Robert Mapplethorpe, Imogen Cunningham, and Modernist Photography

The author of this month’s essay, James Adam Sanders, was a student in Art Since 1960 when he wrote it. In the essay, he considers the lasting influence of American modernist photography (as represented by OSU Museum of Art collection artist, Imogen Cunningham) on later photographers—and considers how Robert Mapplethorpe, in particular, transformed that influence in work that asks social questions still relevant today.

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Robert Mapplethorpe, “Lisa Lyon,” 1981. Gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches.

To many viewers outside the world of art, Robert Mapplethorpe’s work of the 1970s and early 1980s raises questions. Mapplethorpe himself acknowledged that he was extremely attracted to pornography and the hidden world of S&M—a fascination that he talked about openly in a 1983 interview. Mapplethorpe says in the interview that he wanted to see how far he could stretch the line between art and porn. Many have given him credit for creating the genre of fetish art, and there can be no argument that he definitely brought it to the forefront of conversations about contemporary aesthetics. Although some American audiences weren’t ready for Mapplethorpe’s work, it started a dialogue that needed to be opened. He prompted viewers to ask why the source of one’s passion matters, and whether we have to agree with each other about sexuality in order to have engaging conversations about passion and beauty.

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Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976), Tower of Jewels (Magnolia Blossom), 1925. Gelatin silver print, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, Oklahoma State University.

In terms of both quality and thematic subject, Mapplethorpe’s work strongly resembles Imogen Cunningham’s photographs from the 1920s. Both artists are directly or indirectly addressing sex, be it a sensual plant or a nude person. Their images are both repulsive and engaging, and they share a use of strong contrast with excellent composition and an ability to make even the darkest image pretty. Regardless of subject matter, Mapplethorpe’s work is simply beautiful. He used similar formal techniques to photograph people, flowers, erotic scenes, and more. His uniformly careful craft elevated these images, in the eyes of critics, to the status of art. His work has been extensively exhibited in galleries and collected by museums.

I would like to think that he wants us to question his artwork, and try to expand our thinking into the possibilities of a greater acceptance of each other. I also feel that we, as the viewers, having these discussions would make Mapplethorpe proud, knowing that we give his art recognition and find meaning in it for ourselves.

Further resources:

http://www.mapplethorpe.org/

http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Mappleth/MappPg1.html/

http://www.robert-mapplethorpe.com/

 

This essay has been edited for clarity, but the argument has not been altered.

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Karl Umlauf and Industrial Art

This essay was written by Kat Thornton while she was a student in Art Since 1960.

Karl Umlauf’s River Retrieval, 1998, in the permanent art collection is a large, expansive, and foreboding piece of art. The feel of industry, of cogs and gears, of darkness obtained through the use of black and grey and ochre pastels on a massive piece of paper reminded me of steampunk and industrial punk. It looks like the artist is expressing a fascination with the real context of metal, the feel of its rough texture, and the grease and oil that lubricates gears and drills. Although a large five-holed disk takes center stage, there is no main mechanism that the art is trying to depict; instead it is a collage of pieces that disappear into one another throughout the drawing.

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Karl Umlauf (American, b. 1939). “River Retrieval,” 1998. Pastel on paper, 44 x 30 inches. Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, 98-0054.

Karl Umlauf obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin and his Masters of Fine Arts from Cornell University. He is most known for his works in large outdoor and wall-supported sculpture based on geological formations and his depictions of industrial metal works from refineries, stell mills, and salvage yards. [Editor’s note: Read student writing about Umlauf’s sculpture, also in the OSU art collection, here and here.] He was an artist in residence at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, from 1989 until his retirement in 2015. [Editor’s note: See more of Umlauf’s studio in this post about OSU staff going to pick up a gift of his work.]

Umlauf’s connection to contemporary Neo-expressionism comes to light in his statement about his works: “[t]he multi-planographic sequences of surface imagery and color are used to create polarities, properties of tension, measured rhythms and surface energies, indicative of a visual form of physics. If the work appears to have an abstract yet unique personal identity and if it provided a distinct physical presence, then I have succeeded in establishing my visual signature.”

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Gilbert and George (British, active since 1967). “Speakers,” 1983. Hand-colored photograph mosaic, collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Umlauf’s description of surface imagery and polarities, tension and measured rhythms and surface energies sounds similar to the British artists Gilbert and George’s use of repeated forms and rhythms of color to create symmetry and tension within their work. Umlauf tends to borrow images of machinery and splice them or collage them together to create a rhythm and a harmony amongst the pieces. They tend not to be symmetrical, and his colors are not overly bright or eye-catching like Gilbert and George’s work. But even though their works look very different, the artists all share the concept of using visual imagery to create rhythm and express the tension of the world.

