Category Archives: The City in Art

The dark side of the city | BBC Culture

Interesting article on BBC Culture this morning about the depiction of urban loneliness in the paintings of Edward Hopper based on excerpts from The Lonely City, a new book by Olivia Laing.

Excerpt:

“This is the thing about cities, the way that even indoors you’re always at the mercy of a stranger’s gaze. Wherever I went – pacing back and forth between the bed and couch; roaming into the kitchen to regard the abandoned boxes of ice cream in the freezer – I could be seen by the people who lived in the Arlington, the vast Queen Anne co-op that dominated the view, its 10 brick storeys lagged in scaffolding. At the same time, I could also play the watcher, Rear Window-style, peering in on dozens of people with whom I’d never exchange a word, all of them engrossed in the small intimacies of the day. Loading a dishwasher naked; tapping in on heels to cook the children’s supper.”

AAA_miscphot_6918Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker (Source: Wikipedia). Born in 1882, Edward Hopper trained as an illustrator and devoted much of his early career to advertising and etchings. Influenced by the Ashcan School and taking up residence in New York City, Hopper began to paint the commonplaces of urban life with still, anonymous figures, and compositions that evoke a sense of loneliness. His famous works include House by the Railroad (1925), Automat (1927) and the iconic Nighthawks (1942). Hopper died in 1967 (Source: Biography.com).

Read the full article here: The dark side of the city | BBC Culture

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Virtual exhibition on Urban Utopias | via The mheu

The mheu (A historical museum of the urban environment) is a virtual museum that offers thematic exhibitions comprising a range of works including pictures, literature, sound and video.

Virtual exhibition on Urban Utopias

Excerpt:

“In urban planning, as elsewhere, the utopian ideal is more than an instinctive desire for a better world: it is also a source of progress. Even the wildest urban projects lend impetus to more efficient ways of living in one way or another… In the words of Lamartine: “Utopias are often simply premature truths.” The (exhibition) is an overview of cities whose bricks and mortar are the stuff of dreams, ideas and achievements.”

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedThe Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

Visit the virtual exhibition here: The mheu | Virtual exhibition on Urban Utopias.

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Bathe in New Light | The City in Art

Rejcel Harbert’s Under Neons (2010), 16″ x 20″, acrylic on stretched canvas, Art by Rejcel.

Bathe in New Light | The City in Art
By Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Neon, noun, ne·on, ˈnē-ˌän – a colorless odorless mostly inert gaseous element that is found in minute amounts in air and used in electric lamps. From the Greek, neuter of neos new, first Known Use: 1898.

Art is rarely or merely about the physical representation of the thing but instead about light, shadow and reflection as represented in counter pose to the physical reality of the thing itself.

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434) Copyright © The National Gallery, London.

This is a widespread tradition that can be traced back to long before Modernism with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Jan van Eyck. For example, Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait  (1434, National Gallery, London) where the artist paints his own reflection in the mirror located on the back wall behind his subjects (see below).

In Under Neons, Harbert paints the city as bathed in neon light, as if physicality of the thing itself did not have an objective existence until awash in shadows and reflections birthed by the light itself. In the same tradition as Georgia O’Keefe’s Radiator Building-Night, New York (1927) and Harbert’s The Blue City (2012), the artist encourages us to see the city in a new and different way; not merely as a physical entity but also as an abstract reality bathed in its all-consuming light. This is given urgent power by the artist through the use of primary colors (reds, yellows, and blues) and blacks/whites, which hint at Piet Mondrian’s famous abstract paintings of New York. However, the control and preciseness found Mondrian’s abstract formalism is sacrificed in favor of a kinetic energy – of vibrant motion – painted in the light and dark of the city. Of course, Under Neons immediately suggests the city we most associate with neon spectacle: Las Vegas. However, this could be any city. This could be our city, given life anew in the light.

About Rejcel Harbert
Rejcel Harbert has over ten years of experience as the owner of Art by Rejcel, where she sells photographic services, paintings, and abstract and expressionistic acrylic arts. She received her bachelor of arts in business, economics, and Spanish from Jacksonville University in 2001. She is a member of the Business Fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, the Honor Society Phi Kappa Phi, and received an award from the Women’s Business Organization for Achievement. Ms. Harbert does religious volunteer work including construction and repair work for community members in need. For more information on Art by Rejcel, visit www.rejcel.com.

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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A Compressed City of Time in Light | The City in Art

Wassily Kandinsky’s Moscow I (1916), oil on canvas, 49.5 x 51.5 cm, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

A Compressed City of Time in Light | The City in Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Wassily Kandinsky painted Moscow I in 1916 after he was forced to return to Russia in 1914 because of Germany’s declaration of war against Russia during World War I. The year 1915 was a period of profound depression and self-doubt during which he tried to build a new life at age 50 after living almost two decades in Munich, Germany. He did not paint a single picture. In 1916, Kandinsky painted Moscow I. He wrote, “I would love to paint a large landscape of Moscow taking elements from everywhere and combining them into a single picture weak and strong parts, mixing everything together in the same way as the world is mixed of different elements. It must be like an orchestra” (Becks-Malorny, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866–1944, 115). Moscow I contains some of the same romantic fairy-tale qualities of his earlier paintings, fused with dramatic forms and colors. “The sun dissolves the whole of Moscow into a single spot, which, like a wild tuba, sets all one’s soul vibrating” (Kandinsky, “Reminiscences,” 360).

