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HUDSON HIGHLANDS SUITE.

This suite of seven high-quality digital prints, drawn from James Lancel McElhinney’s Hudson Valley painting-journal is being prepared for A Fall release. More details will follow.
For more information, please write to info@needlewatcher.com
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The concept is to use digital media to “break” one of the Hudson Valley painting-journals while leaving the original intact. Seven loose sheets will be presented in a fine solander “clamshell” box, with essays and other texts in an accompanying chapbook. Each print is 11×14 inches, with individual page spreads reproduced exactly the same size as the original painting journal, presenting each image as a trompe l’oeil of an open book.

To receive updates or to inquire about how you might obtain a copy, please send a message to:
info@needlewatcher.com, subject line “Hudson Suite”

Here is a preview: a look at the artist’s proofs

JLM_Bastion_Belvedere_Thoroughfare_17-5x25-5_chalk_on_paper_2011_sm

Storm King

 

JLM_Ballyheerin_from_Leatbeg_17-5x25-5_chalk_on_paper_2011_sm

North Gate

HHS_Crows-Nest647_sm

Crows Nest

HHS_Western-Highlands653_sm

Western Highlands

HHS_Boscobel648_sm

Boscobel

HHS_South-Gate651_sm

South Gate

 

HHS_West-Point654_sm

West Point

TUESDAY, MARCH 14, 2017

Drifting through the Francis Picabia show at the Museum of Modern Art, visitors paused to read wall-texts and view the works through their mobile devices. I might have scoffed at what seemed like inattention or distraction twenty years ago. “Pay attention! Look at the work”, a voice in my head would have admonished, “This is a museum, not an amusement park!”
Visiting the 1996 Picasso Portraits exhibition, an elderly couple reminiscent of Billy Crystal and Carol Kane in The Princess Bride gripped their ear-paddles as they moved from work to work, listening to the audio guide. The husband, who moved through the show a few pieces ahead of his wife, turned, pulled on her sleeve and said,
“Come here! Look at this one.”
She swatted him away.
“Leave me alone,” she shot back, “I’m watching this one now.”
It struck me at the time that for many people visiting a museum was entertainment, a different form of television. Museums in the past twenty years have redefined the realm of infotainment. Half a century ago museums were cathedrals of culture—vast, hushed spaces through which handfuls of the reverent might go to ponder masterpieces. The transformation of museums into meeting-places, food-courts and party-shacks has been sharply criticized, but blending the agora with the acropolis is not stooping to popular culture, but reconnecting with it. The word museum means dwelling-place of the Muse—a place from whence inspiration might be drawn. Guiding the creation of the British Museum, for example, was the necessity to gather together under one roof the greatest achievements of civilization—arts and technology, which subsequently were celebrated by international expositions. Musee du Louvre was created by inviting the general public into a former palace, to feast on culture once reserved for a privileged few. South Kensington Museum—now the V&A, was conceived in part as a place of learning, where practitioners of certain crafts might be inspired to improve their own work by studying examples of excellence in the decorative arts.
Today’s museums must appeal to a broader demographic partly out of financial necessity.
One former museum director told me that entertainment value is a concern. For this reason, art and history museums have been looking to science museums for inspiration. Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s spectacular record of audience engagement has for many years been a model for other museums seeking to build attendance. If a successful science museum needs a cafeteria, planetarium and a dinosaur, a viable art museum needs a restaurant, an event-space and a sculpture garden. Both need board members committed to sustained giving and fundraising. A patron might expect generosity to buy authority in program and exhibition planning, like the studio mogul who puts his mistress in a movie he produced. The job of curators today is not just to organize shows, but to deliver visitor experience.
A continuous screening of Entr’acte, the 1924 film by Rene Clair, art-direction and sets by Picabia accentuated a refreshing promiscuity of media and form which the artist embraced. The ubiquity of vitrines displaying books and other material that once would have been deemed too inferior for a major retrospective underscored the diversity of his creative output. One tends to forget that Picabia’s early pictures are quite large, in contrast to Picasso and Braque’s early Cubist pictures. Standing off to the side of one of these paintings, seven or eight people gathered in a cluster to read the tombstone label. A similar number stood in front of the canvas, engaged in the slow, familiar dance of slipping sideways ahead and behind one another to take in the whole painting, and then drifting away to gaze at their phones, exchange a glance with someone across the room, glimpse a movie star pretending to not notice being noticed and then moving on to the next painting. Weaving my way through the crowd, I found an unobstructed view of La Source, 1912, and noticed some text on the wall underneath, directing viewers to become listeners by accessing a musical accompaniment selected by WQXR’s Terrance McKnight.

