Filippo Brunelleschi and his Dome

By Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), architect and engineer, sculptor and painter, is universally considered the pioneer of the Italian Renaissance and the creator of an approach to architecture that would dominate the European art scene, at least until the end of the 19th century. Through a passionate study of antiquity that brought him several times to Rome starting from 1402, he reacted to the anti-classicism of late Gothic architecture and artistic culture, referring consistently to the language of the ancients and proposing new design systems based on modular structures. The keystone of this cultural and technical turning point was the invention of the vanishing point perspective in which the great technological tradition of Tuscan architects and masters was combined with the new trends of scientific thought, all converging towards the ever-increasing use of mathematical tools in the study of reality.

By unifying all orthogonal lines towards a single vanishing point, the scientific rules were built to objectively measure the decrease in depth of bodies inserted in space. The  Florentine artist was among the first to elaborate and use rules and numerical relationships in the architectural construction of space and figurative representation. And this, together with the effort to identify the geometric principles used to organize the reproduction and creation of space, was the basis of a return to antiquity.

Architecture was for Brunelleschi a tool for mathematical control of design. Classical architecture is understood as an example of the exact measurability of space, as a clear example of the concrete possibility of subjecting the whole substantial reality of architectural space to rigorous mathematical formulas.


With Brunelleschi, a new system of organization of the construction site and of construction work came about and the new social figure of the architect was born.

The architect was no longer a superintendent of works, endowed with equal dignity concerning workers to a large extent operating on an autonomous level concerning him, as was the case in the Middle Ages, but an intellectual, cultured, an updated figure, who conceived and prepared the project and the details of the building, to which the activity of the workers, artisans, and contractors engaged in the work had to be instructed.

It was the end of the ancient organization of building activity, which had supported and achieved the great Florentine, and more generally Tuscan urban expansion of the 12th and 13th centuries. In a new relationship with the client, the new artist, as was outlined in the Bruneschellian experience, was a well-defined figure in his individuality, who ventured into the field of artistic innovation with a new, freer and more secular spirit.

But the figure of Brunelleschi would still be unclear if we did not put him in his historical context, in his place, that is, in Florence at the height of its territorial expansion and closely linked to its republican institutions. In the first sixty years of the fifteenth century Filippo Brunelleschi, Masaccio and Beato Angelico, Donatello, Nanni di Banco, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello and Filippo Lippi, Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Della Robbia, and other artists lived and worked in Florence, all animated by the same effort of cultural transformation, all converging in outlining the contents of new art and a new artistic figure.

Why, we might ask, did this constellation of artists come together in Florence? The early Renaissance artists, like few other examples in history (and the comparison with the Athens of the 5th century BC, although abused, may be useful), was configured as the expression, in the work of artists, of a cultural renewal that affected the entire city.

Thus, the desire of the artists to revive the noble classical prototypes was linked to the fervor of literary and humanistic studies and above all to the investigation, the enhancement of the virtues of the ancients, to the awareness that they could relive – indeed, that they were living – in contemporary Florence.

The Search for Measures and Proportions: Inspiration From the Classic

The trip to Rome (between 1402 and 1404) with Donatello was decisive for the formation of Brunelleschi’s architectural ideas. While his friend was more interested in the still visible examples of ancient sculpture, Brunelleschi studied the proportion of buildings and construction techniques. From Rome he returned with the idea that the architect should invent the overall structure of the building in proportional terms: concentrate on those, as the value and beauty of the work depended on them, and abolish the superstructure of the decorative elements, so dear to Gothic architecture. The assumption of ancient orders served this purpose: to limit the structural and decorative uncertainty of the Gothic to a reduced and correlated case study, according to ancient rules. The distance between two columns, to give an example, does not determine the height of the pointed arch thrown above them but instead defines the height of a round arch that joins them and allows to proportion the measures of the base and those of the height of the arch. The column, the pillar, the pilaster, the entablature, the round arch were the indispensable ingredients of an architectural practice that had, as its primary purpose, the creation of modular structures and the geometric rationalization of the plans and elevations. This is the radical innovation of the architectural practice made by Brunelleschi, who gave concrete proof of it in the buildings, secular or ecclesiastical, entrusted to him by the Florentine public groups and, more rarely, also by some private clients.

 The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Brunelleschi’s meditations on radial harmony developed during a long gestation resulting in one of his most daring and complex projects, the very symbol of the Florentine Renaissance and one of his best-known works in the world: the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore.

He was involved in it from 1417 until his death, through successive phases in which the various components of the colossal project were progressively developed: the huge converging caps raised in the void upwards, above the drum; the final lantern, keystone of the dome (completed around 1460, after the artist’s death); the dead stands, decorative elements but also buttresses of the formidable lateral thrusts caused by the large dome. Brunelleschi’s genius in this undertaking, as has been repeatedly noted, did not consist so much in the conception of the pointed arch shape of the dome, which was forced by objective requirements (for such dimensions it was not possible to think of using a hemispherical shape ), as in the ability to prepare the tools to complete the work (construction systems, machinery) and in the correct planning of the work phases.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - diagram

Problems Posed by Construction.

The conclusion of the large apse tribune of Santa Maria del Fiore, by Arnolfo di Cambio (1367), and the subsequent erection of the massive octagonal drum (1413) with its four meter-thick walls, had left open the difficult problem of completing construction of the cathedral through an enormous dome, already foreseen by the original Arnolfian project. The opening that was intended to be covered by the dome, almost forty-two meters in diameter, was slightly smaller than the largest dome of antiquity, the Pantheon.

Following the competition launched at the Opera del Duomo in 1418, the construction of the dome was entrusted to Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, who were proclaimed winners after their joint a model of the project. The work began in 1420 and with that also disagreements between the two artists, and in 1426 Brunelleschi found himself with sole responsibility, something new for him, of the direction of the works.

The great innovation he introduced in the construction of the brick dome, supported by eight large white ribs, was the use of a load-bearing structure in every major phase of the work. The choice was a must: at this distance above the ground, it was not conceivable to use wooden reinforcements (ribs), as the traditional technique required.

Project and Organization of Works.

By adopting a double cap, internal and external, Brunelleschi simplified and strengthened the construction, placing the external one, parallel to the first, on twenty-four supports raised above the segments of the internal dome. The external dome was designed for practical and aesthetic purposes, to better protect the building from water, and to make it appear, as the work of the cathedral demanded, more magnificent and spacious.

It was up to Brunelleschi to think of the mechanical devices necessary to solve the complex problems of installation. For example, to lift the building material on the scaffolding he provided platforms for the workers; he even designed special boats for the transport of marble and bricks along the Arno. He designed every aspect of the dome covering, a first in the history of modern architecture, the position of sole manager.

Religious Significance and Earthly Significance.

After sixteen years of intense work, the dome was consecrated on 25 March 1436 by Pope Eugene IV. From a symbolic-religious point of view, it represented the triumphal crown of the Virgin to whom the Florentine cathedral was dedicated. But far more important was the earthly, social, and political significance of the work. Emblem of a city that had expanded its borders, the dome rose, with its expanded volume, over the roofs of the medieval city, detaching itself from the underlying body of the basilica, demonstrating a new way of considering history and space. Admired from afar, against the background of the hills that surround Florence, the dome, for the essentialness of its lines, for the visual effect induced by the contrast between the red brick of the caps and the white curvilinear ribs, becomes the pulsating center of a large urban system; dominating the entire region. The effect it had on his contemporaries must have been great because, as Alberti wrote, it seemed to “cover all the Tuscan peoples with its shadow”. It is a work still linked to the spirit of the Gothic because it is based on the  calculation of structural forces in equilibrium, but the result of a new mentality as it redefines and re-proportioned the underlying building redesigns and subdues the surrounding area. However, it is a Renaissance work because, as the architectural historian Leonardo Benevolo wrote, it is the first “where the architect is not only a high-level consultant for a collective body of executors, but the only one responsible for the form, decoration, structure, and construction site organization”.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Sketch of Dome


Construction Techniques of the Dome

The size of the dome that was to be built forced Brunelleschi to adopt new solutions to solve extremely difficult technical problems, also aggravated by the considerable height. The work was entrusted to him not because he had presented a particularly compellingly shaped dome model, but because he had provided a coherent work plan for its construction.

