imports.” She has “sleeping eyes”, that is, her upper eyelids close when she lies on her back. Her articulated shoulders and elbows can both fold and rotate as in humans, and her wrists can rotate. Her legs are articulated at the hips and knees (but without elastic to prevent them from dropping down). Note also her open mouth.

Ernst Heubach Dolls, Koppelsdorf, Germany - Heubach Koppelsdorf 250.0 (c.1900--1920)

Ernst Heubach Dolls, Koppelsdorf, Germany – Heubach Koppelsdorf 250.0 (1900–1920)

I bought the next vintage doll at the Musée de la Poupée in Paris. It is a series MOA 200 made for the brand Welsch & Company by Max Oscar Arnold in Neustadt, Germany. I was told that it is dated 1940; however I think it could perhaps be older, since according to the reference site, the Max Oscar Arnold Doll Company operated until 1930. Since she wears a nightgown, I put her in my bedroom. She also has an open mouth, limbs rotating and folding at the hips, knees, shoulders and elbows, and rotating wrists. I had to untangle her hair, but I do not dare use a comb to groom it, since it might be torn from the felt scalp—so I leave it wildly spread around her face.

Max Oscar Arnold Dolls, Neustadt, Germany - MOA 200 Welsch (c.1940)

Max Oscar Arnold Dolls, Neustadt, Germany – MOA 200 Welsch (c1940)

Readers who looked carefully at the previous post may have noticed that another doll was standing at that place in my bedroom; indeed the latter moved to my kitchen.

My last doll, the most expensive one, was also bought at the Musée de la Poupée in Paris. They date it 1945. It was made by Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA, USA. Her arms and legs are rigid; they move only at the elbows and hips. But while the trunk and limbs of the two German dolls were rather rough in their making, Monica’s body is made in the same material as her face, and with the same quality. So maybe it was a decorative doll, not a toy.

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

Here we can see her from another angle.

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

I am not sure whether I will buy any more dolls. They fill my apartment, I am starting to run out of room for them.

The Usual Harmless Subjects: Seymour Guy

…the same old pile of cats sleeping in the corner, . . . the same old detachment of cows wading across a branch at sunset, . . . the everlasting farmers, gathering their eternal squashes; and a Girl Swinging on a Gate; and a Girl Reading; and girls performing all sorts of similar prodigies. -Mark Twain, ‘Academy of Design’, San Francisco Alta California, 1867

Seymour Guy - Pick of the Orchard (1870)

Seymour Guy – Pick of the Orchard (1870)

Twain’s derisive comment about the state of art at an annual exhibition of New York’s National Academy of Design was indicative of a psychic shift in the public after experiencing the horrors of the American Civil War. It had been custom for serious artists to make some kind of wry or satirical political statement with their art. Despite the mundane subjects of these paintings, social criticism was alive and well, but in a more subtle way; and what stronger statement can there be in a time when America needed a return to normalcy and a comfortable life? This post was inspired by a lead from a reader about an essay written by David M. Lubin. The essay, ‘Guys and Dolls: Framing Feminity in Post-Civil War America’, appeared in the book, Picturing a Nation in 1994. Lubin’s analysis centers around a painting called Making a Train and although his analysis is perhaps too conventionally Freudian, he does make some interesting points.

Seymour Joseph Guy (1824–1910) was British-born and did not gain fame in the United States until after the aforementioned exhibition, but he quite effectively brought out seemingly contradictory traits of the young girl in a compelling way. He trained with the portrait painter Ambrosini Jerôme and married the daughter of an engraver, Anna Maria Barber, before moving to New York in 1854, living there until his death. He became friends with John George Brown, and they both became known for their genre paintings of children. Having nine children of his own, Guy had ample opportunity to use them as models in his work. In the case of Making a Train, the girl depicted was most likely Anna who was nine years old at the time.