Purist might sneer, but this is nothing new. Frederic Church encouraged viewers to bring opera-glasses to explore the details in Heart of the Andes. George Catlin traveled his Indian Gallery around the United States and Europe with a trove of artifacts and a Native American dance-troupe. Catlin lectured on his travels as a painted backdrop moved behind him, between two giant rollers hidden from view. My first encounter with Emanuel Leutze’s image of Washington Crossing the Delaware was in a sound and light show in a deconsecrated church at Washington Crossing State Park, Pennsylvania. After Sunday picnics, hide-and-seek and vexing frogs and other wildlife, my parents, siblings and I would take a seat. Lights dimmed, music swelled, red velvet curtain parted and Washington’s head was framed in a circle of light. Speaking in a sonorous baritone the narrator unpacked a tale of defeat, retreat and hardship and how, with his army on the verge of melting away, Washington conceived a bold plan….

Sitting in the dark, enraptured with a tale that we all knew by heart, we beheld the great image emerge as its surface grew light, one section at a time. We gazed in wonder at the thrilling tableau, and then all was dark again. The curtains closed. The house lights came up and we all rose from our seats. I promised myself that one day I would see the real painting.
In 2012 Kathie and I attended the John Martin-Apocalypse exhibition at Tate Britain. Entering a side gallery, we found a seat on one of the stepped bench-rows installed to recreate the first showing of Martin’s famed triptych. The audience was seated. The room grew dark. A gaslight glow arose, flickering as a disembodied voice described the end of days, and the final judgment when the faithful are carried up to Heaven, with Christ on his throne.
The damned are cast into Hell. And there is the Great Whore of Babylon, conquerors and accursed, tumbling into the pit. And finally, cleansed of evil, the world is reborn as a bright new age begins, and suddenly, I remembered.
The following week we were back in New York. Kathie was speaking on a panel at the Salmagundi Club. One of the other presenters was Kevin Avery, now former curator of American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After giving him a report on the John Martin exhibition, I recounted my childhood memory, and commented on what a pleasure it is to have the original Leutze painting hanging in the Met. He smiled.
“Do you have any idea what happened to that picture you saw at Washington’s Crossing?”
“No idea,” I said. “For all I know it’s still there, behind those red velvet curtains.”
“No,” he said. “It’s gone. Long ago. But I can tell you where it is. You must have seen it.
It’s the centerpiece of the new American Wing. It’s hanging at the Met.”

A Conversation with Sigmund Abeles

Over the last two weeks I collected a series of conversations with Sigmund Abeles for the Jewish Heritage Oral History Archives, in the Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston. The audio recordings will be available in the future through the Lowcountry Digital Library.

I fist met Sigmund Abeles in the late 1970s. My then wife Vicki Davila and Sig’s then wife Frederike Merck had been room-mates in Pietrasanta, where both had been studying stone-carving with local artigiani. Over the years we have maintained a warm friendship, and shared a great passion for drawing. We both identify with a Northern esthetic–the figurative German and Netherlandish tradition that favors sharp tools and articulate line.
We spoke of his undergraduate days at University of South Carolina, graduate school at Columbia University, fresco-painting at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Art Students League of New York. Unpacking stories about his career as a draftsman, printmaker, painter and sculptor, he described also the perils of being so diversified in an art-market built on backing brands. Abeles taught in a number of colleges and universities, finally retiring from the University of New Hampshire. The conversation mentioned artists whose names today are less well-known; artists such as Leonard Baskin, Michael Mazur, Harold Tovish, Marianna Pineda, Sidney Hurwitz, Hyman Bloom and Rico Lebrun, whom Sig quoted as saying, “If one has nothing to say, they gossip. If one has nothing to draw, they sketch.”
Resisting pressure to work abstractly, or bow to formalist figuration, Sig’s work embraced narrative, social commentary, eroticism and equestrian subjects. Manifested in visual form, as representational imagery, these works represented a departure from his paternal roots in Orthodox Judaism. He discussed his activities within the National Academy of Design, the Century Association, the New York art-world and his beloved children, one of whom–Max Abeles–is making a name for himself as an artist.

