Art & Design

A Quiet Place in a City full of Noise

Fountain of the Great Lakes by Lorado Taft will be the last piece I’ll discuss from the Art Institute of Chicago (for now).  The statue was created in in 1913, relocated in 1963, and now resides in the South Garden.

The title of the structure is self explanatory. It’s a piece that represents the five great lakes: Michigan, Ontario, Huron, Erie, and Superior. The website publicartinchicago.com states, “…The five women are so arranged that the water flows through them in the same way water passes through the Great Lakes. ‘Superior’ is on the top and ‘Michigan’ on the side both empty into the basin of ‘Huron,’ who sends the stream to ‘Erie’ whereas ‘Ontario’ receives the water and gazes off as it flows into the ocean.”

On warm Chicago days, I would walk to get to the bus that would take me home. I would usually take two buses to get there, but Fountain of the Great Lakes would always be on my way. I always looked forward to those warm, windy days because that meant the gates were to be open at the South Garden; meaning the public was able to see the fountain up close and personal. The amount of times I’ve sat there and taken photos of that one piece alone, is a pretty substantial number.

I wonder if I’m the only one who thinks this, but I feel like whenever I visit, it’s extremely quiet. Usually when something or someplace is located downtown, quiet is not the word you would think of. With that said, visiting Fountain of the Great Lakes at the Art Institute of Chicago, there’s peace. Occasionally, I’ll take photos or bring my sketchbook, but my favorite thing to do while I’m there is sit on a bench and gaze at Taft’s masterpiece. It becomes a place where time gets lost and stress falls away. Additionally, it’s cute to see ducks visit from time to time.

My experiences at the Art Institute of Chicago has taught me to enjoy art in its entirety and its moments. There is nothing more beautiful than finding a place where you’re able to find a piece of yourself. For that, AIC will always have a place in my heart.

-Michelle

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Probably the 100th photo of Fountain of the Great Lakes and was taken by yours truly. 

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Art & Design

When Your Unapologetic Glass Becomes Half Empty

The headline to this blog would’ve been the perfect title to Henri de Toulouse Lautrec’s autobiography if he had written one. His paintings were risqué and “in your face”, yet those were the paintings his sorrows hid behind. Lautrec is a perfect example of a complex person with a contrasted life, and I hope you enjoy reading the following post as much as I did writing it.

From the setting of the room to the colorful characters depicted, At the Moulin Rouge is a piece that is unlike any other.  The oil on canvas painting, created from 1892-1895, hangs at 4’ x 4’7”, and depicts nightlife in Paris (like most of Lautrec’s paintings).   

Not many people who view the painting know this detail, but At the Moulin Rouge is considered a self-portrait. Looking toward the back of the composition, Lautrec is standing next to a taller man with a top hat (his cousin, Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran). When I first looked at this painting, I thought he disproportionately painted himself in or was sitting at a table like the other people in the painting. As I continued to do more research, Lautrec was a shorter than the average man. His height ranged from 4 feet, 8 inches to 5 feet (according to different sources). Other than himself, Lautrec wanted to include the people he admired or had a friendship with. The list: La Goule, La Macarona, Jane Avril (speculated) and May Milton (woman with the blue/green colored face depicted in the foreground), Maurice Guibert (winemaker), Paul Sescau (photographer), and Edouard Dujardin (writer). Not only did Lautrec capture his friends and favorite entertainers in the portrait, but the particular piece captured the atmosphere of Parisian nightlife; showing us that the man behind the painting had more depth and meaning behind his works of art. 

Due to Lautrec’s height, he was ridiculed and wasn’t accepted into high society; which he was born into. He used art as an outlet to a lot of the suffering he had been through with his family and with his personal image. Although he found comfort and acceptance in Paris nightclubs, he suffered a great deal. According to Biography.com, it states, “Though presenting himself as a witty, fun man about town, Toulouse-Lautrec suffered greatly due to his physical ailments as well as past family trauma, with his father never accepting his son’s decision to become a professional artist. He had also contracted syphilis, which further impacted his health. As he had for much of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec turned to alcohol to deal with his pain and would ultimately drink himself into oblivion. He had a nervous breakdown in 1899 after his mother, whom he was close to, decided to leave Paris, and the artist was committed to a sanitarium for several months.” His paintings showed a perspective that was frowned upon in high society, but he ultimately found himself and genuine friendships at the Moulin Rogue. To Lautrec, being frowned upon from “his crowd” was worth it. 

