Barack Obama’s Presidential Portrait



Paintings may actually serve a purpose. Inspiration: looking at a beautiful painting does ignite those creative and disciplined urges. A creative looking for a mentor may find one in a particular painting or in a painterly style. People who like similar painters or a period of art history may form a community such as artists who favor the classical style.  

Obama’s presidential  portrait by  Kehinde  Wiley could serve some of these purposes for looking at art. First of all, he puts the former President outdoors away from the Oval Office and the White House. In an almost icon-fashion way, the painted Obama engages the viewer directly.  The botanical, decorative background emerges behind Obama, at his sides, by his feet in front, and above climbing an invisible wall. The background of leaves and flowers emerges from behind to the foreground adding drama to the painting.

Like Kehinde Wiley’s other pieces, this one challenges the conventional views of power and status. This portrait painting is inspiring, shows mastery of painting technique and expressiveness, and for those who follow the recent development of Presidential portraiture, this one belongs to the canon. For the past fifty years of US electoral history, presidential portraits were collected to be kept in a collection. Several years into the making of this collection, the portraits of First Ladies were also included in order to be more equitable.


If there is a traditional objective to meet in these presidential portraits, it is to show the dignity and power of the office of the United States president. Reviewing past presidential portraits within the Smithsonian, Wiley was ready to have Obama carry a  sword, riding his horse to the mountain top. Fortunately for everyone, Obama nixed this idea and asked Kehinde to bring the President’s portrait “down a knotch” in keeping with his vision of the government for the people and by the people. As portrait painters frequently do, they maintain a friendly and open rapport with their sitters. Indeed, Wiley and  past President Obama were able to share their opinions about the portrait and had a good time together as painter and model.

Napoleon Bonaparte til Hest – fra bogen Jacques-Louis David – Empire to Exile, Philippe Bordes
Napolen blev født på Korsika 15. august 1769 Efter at have været første konsul blev Napoleon Bonaparte i 1804 fransk kejser. I 1796 blev han gift med Josefiné Beauharnais.

At the finish of the painting, small details offer even more meaning to the piece. Obama is portrayed sitting in a chair recognizable  to the style of antique chairs during the time in Black history when Sojourner Truth lived and became well-known. Being that Kehinde Wiley’s presidential painting was the first portrait of the first African-American president to be painted by an African American makes theses clues to black history within the painting more relevant and powerful. The botanicals represent in part, the contribution to this nation by our immigrants. They brought over to the New world plants unknown to American soil. These imported plants added so much to what was a very boring epicurean menu of the first settlers. Some of the plants in this painting include chrysanthemums that are the official flower of Chicago, jasmine the flower of Hawaii, and African blue lilies from Kenya to remember Obama’s father.


Because “racism cast a long shadow over art” the selection of Kehinde Wiley for the presidential portrait is even more significant. A landmark exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York  city in 1971, featured black American artists who painted abstractly. It was a landmark show because previously most black artists were confined to a traditional norm, which burdened an artist to always being a a true representative of the whole black culture. Black representation in art was different than in literature. Blacks were painted as slaves and in servitude to white culture. There were no black heroes painted in the Western tradition of art. However, there are a few exceptions: Fuseli’s “The Negro Revenged”, Joshua Reynold’s “Study of a Black Man”, and Theodore Gericault’s “The Raft of Medusa”. Goya was another exception. He painted the reality of black suppression by a white society. Therefore, to have a black artist painting a black American as president of the United States is quite exceptional in the history of western art.

It is not only Kehinde Wiley who is affecting the rest of American culture. Contemporary, young, black women artists like Lynette Yiadom-Baakye, Kara Walker, and Michelle Obama’s portraitist Amy Sherod are also putting pressure on Americans to recognize their  work and how African Americans are equal members of the mainstream culture.

Continue reading “Barack Obama’s Presidential Portrait”

Mt Paradise: Paul Detlefsen Art



the-good-old-days.jpg (600×417)
The Good Old Days


How is it that the work of a Hollywood backdrop artist can still intrigue the computer driven global citizen of our modern fast times? While discovering Detlesfen, I kept asking this question. Upon looking further and longer, his paintings gradually worked their magic.


