Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Ephemera: Imagined Memorabilia of Astoria"

The wonderful people at RiverSea Gallery came up with a great idea for a show- " Ephemera: Imagined Memorabilia of Astoria", a collection of small works based on imagined memorabilia of a past, present or future Astoria.
For this invitational group show I created three special pieces, all 6"x8", depicting imaginative postcards based on actual events in Astoria's colorful past.
Inspired by the tag lines and slogans on traditional travel posters, I visualized postcards commemorating events that are not usually the stuff of promotional campaigns and depicted them as though they were perceived as being as noteworthy and exciting as a major tourist attraction or event, such as a World's Fair or The Grand Canyon.

On the front of each one is an original painting, based on a historic photograph. On the back, I added a vintage-looking postcard reverse, with a short note written as though the postcard had been written upon and sent to you, the viewer.

This one is based on a very courageous protest by Chinese American residents of Astoria in 1939. They were protesting the sale of scrap iron and steel to Japan, where it was recycled into war material. At the time of the protest, the Japanese government was waging an undeclared war against China. Although it is a very somber subject, I depict it as if it is regarded by the postcard sender as a joyous incidence of morality triumphing over profit.
To read more, click onto The Oregon History Project.

This one is commemorating the fact that being a Socialist wasn't such an obscure position at one time, and that Astoria was a hotbed of radical, populist politics. I loved the name of this brass band, and it perhaps reminded me of Sgt. Pepper's a bit!
To read more, click on over to The Oregon History Project.

Last but not least, this is an imagined postcard commemorating Astoria's historical red light district, sometimes referred to as "Swilltown" because of all the saloons. Although the glamorization of prostitution is a moral tangle, there has been a long tradition of sex workers of all stripes defying authority, demanding their rights, standing up for the underdogs of society. 
To read more, visit The Clatsop County Heritage Museum.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A New Commission with Old Traditions

Over the years I have done many commissions, and I have just recently finished one that I am particularly proud of.
This is a painting for a friend of mine with her mother and her daughter. I stitched it together using several different photographs, one set in Chicago, which is where they are from. 

I was particularly touched by the idea that there would be three generations of women depicted in the finished image. I tried to emphasize this by depicting their hands; one tiny and young, one in full womanhood, the third wizened with age. 

I also supported the element of three by forming the composition in a triangle. 

The use of a triangle in portraiture common throughout western art. It conveys a sense of stability and monumentality that is pleasing in general, but in particular when used in family groups. In fact, it was used often by Renaissance artists when painting The Madonna and Child. 
Raphael, Madonna and Child with Book
Raphael was one of the great masters of the Renaissance era. Below is a depiction of The Madonna and Child plus St. John the Baptist, which not only has the triangular composition but also has three figures.
Raphael, Madonna With Child And St John The Baptist
When I went onto choose the colors for this commission, I allowed myself to make further reference to this painting genre by using the colors commonly used to dress The Madonna: red, with a blue overdress.

Although I never intended to imply any religious association with this commission, I did enjoy being able to refer to the special sanctity of family connection and the devotion of loved ones.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

An Inspiring Trip to Greece!

My husband and I took a trip to a place I've wanted to go for a long time- Greece! We visited mainly Napflio and the Peloponnes Peninsula, the island of Hydra, up to Delphi, then Athens.

Some of you may remember that I love ancient history, and that I did a series of art based on The Odyssey. It was sensational to be in and around the place where The Iliad and The Odyssey was conceived, sung, shared, and eventually written down. In fact, we visited the ancient site of Mycenae, which was the palace complex where Agamemnon himself lived and ruled.
The "Funerary Mask of Agamemnon" from Mycenae, housed at The Archeological Museum in Athens.
(If you'd like to see some of the inspiring art I saw during my trip to Greece, check out my post on my facebook page.)
Being in Greece lent depth and richness to my understanding of The Odyssey. One experience I had was the realization that my conception of the space and atmosphere was generalized and lacking in sensitivity. It was fanciful, but vague.
"The Land of the Lotus Eaters" Leslie Peterson Sapp
The sense I have now is the astounding ruggedness of the place, how rocky mountain slopes charge down and continue deep into the sea.
Delphi, Greece
I also did not have a sense of the palette. These parts of Greece are dry dry dry, and the rocks are pale and crumbly. I suppose the pale rock is part of why the sea is so green-blue.
Greece, somewhere between Epidavros and Poros
The artist whom I can think of who really got a great take on what it feels like to be a westerner, idealizing ancient Greece, is Puvis de Chavannes, a French artist active in the late 19th century.