Brunelleschi found solutions to thousands of practical questions, capturing the wonder and admiration of his contemporaries. Vasari lists some of these measures: Brunelleschi had organized a lighting system for the stairs and corridors that run, at various levels, between the internal and external envelope of the dome and had placed the iron support points there to make it easier go up and walk through those tunnels; he had arranged the support points for the scaffolding of whoever, in the future, would have wanted to decorate the inner shell with paintings or mosaics, as in fact happened.

 He had designed an elaborate rainwater drainage system; on the outside, he had even provided for “holes and several openings, so that the winds break, and the vapors together with earthquakes could not cause damage”. He went to the kilns to check that he was supplied with flawless bricks; he chose the stones one by one, making sure they weren’t cracked. He provided the stonecutters with models in wood and wax, and even carving them in turnips, in order to show them how the joints were to fix one stone to another. Nor could he overlook the problem of the organization of work. When the construction site gradually moved to higher altitudes, Vasari writes again, “workers lost a lot of time in going to dinner and drink, and they suffered great discomfort due to the heat of the day. It was therefore established by Filippo the order that taverns should have been opened in the dome with the kitchens, and wine should have been sold; and so no one would left work, except in the evening; which was to their convenience”. But the workers needed solid scaffolding to work safely at such high altitudes. At the beginning of the work, when the dome wall was still almost vertical, the scaffolding was supported by beams inserted into the wall, both inside and outside the building: but lastly, given the strong inclination of the masonry, he had to think of a different system. Filippo Brunelleschi designed a scaffolding suspended in the void, located in the center of the dome, probably supported by long beams on platforms fixed at lower altitudes. these platforms were also to serve as warehouses for materials and work tools. Brunelleschi had to take steps to lift the heavy bricks to the height of the installation.

He partly used traditional machines, derived from the construction practice of Gothic cathedrals, but he had to invent new ones, applying the multiplier system, invented for the manufacture of watches, which was able to increase the effectiveness of the strength of winches and pulleys. In such machines, the engine was driven by a couple of horses. By walking in circles, animals could rotate a vertical shaft. This, in turn, impressed it on a horizontal shaft from which the ropes that supported the loads, fixed at a height to pulleys, rolled and unwound. In this way bricks and stones could rise and fall through a difference in height of tens and tens of meters.


Homepage: Carl Kruse
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Asia Leonardi focus on Maria Abramovic, Frida Kahlo and Forgotten Places.
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For those interested in green building construction find Carl Kruse at the USGBC here.

From Pop + Optical Art to the Rejection of the Artistic Object – the 1960’s.

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

It will be inevitable, in this article, to feel a certain sense of unease and difficulty in orienting oneself in front of works that are very different from each other a few years later. You will find all and the opposite of everything. In the past it was easier when faced with a painting, a sculpture, an architecture, to establish the period, to propose a probable dating, because the spirit of the time (what marks an age in itself and determines a taste) resisted longer, it stretched out, without encountering serious obstacles, for decades. Yet the speed of societal and cultural change is reflected in the speed and change in art. The spirit of the times today has certainly not ceased to act; but its range of action no longer differs over decades but over every handful of years, because the changes are more rapid than in the past.

From the end of the fifties the reaction to the informal, to its desecrating and nihilistic fury, passed through different experiences, somehow opposed, such as Optical Art” and Pop Art”. Optical art (mostly known with its abbreviated term op art) includes those artistic manifestations interested in the analysis of perceptual and kinetic phenomena. In this context, the artists created, on the one hand, works with their own movement, on the other works that, thanks to a study of perceptual tricks, create different visual effects according to the movements of the viewer, thus soliciting his participation.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Victor Vasarely

Victor Vasarely; Op Art

With these interests, op artists grafted an aversion to any romantic individualism into a line of research connected with the rigorous scientific spirit through groups such as the German Group Zero, the Swiss Kalte Kunst, the French Group de Recherche d’Art Visuel, the Yugoslavian Nove Tendencije.

In the context of op and kinetic art, the production of multiple works designed by the artist but made according to industrial procedures in smaller series of copies, often numbered and signed, began. The artist’s intervention is limited to the design phase: one understands how the multiple is placed side by side and often confused with industrial design, and how it also risks lending itself easily to commercial operations and mystifications.

With the so-called pop art (short for popular art) the artist’s interest turned to the world of consumerism, to the Babelic profusion of objects imposed on a daily basis by the system of production and advertising: it’s therefore obvious that this trend would mainly develop in the United States. By isolating the product of daily use, decontextualizing it, transforming it into an idol, a totem, a fetish, pop art alluded to the depersonalization of a world dominated by the profit of things, and ironically celebrated the triumph of goods and launched a cry of alarm. 

Artists such as Robert Raushenberg, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein demonstrated their discomfort by reproducing the most usual objects or images favored by the mass media, sometimes with meticulous, hyper-realistic technique, or by remaking them in natural or hyperbolic dimensions, or by using the objects themselves. In 1964 the pop artists were presented, with great success, in the U.S. pavilion of the Venice Biennale: it was the decisive push for the start of a short but intense pop season throughout Europe.

The second half of the sixties, in the whirlwind succession of fashions, saw the affirmation of minimal art (sometimes labeled “Primary Structures”, from the title of a 1966 New York exhibition), not without ties to pop art. The term “minimal” refers to the fact that artists of this trend minimize the complications of form, and aspire to elementary forms using simple and non-traditional materials (concrete, iron, steel, wood, aluminum, plexiglas, etc). This is how often large-scale works of geometric evidence are born,consisting of isolated or repeated modules, with the intention of involving the surrounding space in some way.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Primary Structures, New York

Primary Structures, exhibition 1966, New York

The artists of minimal art, pugnacious opponents of the com-modifiable object and in search of elementary volumes (almost in an attempt to trace the origin of forms) were already close to conceptualism, a trend (the term was used for the first time by Sol LeWitt in 1967) which, having abandoned any intention of representation, will make reflection on art prevail and will underline the phase of planning over actual realization. But conceptualism is a phenomenon with rather vague outlines and it is really difficult to frame, given that from time to time poor art, land art,visual poetry, those forms of spectacularization of art represented by happenings and performances. Poor art, however, well underlines the predominant trend in the late sixties, namely the rejection of the traditional artistic object.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Allan Kaprow’s “Happenings”, 1960, New York

Allan Kaprow’s “Happenings”, 1960, New York

One of the reasons that underlie many experiences of recent years has been the anxiety of renewal at all costs (we could also define it as a revival of the spirit of the avantgarde), the rejection of everything that even remotely resembles “already done”. This novelty race combined with a spirit of revolt, distraction, profanation in the sixties and seventies. The artists have reached insurmountable limits: they have applied the label of artistry to practically everything, they have exhibited themselves in the halls of museums, they have even really hurt themselves. The protest against the traditional system of arts has been radical, and often a reaction to the commodification of works; however, we must warn that the market has been able to seize seemingly elusive experiences, by putting into circulation, for example, photographs or recordings of performances, body art events, land art and so on.

Of course, many experiences imbued with such a strong radical spirit have had the merit of demythologizing the aura that surrounded the work of art, but at the same time, a large part of the public has pulled back, unable to understand or even in horror.

In the artistic events after 1945, it must be said, the tools of expression have multiplied, from cinema to video-tapes to electronic instruments and now NFTs, resulting from the most advanced technology, and the artist has seen an increase in her possibilities of manipulation and intervention, able to fully realize demiurgic wishes. Numerous operators were active with very different means: the case of Andy Warhol teaches, with his decisive contribution to the development of underground cinema.

Carl Kruse Art Blog -
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, 1967; New York, collection of Leo Castelli

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, 1967; New York, collection of Leo Castelli

Andy Warhol’s position is highly critical of mass media-induced distortion. The artist works on sensational images, the faces made famous by the news (Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy), the photographs of a disastrous fire, of a spectacular car accident. The media repeatedly propose the same images to us, manipulate them, deform them, and Warhol thus renders them, almost unrecognizable, insisted on some detail, half-erased for the rest. They are the same fragments of reality that are offered to us every day by newspapers, television, cinema, but which no longer have the power to strike us, they leave us indifferent (and very soon reality itself does not arouse different reactions in us).

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Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Asia Leonardi include those on Frida Kahlo, Charlotte Salomon, More on Action Painting, and Jackson Pollock.