Seymour Guy - Making a Train (1867)

Seymour Guy – Making a Train (1867)

Making a Train is a seductive image for any number of reasons, some of which seem to contradict one another. For example, the painting is buoyantly innocent but also teasingly erotic. In one sense the room in which the girl plays is safe, cozy, and warmly lit, but eerie shadows loom, and on the wall a sentimental print of a child in prayer has come ominously undone. Although the girl appears independent and carefree in her play, the architecture presses down as if bending her body beneath its pressure. The items of clothing strewn before her, the toy doll stuffed in a box in the half-open cupboard, the oil lamp set down behind the bars of the banister-back chair, the jutting dresser drawer, and the rumpled, unmade bed bespeak the spontaneity of the child, but they also convey disorder and an absence of discipline . . . Clean-scrubbed, rosy-cheeked, radiant, a middle-class princess, the little girl is also Cinderella, confined to a shabby attic while her haughty stepsisters and wicked stepmother attend the grand ball that she can only dream of attending. -David M. Lubin, Picturing a Nation, 1994

Seymour Guy - Red Riding Hood (1866)

Seymour Guy – Red Riding Hood (1866)

Seymour Guy - Story of Golden Locks (1870)

Seymour Guy – Story of Golden Locks (1870)

Guy’s archetypal paintings were primarily cabinet-sized and became prized by collectors of American art. He distinguished himself from his contemporaries because of his technical skill and knowledge of the science of painting. But as fashions are always transitory, Guy’s meticulous and smooth executions fell our of favor as a new generation of European-trained artists emerged in the 1880s. Although his talent has become appreciated once again in recent times, there is still very little published about the life and career of this remarkable artist. Bruce Weber has made an attempt to remedy this shortcoming.  Several paintings are referred to in Lubin’s writing but, as it happens, Pip has been collecting other excellent examples from the internet and has shared them so they can be included here .

Seymour Guy- The Haunted Cellar (Who's Afraid?) (c1870)

Seymour Guy- The Haunted Cellar (Who’s Afraid?) (c1870)

Seymour Guy - Unconscious of Danger (1865)

Seymour Guy – Unconscious of Danger (1865)

Seymour Guy - The Crossing Sweeper (1862)

Seymour Guy – The Crossing Sweeper (1862)

Seymour Guy - One for Mommy, One for Me (1881)

Seymour Guy – One for Mommy, One for Me (1881)

Seymour Guy - Dressing for the Rehearsal (1890)

Seymour Guy – Dressing for the Rehearsal (1890)

It is interesting that artists often observe the conventions of decency as in the last image where the dresser’s head is “strategically placed”.  However, this does not seem to diminish the sensuality of the image.

Maiden Voyages: May 2016

A Premium Postcard Collection: It is with great excitement that I announce that my friend Stuart—who has perhaps the world’s biggest collection of Edwardian postcards—has finally consented to share his collection with Pigtails readers.  It will take time to sort through and scan thousands of postcards but as they become available, I will share them here.  For starters, some new Reutlinger images have come to light and that post has been updated.  I think I can speak for all of us when I say that this generosity is greatly appreciated.

Guilt by Association: On May 9th, photographer Chris Madaio is scheduled to stand trial for charges that he violated the conditions of his parole after serving 4 years in prison for possession of child pornography (see more details on his story here).  Although Madaio does not contest the original charges, the Morgan County, Alabama authorities seem determined to find any excuse to continue to punish him.  The new charges are based on images found on a computer and some USB drives found in a storage unit with his name on it.  The unit belonged to two women, the sister and a friend of Samuel Hyde.  Hyde was a convicted sex offender whom Madaio knew for a short time while attending the same court-ordered program.  The women allowed Hyde personal use of the unit, but neither they nor Hyde have been indicted.  To complicate things further, Hyde made a statement against Madaio before dying under mysterious circumstances.  It would be difficult to speculate on the veracity of all the details of the case, but it is an excellent illustration of how the justice system prefers to grandstand on prosecutions rather than rehabilitate and reintegrate those who have been convicted.  Although Madaio has a court-appointed attorney, he is hopeful that a more trusted family lawyer will be allowed to serve as co-counsel.