The Post- Impressionist painter was rich enough to do what he wanted and hang out with whomever he pleased. So when he started to hang out at Parisian nightclubs, one of the owners of the Moulin Rouge made an agreement with Lautrec to paint pictures of the nightclub to capture the essence of the environment and entice more people to “join in on the fun.” Lautrec was pretty well off and could have easily rejected the offer, but because the Moulin Rouge became an escape from criticism and disapproval of his personal life, he happily agreed to the deal and hung out there all the time. From an economic circumstance, most of his work wasn’t done for money; it was done for the place he called a second home. Being that he was an artist for the Moulin Rouge.

I don’t think his decisions were based on his political, economic or social stances. Instead, based with what he wanted to do. One of the attributes I loved about Lautrec was that he didn’t care about what others thought about his artwork. He made pieces that made him and his friends happy. I wonder, if he carried that same outlook into his personal life, would he have had a longer, happier life? Then again, syphilis. 

Lautrec’s social circumstances led him to make the choices he made during his life as an artist. He did the things he did according to how he felt, not because it was right or wrong. Ultimately, he did what he wanted to do, hung out with performers, prostitutes, drunks, etc. and that’s how he loved to live his life. Additionally, that kind of attitude was reflected in his paintings, such as At the Moulin Rouge.

He never depicted his subjects as something they weren’t or in judgement due to his status. Lautrec candidly painted them for who they were.  I found that perspective extremely refreshing. Coming from a generation where being Photoshopped in a magazine is the norm or being manipulated into an image that is acceptable on social media, there is a lack of authenticity in today’s society. I think the goal is to boldly and unapologetically be yourself wherever you go. Lautrec did exactly that with his art! With that said, I truly believe the genuineness from his art left a huge impact in the creative world and paved the way for artists and designers who came after him. 

-Michelle

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Art & Design

The Heartbreak Connection

Hello Readers! Today, I’ll be discussing a piece that is truly iconic: Roy Lichtenstein’s Ohhh…Alright… (found in the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago).

The 1964 painting is a piece shows a close up image of a woman on the phone as the foreground. It is 36 inches x 38 inches; viewers are larger than it, but it’s large enough to notice the details. Outlines of different figures are highlighted with thick, black lines to create contrast with the colors used. I feel like the black outlines were necessary because the entire piece is so bright and certain elements would have been lost without it.

The first thing I notice were the primary colors. Using bold colors such as red, yellow, blue and black is the equivalent of a having a flashing sign, with huge letters, doused in glitter, that says, “Look at me now!” Yet, it doesn’t feel like a desperate call for attention. I believe he was intentional with his color choices, and it really ties within the piece. Besides the colors, Lichtenstein used a technique called Benday Dot Technique, which is the skill of painting the majority of piece by only using dots. Additionally, it’s a type of technique that is used to create texture that is represented in comic books. Using magna paint, he would use a variety of stencils and use both types of paints to create the dots. For his lines, he used masking tape to create smooth, crisp lines that are definitely conveyed in almost all of his works. 

By doing a lot of research, I found out that Ohhh…Alright… was a part of a series. Lichtenstein created a series of paintings that had romance as the focal point and represented cultural dichotomy between male and female stereotypes that were strongly developed in the 1950s/60s. Although I won’t be analyzing the series, I can only image how much emotion would be evoked if I were to see the pieces collectively. When I first saw the painting at AIC, I automatically had sympathy for this woman I didn’t know. Without any context for the image itself, her emotion that Lichtenstein was able to convey into the painting really spoke to me. The way she held the telephone to the line on her forehead, those subtleties were additions to the feelings the woman in the painting had and would ultimately make viewers want to sympathize or empathize. 

In an essay that can be founded on Christie’s website, it provides the context behind Ohhh… Alright… which states, “Lichtenstein’s series of romance paintings drew on the slightly dated comic books published for the burgeoning Post-War teenage market. The plot line of these stories typically follows a young girl who falls in love with a young man; a serious problem arises to threaten the relationship, and the heroine is briefly devastated before an inevitable happy conclusion…”

Then a realization hit me like a ton of bricks: heartbreak is a feeling most individuals have gone through and it’s something that keeps us connected. It keeps us sympathetic, empathetic, frustrated, desolate, and miserable all at once. It’s a feeling that never really goes away, even if you’ve found your person, because of how much it hurt you back when it happened.  This is why I’ll always say that Lichtenstein was a complete genius for creating art, nonetheless a series, that expressed just that. Ohhh…Alright… continues to represent the “romance culture” of today, and will be stunned with its current relevancy to society. Well, with the exception of women being defined by men. Glad that’s over! *drops mic 

-Michelle

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