Part of our discussion did address his experience of growing up Jewish in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, his association with the Civil Rights movement that led to his expulsion from the University of South Carolina, standing up to the Klan, and later in life being courted by USC as a Native Son. We spoke of his friendship with Jasper Johns–another South Carolinian, and his first exposure to art at Brookgreen Gardens, which now owns some of his work.
It may come as a surprise that the largest Jewish population in the antebellum United States was not in New York or Philadelphia but in Charleston, followed by New Orleans, Mobile and Savannah. As many as ten thousand Jews saw military service during the Civil War, during which General U.S. Grant ordered all Jews to be expelled from Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. Judah P. Benjamin served as Secretary of War and Secretary of State for the Confederacy. Its surgeon-general was Simon Baruch, from South Carolina. The first Jewish governor of any American state was David Emanuel, a captain of militia during the Revolutionary war.
A second interview conducted by Dale Rosengarten, Curator of Special Collections at the College of Charleston, will focus on Sigmund Abeles’s Jewish identity.

The value of collecting these conversations is to preserve the voices and ideas of significant artists like Sigmund Abeles whose creative legacy, despite a distinguished career, might otherwise be forgotten. Artists born in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s are advancing in years. Many have diminished their output, and have been marginalized by shifting trends in the art-market.
Oral history interviews collected by the College of Charleston, the Archives of American Art, the Senior Artists Initiative in Philadelphia, the Frick Center for Oral History and many other organizations become keystone documents–primary sources for researchers to consult, and from which artists and others might draw inspiration.

James L. McElhinney

VOICES IN CONTEMPORARY ART: James Lancel McElhinney in conversation with Marie Watt. Denver Art Museum. June 15, 2016

Marie Watt

James Lancel McElhinney

VoCA_logo

Link to video: https://vimeo.com/203531040

On the evening of June 15, 2016. VoCA (Voices in Contemporary Art) sponsored a public program at the Denver Art Museum. I sat down with Native American artist Marie Watt (Seneca) to discuss her work, which was on view in the exihibition “Why We Dance: American Indian Art in Motion”

HUDSON HIGHLANDS SKETCHBOOK: Limited Edition

This suite of seven high-quality digital prints, drawn from James Lancel McElhinney’s Hudson Valley painting-journal is being prepared for A Spring release. More details will follow.

The concept is to use digital media to “break” McElhinney’s book while leaving the original intact. Seven loose sheets will be presented in a fine solander “clamshell” box, with essays and other texts in an accompanying chapbook. Each print is 11×14 inches, with individual page spreads reproduced exactly the same size as the original painting journal, presenting each image as a trompe l’oeil of an open book.

To receive updates or to inquire about how you might obtain a copy, please send a message to:
info@needlewatcher.com, subject line “Hudson Suite”

Here is a preview: a look at the artist’s proofs

 

JLM_Ballyheerin_from_Leatbeg_17-5x25-5_chalk_on_paper_2011_sm

North Gate

JLM_Bastion_Belvedere_Thoroughfare_17-5x25-5_chalk_on_paper_2011_sm

Storm King

HHS_Crows-Nest647_sm

Crows Nest

HHS_Western-Highlands653_sm

Western Highlands

HHS_Boscobel648_sm

Boscobel

HHS_South-Gate651_sm

South Gate

 

HHS_West-Point654_sm

West Point

HUDSON HIGHLANDS SUITE NOW IN PRODUCTION

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Painting in journals for me began with my recovery from a serious illness which left me hypersensitive to oil paint. During my hospitalization, confined to working in sketchbooks, I produced my first journal-painting. Later, learning to work in acrylics was a glorious challenge. I loved that it forced paintings to be in constant dialogue with drawing, but the vexing business of having to save paint every time I mixed a new color drove me into the arms of watercolor. For many years I had resisted it. Perhaps it was because I subscribed in some way to the market prejudice against works on paper and watercolor as an inferior medium. Common wisdom (an oxymoron if ever there was one) cautioned that watercolor was difficult and unforgiving. This of course was pure nonsense. As my journal practice developed, I became more invested in its nimbleness and mobility.  Filling books with paintings suddenly made more sense to me than producing art for the wall–and freed me from an economy of art that was inextricably tied to real estate and conspicuous consumption. It gave me a kind of freedom. It also freed me from any hope of showing and selling. In the end I realized that the wall must have its due, and engaged in numerous conversations with people who were kind enough to provide invaluable advice regarding my cockamamie pocket-paintings, including Charlie Bergman, Eric Brown, Joseph Goddu, Barney McHenry, Steve Miller, Bridget Moore, David reel and Dick Solomon, who observed the problem at hand was “how to get the genie out of the bottle”.