No News is Bad News: An item came across my desk about a controversy regarding a GAP Kids clothing line and the portrayal of Black people.  An ad campaign featuring a performing troupe called Le PeTiT CiRqUe (more on them in a future post) included one image with a bigger girl resting her arm on a shorter Black girl.  You can read a little about it here.  With all the special interest groups involved in this issue, many people are getting on the bandwagon and making a lot of noise.  Whatever the circumstances, I would like to humbly suggest that those sincerely interested in the cause of racial justice not waste their energy on something that will accomplish nothing while giving free publicity to a major clothing company.  On the other hand, it is nice that Le PeTiT CiRqUe got a little press.

Gap Kids Ad Campaign (2016)

Gap Kids Ad Campaign (2016)

“Moral Welfare” on the Set: One of our readers, who is child modeling agent, has shared items of interest regarding the changing rules and conditions of child models and actors. For example, in the past, outtakes from films shot in the days before the internet would never see the light of day and if there was some inadvertent nudity, it was of little concern. But today, a lot of behind-the-scenes footage gets leaked and so the rules in Hollywood have become a lot stricter.  An online article shares an interesting anecdote regarding the opening scene of Disney’s Pollyanna and informs readers that now, under California law, it is studio teachers who are responsible for the moral welfare of children in their charge.

To Top or Not to Top: As many readers of this site are aware, in many countries outside the United States, it is routine for undeveloped younger girls to swim in public without bikini tops.  A mother shares an interesting story about her 7-year-old daughter’s recent trip to Spain.  It offers a little insight about a child’s body image and her ability to adapt to different cultural norms.  The editorial concludes with the mother seeking this advice: now that the girl is used to swimming without a top, how can she be persuaded to go back?

Auction News: A friend passed on this small item about Sotheby’s auctioning off a few Sally Mann photographs on May 19th.  A lot of big-name photographers are featured and the Mann images are numbered 58–61.  Speculation in art has continued to inflate prices.

Random Images: Moïse Kisling

An associate found this interesting oil painting—belonging to a private collection—and another associate followed through with some details. The title of this piece translates as Seated Couple.

Moïse Kisling - Seated Couple (1934)

Moïse Kisling – Couple Assis (1934)

Moïse Kisling (1891–1953) was born in Kraków (then part of Austria-Hungary). He studied there at the School of Fine Arts and was encouraged by his teachers to pursue his career in Paris. He started out in Montmartre in 1910 and joined an émigré artist community with members from eastern Europe, the U.S. and the U.K.

During World War I, he served in the French Foreign Legion and was seriously wounded in 1915. As a reward for his service, he was given French citizenship. He became friends with many of his contemporaries such as Jules Pascin and Amedeo Modigliani. Although he painted landscapes, he was noted for his surreal female nudes. However, his style seems to have changed over time with the seated couple above being painted in the Art Deco style. During the German occupation of France in World War II, he emigrated to the United States where remained until his return to France in 1946. A large collection of Kisling’s works is held by the Musée du Petit Palais in Geneva.

Here is a great site with high-quality images of many of his paintings and some historical photographs.

Creator of Sarah Kay: Vivien Kubbos

Researching illustrators of children’s books can sometimes be a challenging task. Many are freelance workers so they may only illustrate a small number of books as well as doing other illustrating jobs. Combine that with the fact that some books don’t mention the illustrator and so using WorldCat or any other cataloging site is rather useless. One example is Vivien Kubbos. Another complicating factor about Vivien is the fact that she does not desire fame or attention and therefore does not have a website or do any interviews. Vivien Kubbos could have been famous as she was the originator of the Sarah Kay Collection.