"The Shepherd's Song" Puvis de Chavannes, 1891
"Patriotism" Puvis de Chavannes, 1893

"Young Girls by the Sea", Puvis de Chavannes, 1879
Also, Picasso captured it, perhaps with more individuality and sophistication, in many of his early works:
"Acrobat on a Ball" Picasso, 1901
"Two Adolescents", Picasso, 1906

"Boy Leading a Horse", Picasso, 1905-6
Although I am committed to doing more Film Noir works for the time being, I am wondering what will transpire if I decide to do more Ancient Literature work in the future. One very inspiring object I saw during my travels is a late Hellenistic funerary urn at the Archeological Museum.
Who knows?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"A Brief Primer on Film Noir - Part Two: Oh, the Drama!"

Film noir movies are modern day myths.

“Catharsis” is from the Greek word “kathairein”, meaning “to cleanse, purge.” Aristotle first used this as a metaphor to describe how watching tragic drama can inspire feelings that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.

In much the same way someone may like a good war movie or punk rock, yet has no desire to engage in combat or live a chaotic, drug-addled life, many of us achieve a certain catharsis by watching the sufferings of the glamorous figures in a good film noir.
The characters in film noir practice a lot of bad behavior I would never condone. Aside from how much they smoke and drink, they lie, they cheat, they extort and manipulate. I am a person who enjoys a life of minimal drama. Yet it is the drama that I love in film noir! The dream I weave in my pictures is a version of me who is, in a word: clever. Someone who sees through others and can manipulate a situation to her advantage. Very unlike who I really am. But I am utterly uninterested in living a life that would result from being that kind of person. So, I watch it from a safe distance.

In my collage paintings, I use the drama of a noir-esque scene to draw in the viewer not only by depicting figures in evocative, cryptic situations, but by how I organize and compose the image.

In the book “Somewhere in the Night”, Nicholas Christopher describes the noir cityscape as a labyrinth, which reflects the complexity of the movie plot, the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind, and symbolizes the Hero’s Journey into the depths of the soul.

The space depicted in my collage paintings is congested and complicated, sometimes difficult for the viewer to navigate. It is evocative of complicated plot twists and reversals. Lately I have been playing with mirrors, doorways and windows, which I see as apertures into other worlds and realities. The claustrophobic, complex space illustrates the sometimes turgid complexity of our minds and relationships.

The dark, chiaroscuro lighting symbolizes secrets withheld, obscured meaning. Objects and figures that are normally easily identified are shattered and broken down into their essential shapes without superfluous detail. They are transformed, turned upside-down, into something new, special, rarefied.

Eddie Muller, film noir’s preeminent expert, describes it perfectly:


“The men and women of this sinister cinematic world are driven by greed, lust, jealousy, and revenge—which leads inexorably to existential torment, soul-crushing despair, and a few last gasping breaths in a rain-soaked gutter. But I'll be damned if these lost souls don't look sensational riding the Hades Express. If you're going straight to hell, you might as well travel with some style to burn.

“Today, the cynicism and fatalism found in classic film noir seems almost comforting compared to the ugliness and pessimism we confront in the media, on movie screens, and in the streets. We watch film noir with an endless fascination, and an undeniable aspect of our fascination is the realization that, as a culture, we will never be that stylish again.”


Monday, March 5, 2018

Feminism vs. The Femme Fatale

March is Women's History month, and March 8th is International Women's Day.
As part of my blog series talking about Film Noir and how I use it as a source for my art, I have been pondering Noir through the lens of how I relate to it as a female artist.
Part of the enduring fascination we have with Noir is the inclusion of powerful female characters. The zenith of Film Noir was from the 1930’s-1950’s a time of extraordinary change for women, particularly during WWII, when they took up jobs vacated by men who were off at war. The war, plus the changing role of women in society, created nationwide anxiety, much like the anxiety evidenced in our own times.
However, with some exceptions, the classic femme fatale of those times was not a feminist figure. She does not seek to break down the patriarchal system so much as she attempts to use her sexual power to win within it. The Madonna/Whore dichotomy is well in place in most of these movies. My use of the femme fatal in my art is an expression of my struggles with attempts at finding my own voice, independent of the men around me.
Nevertheless, the femme fatale is a challenge to the system, and an early and exciting example of women in power.
In my artwork, I focus on complex human relationships with delightfully ambiguous situations. In them I give my female figures an identity of their own and an interior life. In “Backlight” there is a large, looming man in the foreground, looking back at the woman on display, perhaps a classic depiction of the dominant male and the female object. Or is it? Through this traditional lens a different picture is shown. She stands resolute and firm, her steady gaze back at him makes him appear unsteady and unsure, and perhaps like he is trying to slip away.
"Backlight" Leslie Peterson Sapp, 38"x48" Acrylic on panel. 
I will be writing more about the psychological appeal of Film Noir in upcoming posts. Look out for "A Brief Primer on Film Noir - Part Two: Drama, Intrigue and Heartbreak"