Frida Kahlo: Flowers Are Born From Mud

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

On 6 July 1907 in Mexico City, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon was born to German parents who emigrated from Hungary. She claimed to be born in 1910, with the Revolution, with a new Mexico.

Frida Kahlo is a revolution. An artistic revolution, a revolution of thought, an overwhelming hymn to life that is born with every lively stroke of color; some approached her to surrealism, but Frida was the first to break away from this definition: “I have always painted my reality, not my dreams.” Pure energy, a living fire and an intoxicating passion, Frida Kahlo looks like a character straight out of the pen of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, small, proud, survivor of polio at six, and of a terrible car accident at eighteen that will leave her invalid, the art of Frida is born from her survival instinct. She dyes her pains with color, transforms them into beauty.

 “I paint flowers to keep them from dying.”

Carl Kruse Arts - FRIDA KAHLO IN BED

A strong, tenacious woman, a fighter: Frida is a disarming and full throttle scream, born from the awareness that you can always survive pain and that you must have the courage to be who you are, and to love yourself beyond the limits of your body. Frida paints herself crudely, in front of a mirror she observes and depicts her naked suffering with bright colors, the labor of her body, with pride, her eyes are always pointed, straight and motionless, giving the impression of probing the soul of the beholder. Facing a portrait of her, we are almost inclined to lower our heads, in front of the majesty of her figure, tense, suffering, proud.

“I lived from art, I lived from love.” A life between suffering and passion.

 At the age of six Frida falls ill with polio: her right foot and leg remain deformed, so much so that Frida hides them first with pants and then with long Mexican skirts. So, if when she is little she is nicknamed by other children “Frida Pata de Palo” (wooden leg), when she grows up she will be admired for her exotic appearance.

 In 1922, at the age of 18, Frida enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria in Mexico City intending to become a doctor. During this period Frida is part of the “Cachucas”, a group of students who support socialist ideas of the Minister of Education, Vasconcelos, calling for school reforms; she also shows interest in the visual arts but has not yet thought of pursuing an artistic career.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida Kahlo Self Portrait
The very first self-portrait: Self-portrait in a Velvet dress, 1926, Frida Kahlo

 On September 17, 1935, the bus bound for Coyoacàn, on which Frida Kahlo had boarded with her boyfriend, Alejandro Gomez, to go home after school, collided with a tram.

“I got on the bus with Alejandro… Shortly after the Sun train bus of the Xochimilco line collided… it was a strange collision; not violent, but deaf, slow, and massacred everyone. Me more than others. It is false to say that it makes us shocked, false to say that we cry. I didn’t shed any tears. The impact dragged us forward and the handrail went through me like the sword goes through the bull. “

Frida remains between the metal rods of the tram. The handrail breaks and goes over  her from side to side. Alejandro picks her up and notices that Frida has a piece planted in her body. A man puts his knee on Frida’s body and takes out the piece of metal.

The first serious diagnosis comes one year after the accident: fractures of the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, three fractures of the pelvis, eleven fractures of the right foot, dislocation of the left elbow, deep wound in the abdomen, produced by an entered iron bar from the right hip. Acute peritonitis, the patient is prescribed to wear a plaster corset for 9 months, and complete rest for at least 2 months after discharge from the hospital.

“For many years my father kept a box of oil paints, a couple of brushes in an old glass and a palette … during the period when I had to stay in bed for a long time I took advantage of the opportunity and I asked my father to give them to me … My mother had an easel prepared, to be applied to my bed, because the plaster bust did not allow me to stand up straight. So I began to paint my first picture.”

 Frida’s mother, Matilda, transforms Frida’s bed into a canopy and mounts a huge mirror on it, that Frida, immobilized, can at least see herself.

Thus are born those self-portraits that remind us of her, with her eyes dominated by dark eyebrows, particularly marked, which join the root of the nose like bird’s wings: “I paint myself because I spend a lot of time alone and because I am the subject that I know best.”

The Broken Column, Frida Kahlo, 1944

With these representations, Frida breaks the taboos relating to the body and female sexuality. Diego Rivera, her future husband, will say of her: “the first woman in the history of art to have faced with absolute and inexorable frankness, in a ruthless but at the same time calm way, those general and particular issues that exclusively concern women.”

As the months passed, Frida devotes herself with growing awareness to painting. She advances slowly, produces in small doses and small formats: what her health allows her to do: “my paintings are painted well, not lightly but with patience. My painting carries within itself the message of pain. “

Only towards the end of 1927 did Frida recover enough to be able to lead a normal life despite the pain caused by the various braces, and the scars left by the operations.

In 1928 Frida joins a group of artists and intellectuals who support independent Mexican art, far from academicism and linked to the popular expression: Mexicanism, which is expressed in mural painting, particularly encouraged by the state, almost certainly for the purpose of sharing national history with a large illiterate mass.

For her part, Frida creates her own figurative language to express ideas and feelings; the world contained in Frida’s works refers above all to Mexican popular art and pre-Columbian culture; there are, in fact, popular votive images, depictions of martyrs and Christian saints, anchored in the faith of the people; moreover, in the self-portraits, Frida is almost always represented in country clothes or with Indian costume.

In early 1928, German Del Campo, one of her friends from the student movement, introduces her to a group of young people gathered around the Cuban communist  Julio Antonio Nella, who is in exile in Mexico and who has an affair with the photographer Tina Modotti. It was Tina herself who introduced Frida to Diego Rivera: a very famous painter and muralist, even though the two had already met in 1923, while Diego was working in the Bolivar amphitheater. Of that meeting Diego remembers this girl … “she had a dignity and self-assurance that was completely unusual and a strange fire danced in her eyes.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida and diego
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

When Frida meets Diego for the second time, he is a heavy, gigantic man, Frida teases him by calling him “elephant”: he has already been married twice and has four children.

On 21 Agust 1929 they get married. She is 22, he is almost 43.

Due to the pelvic malformation caused by her accident, Frida is unable to carry out her pregnancies, and so, three months after the wedding, Frida has to have an abortion. In November 1930, Frida and Diego moved to the United States for four years for artistic and political reasons. In Detroit, Frida becomes pregnant for the second time, but the triple fracture of the acinus hinders the correct position of the baby. However, Frida decides to keep the baby, despite her poor physical condition and the risk.  However, on July 4th she lost this baby to a miscarriage.

 In 1934 they return to Mexico, Frida is forced to have an abortion for the third time and separates from Diego who, in the meantime, had had several adventures with other women, including Frida’s sister, Cristina.

Frida begins to have relationships with other men and other women and to be active politically. During the 1936 Spanish Civil War, Frida commits herself remotely to the defense of the Spanish Republic, organizing meetings, writing letters, collecting necessities, clothes, and medicines to send to the front.

In 1937, she hosted in her Casa Azul, Lev and Natalija Trotsky, who had been traveling since 1929, expelled from the Soviet Union.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida Red
Tree of Hope, 1946, Frida Kahlo

In the 1940s, Frida’s fame was so great that her works were requested for almost all group exhibitions held in Mexico.

In 1943 she was called to teach at the new art school: the Esmeralda. Frida, for health reasons, is soon forced to give lessons in her home. Her methods are unorthodox: “Muchachos, locked up here, at school, we can’t do anything. Let’s go out into the street, let’s paint the life of the street.” Her students remember her “the only help she gave us was to stimulate us … she didn’t say anything about the way we had to paint or about the style, like the master Diego did … She taught us above all the love for people, she made us love popular art “.

In 1950 Frida underwent seven  spinal operations and spent nine months in the hospital. After 1951, due to pain, she was no longer able to work except by resorting to painkillers: perhaps this is why her brushstroke is softer, less accurate, the color thicker and the execution of details more imprecise.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Frida and hammer and sickle

In 1953, at her first solo exhibition, set up by her photographer friend Lola Alvarez Bravo, she participated lying on a bed, the doctors practically forbade her to get up. It was Diego who had the idea of ​​carrying the large bed, drinking, and singing with a large audience. In August of the same year, the doctors decided to amputate her right leg.

Frida is destroyed, withdrawn into herself, reflects, and writes in her diary a phrase born from this period that becomes famous: “Pies. para que los quiero, si tengo alas pa’ volar.” (“Feet. why do I want them, if I have wings to fly?”)

