Desert Sunscape

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Desert Sunscape (Adolph Gottlieb, 1903 – 1974)Desert Sunscape (Adolph Gottlieb, 1903 – 1974)

Gottlieb belongs to the first generation of American abstract expressionists, although European developments influenced him too. He worked his passage across the Atlantic at age seventeen, and spent every waking hour in the Louvre art museum for the next two years. After he returned to America he lived in the Arizona Desert from 1937 to 1938, when he transitioned into a more surrealist phase.

Although he painted this picture decades later in 1962, it is hugely evocative of those years beneath the baking sun. When asked about the deeper meanings of his work he said, ‘I frequently hear the question, ‘What do these images mean?’ This is simply the wrong question. Visual images do not have to conform to either verbal thinking or optical facts. A better question would be ‘Do these images convey any emotional truth?’

On another occasion he commented, ‘If I made a wriggly line or a serpentine line it was because I wanted a serpentine line. Afterwards it would suggest a snake but when I made it, it did not suggest anything. It was purely shape…’ This sets us free to interpret his work in any way our emotions choose to go.

Mexican Scene

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Mexican Scene (Ira Moskowitz, 1912 - 2001)Mexican Scene (Ira Moskowitz, 1912 – 2001)

Ira descended from a rabbinical tradition, which means he was supposed to be a Jewish priest. He was born in Poland but when his family moved to New York in 1927, he shrugged this off and became an art student instead. This could not have been an easy transition. I wonder what caused him to do this.

Between 1935 and 1938 he travelled through Europe and Israel to reconnect with his roots. During this time he also discovered the glories of the European art tradition. I have no doubt he reconnected with his faith in Israel, for it is difficult to turn over a stone in the Holy Land without discovering evidence of the past.

During 1939 to 1943 Ira visited Mexico, where he recorded native Indian traditions on his canvasses. Following that, he largely faded from centre stage. I wonder why. Had he achieved the pinnacle of his ambitions, or had he moved on to something he yearned for more? We all need to know where we have come from and where we are going, when our days are gone.


The Lackawanna Valley

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The Lackawanna Valley (George Innes, 1825 to 1894)The Lackawanna Valley (George Innes, 1825 to 1894)

George Innes – many refer to him as ‘The Father of American Landscape Painting’ – was the 15th child born to a farmer and his wife. After they moved to New Jersey around 1930, he struck up a friendship with an itinerant painter who taught him the basics of his trade. After he attracted attention by virtue of being a competent engraver, he enrolled at art school.

At that time he wondered ‘If these two (engraving and art) can be combined then I will try to do it’. A wealthy benefactor sponsored a trip to Paris in the early 1950’s during which time the farmer’s lad rubbed shoulders with the Barbizon School. This was noted for looser brushwork, darker palette, and emphasis on mood, and this shows through in this piece he painted on his return.

In later life Innes returned to New Jersey where a mystical component shone through his work. He had reached the conclusion that ‘the true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist’s own spiritual nature’. According to his son he was viewing the sunset one evening when he threw up his hands into the air and exclaimed ‘my God oh how beautiful’ as he fell to the ground and died. He was fortunate to die within sight of his heaven.


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