I was initially drawn to this pastel because it reminded me of steampunk industrialism. It has a feel of Hayao Miyazaki’s work in Howl’s Moving Castle, or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, or Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy. Of course, Umlauf’s work in charcoals, mixed media, pastels, and metals is not meant to be steampunk—they are images and pictures of existing structures and components, or collages thereof, rather than do-it-yourself costuming or idealized neo-Victorianism. Umlauf’s pictures share the sense of self-expression that is characteristic of steampunk as well as of Neo-expressionism as a contemporary art movement.

Read More:

New Baylor Retirees: Karl Umlauf (art), from Baylor University

Half-Century of Artistry Makes Up Umlauf’s Baylor Show, from the Waco Tribune-Herald

Artwork Inspired By Life, from the Waco Tribune-Herald

 

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Op Art at OSU: Richard Anuszkiewicz and Victor Vasarely

This essay was written by student lopeeta tawde while enrolled in Art Since 1960.

Various art movements emerged during the 1960s, the era of minimalism, postmodernism, the Black Arts movement, and the women’s liberation movement. “Optical Art,” more commonly known as “Op art,” was a style of painting that emerged during 1960’s and soon became popular in the United States. Op art, as its name suggests, has to do with vision. It is comprised of illusions created by playful compositions of lines, geometric shapes or different color schemes and patterns. Artists such as Richard Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, William Smith, and more created highly acclaimed Op artworks. In this essay, I compare the techniques and approaches of two OSUMA permanent collection artists, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Victor Vasarely.

Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) was a Hungarian-French painter and famous figure in the field of Op art. He discovered a new way of creating art through abstraction that was innovative in its use of color and optical illusion. He emphasized the idea more than the object or the materials used. His art work was comprised mainly of geometrical forms, organized flat with the standardized used of the colors to create the sense of visual illusion. He believed that form and color are inseparable. His works show that he used a variety of different media to achieve a sense of visual illusion that had a deep impact on architecture, computer science, fashion, and the way we now look at things in general.

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Victor Vasarely (Hungarian-French, 1906-1997), “Vega Per,” oil on canvas, 1965.

Vasarely’s motto was “Art for all.” His 1965 painting, Vega Per, creates an unreal space through the use of vibrant color combinations and gradual change in the background color while the circles on the background are consistently red and green. When we look at the painting from different angles, it creates a sense of movement in the painting. [Editor’s note: a similar illusion of depth can be seen in the OSUMA screenprint by Vasarely, Test Tarka, of 1990. In his lucite sculpture, Tower, ca. 1980, which is also in our collection, Vasarely combined two-dimensional geometric designs into a three-dimensional form, adding complexity to his illusionism. Click on the links to read student essays about these works.] Vasarely’s paintings are approachable for all people, not just artists, because there is a kind of playfulness in his artwork.

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Richard Anuszkiewicz, Untitled from the “Inward Eye” portfolio, 1970. Color screenprint, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection.

Richard Anuszkiewicz, an American artist from 1960’s was also known for creating Op art. His works are mainly comprised of lines drawn to achieve his desired visual effects, and he often chooses a palette of complementary colors. Inward Eye is a color screenprint made in 1970. Placement of lines is very important in this print; Anuszkiewicz has used concentric lines repetitively to create a sense of inward and outward movement. As in Vega Per, its effect changes when observed from different angles and sides. Like Vasarely’s prints and paintings, Inward Eye creates a three-dimensional surface on the two-dimensional paper, changing the background colors while keeping solid color for the foreground lines, thus creating a sense of illusion. Both artists concentrate on line work, technically strong composition of geometric forms, and movement created by a dramatic use of color. The use of color, especially vibrancy between the complementary colors, creates an illusion of movement. Focusing on physiological effects rather than representational symbolism, the two artists seem to share the ideology of making art available for all people.

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Stephen Rosser, “Thinking Cowboy,” 2003-04

This post was written by student Hillarey Dees while she was enrolled in Art Since 1960.

Stephen Rosser was raised on a ranch in Southwest Oklahoma. He was always interested in art, and pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. After he graduated he traveled to Santa Fe to show his portfolio to galleries, and soon was represented by galleries across the nation. His work garnered particular interest in the 1980s and 1990s. He returned to Oklahoma to pursue his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Tulsa, where he studied with Joe Baker. He has painted professionally for 25 years, worked in art galleries for 20 years, and has also been a professor of art at different universities. He currently (2011) teaches art courses at Tulsa Community College.

