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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.






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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!


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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.

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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







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What is this all about?

For at least ten years, my presence online has included first a blog, and then Both blogs dealt with my thoughts and research on art especially oil painting. Like all things, I begin again with a new blog: , hosted by GoDaddy. This time there will be more about the nature of color especially painting.

Definition of Hue: when talking about color, hue is a technical term for pure colors, like red, blue, green. Hue also describes a mixture of two pure colors like red-yellow is orange. 

Tint, tone, shade, saturation are other terms used in color theory. More on those terms later.

Definition of Value: what it is worth, such as lightness value, luminance value, or saturation value in color properties. Value measures human qualities too like empathy or courage.