Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Damsel of the Sanct Grael

Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted Damsel of the Sanct Grael in 1874. Rossetti did a number of paintings related to the grail legend, and two works that depicted the damsel of the holy grail. The damsel character is referred to several times in Mallory's Morte D'Arthur, although, as was his wont, Rossetti took a number of artistic liberties in his portrayal of the damsel. Mallory describes her as "a damsel passing fair and young" and "dressed all in white." Well, Rossetti sort of skimmed over the white part...his damsel is a bit more worldly looking than Mallory might have envisioned. Her flowing hair and raised eyebrow impart some of the carnal flair that imbues Rossetti's later work. I love the grape vines that form an enticing frame around the damsel - clearly a nod to the chalice itself, which played a starring role in the Last Supper - but it's also hard not to see the Dionysian undertones. But that's what I love about Rossetti - his unabashed appreciation for both the sacred and profane.

This was Rossetti's second time painting The Damsel of the Sanct Grael. His first interpretation of the damsel was painted nearly 20 years before, and features a less-lusty and more medieval-looking maiden (modeled, I believe, on Lizzie Siddal). The early version is held by the Tate Gallery in London and can be seen here. Both images use similar symbolism (the dove and hand positions are the same), but the moods of the paintings are completely different.

Rosseti used Alexa Wilding as his model for the second damsel. Wilding posed for a number of his other works, including Venus Verticordia and Veronica Veronese. 

This painting is currently in the private collection of Lord Andrew Lloyd-Weber (lucky fellow).

Image courtesy Wikimedia

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kids, Technology and Tablet Computing

The other day I picked up a book at the library called Buy Buy Baby, by Susan Gregory Thomas. As the title would suggest, it was about the way that marketers target children. Some of the topics the author discussed were quite interesting, such as the KGOY, or "Kids Getting Older Younger" phenomenon. But after a few pages, I felt the author's skepticism about technology and children went a little overboard.

Generally speaking, I'm dubious of the claims made by the makers of "educational" toys. I applaud Ms. Thomas for calling attention to some of the silly tactics used by these toy makers to snag well-meaning parents. I'm especially wary of talking toys that purport to teach the alphabet, numbers, etc. If I can't decipher what a so-called educational toy is saying, how on earth is my kid supposed to learn from it? We've known for some time that children learn best by playing and exploring their environment.

But this is where I part ways with Ms. Thomas. She advocates "doing Nothing", which, to her mind, means shielding your children from technology and "watching and listening...with no goal in mind"(Thomas 227). She even pooh-poohs the notion of early literacy, scorning board books as "chewables" and suggesting that it's inappropriate to read to any child who still might be tempted to gnaw on reading material (163-165).

Technology may not make your children smarter, per-se, but I believe that mastering computing skills early in life greatly increases the ease with which children can adapt to new technologies. But technology can oftentimes do something even more miraculous: open new windows on the world for people with disabilities.

I read an incredible article this morning on BlogHer about a young boy with autism for whom the iPad is not just another toy - it's a tool that has changed his life. His mother calls it a near-miracle: the iPad has given her son a new sense of independence and has allowed him to play and communicate in a whole new way. Now, the author of Buy, Buy, Baby would probably dismiss the entire story as an example of viral marketing. I hope we aren't that cynical.

Tablet computers like the iPad are particularly accessible to children, and applications that don't require typing  on the qwerty keyboard are especially easy for them to use. But what if older kids and adults could write on the iPad touch keyboard without really knowing how to type? My husband introduced me to Swype the other day, and I'm in love. The technology is still in its infancy, and right now I believe it's only available for Google's Android phones, but if things go well, I'm sure it will be coming to other touch devices soon. Swype allows users to "type" or "swipe" 50 words per minute on touch-screen phones (without developing carpal tunnel!). Pretty neat!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Omar Rayo

Colombian artist Omar Rayo passed away on June 7 at the age of 82. A member of the "Op art" movement,  Rayo's work was characterized by its bold, geometric design and minimal use of color.

Rayo was born in Roldanillo, Colombia in 1928. He began working as an artist in the late 1940's as an illustrator for magazines and newspapers in Bogotá. Like many Colombian artists, he spent much of his professional life outside the country, living for many years in Mexico and New York. His museum, the Museo Rayo, was completed in his hometown of Roldanillo in 1981. The museum houses a large number of Rayo's works, in addition to a permanent collection more than 500 works by other modern and contemporary Latin American artists. Rayo was an outspoken advocate for the arts community in Colombia, and spent much of the later part of his life emphasizing the importance of supporting Colombian artists.