In 1954 she fell ill with pneumonia. During her convalescence, on July 2, she participates in a demonstration against the U.S. intervention in Guatemala, holding a sign with the symbol of a dove carrying a message of peace. Frida died of a pulmonary embolism on the night of July 13, in her Casa Azul, seven days after her forty-seventh birthday. The night before she died, with the words “I feel that I will leave you soon,” she gave Diego a ring, which was to be her gift for him on their upcoming Twenty-fifth anniversary.


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Former articles by Asia Leonardi include those on Simonetta Vespucci, Charlotte Salomon, and Jackson Pollock.

The blog’s last post was “Are Memes Art?

Carl Kruse has an account on Behance.

Are Memes Art?

by Vittorio Compagno for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

The digital era gave birth to unique trends tied to the advent of the Internet. The source of many of these trends is as old as the internet itself, which is to say online forums. From these fountains of discussion, as in the ancient Greek “agorà,” emerged all sorts of culture and knowledge. A new form of communication emerged, based on inside jokes, common experience, and led to an iteration of the finest forms of communications: art. Bear with me.

If trends like being “Rickrolled”, the infamous “Gangnam Style”, or the “Ice Bucket Challenge” seem to have nothing to do with it, I’ll explain why memes are art.

First a quick look at two takes on memes:

meme noun
\ ˈmēm \
: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.
—by Richard Dawkins , source

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins, British
ethologist, early in his life

In 1976 the author of this last quote, Richard Dawkins, the father of the word “meme”, couldn’t predict the explosion of globally available digital social media through which this kind of “idea, behavior, style” could spread.

That memes were part of early internet culture was clear in 1994, when Mike Godwin, in his now famous Wired article “Meme, Counter-Meme” wrote:

A “meme,” of course, is an idea that functions in a mind the same way a gene or virus functions in the body. And an infectious idea (call it a “viral meme”) may leap from mind to mind, much as viruses leap from body to body […] When a meme catches on, it may crystallize whole schools of thought.

The evolution of memes

Internet memes have evolved since the text-based ones that Godwin was referring to, but the perception that a form of communication so powerful
could influence trends or ideas was already clear at that time.

The power of memes grew, from simple lines of code sent via the
56 Kb per second connections of 1994, to their current medium: images and short videos.

Images have strong evocative power. They can express a thousand words, because the unspoken often overtakes what can be said in conversation. The introduction of images represented a leap in meme development, as this new form of communication evolves rapidly. Dawkins would be proud.

Memes got better not just in visual quality but also in their communicative techniques, their appeal, and, their ability to describe cryptically a certain moment in time, or event. That is one of the most intriguing things about memes – if you don’t know the inside joke behin them, because you’re not in a specific group, someone has to explain them to you. But the moment that you understand what’s going on, why that meme was created, what made it funny, you suddenly become part of that circle. They are the externalization of what’s private and protected inside a group of people, that couldn’t be known explicitly perhaps until expressed by the creator, and that today, in this digital age, serve as a stand in of our ways of living and thinking. And isn’t much of art not that? Something we know to be true yet could not fully express ourselves to be revealed by the artist?

The reason memes have become more than text or images is they are now art.

Pop Art of our generation

Think about how, in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, the “Pop Art” movement wanted to set a new standard for itself, moving away from centuries of conventional art, trying to, as the name suggests, popularize art, and how the public perceived artworks. This emerging form of expression represented an evolutionary trend in art that goes generally towards the focus on an abstract interpretation of the artwork, and a tendency to bring into it what is common among the people like trends or celebrities or famous brands.

We’re living a new iteration of Pop Art, where, in line with the trend of previous years, what’s made by an artist is transcendent. This new course has been engendered by the Web, the main pilaster of a new vision of art that revolves around the dematerialization of the artwork.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Marilyn

Marilyn Diptych, 1962

Why memes

Memes are a form of art because they are not presented or appreciated for their beauty, nor for the little details, but because they express something the public can relate to. In still images, just like in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you don’t get just funny quotes, or dorky images, but the sub product of society. The only difference between the two movements is that there won’t be another Andy Warhol, or a James Rosenquist, because new memes travel at the speed of the Internet, gigabits per seconds of quotes, images, references, jokes, that are created and forgotten, and just like the iterative and perpetual process of evolution, only a few are remembered, often created by people hidden behind a
Reddit username.

That’s right, they describe our generation, along with other forms of art, like music, or movies that have been dematerialized from their conventional shape, and have transformed from the vinyl, or the dvd you had to buy, to your monthly subscription to Spotify or Netflix. Memes have become so important to our common culture that an online “library” archives thousands of them, avoiding the inevitable loss that the speed at which they are made causes.
When a form of communication becomes popular, you suddenly start seeing ads popping in using that same medium. That is the case with popular art in recent decades.

Today, with the rise of social media promotions, the same companies who didn’t know what a meme was, started to commission thousands of them in an attempt to appeal to young people. Some of them were actually good, but not all.

It’s clear by now that memes are not just ordinary pictures you find on the internet, they are art. Like Leo Tolstoy said, art is:

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in
oneself, then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Ceiling Car

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Museum of Old and New Art

by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Photos from MONA, Carl Kruse and Blooloop

In 2006 the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities closed for a huge revamping and after the input of $75 million and five years of construction the Museum of Old and New Art emerged (MONA). Located in Holbart, Tasmania, the museum has since conversed with the world of art in an idiosyncratic and spectacular way. 

David Walsh. Photo: Blooloop.

The man behind the mission, David Walsh, made his fortune as a gambler. When MONA opened he would go on to describe it as a “subversive Disneyland.” The eclectic collection gathered in the museum are tied by the twin themes of sex and death. Ancient art, such as the mummy of Ta-Sheret-Min, resides close by the famed “Cloaca”: a series of vessels conceived by the Belgian artist Wilm Devoye that holds a functioning digestive tract. The vessels are fed in the late morning; excreting occurs by early afternoon.

The museum is statement, not of high art or the understanding of such, but of a playful experience and attendance to art. The account of the construction of MONA highlights this dynamic that the museum is trying to communicate:

“This is a mistake. People will think you don’t know what you’re doing, like you’re a rich man and you’ve just got all your toys around you – your big gallery, your tennis court. You won’t be taken seriously.” And David said, “Exactly.”

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - MONA from the Sea
Approaching MONA from the sea. Tasmania. Photo: MONA.

Statements from MONA radiate this playful irreverence: “Bars, café, restaurants and cemetery on site,” and again when describing what MONA is: “a museum, or something.” Of course, there is a seriousness to this mask of indifference. It is an invitational strategy; everyone is welcome to find and experience this strange world.

The Ferry from Holbart to MONA – Sheep as Seats. Photo: Carl Kruse

Things become clearer when we think about the space made to house David’s vision. He says the best way to approach the museum is by sea: “to ascend from the water as the ancient Greeks did to go to their temples.” There the visitor is met with a single-story entry, nothing overwhelming, until inside a spiral staircase takes them down to three large labyrinthine spaces. There are no windows, there is only the stony silence of the descent.

Descending staircase into MONA. Photo Blooloop.

It is all for the experience of viewing art, of creating a space where the visitor can give themselves to the spectacle and possible meaning of art. David fashioned his museum in direct opposition to what he had found in other museums – the building shouldn’t dwarf the visitor nor impose its stateliness upon them but facilitate the interaction between the visitor and the art.

Visitors are recommended the ‘O’ app, either provided or available for download on their phones. The ‘O’ app was introduced so that visitors wouldn’t have to spend time reading the small prints on plaques by each art piece, instead they can immerse themselves freely. The visitor does not need to feel “that they haven’t appreciated the piece or understood it without the plaque.” The ‘O’ app has a menu where the viewer can learn about the art under the title ‘Art Wank’; it can also recommend what food to try and where the toilets are. 

“Besides Myself” by James Turrell at MONA.

David Walsh’s “anti-museum” theme has proved something in its wake; the attraction of, to use Richard Flanagan’s words, “the ultimate senseless chance.” It this direct wish of Walsh’s to “piss of the academics” which has found such exceeding popularity – in 2015 MONA was ranked as the world’s best modern art gallery, above London’s Tate modern. It is one of Carl Kruse’s favorite museums in the world.