Vivien Kubbos - (Untitled illustration) (c1970's) (1)

Vivien Kubbos – (Untitled illustration) (1970s) (1)

Vivien Kubbos - (Untitled illustration) (c1970's) (2)

Vivien Kubbos – (Untitled illustration) (1970s) (2)

The Sarah Kay Collection was started by Valentine Publishing in the early 1970s and quickly became popular among girls throughout Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe and Latin America. Sarah Kay illustrations were featured mostly on greeting cards, swap cards and postcards. Sarah Kay fell out of fashion in the 1990s; however this only lasted until 2005 when she relaunched, presumably with new illustrators doing the work. The thing I find adorable and gorgeous about Sarah Kay images are they are the complete antithesis of the ideas pushed on children in our current society. The girls in these images do not worry about what they wear and if they get holes in their clothes—they simply repair them with patches. There is no obsession with shoes either: the children are currently wearing none and back in the 1970s and ’80s they wore thick leather shoes, sandals or sneakers. The idyllic imagery also adds to the illustrations’ appeal. Sarah Kay merchandise can still be purchased on their website.

Vivien Kubbos - (Untitled illustration) (c1970's) (3)

Vivien Kubbos – (Untitled illustration) (1970s) (3)

Vivien Kubbos - (Untitled illustration) (c1970's) (4)

Vivien Kubbos – (Untitled illustration) (1970s) (4)

Vivien Kubbos - (Untitled illustration) (c1970's) (5)

Vivien Kubbos – (Untitled illustration) (1970s) (5)

Vivien Kubbos also illustrated many of the books in the Pony Pals book series, written by Jeanne Betancourt and published by Scholastic. Frustratingly not all the books mention the illustrator’s name. The images I used came from the book Western Pony, written by Betancourt and published in 1999. All images are drawn in pencil.

Vivien Kubbos - Western Pony (1999) (1)

Vivien Kubbos – Western Pony (1999) (1)

Vivien Kubbos - Western Pony (1999) (2)

Vivien Kubbos – Western Pony (1999) (2)

These images clearly show how easily Vivien can change her style and what a hugely skillful artist she is. I find the images of the people, and more so the horses, to be very realistic.

Vivien Kubbos - Western Pony (1999) (3)

Vivien Kubbos – Western Pony (1999) (3)

Vivien Kubbos - Western Pony (1999) (4)

Vivien Kubbos – Western Pony (1999) (4)

Finally we have what must be Vivien’s defining work: The Wizard of Jenolan, written by Nuri Mass and published by Just Solutions in 1993. The Wizard of Jenolan is a rewriting and re-release of a book first written by Nuri Mass in 1946, so if anyone thinks of buying the book, the images are only in the 1993 re-release. All the images are drawn in pencil. The story is about Thel who, under the spell of “Something”, follows a Wallaby down a tunnel into the Jenolan Caves. While in the cave system Thel discovers that the caves are not as they seem to other visitors and the outside world; she has many magical experiences such as travelling back in time and encountering creatures that want to borrow her reflection. She also talks directly with the caves themselves which teach her about how they were formed. The Wallaby eventually leads her back out but Thel then falls asleep so that when she wakes up she is not quite sure if she ever did follow the wallaby into the cave or that she dreamed it.

Vivien Kubbos - The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (1)

Vivien Kubbos – The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (1)

Vivien Kubbos - The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (2)

Vivien Kubbos – The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (2)

Vivien Kubbos - The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (3)

Vivien Kubbos – The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (3)

Vivien illustrated many other children’s books, did painting for commemorative merchandise and in retirement spent most of her time painting, though these subjects are outside the scope of this blog and so are not displayed. Additionally, given that she is not always credited, there are probably many works by Vivien that are yet to be acknowledged.

Vivien Kubbos - The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (4)

Vivien Kubbos – The Wizard of Jenolan (1993) (4)

Michael G. Laster

About 12 years ago I discovered the work of the American artist Michael G. Laster on the web. I was impressed by the artist’s imaginative figurative paintings of adolescents. The paintings reflected a rare sincerity which gave the work an emotional beauty. Eric Fischl’s paintings from the 1980s are the only other contemporary works that come to my mind that are similar. Contemporary figurative art is expected to be “cool”; the artist is expected to wear a mask and avoid any sensitivity.