In the video below you can see a number of Rayo's more recent paintings, from an exhibition held last year (the artworks themselves were created in 2008).

Unfortunately, I was not very familiar with Rayo until my husband told me that he had died (although I saw some of his works when I visited the Museo Bolivariano, which is part of the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino in Santa Marta, Colombia). My husband had grown up admiring Rayo's work, and was sad to hear of his death.

I am constantly impressed with the artistic talent that comes out of Colombia. Colombians are hugely proud of the talented artists that have been successful on the international stage (Botero immediately comes to mind), but it is very difficult for young artists in that country. Hopefully Rayo's dreams of additional support for Colombian artists will be realized in the near future.

Omar Rayo's paintings are held in a wide variety of museums and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, the Museo de Ponce in Puerto Rico, and Colombia's Museo Nacional in Bogotá.

For more information, please visit the Museo Rayo (Rayo Museum).

Image used according to fair use guidelines.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Exhibits at the Art Gallery of Alberta

Last Friday my husband, daughter and I had our last chance to visit the Degas, Goya and Karsh exhibits at the Art Gallery of Alberta. This was my third time, but my husband hadn't had a chance to see them yet, so we made sure we had a chance to go before they rolled out the new installations. Once again, the Karsh exhibit was a huge hit - a very well planned-out show that was fun for everyone, including our 7 month old, who seemed to enjoy the "create your own Karsh" portion, where you could set up a photo using the techniques you learned from the exhibit. She was probably just happy to be out of the stroller! (And to get away from the Goyas - perhaps all those "Images of War" were a bit unsettling - or, more likely, the dark room they were shown in reminded her of bedtime).

The Art Gallery wrapped up its first series of exhibits in the new gallery on May 29th, and a number of exciting new installations will be going up over the next couple of weeks.

The Gallery is currently featuring FIRE, an anti-war installation by Sandra Bromley that will include portraits of women and children from Cambodia and Sierra Leone. This exhibit will run from now until August 2, 2010.

The 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, entitled Timeland, will be on display until August 29, 2010.  This exhibit will feature " twenty-five artists working across the spectrum of contemporary art making modes from painting and sculpture, to installation, video and performance." The exhibit's title, Timeland, is a reference to the "new globalism" of the 21st century where technology has removed or stretched many of the traditional boundaries of history and culture. The exhibition website notes that "the scale of this globalism subsumes the idea of the local but it thrives as the lifeblood in a world where provincialism dissipates and a new information-fed internationalism reflects the complexity of a multi-dimensional world culture." Sounds intriguing!

We will have until the middle of June for the rest of this summer's exhibits to go up at the gallery. M.C. Escher: the Mathemagician will run from June 19 - October 11, 2010, and is definitely the exhibit my husband is most excited about! It will feature 54 of Escher's works, and it promises to be popular with the whole family.

From June 19 - November 7, 2010, the gallery will host Piranesi's Prisons: Architecture of Mystery and Imagination. Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an 18th century Italian artist who did lovely etchings of Rome, but whose fantastical depiction of imaginary prisons (Carceri d'invenzione), have perhaps been his most lasting legacy. Piranesi's prisons call to mind Escher's work, which I'm sure is why they are being exhibited simultaneously.   

On the lighter side, The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons will be showing from June 19 - October 11, 2010. My daughter should enjoy this one! Lots of drawings and animation cells of familiar friends like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepe le Pew, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzalez, and, of course, Wile E. Coyote, my all time favorite cartoon character.

Reframing the Nation is yet another exhibit that will be appearing this summer at the AGA. The Ernest E. Poole Foundation donated 90 works of art to the AGA back in 1975. There are works by The Group of Seven (which Canadians rave about - I will reserve judgement until I see them in person), Emily Carr, and other well-known Canadian artists. The exhibit will focus on the role landscape plays in Canadian identity.

Finally, from August 14 - October 11, 2010, the New Works gallery space will be featuring the work of Alberta artist Jonathan Kaiser, Kaiser has created an installation in a "semi-abandoned room inside the gallery, with posters, terrariums and personal effects left inside to characterize the room's past residents."

On a side note: I miss European galleries, where people at least breathe audibly or chat quietly at museums. I don't want visitors to be obnoxious and noisy, but sometimes people are so quiet at the AGA you feel like you are in a tomb, not a gallery!

Piranesi image courtesy Wikimedia