It is not that we will find all the pieces on display as beautiful or even remotely interesting; we may even be repulsed. It is this rapid juxtaposition of chance that offers up this experience of being face to face with something of life, something like a drunken night filled with half-memories and unexpected turns. MONA is a playful provocateur entering into the high-minded conversation about art.

The provocateur broaches the subject from a different point of view. Most people attending, it may be presumed, have visited another art gallery with its prestigious formal ordering of art. Any ordering of art tells us something of how we should think about art. MONA has opted for the fully immersive, nonchalant, experience; it may be anti-museum, but it is not anti-art – It is asking us to speak about it, to experience it, in a different way.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - The Snake by Sydney Nolan in Tasmania, Australia.

Sydney Nolan’s “THE SNAKE” at MONA.

Walsh’s playground doesn’t require us to have done our homework or that we understand the cultural and historical significance of a certain piece; and, if it is culturally significant, that we too find it astonishing. MONA finds much to say in the playground itself without caring if there is anything meaningful to say about the equipment. It is answering a need for collective experience in a reality unlike our own, something like a ritual.

In 2018, Walsh spent a further $32 million on a new wing in the MONA complex. It was named Pharos. This section has been spoken about as, in some ways, the antithesis to the MONA. Walsh wanted to create a “changeless thing, a totem, a legacy.” As the name suggests (Pharos being one of the ancient wonders of the world – the Alexandrian lighthouse) it is a beacon of light, but it also acts as a procession; a ritualistic walk for the un-believer.

Carl Kruse Blog - The Topmb of the Kamizakes in Pharos, MONA
Inside Pharos – the “Memorial to Sacred Wind or the Tomb of Kamikaze” by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. What initially appears to be a pile of scrap lunges to life unexpectedly and moves about the room. Photo: Broadsheet.

Walsh’s idea to suffuse this section with assemblages that will never be moved has its reasons. Basing this conception on ancient rituals where it seems the idea is to “merely walk around them,” Walsh has created this space so the visitor can commune with their inner selves. It brings to the foreground what the museum is about: sex and death. If the rest of MONA is this chance, transient, sex, then Pharos is the acknowledgment and appreciation of changeless death.

It is with Pharos that we are aware of the magnitude of the MONA enterprise. It is not merely an eclectic arrangement of contemporary and old art, but a monument towards why and how art is created. It is a space which confronts the visitor with something of the wonder in which art finds its source.


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Charlotte Salomon, the Painter Killed in Auschwitz between Life and Theater

By Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Charlotte Salomon, a Berlin Jewish artist, was one of the most original and pioneering female painters of the 1900s. Her work “Life? or Theater? ” condenses her artistic career: some eight hundred compositions that trace her artistic life; an innovative style that we could compare to the contemporary graphic novel in which painting, comics, cinema, and theater come together, transmitting moments of touching historical and personal drama with immediacy and lightness.

Who was Charlotte?

Charlotte was born in Berlin in 1917 to Jewish parents: her father Albert was a surgeon and a university professor and her mother, Franziska Grunwald, was a nurse. Her mother committed suicide by throwing herself out of a window when Charlotte was nine, but the girl was told her mother died of a serious illness. It was also kept silent that this was but the latest in a series of suicides among women of the family.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Leben oder Theater.  Charlotte Salamon.
From the German, Leben = Life, Oder = Or, Theater = Theater

In 1933, following the newly enacted German racial laws, Charlotte’s maternal grandparents emigrated to Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, but her father,
with his new wife Paula Lindberg and Charlotte, resisted for some time as he was able to practice his profession. In these years, thanks to Paula, a renowned soprano, Charlotte was immersed in the world of music and art, so much so that in 1935 she was accepted being the only one hundred percent Jewish person at the National School of the Academy of Fine Berlin Arts. Here she learned traditional artistic techniques, while at the same time being exposed to modern works of art of the so-called “degenerate art”, which indelibly marks her style.

Over time, her life inevitably became marked by racial discrimination and limitations and on Crystal Night on November 9, 1938, Charlotte left Berlin to join her grandparents in France, while her father and his wife took refuge in Holland.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Crstal Night in Berlin, Germany
Crystal Night

One night in September 1939 Charlotte prevented the suicide of her grandmother, who had fallen into depression over the ongoing events, and in this circumstance, the painter learned of the long history of family depression. This upset the artist so, it catapulted her into moments of anxiety and despair that led her to see art as a way of salvation. Starting to paint with tireless energy that in what, two years, 1940-1942, would become her great work: “Life? or Theater?”

The bound volumes amount to 800 and when added to the preparatory drawings and sketches become more than 1300. This work of art can be defined as total and coinciding with the very life of the artist who narrates her exile in France, her daily life including her first love, in a setting that can be defined as a proto-graphic novel. The episodes are divided into acts as in a Singspiel (Austrian-German musical theatrical genre) and give life to a musical novel of exuberant expressive power, in which each table makes its own story and at the same time asks for a layered and linked reading.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon and her grandparents
Charlotte Salomon With Her Grandparents

A series of tempera with sinuous captions, rhythmic, onomatopoeic, and torrential words, which create a dual game between sound and color, sucking the viewer and dragging him into a world in which space and time blend and alternate. The expressionist lexicon is bubbly, detailed, and with rich and warm colors that recall Matisse, details of the oneiric dimension that recall Chagall, scenes of strong exasperation typical of Munch’s painting.

Charlotte outlines each event with a typical feminine delicacy, in which the language, absolutely unprecedented at the time, varies according to the subject treated. The continuous stylistic metamorphosis is testified by hundreds of sheets that directly or metaphorically touch the salient experiences of the painter’s affective and cultural training: photography, crippled negative, still image, deformed illustration.

Now I am a document, now irony, now oneiric metaphysics, now philosophical poetry.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Gouache

The staged memory is not immediate, it is the obscene private and public of the twentieth century treated and elaborated in words, images, and music, with characters, dialogues, fractures, changes of perspectives, temporal and spatial changes: a work that hybridizes codes and different languages.

Charlotte narrates the tangle between her personal story and the collective story and in both flows dramatic plots develop, creating a perfect symmetry between the catastrophic series of external circumstances and the inner tragedies of her personal life, improving a compositional tendency that tells events through trauma: pain is processed and not removed.

An alternation of real-life and Shakespearean staging, in which Charlotte recomposes the inner rupture given by the inexorable presence of death in her family history and at the same time in European history. Through the presence of Charlotte with her grandparents Gouache infinitely replicated masks or varied in shape, she can break the fatal chain of suicides, putting the whole of
history in the picture:

When the measure of life is full, it is necessary to start again from the theater.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon - Stolperstein
The “Stolperstein” for Charlotte Salomon on Wielandstr 15 in Berlin – Charlottenburg, Germany. Stolperstein – meaning “stumbling block” — are placed on the ground in front of the former homes in Germany of people killed by the Nazi regime. The Stolpersteine project was conceived by artist Gunter Denmig.

Time passes, but the terrifying wind of racial persecution blows over Europe. In 1943 she was forced to hand over all her works to a friend, and in September she married Alexander Nagler, also a German refugee. But soon the couple is jailed. After her incarceration, news about her life becomes fragmented. She died at 26, a few months pregnant, after reaching Auschwitz, perhaps on the day of her arrival following the terrible train ride to the concentration camp.

The painter was forgotten for a long time, perhaps for being too avant-garde, until Willem Sandberg organized a first retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, followed by important international milestones, and not least the choice of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev who included her in 2012 in the Documenta exhibition in Kassel saying, as Joel Cahen (director of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam) remembers, it was “her definitive entry into the world of modern art.”

Charlotte Salomon’s work, on the other hand, finds an Italian look for the first time with the publication and full translation of her “Vita? O Teatro?”, the illustrated volume with slipcase published by Castelvecchi Editore, which today remains an artistic and literary monument, almost a total work of art of a shocking force, a work that is intensely connected to today’s world, to the modalities of communication and relationships, based on images, sounds, and intuitive messages.

Perhaps the greatest book of the twentieth century.
As a work of visual art, it is a triumph. As a novel, it is a triumph.

– Jonathan Safram Foer

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon - Self Portrait

Charlotte Salomon – Self Portrait


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Other writings by Asia Leonardi on Andrea Liguori, Francesca Woodman, Steve McCurry and Escher.