Michael G. Laster Birthright Boy and Girl

Michael G. Laster – Birthright Boy and Girl (c2004)

Laster’s Birthright is a diptych of a boy in a field of wheat and a girl in a field of flowers. The painting technique is very crude but it actually gives the work a child-like charm. The boy and girl each hold symbols of the opposite sex, the boy holds a cute cat while the girl holds a spooky bird. I only recently noticed that the boy is holding flowers in his hand from the field the girl stands in while the girl holds wheat in her hand from the field of the boy. Although the symbols are clear, the meaning of the work is still ambiguous; it is very poetic.

Michael G. Laster Playing Doctor 2004 ca

Michael G. Laster – Playing Doctor (c2004)

Laster’s drawing, Playing Doctor is like Eric Fischl’s classic work from the 1980s.

Michael G. Laster Girl Refuting Hegel's

Michael G. Laster – Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History (c2006)

Unfortunately there is little information on the web about the paintings because the artist’s site has been down. The info I could find was from a post from 10 years ago by Gary Sauer-Thompson about the exhibition Based on a Thorough Understanding of the Way Things Are. A photograph from the exhibit titled Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History, may be of Laster with his daughter. Either Laster has a sense of humor or she is just a really smart girl! If anyone has information about this charming work let us know. I would like to arrange an exhibit of his work. I’m afraid Laster may have stopped painting due to the cultural environment, which is a great loss.

Michael G. Laster Spring Fever

Michael G. Laster – Spring Fever (c2004)

Michael G. Laster The Little Red Haired Girl

Michael G. Laster – The Little Red Haired Girl (c2004)

Other work by Laster can be found here.

Vitality in Subtle Gestures: Teresa Riba

A reader from Spain brought my attention to this sculptor. This is a further demonstration that there are many established on-topic artists who still need to be covered on this site.

Teresa Riba was born in 1962 and raised in the Igualada district of Barcelona. She graduated from Facultad de Bellas Artes de Barcelona (Faculty of Fine Arts in Barcelona) and is now a professor at l’Escola d’Art Gaspar Camps (School of Art Gaspar Camps). Although this artist has a Facebook account and a sales site (Galeria D’Art Anquin’s) for her work, the only substantial information comes from an interview conducted in 2013 and originally published as “Entre 8km2″ in Diari d’Igualada.

Teresa Riba - Nen (charcoal) (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba – Nen (charcoal) (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba - De tu a tu XI (acrylic) (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba – De tu a tu XI (acrylic) (Date Unknown)

Although Riba’s repertoire includes drawings, she has been specializing in sculpture since 1985. She has a reputation for her penetrating insight into the character of youth, paying particular attention to the nuance of gesture and how it reflects the compelling everyday behavior of young girls, both in their innocence and their inner power. The artist has also adapted to technological developments with a series called ‘Entre dits’ showing her subjects using mobile phones, texting and engaging in the latest forms of social media as though they were observed from the street.

Teresa Riba - Entre dits, II, 7 8 (bronze) (2015)

Teresa Riba – Entre dits, II, 7 8 (bronze) (2015)

Teresa Riba - Nena rambla (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba – Nena rambla (Date Unknown)

Riba’s sculptures are figurative and characterized by their coarse texture and robust vitality. The potency of a subtle gesture was expressed by another sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, and Riba expounds on that principle in her work. The artist avoids falling into the familiar trap of producing pieces of a particular type and attempts to bring out the distinct character of each subject. Even when displaying multiple pieces in an exhibit, special care is taken in placing each work in relation to the others.

Teresa Riba - Movil tres (bronze) (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba – Movil tres (bronze) (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba - Judit (resin) (2014)

Teresa Riba – Judit (resin) (2014)

Teresa Riba - Des de dalt (bronze) (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba – Des de dalt (bronze) (Date Unknown)

Riba says her rough style invites touch and makes the pieces seem unfinished yet much more alive and expressive. She prefers to work with molding clay—and uses these molds to produce bronzes—but also likes working with wood and stone. The softer materials have advantages, giving the artist more options and engaging the fuller use of her hands. Although most sculptors prefer to create in a certain size range, Riba has produced work from 5 to 10 centimeters in height up to 4 to 5 meters, with pieces weighing up to 13 tons.