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Stephen Rosser, “Thinking Cowboy,” 2003-04. Four color woodcut, 22 x 17 1/2 inches. Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, 98-0028.

Rosser is known best for his series of paintings entitled The Cowboy and the Indian Wild West. He uses imagery from the rural environment and his upbringing in paintings while incorporating wittiness to give it a lighthearted feel. He states, “Many of my paintings have a humorous quality that comes about by twisting traditional ideas into unexpected forms. I use puns literally as well as visually. There is a wealth of materials for the painter in the subculture of the contemporary American cowboy lost in a modern world.”

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Auguste Rodin, “The Thinker,” 1904.

Two of his works are in the Gardiner Permanent Art Collection (part of the OSU Museum of Art collection): a four-block woodcut titled Thinking Cowboy and an oil painting titled Blue Venus in Chaps. Thinking Cowboy was created at the first of a printmaking workshop series which served as a fundraiser for the OSU Art Department [now the Department of Art, Graphic Design, and Art History]. The workshop brought in a working artist once a year and they created a series of prints that were sold by annual subscription to collectors who wanted to support the arts at OSU. Thinking Cowboy presents a central figure of a cowboy in the pose of Auguste Rodin’s well-known sculpture, The Thinker. As in most of Rosser’s work, it employs bright colors and art-historical references in a whimsical manner.

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Rina Banerjee, “Take me, take me, take me to the Palace of Love,” 2003.

Rosser’s work reminds me of artist Rina Banerjee’s sculpture, because both use art to express their relationship to, and disconnection from, their upbringing. Banerjee was born in India but has spent most of her life in New York. Some of her work relates to her detachment from her heritage, suggesting that she feels almost like a tourist when she returns to India to visit. In Take me, take me, take me… to the Palace of Love, for example, she reconstructs the Taj Mahal in a fantastical manner, with bright pink plastic wrap. Rosser has also spoken of his disconnection from his origins, saying, “When I go there, it’s just not the same. They just don’t think like I do down there.” He always felt different from the other people in the ranch community, saying he never quite fit in. Both Banerjee and Rosser mimic their past using satire and humor to satisfy their feelings as outsiders.

Quotes from Rosser are drawn from an interview between the artist and the author conducted on April 12, 2011.

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Willard Stone, “Something to Believe In,” 1969

This post was written by student Shaylene Thompson for History of Twentieth Century Art.

Willard Stone was born in 1916 in Oktaha, Oklahoma, and died in 1985 of a heart attack. Stone was a Native American/Indian artist whose primary subjects were Western, such as cowboys, Indians, and horses. At the age of thirteen, Stone’s interest in drawing was upset when he lost parts of his right thumb and two fingers in an accidental dynamite cap explosion. He then found a new outlet to express himself, in the form of modeling clay.

Willard Stone, “Something to Believe In,” 1969. Lithograph on paper, 11 x 14 inches. Gardiner Art Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. F. M. Bartlett, 83-0120.

Something to Believe In is an 11 x 14-inch lithographic print. It was completed in 1969, and donated to Oklahoma State University in May 1983. A description of the print that accompanied the artwork says, “Three Basic Things—We have to believe in our kids and their future, represented by the little Cherokee boy, and get them to understanding and believing in Nature, or the Good Earth, upon which their life depends, represented by the terrapin, and third, the Great Spirit or God, represented by the three feathers in the boy’s hair. 30 castings in bronze will be made of this subject. If interested, contact the sculptor.”

This description gives us insight into what the print (and the related sculpture) represents. With three different themes symbolized in the print, Stone explains and shows how those themes are relevant to everyone’s life, and what he believes should be passed on from generation to generation. The boy and the turtle are the only things in the print, focusing us on their specific concepts and their relation to one another.

Something to Believe In is a representational print, and it doesn’t fit into the canonical modernist movements we typically study in art history classes. The print is the work of a man who wishes to express his heritage through the media of print and sculpture. This is a modern work because the artist expresses himself through his work, not necessarily concerning himself with what his audience wants to see. It is a very personal work, in which Stone illustrated his beliefs about how we should behave and what we should teach our children.

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Raymond Gloeckler and Pop Surrealism

This post was written by student Daniel King.

Although not often associated with one another, the work of Camille Rose Garcia and Raymond Gloeckler both question the fantasies and foibles of humanity. Garcia, a “lowbrow” artist inspired by the Grimms’ fairy tales and Disney movies, is typically connected to the Pop Surrealism movement. Gloeckler is a printmaker who gives animals anthropomorphic qualities to comment on human corruption and humanity’s many flaws. The two artists use different levels of abstraction within their shared surrealism, even as both explore the wide range of human flaws.

