Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Irving Penn and the Dutch Countryside

What do these things have to do with each other? The Getty. As I have blogged recently, the Getty might be the best thing Los Angeles has to offer. Two exhibits in particular were very interesting to me.

Irving Penn is a well known photographer. He was one of the fortunate artists who was recognized while living and could be commercialized, thus making him successful during life. I had never heard of the photographer before, and after looking at some of his work now, have decided that the exhibit up at the Getty is the only body of work of his that I really liked. The exhibit is based on a series of works he did in NYC, London and Paris in 40-50 years ago. It's called Small Works and was published as contemporary art in Vogue magazine (see what I mean about commercial?). While most of his works seem quite simple and costume-y, understanding that there had not ever been formal portraits of the working class (much like Millet's The Gleaners broke ground in the 19th Century with finally an actual realistic painting). Most photos with the working class featured them working away. Penn brought them into his studio, photographed them, and then titled them simply as their profession. No names, no identity besides their occupation, which mirrors how they're perceived.
There were a couple of different things that intrigued me. Those in the London portraits had either serious or vacant expressions. The Parisians were similar. Those photographed in NYC were jovial. The bakers and pickle sellers had a coy smile for the camera. Very telling of culture when class is similar but expression is not. Perhaps we Americans don't take ourselves seriously, or maybe we just know how to smile. The other thing I thought was cool is that Penn experimented with different processes for his photographs. So, well done by the Getty, they had a silver gelatin print hanging next to a platinum print. There is such a difference in clarity, grain and contrast. I love when this very technical side of art is highlighted.

The Dutch have always fascinated me. Their realism is untouched. Their atmospheres are always spot on. And they have some of the darkest paintings around, meaning that the painting is almost black as a whole, and yet there is purpose, emotion, and realism in a dark piece of canvas. The exhibit at the Getty showcased Dutch drawings. Most of these had quite a bit of wash work and looked incredibly impressive form a distance. As I got closer, however, I lost a bit of that what I would call "Dutch factor" as the details seemed to be lost. So the drawings in most cases were studies for paintings, and were almost definitely sketched while seated in a field. So I decided to take a page out of their book and sit on the sidewalk and sketch the beautiful building that was my landscape.
The amount of people who came over and looked over my shoulder just affirmed the idea I had that people don't really do this anymore. Has art become so elite that we can't just sit and sketch anymore? Do we have to be part of a class to do this? Well, obviously my drawing above is not perfect nor frame-worthy. But it is a study. A quick sketch. Which is where the Dutch started, afterall...


  1. I love your sketch! I think its frame-worthy : ) I love you!!!

  2. P.S. I like your blogger-makeover : )

  3. it would have been so cool to see those images! And I really want to see more Dutch paintings up close and personal.

    Love the new blog title and picture =)

  4. You've made me veeerrry curious about more of Irving Penn's images. (And also thanks for the nifty history lesson.)

    Your sketch of the Getty looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. Some fantastic palace in the clouds populated by people in really beauitful clothes that move like water when they walk.