Teresa Riba - Tarda al sol 3 (bronze) (Date Unknown)

Teresa Riba – Tarda al sol 3 (bronze) (Date Unknown)

As a professor, she acknowledges that the challenges of teaching have changed. With the advent of the internet, more people have access to knowledge about production and the artistic process. However, lack of experience and supervision can lead to misinformation and thus access to a good teacher in a school setting is still quite valuable. Serious artists engage in learning experiences on a daily basis.

Any corrections or more details on these images would be appreciated, particularly by those fluent in Catalan.

Archives Destroyed: David Simpson

Quite a sensational title isn’t it? So I shall start by saying that a large part of the archives have indeed been destroyed. In 2011 David was charged and convicted on child pornography charges; this fact made his own son so insane that he went to his father’s house and burnt all the archives stored there. A more detailed explanation can be found in this news article. Such is the result of people’s hatred for paedophiles.

Little is known about David Simpson and with a name this common, it can be difficult to find the right person when you are simply searching for his name. The few biographical details I found appear in the children’s books he has helped to produce. David was born in 1931. For five years David trained as an R.A.F. photographer and when he left the air force, he first worked at the Baron Photographic Studios—photographers of the Royal Family. He then opened his own studios where he specialised in child portraiture. David moved to Adelaide, Australia in 1969 and continued to photograph independently. Most of his portraits were still of children.  Occasionally he would be commissioned to photograph famous people and would also do photography for children’s books. The only book I found to be of relevance to this blog was Tanya and Trixie by Colin Thiele, published by Rigby Opal Books in 1980.

David Simpson - Tanya and Trixie (Cover) (1980)

David Simpson – Tanya and Trixie (Cover) (1980)

The book is about Tanya who lives on a farm in the Australian countryside. The book starts off by telling us about the morning chores Tanya does.

David Simpson - photograph from book Tanya and Trixie (1980) (1)

David Simpson – Tanya and Trixie (1980) (1)

Then in the afternoon, when her dad leaves the farm, Tanya and her brother go fishing. During the fishing expedition Tanya goes swimming then falls asleep in the grass and dreams about the horse she so dearly wants.

David Simpson - photograph from book Tanya and Trixie (1980) (2)

David Simpson – Tanya and Trixie (1980) (2)

Tanya and Trixie Page25

David Simpson – Tanya and Trixie (1980) (3)

David Simpson - photograph from book Tanya and Trixie (1980) (4)

David Simpson – Tanya and Trixie (1980) (4)

She soon wakes up and goes back home where she finds that her dream has come true as her dad comes home with a horse.  The book ends with an image of Tanya riding Trixie.

David Simpson - photograph from book Tanya and Trixie (1980) (5)

David Simpson – Tanya and Trixie (1980) (5)

David Simpson - photograph from book Tanya and Trixie (1980) (6)

David Simpson – Tanya and Trixie (1980) (6)

From these pictures we can see that all these decades of photographing children has created a real ability in being able to capture the innocence and beauty that children have. I shall finish this post with some of the photographs I found on auction sites or in the background of other pictures, they are not high quality but still manage to show David’s photographic talent. These images also prove that the entire archive hasn’t gone, there would be many copies in private collections and public art galleries.

David Simpson - Alice - (unknown date)

David Simpson – Alice (Date Unknown)

David Simpson - (unknown title) - (unknown Date) (1)

David Simpson – (Title Unknown) (Date Unknown) (1)

David Simpson - (unknown title) - (unknown Date) (2)

David Simpson – (Title Unknown) (Date Unknown) (2)

David Simpson - (unknown title) - (unknown Date) (3)

David Simpson – (Title Unknown) (Date Unknown) (3)