Paul Detlefsen  was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1899, the son of a doctor. He lived for 87 year , a commercial artist educated at the Art Institute of Chicago and was a grandfather of two grandchildren. To start his career, he moved to Hollywood where he hoped to become a cartoonist. This fell through for him so he began painting backdrops for Hollywood films. For 20 years he worked for Warner Brothers Studios.

At the height of his time at  Warner Brothers, he advanced to the head of the  art department. Detlefsen created the background scenery of the film sets, referred to as matte  paintings. In 1944, the filmThe Adventures of Mark Twain” won an award at the 17th Academy Awards for special effects created by him and his colleagues. Other films of the 40’s that Detlefsen  worked on were The Horn Blows as Midnight, Escape in the Desert, and Shadow of a Woman.

Even though Detlefsen was a realist painter, he did not paint from real life. His vast and catalogued file collection of 15,000 slides were his main source for imagery as well as his imagination. He could conjure up scenes from memory of his childhood spent in Illinois.

At Warner Brothers, Detlefsen  integrated his realistic landscape paintings with the physical movie sets to create the “matte shot”.  Rhapsody in Blue and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam were more films he took on. In Hollywood, stars like Walt Disney and Bette Davis worked and socialized with him.

coming-around-the-bend.jpg (451×615)
Coming Around the Bend

By the 1950’s, a shift occurred in his career. He began to lithograph his art images on to calendars, playing cards, jigsaw puzzles, and placemats. His first calendar “The Good Old Days” was published in 1951 and was very successful. “The Good OLd Days” and Norman Rockwell’s “The Boy Scout” calendar led the competition in  calendars . Though to “keep up with the changing modern times”, as Detlefsen said, he printed off calendars with mini-skirted go-go dancers.

The appeal of Detlefsen  art seems to be how he purposefully represents nostalgia  for the past but with restraint. His paintings compare iconic views of rustic, agrarian life with its barns, bridges, streams, trains, and always a small adventurous boy or girl placed interestingly in the landscape. It’s nostalgia without excess or regret and for some the best of a good joke!

horse-and-buggy-days.jpg (600×415)
Horse and Buggy Days

More about Detlesfen:

  1. Calendars, prints, and paintings can be found on,, and
  3. “Matte Shot” ,
  4. photo credits for Paul Detlefsen paintings in this post: 

At the Easel , January 2018


These are recent  paintings and a drawing completed in January, 2018 

Sequoia, German Shepard, oil on board, 14in.x14in. 

Sherry and Emily, oil on paper, 21.5in.x19in.



Sweet Water Basket,  graphite on paper, 17in.x14in.


2017 Endings and Happy New Year 2018

photo of Science March, Madison, Wisconsin, 2017

As well as more paintings completed, several events have made 2017 at least significant if not very, very good. The “Faces of Incarceration” exhibit at the Playhouse Gallery of the Overture Center of the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin in July was a highlight undoubtedly.

Beth Inglis_Adrian_graphite_15inx18in_jpg









The show at Badger Prairie Health was a success and had more art entries than in previous years.


Badger Prairie Health class: collage of a lamp


C.Kung recently retired Vilas Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology of the University of Wisconsin-Madison,  paints in oils with a Chinese aesthetic. Landscapes, portraits, and still life paintings can be seen on his website:


       Drawing and original photo of Sequoia, German Shepard

German Shepard Coloring

This working dog is known for it devotion to its owner and a popular guard or service breed because of its fearless disposition. They love to be mentally and physically challenged whether it is as a herder, a watchdog, an exercise partner, or police dog. Bi-color, black, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, black and tan, blue, gray, liver, sable, and white are the colors you will see on these dogs.   (from Celebrating Dogs and All Their Colors)

Here is the  link: Celebrating Dogs and All Their Colors:






Russian Painting 1930-1980

Lilacs, by Vladimir Krantz , oil on board, 1968. courtesy of McCarthey Gallery,


Russian Impressionist masters were unknown to the West for a long time due to the Soviet block . Their time frame of 1930-1980 is becoming more in focus due to U.S. galleries  and Japanese collectors.  A US gallery:Thomas Kearns McCarthey Gallery is  located in two places: Park City, Utah and St.Petersburg, Russia.  McCarthey gallery collects dacha art: the great Russian Impressionist masters.