The blog’s last post focused on the Van Gogh’s “Chair.”

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Van Gogh’s Chair: Omens of Tragedy

By Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

I first saw Vincent Van Gogh’s painting ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’ (1888) in secondary school, in the middle of an art class.

My art teacher had no particular regard for art history. She found it uninteresting, and it was never a fundamental part of the classes she taught. She was a tiny thing, my teacher, always dressed in bold, screaming colors and imaginative accessories. She more often than not wore startlingly high heels, which retrospectively I suppose must have been rather agonizing considering how long she wore them for. I remember a certain pair – they were hot pink stilettos, with some sort of adornment on the front that looked like a piece of candy.

I do believe she was quite the darling of many of the boys and it seemed like she played up to this role quite readily. Come to think of it, I reckon a few of my secondary-school teachers played up to that side of juvenile sexuality, probably to encourage good behavior and obedience. That isn’t to say it was only the female teachers. On the contrary, I have had a few (borderline) flirtatious male teachers teach me at one time or another during my secondary and college education. I have always been quite obsessed with the forbidden sexuality of those in authority, and I’ve certainly had many a teacher-crush.

Anyway, back to the art class. In my last year of secondary school, we had to paint a ‘final piece’, and deduce its contents on a separate written piece, dissecting it and commenting on the techniques we used to create it. I must say I really do despise self-reflection with regards to artwork. I know that, for myself, when I create something, whether it be written, painted, drawn, played…whatever it is, it is almost always spontaneously generated. Occasionally I will vaguely plan the ongoing trajectory of a piece I’m in the middle of so as not to lose creative fire, but I won’t generally plan prior to beginning it. Inspiration sparks at the most bizarre of times, and no plan or bullet point list tends to help me to get there, to that perfect peak of creative energy that suddenly begins to flow like a flood and ignite the best work. But, of course, one has to ‘feign’ planning in order to escape being reprimanded for not doing so. Dutifully, I searched through the limited collection of art books we had in class to search for ‘inspiration’. I came across a short text about Van Gogh, which detailed a few of his paintings along with a mini biography. I flipped through the paintings in the center of the book, then stopped abruptly. The chair looked back at me, and I stared at it. Such a lonely piece. So isolated and sedentary. I fell into a silence, and the noise of the world around me became a dull, quiet roar, like the sound of distant waves. It was like I was waiting for the occupant of the chair to return and light up his pipe. But he never came.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Van Gogh's Chair

Van Gogh’s Chair

I had a class in art history this year, and in one of the weeks my teacher brought up Van Gogh when speaking of post-impressionism. While my teacher swept through pictures of the sunflowers, the beautiful night skies, and the vibrant cafes up on the interactive whiteboard, I thought about the chair. I decided it was essential I delve into it, that I dive into the painting that near brought me to tears upon my initial viewing of it. I was not always a believer in the dissection of art, as I was of the opinion that it would inevitably ruin the intrigue and beauty of it through over-analysis. But, through my study of literature and more advanced music theory over these past few years, I have learned that studying art in any form can bring one to enjoy a work even more than one did prior. I decided to dissect Van Gogh’s melancholic painting, to see what I could find in it, and whether I could find that lonesome character that had left his seat and his tobacco in such a hurry. Here is what I have come up with:

In deciphering ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’, an approach concerning the metonymy – substituting an object or attribute for a person or emotion – prompted by the painting I feel is essential. The chair, illustrated in oil-on-canvas, is clearly a daylight rendering, with a light source suggested as emerging from the top left, unseen, corner, and reflected onto the light-colored wood in thick, golden brushstrokes. The brightness and air of simplicity in the painting could reflect Van Gogh’s self-reflection. However, simultaneously, ‘Omens of tragedy [rumble] beneath thick smears of beaming yellow’, as contemporary poet Niall O’Sullivan suggested in a poem framed side-by-side with the image in the National Gallery.

The positioning of the chair in the center of a sombre-toned brassy kitchen tiles is to me melancholic. The chair’s emptiness creates an unsettling sense of loneliness, which is further emphasised by its asymmetry; unequal bars connected to dumpy, shapeless chair legs. Supposedly “Empty chairs had a very personal significance for van Gogh, who appears to have associated objects strongly with people” [1]. Gogh’s inspiration for the painting was most likely Victorian magazine ‘The Graphic’ which published an illustration in 1870 by Luke Filde, dubbed ‘The Empty Chair, Gad’s Hill’. This was painted after Charles Dickens’s death, a chair with no owner, yet an object so completely synonymous with its owner (Dickens) that it became an embodiment of him in itself. It is well documented that Van Gogh was a huge admirer of Dickens’ works, and supposedly wrote letter emphatically proclaiming his love for the writer, using phrases like: ‘I want to paint what Dickens has done with words’[2]. Van Gogh continued to show his admiration for Dickens through his art, and ‘The Arlésienne’ (1890), which was painted in his last year of life, depicts a Dickens novel on the table in front of the female figure. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. The emotionally charged use of symbolism (using symbols to represent ideas, and in this case a person) in Filde’s painting could certainly have deeply affected Van Gogh, leading to his own chair portraits.

The personalizing of his own chair as being metonymically associated with himself can be furthered by his positioning of his own personal objects on the chair; the hastily painted pipe (it is believed Van Gogh followed Dickens’s prescription of smoking for melancholia) and the open bag of tobacco. These intimate objects seem to be connected with the candle depicted on the painting Van Gogh did of fellow artist Paul Gauguin’s own ‘Chair’ (‘Gauguin’s Chair’ 1888). Perhaps he considered Gauguin’s ‘light’ as essential, not only to light the tobacco in his pipe, but to light up his own work. I will comment on Van Gogh and Gauguin’s artistic relationship, as well as the significance of the contrasting chairs he painted, in a moment.

The complexity of the configuration of the painting with areas of wider, continual brushstrokes (see the first front rung of the chair) juxtaposed to thicker, busier areas (the foremost chair leg), create a distorted three-dimensional image, elevating this mundane object to something rather more sinisterly representative of a despairing mental state, potentially pointing to Van Gogh’s own mental deterioration. This supports Victoria Charles’ notion that ‘Van Gogh’s life and work are so intertwined that it is hardly possible to see his pictures without reading in them the story of his life’[3]. Does this indicate that, for Van Gogh, ‘painting had become identical with life itself’[4], the only way for him to communicate the difficulties and pains of living?

I feel that a further analytical comparison of this painting to Van Gogh’s contrasting depiction, ‘Gauguin’s Chair’, is necessary to contextually analyze this painting. Both canvases were painted once relations between the once-amicable artists had become strained due to Van Gogh’s poor mental health. Van Gogh has hoped that his artist’s studio, the ‘Yellow House’, would become a studio for himself with Gauguin as his artistic mentor. But his vision of harmonious living with Gauguin did not last long, as after 9 weeks of living together Van Gogh started falling through a downwards spiral into deep depression and bipolar disorder. After Van Gogh sliced off his ear in a fit of violent anger he was sent to an insane asylum, and his dream of working with Gauguin swiftly ended. Van Gogh painted both chairs just as his relationship with Gauguin was becoming strained.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Gaguin's Chair

Gaguin’s Chair, 1888

‘Gauguin’s Chair’ is a baroque-style envisioning in its exaggerated features and emphasis on ‘tenebrism’ (the dramatic use of light and dark). It is of a deep, sensual palate that is startling richer than that used to depict his own chair. This image seems to suggest a nocturnal exoticism and complexity that appears juxtaposed to the garish simplicity of Van Gogh’s own chair. These chairs are both ‘alive, like strange creatures’[5]. Van Gogh here employs the ‘intense colours and dramatic shapes…[that] anticipated Expressionism [the use of artistic distortion to create different emotions]’[6]. The light sources – a candle and a gas-lantern – create a far more claustrophobic image than that of Van Gogh’s own chair, which is lit by external sources, symbolic perhaps of Van Gogh perceiving Gauguin as self-interested and thus self-illuminated in this painting, though one cannot say for sure he felt this sort of animosity towards his fellow artist. By all accounts, Van Gogh was utterly bewitched by Gauguin’s artwork and was highly insistent that Gauguin should come and work with him to help him better his own art. Gauguin recounts in his memoirs how much of a dutifully hardworking artist and loving man Van Gogh was prior to his ever-increasing episodes of ‘madness’. Maybe the use of this internal, unattainable light indicates that Van Gogh perceived Gauguin as his last hope, hope that was swiftly dwindling.

