Copyright © 2000 by Michael
Segers, All rights reserved
Last week, with "The Sounds of Three Musics," we raved about and celebrated the achievements of three diverse musicians for three diverse reasonsóthe release of a three-CD retrospective of Johnny Cashís work, the hundredth birthday of Kurt Weill, and the death of Tito Puente.
Since the work of these artists is still under copyright, there are no images here. You can find images of their artwork on some of the pages to which I link.
| I had no idea that
this week I would rave about and celebrate the achievement of four diverse visual
artists. I regret that they all have something in common: they all died in
the past week. But the distinctive vision that they shared with us will continue
to shape our vision of our lives and our worlds for a long time. Although their
names may not be familiar to you, I am sure that you have seen works by Leonard
Baskin, Jacob Lawrence, Jeff MacNelly, and George Segalóand
even had a piece by one of these artists in your mouth! I hope youíll take
advantage of the links in this article to see the sights at several sites
devoted to them, to give your eyes and mind a treat.
MacNelly is the most accessible and most available of these artists, since his
work appears regularly in newspapers. He created the feathered curmudgeons of
the comic strip Shoe, illustrated Dave Barryís columns, and provided
mordent editorial cartoons that I cheer, even though I often disagree with his
views. Unlike Charles Schultzís Peanuts, a kidsí world which often
appeared drawn by kids, MacNellyís is a world of adults, for adults, with a
complex texture not often seen in the comics.
It is appropriate that an artist working in such popular media is represented by two "official" websites. First, the irrepressible birdies perch at "The Official Shoe Website." The artist himself is celebrated, now remembered, at "The Official Jeff MacNelly Website."
Lawrence is known for his very colorful images of the Black experience in
America. In the famous Migration series, he documented and celebrated the
complex and changing life of African-Americans all across the United States.
Lawrence himself lived in Seattle, a city not much associated with the black
experience, but forever linked now to Lawrence. His simple, direct style seems
to have been drawn as much from mainstream modern art as from his African
heritage, while his tricky perspectives and formal arrangements give his work an
almost classical age. Break out your favorite jazz as a good background for
exploring Jacob Lawrence on the Internet.
Lawrenceís painting, Dust to Dust/The Funeral, is a sadly appropriate starting point. You can find it here accompanied by a quote from the artist which is especially moving now. [Dead link omitted.]
the warm, vibrant colors of Lawrenceís paintings it is quite a jump to the
eerie life-size plaster casts of George Segal. Life many of the so-called Pop
Artists, he tried to break down the distinctions between art and life.
Sometimes, coming upon a Segal piece in a crowded space (and for some reason,
they always seem to be in crowded spaces), Iíve had a very strange sense of
dislocation. Of course, these plaster casts arenít real people, but in some
ways, they are (after all, they are casts of real people) real people, frozen
for a moment, standing out from the hustle and bustle around them.
Check out a biography of George Segal (donít confuse him with the actor). Smithsonian Magazine has an intriguing article "Art That Turns Life Inside Out," which relates Segal to the Pop Art movement. The old Popster gained an almost canonical stature, as shown by his being one of five sculptors whose work was accepted for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.
finally, this article is my farewell to my personal favorite in this group,
Leonard Baskin. It may surprise you to think that you have had an artistís
work in your mouth, but you may have, since Baskinís work has appeared on
several postage stamps, most notably the stamp commemorating Henry David
Thoreau. His work also probably appears on the walls of more college faculty
offices than any other artist of recent years.
is something almost professorial about Baskin, steeped in literary and artistic
tradition and history, creating illustrations for books and portraits of authors
and artists. His dark, brooding woodcuts and etchings have an old-fashioned look
and feel as they explore starkly contemporary themes. He brought a similar
old-fashioned craft to the technical details of his work as graphic artist and
head of the Gehenna Press.
has long been a favorite of mine, and his work is so varied that I am sure
everyone could find at least one piece to like. He even showed a whimsical side
in books of animals and alphabets for his son Hosieówhich I have purchased for
several children over the years. Like Segal, he is one of five sculptors whose
work is included in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and like Lawrence,
he honors his ethnic background, in Baskinís case, Jewish. It may be fanciful
to link him with MacNelly, but both artistsí works are full of birds. In fact,
a Baskin print was chosen for the dust jacket of the Modern Library Edition of
Jerzy Kosinskiís novel, The Painted Bird.
my bed hangs a signed self-portrait print by Baskin (the first thing I
ever bought on credit). It is, then, one of the last things I see every night.
Certainly one could do much worse than have oneís dreams enriched by such an
image, a great artistís view of himself.
Here is a concise biography of Baskin with links to some images. A variety of Baskin's works can be seen online, as can, as can a piece of art that may have been in your mouth, the Henry David Thoreau stamp.
already yielded to the temptation of one pun (sights/sites), and now Iím going
to chance another, something about arts and hearts. Although the works of
Baskin, Lawrence, and Segal are all within the field of "modern art,"
they are nonetheless representational, centered on the human form and on human
concerns. They transcend labels. Baskin drew from and celebrated his Jewish
roots as Lawrence did his African roots, but they created art for us all, just
as Segalís work transcends the glittery Pop Art movement of some three decades
hope this article and its links will provide a starting point for your enjoyment
of these and other artists. There used to be a slogan that publishers used to
link to successful movies, "Donít forget to read the book!" I want
to update that to, "Donít forget to see the real thing!" You donít
really visit a museum by viewing its web page, anymore than you visit a museum
by looking at a postcard from it.
an art museum to see art "in person" is not all that hard. If you live
in Worth County, just point your car to Darton College in nearby Albany. On the
corner of the campus is a small museum which makes up in the carefully thought
out variety of its changing exhibits for anything it may lack in space. Most
cities have an art museum, many of which have gift shops and may even have
special activities for the kids as well as restaurants and gardens. An art
museum provides a quiet, economical break from the hassles of travel as well as
a chance to explore and experience something new.
your feet dry, your heart full of noble thoughts, and your eyes open to the
world as it is and the world as artists of the ability of Baskin, Lawrence,
MacNelly, and Segal have shown us it can be.
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