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Camille Rose Garcia, “The White Swan Deluge,” 2005.

Garcia is inspired by the fantasies dominant in American culture, but she reinterprets them, undermining their naivete in order to suggest that society tells itself these fantasies to hide the fact that the world is corrupt and despairing. Some of her work, like The White Swan Deluge, is a social commentary on the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004. Although it’s referring to real-world events, Garcia’s psychedelic color palette gives the image a surreal vibe. Her figures offer symbolic responses to the devastation: many of the characters’ eyes are closed, which the artist asserts represents their use of sleep and dreams to conjure escapes from the situation. In other words, the closed eyes may be her symbol for the tsunami survivors’ dream of a better life. Their hopelessness, in combination with the childlike palette, invites viewers to discover the grim realities waiting outside their fantasy worlds.

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Raymond Gloeckler, “Bugs and Boars, Pigs and Pests, the Red Baron and the Mighty Batman,” 1988. Wood engraving, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, ND-0035.

Gloeckler, like Garcia, comments on the foibles of humanity in a surreal way. In contrast to Garcia, his work is a woodblock print and is devoid of color. Therefore, his work relies solely on the abstraction of the human and animal represented. Gloeckler’s work is not as cartoon-like as Garcia’s; it resembles political cartooning more than Disney, and is similar to political cartoons in tone thanks to its negative depiction of authority figures. However, his work is much more abstract than typical political cartoons. His print, Bugs and Boars, Pigs and Pests, the Red Baron and the Mighty Batman (1988), seems directly to criticize Richard Nixon’s political ideas. In Nixon’s era, politicians who were in favor of war were often called war pigs. The reference to the Red Baron may refer to the spread of communism, and the superhero the American need to save the world (presented satirically). The bugs/pests are shaped like airplanes, which could also further the point that the United States had become militant bullies, pestering other countries (this is also an idea explored by Garcia, for example in Snow White and the Black Lagoon, in which she critiques the US military-industrial complex).

Further Reading:

Andrew Stevens and Raymond Gloeckler, Ray Gloeckler, Master Printmaker (Chazen Museum of Art, 2004).

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Luigi Kasimir, “Austrian Scene (City Entrance to Town),” 1922

This post was written by student Tori Bryant.

Artist Luigi Kasimir developed a specific method of colored etching. He was born in 1881 in the town of Pettau, which at the time was in the Austro-Hungarian empire. He attended the Vienna Academy of Art, where he studied under William Unger, the artist who first introduced him to the technique of color etching. Kasimir also met his wife, Tanna Kasimir-Hoernes, at the Academy; she was an accomplished artist herself. Before Kasimir developed color etching, most etchings were done in black and white. Etchings had been popular for many years, and several artists explored applying color to etchings in various ways: hand coloring, or printing multiple colors from a single plate [a technique called à la poupée – ed.]. Kasimir’s method consisted of sketching the scene or image, usually in pastel, and then transferring the design by hand onto four to six plates. These plates were a way to keep the individual colors separate. The result was a crisp, clear image. Kasimir produced etchings for the majority of his lifetime, all with rich color and beautiful line quality. He died in 1962 in Grinzing, a suburb of Vienna.

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Luigi Kasimir, “Austrian Scene (City Entrance to Town),” 1922. Color etching, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, 80-0053.

Kasimir was considered a realist; the vast majority of his works’ subjects were architecture, landscape, and city scenes. This print, Austrian Scene (City Entrance to Town), created in 1922, fits in well with the rest of his work, although it is much gloomier and more dismal than most of his other etchings. For instance, Innsbruck, Golden Roof and Wiessenkirchen on the Danube are two etchings that show how cheerful and brightly colored the majority of his prints are.

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Luigi Kasimir, “Innsbruck, Golden Roof,” ca. 1922.

Looking specifically at Austrian Scene, the most interesting aspect of the etching is the fact that a large percentage of the composition is taken up by the concrete structure and arch. Yes, there is a city scene through the arch, but it is mostly in the distance and in the background of the print. It almost seems as though the arch and the concrete structure have the most significance in the scene. Since the etching was done in 1922, this fits in with other artists who were focusing their content on industry and the growth of the city. This could explain the fact that Kasimir uses dark and dreary colors, emphasizing the concrete and the rise of the city.

The arch also underscores the human perspective that Kasimir uses. The point of view makes it seem as though the viewer of the print is really standing outside the city, looking through the arch. Qualities like this make Kasimir’s arch truly representational, without drastic distortion or stylization in the scene. There are some blurred images of people walking the streets, but through the shadows and busy-ness of the city, a person would hardly see people clearly, even in reality.

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