Another aspect of the painting I wish to briefly discuss is its musicality, as I believe it is integral to understanding Van Gogh’s artistic technique. Before moving to The Yellow House, Van Gogh articulated to his brother Theo that the paintings he so viscerally envisioned he would come to paint in Southern France would be ‘a symphony in blue and yellow’[7]. Van Gogh’s persistent application of ‘words related to music – such as ‘harmony’, ‘piano’, ‘note’, ‘register’, ‘clarion’ and ‘scherzo’’[8] in written correspondence during his life can be used to analyse the painting of his chair. This painting seems indeed an homage to the so-called ‘Yellow House’ gallery he so dearly endeavoured to pursue with Gauguin. Its vibrantly warm autumnal palate echoes the ‘dark ochre to bright cadmium’[9] that Van Gogh ‘was continually comparing [to] the sounds made by the piano’ [10] during his piano lessons in Paris. The melodic use of a simple base palate in this painting isolates the chair in its own lonesome song, lingering on the edge of a climax into chaos. To me, that is what this chair evokes. An all-consuming loneliness fuelled by rejection and solitude. An attempt to create an image out of a void of emptiness, to make beauty from estrangement and a desperation to connect. I find it achingly beautiful and overwhelmingly sad. In this piece I feel that I can hear the profound music that so deeply affected Vincent – Wagner, Beethoven, Berlioz – and inspired his own creation. This chair, to me, is a painting of Van Gogh himself, of his life, a life despairing for a friendship and a dream so soon blighted, fearful of the darkness yet to come.


Natascha Veldhorst, translated by Diane Webb, Van Gogh and Music: A Symphony in Blue and Yellow, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018)

Josephine Cutts and James Smith, Intro by: Lucinda Hawksley, Essential Van Gogh (Parragon Publishing, UK, 2000)

Victoria Charles, ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, (Parkstone Press International, 2012)

Ed. Ingo F. Walther, Impressionist Art, (Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis, Koln, 2016)

Guardian Online:

The National Gallery Online:

Quoted in Thompson, Paige, ‘How Vincent Van Gogh was Inspired by the Works of Charles Dickens’, pub. In ‘Sotheby’s’ (URL:, July 29th 2019

[1] Josephine Cutts and James Smith, Intro by: Lucinda Hawksley, Essential Van Gogh (Parragon Publishing, UK, 2000)

[2] Quoted in Paige Thompson, ‘How Vincent Van Gogh was Inspired by the Works of Charles Dickens’, pub. In ‘Sotheby’s’ (URL:, July 29th 2019

[3] Victoria Charles, ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, (Parkstone Press International, 2012), p. 7

[4] Ibid. 324

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ed. Ingo F. Walther, Impressionist Art, (Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis, Koln, 2016), p. 326

 [7] Natascha Veldhorst, translated by Diane Webb, Van Gogh and Music: A Symphony in Blue and Yellow, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018), p. 1-2

[8] Ibid. p. 2

[9] Ibid. Anton Kerssemaker, pg 7

[10] Ibid. Anton Kerssemaker, pg 7

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More writing by Hazel Anna Rogers here and here.
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Infinite Worlds Upside Down – The Interior Landscapes of Maurits Cornelis Escher

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

The graphic art of Maurits Cornelis Escher is different from that of any other artist, instantly recognizable to millions of people around the world, representing an always compelling combination of art and mathematics.

Escher’s world, which explores issues of infinity and paradox, of impossible geometry and perspective distortion, is animated by a playful imagination and the unexpected, crafted with precision and an extraordinary attention to detail.

Born in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, on June 17, 1898, Escher did not shine particularly well in the early years of school due to health problems, yet, he showed artistic talent and in 1919 he enrolled at the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts. He began studying architecture (a subject that would have fascinated him throughout his career) but after a short time, switched to the decorative arts with courses in drawing and wood engraving. Escher left school in 1922 and went on a tour of Spain and Italy that would significantly influence his later works.

During his travels, he met Jetta Umiker, whom he married in 1924, and for the following 11 years, the couple lived in Rome. Escher explored Italy far and wide, creating sketches and drawings, many of which reveal a growing interest in perspective distortion. Later, the artist would take these early elaborations to the extreme, basing his works on “impossible objects,” such as the famous and confusing Necker’s Cube and Penrose’s Triangle.

Under Mussolini’s regime, life in Italy became intolerable and in 1935 the family moved to Switzerland. 1936 was an important year for Escher and saw the transition in his works from natural landscapes to interior landscapes. He also saw the beginning of a lifelong fascination with tessellated shapes, inspired by a visit to the Alhambra. Escher called this new technical elaboration the “Regular Division of the Plane”. In 1937 the prints Still Life and Street and Metamorphosis I already testified to the essence of many of Escher’s new concepts: ambiguity, impossible reality, metamorphosis, altered perspectives, which would become dominant themes for the rest of his career.

After moving to Belgium in 1937, Escher returned to his Nazi-occupied country in 1941, where he would remain until 1970. These were years of great production and inspiration. After the war, the exhibitions earned him international fame and honors, including a knighthood. In the course of his life, Escher made 448 lithographs, woodcuts on wood or heads, and over 2000 sketches. His images bring to life the unreal, the paradox and the incomprehensible, with results that few others have equaled. In 1970 Escher moved to a retirement home for artists where he continued to have a studio. He died on March 27, 1972.

“I always move between puzzles.  Some young people come to me to tell me: yours is Op Art too.  I have no idea what Op Art is.  I’ve been doing this job for 30 years. 

Carl Kruse Art Blog - ESCHER image 1

Smaller and Smaller, 1956 | wood engraving and woodcut in black and red-brown printed from four blocks | 38 x 38 cm

Smaller and Smaller is an extraordinary example of Escher’s “Regular Division of the Plane” and also testifies to the artist’s interest in infinity. The lizards, arranged so that noses and tails coincide, are elegantly arranged in a vortex until they disappear into the infinitely small in the center. The work was created in 1956, the year that marks the moment when Escher began to take a research interest in expressing the infinite with tessellations. His interest was piqued by discussions with the mathematician Harold Coxeter, during which the two studied the possibility of combining the artist’s principle of “Regular Division of the Plane” with Coxeter’s geometric figures.

Escher himself often pointed out that he did not receive a formal education in mathematics, however, in works such as Smaller and Smaller and others, he achieved perfect accuracy within complex geometric theories. As Coxeter reiterated in 1995 “Escher is absolutely accurate, down to the millimeter.”

“Only those who measure themselves against the absurtd will achieve the impossible.  I believe it’s in my basement..Now I go up and check.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Escher image 2

Other World (Another World), 1947 | wood engraving and woodcut in black, light browning green printed from three blocks | 31,5 x 26 cm

 Other World, also known as Another World, the first of Escher’s prints to explore his idea of relativity, is a study of the relationship between objects. The artist presents to the viewer a structure with five open walls, with almost identical Romanesque arches that offer a view on a series of different panoramas. The two arches at the base present an upward perspective on space, the two upper ones look down on a lunar landscape and the two in the center on a lunar horizon. The image, therefore, creates a paradox: each floor could be both the zenith and the nadir of the structure, so everything is relative depending on where you look. The image also features a bird with a human face perched on three arches, while a horn hangs from three other arches. The bird is the representation of a small sculpture donated to Escher by his father-in-law, and is present in several works by the artist.

“Are you really sure that a floor cannot be also a ceiling?”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Escher Image 3

Bond of Union, 1956 | lithograph 26 x 34 cm

The heads of a man and a woman float in the darkness and are formed by a single spiral ribbon that also joins them for the forehead.  Infinite space-time is suggested by the spheres, similar to small planets, suspended in front, behind and inside the heads. Bond of Union is one of Escher’s most representative works and was inspired by the reading of “The Invisible Man”, the novel by H. G. Wells in which the hero has his head wrapped in bandages.

In this work, once again, the image expresses the artist’s exploration of the infinite. Moreover — an uncommon aspect of Escher, more interested in paradox, geometry and unreality than in “human” issues — he recalls the myth of Adam and Eve, and the bonds that keep men, women, and all humanity together. In this sense it is one of Escher’s most touching and most surprising works.