Steps are being taken. Scans of page-spreads are being transformed into limited-edition suites of high-quality digital prints that will be published as “broken books”–unbound sheets with a chapbook set within a solander box. Each page-spread will be presented as an open book, resting on the page as a trompe-l’oeil image. The owner can either keep the pages together in its loose binding–or frame, and display them on the wall. If you wish to receive updates or find out how to order one of these suites, please write to:

www.info@needlewatcher.com,  subject line “Prints”

 

RUCKUS IN PHILADELPHIA: PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS. January 29-March 1, 1979

 

 

Left to right: Laurie Fabricant, Carter Zervas, Frank Galuszka (rear), Jesse Vandenburgh, Wayne Morris, James Lancel McElhinney, Victoria Davila, Frank Hyder.
Left to right: Laurie Fabricant, Carter Zervas, Frank Galuszka (rear), Jesse Vandenburgh, Wayne Morris, James Lancel McElhinney, Victoria Davila, Frank Hyder. (Photo credit: James E. O’Neal)

People Places and Things was a triple-venue exhibition organized by a group of artists composed of Victoria Davila, Frank Hyder, Frank Galusza, Wayne Morris, myself and others, under the auspices of the General Services Administration’s Art-In-Public-Places program. The primary exhibition filled the sprawling lobby and street-level corridors of the William Green Federal Courthouse at 6th and Arch Street. Two simultaneous exhibitions of small works were  held at Marian Locks East gallery, on the 200 block of Arch Street, and at Hahn Gallery on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill.

Martha Mayer Erlebacher’s painting Sungazer displayed a wisp of pubic hair, which aroused federal judge Joseph Lord to ban all nudes from the building, claiming that they were offensive to “nuns and children”. We knew people in the press who jumped on the story and milked it for all it was worth. One headline read “No Nudes is Good Nudes, Sayeth Lord”. I protested Lord’s decree by reminding the local head of the GSA that he was part of the executive branch of the government. The judicial arm of government to which Lord belonged was just a tenant. The argument was that Judge Lord had broken protocol and needed to go through channels in order to influence what could (and could not) hang on the walls of a building over which he had no official control. The judge rephrased his remarks. No works were removed. The show was reinstalled. It was the leading story on the evening news and in all the papers for four or five days. It confounds the mind to ponder how the kind of mythological-literary nudity found in  Hera Aphrodite Athena. (Milo Reice, 1976) could have raised a blush. One forgets how prudish public taste was during the sexually permissive Disco Seventies.

Hera Aphrodite Athena. Milo Reice. 1976

Absent from the exhibition were Sidney Goodman, John Moore, Arthur da Costa, Ben Kamihira (although his daughter Miya was represented) Walter Erlebacher, Charles Schmidt and Nelson Shanks. Bo Bartlett, Vicent Desiderio, Wade Schuman and Renee Foulks were still in school. As I recall, John Moore had conflicting plans. I don’t think any of us thought to invite Sidney or Ben. It was one of those emerging-artist Andy Hardy “hey kids let’s put on a show” frolics that nobody expected to create any kind of stir.

Despite being less than an all-inclusive overview, People, Places and Things was a defining moment in Figurative art in Philadelphia, where representational art that explored the nude had been the bedrock of studio practice for many local artists since Thomas Eakins. Because the undraped human figure is so ubiquitous, festooning the facade of City Hall, the fountain at Logan Circle and in many other works of public art, the uproar created by People Places and Things was a gobsmacking revelation. It demonstrated to the hidebound Philadelphia art scene and its avant-garde counterculture how figurative art could thrive within a tradition without succumbing to conservatism.

A small catalogue was produced for the exhibition: 

Download (PDF, Unknown)

HUDSON RIVER FIELDBOOK: UPDATE

Yonkers from the Jersey Palisades. Thursday, August 4, 2016. Pen and watercolor on Moleskine watercolor journal. 3.5 x 10 inches.
Yonkers from the Jersey Palisades. Thursday, August 4, 2016. Pen and watercolor on Moleskine watercolor journal. 3.5 x 10 inches.

The Hudson Valley has been trekked, navigated, pictured and described more than any other waterway in American art and literature. Mark Twain fashioned his Mississippi as a central character many years after Irving and Cole had celebrated the Hudson. Traveling to sites where other artists and writers had beheld this estuary with many names–San Antonio, Shatemuc, Mahickannituck, Mauritius, and North River, is a form of intervention confirming the physical presence of natural features, but also the human regard, with all its desires and fictions. Landscape is not a fact before us but how we behold it. Mobility plays a major role in my narrative, which is at war with the notion that painting belongs to the wall–a notion I scorn every day by stepping outdoors with a studio in my pocket.

The PDF below represents the contents of a single fieldbook. There are not preparatory works but in its totality, the work itself.

 

Download (PDF, Unknown)