At first glance, Kandinsky’s Moscow I appears to be a simple collage of landmarks, freed of the constraints of gravity and space, represented in a highly abstract manner by the artist. However, upon closer examination, there appears to be a logic to the almost spherical layout of objects composing the Moscow built environment (for example, the Kremlin is clearly represented towards the lower right). Using Kandisky’s own words about this painting as a guide (see above), we can hypothesize Kandisky placed these objects within the frame of the painting in relation to the time of day when each achieves its apex in terms of natural light and vibrant color, hence the almost spherical layout and luxurious richness of the hues. The spherical layout seems to mirror the path of the sun across the sky, or perhaps the daylight hours on the face of a clock. In this sense, Kandinsky’s Moscow I is a notional ‘clock of the city’, representing for us the optimal passage of time to see the collected objects of the city as shown in the painting. If true, then it is a clever means to elevate the painting beyond mere collage, above the mere randomness of collected objects that are compressed and freed of space. It also embeds his representation of Moscow with a kinetic energy that metaphorically accounts for the activity of urban life itself, the city as more than a mere collection of things but as a thing that, in itself, is alive.

About Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky (born December 16, 1866, died December 13, 1944) was a Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely abstract works. With the possible exception of Marc Chagall (who was born/educated in Russia but adopted France as his home in adulthood to the point of being considered a “Russian-French” artist), Kandinsky is probably the most influential Russian artist in human history. Born in Moscow, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa but later enrolled at the University of Moscow to study law and economics. Successful in his profession, he was offered a professorship (Chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat where he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching, and anatomy) at the age of 30. In 1896 Kandinsky settled in Munich, studying first at Anton Ažbe’s private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. He returned to Moscow in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I. Kandinsky was unsympathetic to the official theories on art in Communist Moscow and returned to Germany in 1921. There, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. Like Chagall, he then moved to France where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939, and producing some of his most prominent pieces of art. He died at Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944. Unlike Chagall, Kandinsky never attained the status of being (in part) a French artist but has always been considered a definitive Russian one (Source: Wikipedia).

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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Vertical Geometries | The City in Art

Paul Klee’s Castle and Sun (1928), 50 x 59 cm, oil on canvas, Private Collection/Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Vertical Geometries | The City in Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Today’s issue of The City in Art returns to another innovative painting by the Swiss artist Paul Klee. The striking image Klee creates in Castle and Sun (1928) uses different geometric shapes and various shades of color, similar to the previously seen Klee’s Highways and Byways. The lone sun shines in the ingeniously designed sky with strong lines and the structure of the geometric shapes defining the castle/city. In addition, various rectangular sizes add depth to the abstract image. The complex and contrasting use of colors by Klee in this painting – in combination with the varying sizes of shapes – provides a subtle illusion of depth, independently of any proper perspective in gross terms otherwise lacking in the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. Klee executes the cubism technique of this painting in his patented style. The painting possesses a mix of the abstract with reality while figures are deconstructed to form interesting geometric shapes. The clay colored background gives a clearer sense of how the shapes seem to form a city skyline of intense color and light. Klee uses pops of yellow to bring the eye in and break up the browns everywhere else. This oil on canvas painting has a complex array of triangular figures to provide an imaginary metropolis of shapes. The touch of realism, angles, and its use of color creates a city of geometric shapes. Paul Klee’s imaginary works continue to inspire and intrigue (Source: Totally History). Klee’s Castle and Sun, in particular, is regularly used by teachers for early education in artistic technique. At that age, school children (and perhaps their teachers) are unaware of the subtly complicated and innovative beauty of this painting by Klee.

About Paul Klee
Paul Klee (1879–1940) was born near Bern, Switzerland. He studied drawing and painting in Munich for three years beginning in 1898. By 1911, he was involved with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), founded by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. In 1914, Klee visited Tunisia. The experience was the turning point. The limpid light of North Africa awakened his sense of color. Klee gradually detached color from physical description and used it independently, giving him the final push toward abstraction. In 1920, Walter Gropius invited Klee to join the faculty of the Bauhaus. Nearly half of Klee’s work was produced during the ten years he taught at the Bauhaus. From 1931-1933, Klee taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf. When the National Socialists declared his art “degenerate”, he returned to his native Bern. Klee suffered from a wasting disease, scleroderma, towards the end of his life, enduring the pain until his death in Muralto, Locarno, Switzerland, on June 29, 1940 (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikipedia).

Visit the Artsy.net Paul Klee page here.

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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