“The things I want to express are so beautiful and pure.”  


Carl Kruse Art Blog Homepage is here.
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Also by Asia Leonardi: The Photography of Francesca Woodman, Jackson Pollock’s Hymn To Freedom.
The official Escher website:
Find Carl Kruse on Hackernoon.

Jackson Pollock’s Hymn To Freedom: Action Painting

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

The antithesis between abstract and realistic art, which lasted for a long time in the 1950s, was overcome during the decade which — although difficult to reduce to a common denominator — can be grouped under the definition of “informal.”  This term, used for the first time in 1951 by the critic Georges Mathieu, obviously in its French sense, appears to be preferable to others — tachisme, that alludes to a painting with irregular spots (tache = spot); action painting, which refers to a sort of submission of the language to gesture, to action; lyrical abstractionism — precisely because of its generic nature, which lends itself to giving a minimum of unity to not very similar experiences.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Jackson Pollock - The Deep
Jackson Pollock, The Deep, 1953, Centre Pompidou, Paris

Informal art, not only a European phenomenon, has its roots in the climate of mistrust in the cognitive abilities of reason, that arose following the Second World War. The deep devaluation of conventional means of expression — form and color — leads artists to focus their explorations on material, sign and spot. The premises of the informal are to be found in works by fairly isolated artists, active in the last years of the war in New York (Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning) and Paris (Wols, Jean Fautrier, Jean Debuffet). But mostly, it is in America where action painting arises, and indeed, Paris has lost its role as artistic capital since then.

Common elements are the detachment from history, even from the history of art, and often the refusal of political commitment: for many weighed the disappointment felt in having seen the hopes lit at the end of the conflict gradually vanished. The philosophical currents of the time (above all existentialism) accounted for the precariousness of life and paralyzing anguish, and from which there was no escape by gestures of revolt. The artist, having relations with reality become precarious, anxiously looked for an original and primitive artistic creativity.

The movement was influenced by the art of the Russian Vasilij Kandinsky, but also by surrealism, which sought to express the unconscious most directly and spontaneously. The main thrust, which gives impulse to the movement, is fueled by the artist’s need for improvisation, spontaneity and motor movement. The artist acts by giving free rein to his unconscious, and in this way he frees himself from the anguish and his restlessness with the physical movement of painting.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Jackson Pollock - Blue Poles
Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles, 1953, New York Collection of Ben Heller

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) founder of American action painting, sought in a technique of automatism, similar to certain surrealist proposals, the way to free creativity from the unconscious. In this way he made his painting progressively more abstract until he made his first works in 1946 with the procedure called by himself, dripping, consisting in dripping, precisely, the color from a brush or a stick onto the canvas spread on the floor. The movement of the artist’s hand created an intricate set of lines on the surface, according to a more or less convulsive “rhythm” that has quite reasonably been compared to a piece of jazz music. Art, for Pollock, therefore loses its cognitive purposes, becomes an act of violent, angry participation, a testimony to the malaise in which the new generations find themselves.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Jackson Pollock - In action

Pollock also said that, spreading the canvas on the ground, it was better to walk around it and he felt an integral part of the picture. In the course of his experimentation he made some studies on the radiation of the Native American Indians and realized that the prayers addressed to the “Gods” took place through repeated turns of the Indians around the fire, during a state of trance and semi-awareness. From this experience Pollock associated the canvas to the fireplace, and the painter to the shaman. This union will transmit all of its most intimate interiority to future paintings, thanks to an accurate and spiritual escape from reality.

It is the artist’s ego that looms completely over the painting, and it is the painting itself that commands like the fire in a shamanic rite. Action painting never shows nor expresses an objective or subjective reality, but releases a tension that has accumulated in large quantities in the artist. It is an action not conceived and not planned in the ways of execution and in the final effects. It expresses the artist’s malaise in a well-structured society where everything is planned; it is a violent reaction of the artist-intellectual against the artistic-technician. “When I’m inside my paintings,” said Pollock “I’m not fully aware of what I’m doing. Only after a moment of awareness I realize what I have achieved. I am not afraid to make changes or to spoil the image, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to get it out. It is only when I happen to lose touch with the painting that the result is confusing and poor.”

Pollock’s drippings do not want to hit the viewer with colors or with a pleasant appearance, but only be the testimony of the artist’s life and presence. This is why observing the painting does not convey anything to us; because we have to think about the action that happens first, what Jackson did on the canvas. The painting is only the result, the work of art is the process of creation. To help understand the purpose of his works, in the 1950s Jackson began a collaboration with his friend and photographer Hans Namuth, creating some extraordinary photo shoots that portray the artist at work. There are more than 500 black and white shots where we see Pollock using brushes as sticks and “splashing” the paint directly on the canvas. Jackson chooses huge canvases for two specific reasons: the first is to represent the power of the United States, which after World War II will become the first world power. The second is to show the artist’s physical strength, who also sees the canvas as a sort of “gymnasium”.

The constraints of reason have little to do with art. Dripping is a true hymn to freedom, to the point that Pollock soon stopped giving a title to his works to limit himself to numbering them. If there had been a title, he argued, the observer would have been conditioned in some way. The canvases had to speak to each one only through color, leaving aside all that was rational. Words included.


Contact: info AT carlkruse DOT net
Also by Asia Leonardi: The Photography of Francesca Woodman
MOMA’s artist page on Jackson Pollock here.
Also find Carl Kruse and his photographs on Fstoppers.

Yury Kharchenko – Upcoming Hamburg and Berlin Exhibits

by Carl Kruse

It has been a busy season for my artist friend Yury Kharchenko with the completion of several new works, the latest being a series that is generating controversy though the artworks have yet to be publicly exhibited.  In these latest works, Kharchenko depicts comic and pop culture icons at the entrance to Auschwitz, with the unmistakable towers of death juxtaposed in the background, creating conflict and tension by bringing two worlds together that never should have met.  The works include Scrooge McDuck Protects his Money in Front of Auschwitz and a series titled Waiting For A Super Hero, all raising the question why didn’t a Superman or a Batman or any Disney hero save the Jews? The super heroes always saved everyone but why not now?  One of Kharchenko’s main preoccupations is whether what happened before — the horror of the Holocaust — could ever happen again.

Carl Kruse At Blog - Scrooge McDuck
Scrooge McDuck Protects His Money In Front of Auschwitz

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Waiting for a Super hero - Yury Kharchenko
Waiting For A Super Hero (In front of Auschwitz)

Meanwhile, a work by Kharchenko, “House of Hope, Number 2 (oil on canvas 2019), formerly of the Paul J. Schupf collection, has been donated to the Colby College Museum of Art as part of the last will of Mr. Schupf who passed away December 4, 2019.  Besides Kharchenko’s work, Schupf was one of the largest collectors of Francis Bacon, Alex Katz and Richard Serra, works that will now be featured at the Colby College Museum of Art.  For more information on the museum visit:

Yury was also featured in a New York Times article ( ) on the topic of  Jewish/German identity in Germany – a prominent thread that runs through his art — where he defiantly says he is a German Jew in spite of, or maybe because of, the armed guards in front of his son’s school in Berlin.

In the latest news, Yury will participate in the upcoming “Heart: 100 Artists. 1 Mission” project at the Hamburger Kunsthalle (one of the largest art museums in Germany) that runs from October 20 through November 8, 2020.  The exhibition then re-launches at the Berlinische Galerie from November 18 through 26, 2020.

The “Heart, 100 Artists. 1 Mission” seeks to raise money for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) and to help projects that aid refugees in Germany.  In a government-approved lottery, the project will sell tickets for Forty Euros a piece with the money from the first 25,000 tickets handed over to the UNHCR.  Each ticket gives the participant the opportunity to get an artwork from the exhibition, all of which have been donated by the 100 participating artists, including Yury.   The list of artists is available at

The exhibition is organized by the U.N. Refugee Aid – Germany in an effort to strongly express solidarity and support to the many millions of people fleeing their homes due to conflict and poverty.  Since its beginning in Bonn, Germany in 1980, this organization has worked to ameliorate the living situation for refugees and to help them fully integrate in new host countries.

Learn more about Yury’s art at


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Latest blog post on the art of Francesca Woodman.

Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT org