Growing Up with LACMA

February 4, 2010

Last September I taught a figure drawing class for teenagers through LACMA’s Education Department. On the first day of the session, I perused my roll sheet and was delighted to see some familiar names. On the roster were three teens that have been taking art classes at LACMA since they were little kids. One teen in particular, Andy, I met when he was three years of age, and his sister Matisse was only a baby. I wanted to see how they thought making art and growing up around the art collections at LACMA affected their lives.

When Andy grows up he wants to be an architect. Matisse will always be an artist. At ages 14 and 12, respectively, this brother and sister grew up visiting LACMA on a regular basis, taking art classes, and delighting in the art on display. In the studio, Andy was a quiet and focused artist who paid incredible attention to detail. One time he made a sketch from memory of a gallery of animal vessels from Mexico. He drew the artworks in their display cases and all the light sources in the gallery. He was about five years old. Matisse was a happy, excitable artist who took delight in mixing a color or layering one material over another.

Andy's gallery sketch, age 5

I recently spent the afternoon with them, looking at their artwork and talking about their experiences at LACMA. Both kids vividly remember their weekend ritual of going to their morning art class with their mother, then going up to the plaza to do another art project at Family Sunday, then to the Tar Pits before coming back to the plaza for a snack purchased from the food cart. What was their first art memory? Andy remembers “using sumi ink, bamboo brushes, and bamboo pens in the underground studio [Studio East in the Ahmanson Building].” Matisse remembers “drawing the statue of the horse [that would be Picasso’s Centaur] and being able to stay after class to finish my project.”

Pablo Picasso, Centaur, 1955, gift of Gloria and David L. Wolper

The Centaur, as drawn by Matisse

In his teen figure drawing class, Andy was one of the few kids who chose to use the sumi ink on a regular basis. Did using the ink now bring back any memories? “Mostly it reminds me of the underground studio” he said.

An Andy original

And another

Matisse recently took two drawing and painting classes at LACMA that focused on the still life. Her instructors took the class to view the Luis Meléndez exhibition, and then set up fruits and vegetables in the studio. Matisse was so inspired by this, she went home and made a painting on her own of a still life with home baked bread and ceramic vessels. (Did I mention she’s a talented ceramicist too, who can throw pots better than most people twice her age)?

Matisse, 2009

Matisse, 2009

Matisse's still life

Andy showed me a model he made when he was 10 years old. He told me, “all the kids in the class made one room and I did a whole building with an interior and an exterior.” I asked him if this was this was the thing that made him want to be an architect. “Something like that,” he said.

Matisse isn’t sure yet what she’s going to be when she grows up, but she’ll always make art. She keeps taking classes at LACMA because, “I keep learning new things.”

Finally I asked them if any of the art they’ve seen at LACMA stood out in their minds. King Tut, they both said in tandem. Then like a good brother and sister team, they took turns offering Pompeii and the Roman Villa, Dalí & Film, “The Flying Spam!” [Ed Ruscha’s Actual Size], the Richard Serra sculptures, and Heroes and Villains. “I like the big Matisse painting,” laughed Matisse.

Rosanne Kleinerman, LACMA Teaching Artist

A Heart in the Heart of the City

February 3, 2010

Last year around this time, I was walking to the LACMA parking lot when I looked up and saw something extraordinary. I just happened to glance back at Urban Light, and high above it shone a large gleaming heart on the Variety building across Wilshire.

At first I thought it had something to do with Valentine’s Day, but after some investigating I discovered it was part of Go Red for Women, an initiative sponsored by the American Heart Association to both raise awareness about coronary heart disease and promote health-conscious lifestyles to reduce the leading cause of death in the United States.

They’re doing it again this year. As part of the nationwide initiative, cities will Go Red tomorrow night, including several buildings in Los Angeles. Be on the lookout for hearts on buildings or local spots lit up in crimson. And if you happen to be at LACMA tomorrow evening, be sure to look up—it’s bound to be twice as bright.

Devi Noor

A Peek into a Dutch Master’s Technique

February 1, 2010

After months of reconstruction, the first phase of the reinstallation of LACMA’s European art galleries is complete. These beautifully installed galleries feature the internationally acclaimed Carter Collection of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings. In conjunction with the preparation of a catalogue of the collection by Amy Walsh, curator of Dutch and Flemish art, the Conservation Department has been conducting a technical analysis of each painting.

One of the more interesting artists, in terms of both personal vision and technical ability, is Jan van der Heyden, who was an inventor as well as an artist. His detailed scenes along Amsterdam’s canals, such as his View of the Herengracht from 1670, are almost photographic in their realism.

Recent studies by the Rijksmuseum have shown that van der Heyden used a type of “printing” process to create the regular, precise patterns of the brick walls of his buildings and canal banks. The artist would etch brick patterns on a metal plate, apply light or dark paint to the plate, and then press it against a sheet of paper. While the paint was still wet on the paper, he would press it against his painting in the areas where he wanted a pattern of the mortar of the bricks. This photomicrograph (a photograph taken under the microscope) of a detail of the brick wall on the right side of the river bank shows van der Heyden’s technique.

Another photomicrograph from the same painting (below) shows how when the artist pulled up the sheet of paper, he smudged or dragged the yellowish paint toward the bottom right.

Van der Heyden also used other materials for “printing” patterns. In this photomicrograph of the foliage from one of the trees on the left, there are no brushstrokes visible—only a soft dotted texture. In this case the artist may have used something like a sponge or a piece of moss or lichen, dipped into paint and then sponged on the surface. The shadows and highlights were built up over each other with a variety of sponged greens from dark to light. The tapering lines of the branches however indicate that they were painted in with a brush.

Van der Heyden used these techniques to create the striking realism of his Amsterdam canal scenes—small surprise that his personal vision has continued to mesmerize viewers from his own time to this day. 

Joe Fronek, Head Painting Conservator, and Elma O’Donoghue, Associate Painting Conservator

Photography by Yosi Pozeilov; photomicrographs by Charlotte Eng (Associate Scientist).

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