When looking at the paintings “The April”, “The Lilacs”, and “After Rain”, by artist Vladimir P. Krantz(1913-2003) , one is impressed by the soft brush strokes and lyrical interpretation of the landscape.  Krantz’s work was not recognized until a Japanese collector began acquiring  his pieces. Krantz,  from a small town near St.Petersburg, joined the Russian Artist’s Union in 1973 and since then became a full-time painter. Krantz stressed that nature was his best teacher. His realist style and alla prima  painting resulted in an art of lightness, color, and shade brought  together in a unity which never descended into the roughness which nature and all its forms may include.

Unlike American artists after World War II , Russian Impressionists continued to express the aspirations of Russian society. A Soviet phrase of that time expresses some optimism:

               “Acceptance will come, because it is historically inevitable”

The heritage of Russian creativity is immense from Tolstoy to the Bolshoi Ballet. The period of Russian Impressionism 1930-1980  added  positively  to their tradition of art. Impressionist artists desired to express the lives, hopes, joys, and other emotions of the common folk in Russia. Keeping a strong preference for painting the land and people of Mother Russia, these painters  did not adapt to Western art.  Impressionism in Russia comprised three stylistic parts. The first was classical art dating to before 1950 . Most art originated from the Soviet academy and the approach to art was low-key and nothing too disruptive or shocking. There was not  much of an inventory of paintings from this period.

6619- SOLD

“Fruit on a Platter” by Engels Vasilyevich Kozlov, oil on board, 1999, courtesy of McCarthey Gallery

The next phase was the impressionism of the working class. Art had a positive edge which was accessible to the masses. Subject matter included farms, landscapes, industry, portraits expressive of sensitive emotions, and interior still life paintings. This working class art peaked in 1950’s to the 1960’s. The third  period was the  rough and severe style .  These paintings began to employ a modernist approach while still making a socialist statement.

Intellectually what characterizes the art of 20th century Russian impressionism?   Freedom of expression, vibrancy, spontaneity, and honoring  “the  soul” of Russia’s people.  Painting plein air and alla prima, using a light palette, full and heavy brushstrokes and bold colors are strategies used by  these artists to achieve the goal of glorifying Russia and its unadorned everyday life with the resilience of its people. A comparison to the French Impressionist artists like Francois Millet, Gustave Courbet, or Edouard Manet may be close in similar style and intent.

 In  Russia these  impressionist artists,  especially those living, are treated like Hollywood stars.  At the  Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, works by Yuri Kugach, one of the oldest living  masters , has paintings gracing the Institute’s walls.  Kugach  is  a family of artists across generations similar to the Wyeths in the eastern US. Yuri Kugach maintains a studio or dacha” in the middle of an apple orchard. He paints there on location everyday. Now collectors worldwide are saying that Russian art is “hot “ because the galleries have discovered “realism”. From Andrei Rublev and orthodox iconography to avant-garde painters  K.Malevich and W.Kandinsky, much study, training, and work has occupied these “realist” artists who are becoming known in their own right.


  3. http;//



Saint Catherine of Alexandria in her Study, from Belles Heures of Jean, the Cloisters Collection, 1954
When Nero, emperor of Rome during the first century, got tired of looking at the gory, bloody gladiator fights, he would avert his eyes to his jewelry and stare at the green in the emeralds. Romans were fans of green naming the word: veridis. In the chariot races, the Blues represented the stables of the senatorial patricians while the Greens were the stables of “the people”.
For the Hellenistic Greeks, green as becoming a color in its own right was more complicated. The ancient Greeks had names for the colors: white (leukos), black (melanos), and red (erthros) but not for green. The reason being that they thought colors of nature did not need to be signaled out and given a name. Secondly, a true color is a manufactured color. To mix a color like blue and yellow to create green is bad kharma. Otherwise , in the words of First century AD Plutarch:
       “mixing produces conflict, blending pigments is deflowering…”
                                                                   Bright Earth, Philip Ball, page 19
Although, these ancient Greek artists were not opposed to glazing translucent colors over opaque ones to make a variety of tones, it was 
acceptable to mix black or white into another color. This practice of “glazing” continued into the Renaissance. Greens were created by glazing yellow over blue. One of the early pigments was from the organic compound malachite. Later in time, malachite green was replaced by a very poisonous emerald. Poisonous greens have an infamous history. Legend says that Napoleon Bonaparte died while in exile from being poisoned by the arsenic fumes of the painted green walls. Eventually, in 1859, a safer green was manufactured called “veridian”, a hydrated chromic oxide. Veridian  was adored by the Impressionists especially Cezanne.
Before 1000 AD , the color green must work for its acceptance and status as a single, honest color. To explore this, it helps to understand the sense of morality given to colors in the Middle Ages. For the most part, green was considered to be bad and dishonest by Catholic  saints, Roman  officials , and later by Protestant reformers.  First of all, although green was used abundantly in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, there was very little mention  of colors in the Bible and particularly green. Colors were identified with matter.  Like gold is a color and the shiny metal gold. The Hebrews had a word for green: “yereq”.  But for the Church fathers, green signified vegetation!
In the 13th century , Pope Innocent III codified the colors used in the Catholic liturgical mass. In this treatise on the mass, Pope Innocent III

included green as a liturgical color. No longer was green considered bad but became symbolically to mean the color of hope, life, abundance as in the green fields and forests of nature. Prior to this liturgical ordering, green meant sickness as when the human body turns green with disease. The “people”      accepted this new status for green, ranking green higher than yellow, blue, or purple. For that matter, blue was even rarer than green to be found in the Bible if at all.


Joan of Arc, Jules Bastien-Lepage,  1879, oil on canvas, The MetFifth Ave, Gallery 800

When the Germans  in the 5th century, introduced and tested new dying methods for making clothes, the industry brought new colors to the people. Clothing on one side was a monochrome color of either white, red, or yellow ; and on the other side , there were vivid combinations of blue, green, and yellow. The Romans tended toward yellow-green, which in  Latin is galbinus“. Since the Germans knew the superior cloth dying techniques, their sense of color  pervaded. Charlemagne wore green and red signifying his political power.  The Vikings wore green tunics, as the Germanic green was equivalent to the Scandinavian green worn by these pirates. These northern European dyers found their greens from the natural order. Ferns, plantains, oak leaves and even birch bark were used for green dye. However the green dye was very unstable and not very vivid.  This instability led to green’s tarnished reputation as a color.

Like the Bible, green was rarely mentioned in the Q’uran if at all.
Muhammed though favored green especially in fabrics. Upon his 
death in 632 AD, green became the color of his family.  This status was only a political one, not a sacred one. Various dynasties had their  own symbolic color like the Abbasids’ color was black; the Almoravids were white; and Almohads were red. During the crusades, the Christians wore red and white, while Islam adopted green as a unifying color, This green became  symbolic for paradise, happiness, water, sky, and hope.
By the 1000’s and 1200’s, green was very popular. The color was valued as a middle color with a soothing effect. Green emeralds were pulverized to make an eye balm. Competition between blue and green
furthered cemented the use and significance of green. Although not very evident in the heraldry of the European Middle Ages, green was symbolic of youthfulness, love and chivalry. The “orchard motif” popularized during this Romanesque period employed green generously. The orchard was the place for courtly romances, usually including an enclosed garden space with a gate. The orchard was thought of as a place of rest, harmony, and relaxation: a place full of trees, vineyard,meadow flowers, magical and mythical beasts like unicorns and phoenixes and what better color to use to paint or embroider this paradise than green!
  •    Green, the History of Color, Michel Pastoureau ,Princeton University Press,2014
  •     Bright Earth, Art  and the Invention of Color,Philip Ball, The University of Chicago Press,2001
  • The Artist’s Magazine, June 2017,Vol.34 #5, “Brushing Up” by Michael C.Johnson, article: Going Green

Venice Biennale 2017




The first Art Biennale opened 124 years ago in Venice. In order to celebrate the silver anniversary of King Umberto and Margherita of Savoy, the Venice city council proposed a resolution to produce a national art exhibition every two years. The seed of this vision was sown by Selvatico, mayor of Venice in the 1890’s. His sense was that the evening gatherings of artists at the Cafe Florian evolve into a successful and competitive international show.The exhibition was by invitations only to Italian and major foreign artists. Those Italian artists who received no invitations could still take part if they limited pieces to two each. One was used by the press and the second piece was for publicity purposes. The first Art Biennale, named International Art Exhibition of Venice, took place in a pavilion constructed in the public gardens in Castello on April 30, 1895. The name changed in later years to describe more accurately its 2-year cycle. Within the Castello Gardens that house all the national pavilions of the Venice Biennale, the US Pavilion enjoys a prominent position.

For the first Biennale, a major prize went to Giovanni Segantini‘s “Return to Native Village”. Segantini was an Italian painter deserted by his mother and father, who eventually got off the streets and into a school which encouraged his art abilities. He became the painter of the Alps of which nature inspired his vision. The first major prize was a tie. The other painter was Francesco Paolo with his painting  “Jorio’s Daughter”. But literally at the end of the day, the jury gave another prize to Giacomo Ghasso’s “Supreme Meeting”. A popular referendum defeated the jury on this one. It’s not surprising that another kind of prize the “Critic’s Prize” was created to improve the next biennale’s awards.

In the early history of this international exhibit, the Germans and Italians were the countries dominating this event. For the 3rd Biennale, the Italian artists Michetti and Sartorio established the practice of showing art in private rooms. By 1901 at the 4th Biennale, France was invited to exhibit French landscape paintings. France also sent 20 sculptures by Rodin. By the 5th in 1903, decorative art and furnishings were included. At the turn of the 20th century, French Impressionist artists were recognized by Europe but not so readily by the Biennale jury. In heated fashion, a protest about the jury’s elimination of 823 pieces of art of 963 resulted in creating the Salon des Refuses.

At the 7th Biennale, Sargent won a medal and American artists came on the scene. The Ballet Russes was represented by Repin of Russia who made costumes and set design. After 1930 when the new president of the Biennale, Volpi, was chosen, a concerted effort was made to promote regional Italian artists at the Biennale but also in other countries. New York city reciprocated by holding a major Italian exhibit in 1932. By the beginning of World WI,7 international pavilions had been built. Today, the Giardini area in Venice hosts 29 pavilions.

“If the Venice Biennale is the Olympics of the art world than the national pavilions are the stadiums where countries unleash the best talent they have to offer.”

Infamous figures in history and great masters of art became represented at the Biennale although not without controversy. Picasso’s works were not allowed at the show until 1948 because his “innovative artistic language”  was too provocative. Hitler rebuilt the German pavilion according to the designs of Ernst Haiger, whom he personally chose. Ordinarily, the pavilions were owned by the Venice city council.

For this year, Mark Bradford, an artist from Los Angeles, was invited to exhibit his work in the American pavilion. Bradford earned a BFA and MFA from California Institute of Arts inValencia, Ca. The key to Bradford’s long-awaited Biennale exhibition is a poem written by the artist, which is set in stone on the exterior of the neoclassical US pavilion in the Giardini. By creating large-scale abstract painting he conceptualizes about the structure of urban US society. Bradford received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award in 2009. His canvases are covered in collage materials and a survey of his works was shown at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.

For the Venice Biennale, Bradford’s show “Tomorrow is Another Day” expresses a commitment to the social nature of the material world. By material, he incorporated examples of a hair salon, Home Depot, and the streets of Los Angeles. He cares about marginalized people, both their vulnerability and resilience. He understands that America is threatened or at least its so-called social promise has not been fulfilled and thus undermines the American character. “Tomorrow is Another Day” will be also exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Sept.2018-Jan.2019.

To appreciate the Venice Biennale is to show its growing outreach to the international world.This growth does not always go smoothly as the Biennale’s history has revealed. Kenya has recently been invited to the Biennales but in 2017, the Kenyan government failed to support its artists with needed funds to travel and set up the show. Kenya’s curator Jimmy Ogonda worked quickly to find and fund a venue for the Kenyan artists. Individual artists were on their own to get to Venice, however. On the island of Giudecca, Ongaonga found an abandoned school which the  Kenyan artists could use. Fortunately for them, a supporter of Kenya’s artist-in-residence program bought airline tickets for the art crew and a coffee company Hausbrandt found housing. Arlene Wandera, one of Kenya’s artists, installed a ladder with balanced tiny figures made from wire to inhabit the space on the 3rd floor of the unused school. Paintings and video from Kenyan artists are also on display.

Kenyan artist with display of ladder and small figures

With the 57th edition of the Venice Art Biennale now open to the public, managing editor Olivia Mull selects some of the best designed exhibitions, spatial installations, and pavilion takeovers.The Biennale opened May 13th and closes November 27, 2017. Wheelchair accessible, small animals allowed and free stroller rentals are available. Guided tours are given in several languages.






Old Masters in Modern Times

Portraits by Philip Salamone for the Dane Arts Gallery Show

Philip Salamone, an artist of Madison, Wisconsin, knows something about painting like the Old Masters.In his solo show as part of the Dane Arts Collective, his modern day subjects are portrayed in the classical style of portraiture. Philip will find friends,family, other artists, musicians, and even local shop owners to sit for him and a small coterie of artists who spend their days or evenings honing the skills of portraiture painting. In his own studio, he sets the model up usually sitting in a chair placed on a platform surrounded with curtains but with a bright light aimed at the model’s head. Artists gather around on benches or with easels to draw or paint who they see on the platform in the chair.

Portraiture throughout out history has at times been deemed a lesser art than historical paintings or landscapes or interiors. Like still life paintings, portraits could pay the bills if one had enough talent and education. Yet, some portraits are masterpieces. Leonardo painted “Mona Lisa “; Gainsborough painted “Blue Boy” and Holbein painted “Henry VIII”. It takes awhile to master the art of painting someone’s portrait. This is why many artists make lots of head studies to learn how to accurately paint flesh tones, and to get the proportions right and to get the facial structures in properly. If there is even a small inaccuracy, these details affect the rest of the painting dramatically. It is like painting the eyes too close to each other. They look cross-eyed from a distance.

Besides skillfully rendering a head, there is another quality which makes a head study into a portrait and a work of art. This is capturing the personality of the sitter which can be done in various ways. Expressing the essence of a model is what portraiture entails too. Before Impressionism in the late 19th century, artists such as Edouard Manet ignored the classical tradition of portraiture, which wanted to see subjects painted in upper-class settings like on a throne or in a royal procession, and instead painted his subjects outside near a woods. See Manet’s ” Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe.” Manet knew well the classical traditions of the academies and was able to achieve this skill. However, being able to put his models anywhere was a certain freedom which was necessary for him to keep painting. The absolute purity of the painting for Manet did not lie in the choice of subject or theme.

Mary Cassatt is another painter of the late 19th century, for whom the standards of the art academy began to pinch too much. Influenced by the classical painter Emile Carolus-Duran and the Spanish realist painter Velaquez, Cassatt felt the tension between the beauty of the classical tradition and modern times. Her Painting “Lady of Seville” shows how Cassatt found the grace of the lady’s back, the clarity of her skin, and a direct gaze of Lady Seville was as beautiful as any classical convention. Mary Cassatt persisted in questioning what is beauty in other works, too. She put ordinary, plebeian looking models in heroic roles just to prove her sensibility about the nature of beauty in art. She was very successful and for this the Parisian avant-garde took notice.

To see Philip Salamone’s portrait paintings is to ask about the relevance of the classical tradition of portraiture from the 19th century with today’s art world. This artist’s skill is undeniable and his capture of the sitter’s personality come through. What is also curious to understand is how Salamone has invited into his studio models from many walks of living and made them shine in their own skin. Like heroes of the modern world who deserve to be painted well and with empathy.


Philip Salamone was awarded two prizes from the Portrait Society of America: 5th Place for Non-Commissioned Portrait, his painting of Bo., and 2nd Place in Still Life, his painting of lightbulbs.

Portrait Society of America | MOC 2017 Winners (1)

Congratulations, Phil!


International Women’s Day

For International Women’s Day and a Day Without a Woman, March 8th seems to unfold another peaceful protest in many cities and communities of the world. In New York city, a peaceful action occurred near Central Park celebrating a Day Without a Woman. To carry the message further, leaders of the Women’s March on Washington D.C. and co-chairs of NYC’s Women’s March were arrested, thirteen as reported by the NYPD,  for surrounding the Trump International Hotel near Columbus Circle with protesters. Carried off in a paddy wagon, authorities maintained these leaders will be detained an hour or so and then released.


The steps outside of the capitol of Wisconsin in Madison filled with marchers celebrating International Women’s Day, too.  Women and men protested with public school students, University of Wisconsin students and teaching assistants, teachers, nurses, and socialists against the injustices against women created within our structures. Speeches were broadcast with the help of the socialist organization’s microphone system by a leader of the Women’s Center on UW campus, a nurse representing the nurses’ organizing union,  a southeast Asian Transgender woman, two high school journalism students, an activist from northern Wisconsin whose mother is also an activist, and a native American reminding the crowd that we were standing on HoChunk land. Although the specifics of injustices and obstacles were unique to the various groups in attendance, the common conviction to unite and fight in order to gain back our power and win became evident. Unite and Fight for Women’s Rights and Women’s Rights are Human Rights were visible signs and chants of the 300 or so crowd of protesters on this sunny day where the wind whipped around the corners of the capitol building. It’s an honor to stand with your sisters, recognizing the struggles ahead but optimistic in the power to make our lives more just and compassionate.

Is White a Color?





oil painting on board,
by Beth
As far back as ancient Egypt, white has signified omnipotence and purity. Other cultures have added innocence and freedom. Egyptians at  their holy ceremonies wore white sandals to signify purity. For China though, white means death and illness. According to Taoism, white next to black symbolizes contrast like that of ying-yang.


Sissinghurst Gardens in England

Artists like Russia’s Wassily Kandinsky and Dutch artist Piet Mondrian comment on their likeness and use of white in their paintings. Familiar with the Impressionist painters view of white, Kandinsky appreciates “white” to be the absence of color, being like a great silence. White harmonizes negatively as well as acting full of possibility like the nothingness just before birth.

Blue and White, Piet Mondrian

Between 1923 and 1935, Mondrian painted Composition A, Red, White, and Blue. Between 1923 and 1935, Mondrian painted Composition A, Red, White, and Blue, and Blue and White.Each included areas of white pigment. In Red, White, and Blue, the simple and larger white areas drew interest because everything about these white squares seemed spotless. Mondrian did admit that he added color to his white subject to cheer up his paintings for whom a lot of white seemed gloomy. He writes:

” The persisting white field in heightened contrast to the black             lines is a luminous ground, it has what may  be called after               Keats: the power of white    Simplicity…”

to read more: Mondrian on the Painting of Abstract  Painting,  by MeyerShapiro  p.26                                                   

White as a pigment is not all the same. Four different types of whites are used by painters from prehistoric times to the present: lime white, lead white, flake white, and Cremnitz white.

                 Blue Snow, oil painting, Saul Bellows

Most of what was known about lime white, which was often referred inaccurately to chalk, was from Cennini’s The Craftsman’s Handbook of the Middle ages. The process of making lime white was more complex than making chalk.The first step was to soak lime powder in water for 8 days after which small cakes were dried in the sun thus making lime white. Unfortunately, Lead white was banned by 19th-century European painters when it was discovered how poisonous lead was to painters. A curious story tells of the blackening of angel faces painted in British 14th-century manuscripts. Theses angel faces were painted with lead white that turned black when exposed to the hydrogen sulfide of the gas lamps used in reading these manuscripts. These discolored angels became known as the Black Angels. Titanium white is twice as opaque as lead white and is a brilliant all-purpose white. The dried residue of titanium ore is very spongy and not conducive for paints so zinc oxide with its brittle residue was added and the mix created a pliable medium for oil paints which most professional artists use. Zinc white is slow drying and very clean which makes it valuable for tinting with other colors.But zinc white also dries to a brittle film that could crack a painting loaded with this pigment. A winter landscape would be better served by using another white like titanium instead of zinc white.

Is white a color? One way to answer this question is to emphasize that pure white is the absence of color and unlike black cannot be mixed from paint tubes of other colors. Another way to answer this question is to consider the physical properties of white pigment coming from ores grounded into white mixes. Titanium and zinc oxide after grinding produce excellent nuances of white.

hibiscus from my yard