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Thursday, January 28, 2010

About Dots

Vance Kirkland's powerful Dot Paintings are often compared to two other well-known "dot" styles: Australian Aboriginal art and Pointillism. Here are some interesting facts about the use of dots in modern art:



A dot style of modern Aboriginal art from the Australian Outback has emerged as significant in the contemporary art world and has been avidly collected and exhibited over the past twenty years. Many Kirkland Museum visitors ask about any connection that may exist between that Aboriginal dot style and Vance Kirkland's paintings. Though art has always been a part of Aboriginal culture, the dot paintings began in 1971, when an art teacher named Geoffrey Bardon provided brushes and acrylic paint to a community in Papunya in the remote central desert. The dots, circles, and cross-hatching of these works, formerly done in sand, signified traditional stories. What had been ephemeral ceremonial patterns and shapes became lasting images in paint for the first time. This caused controversy among the tribal members, as some images depicted religious forms or rites that they believed could be harmful to women and children who viewed them in this more permanent form.

Vance Kirkland began his dot paintings in 1964, seven years before the dot trend in Aboriginal art began. As far as we know, he was not aware of Aboriginal art.

La Parade (detail), 1889, by Georges Seurat.

"Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science." - Georges Seurat

Vance Kirkland's dot paintings are also often compared with the work of Pointillist painters such as Georges Seurat (1859-1891). Seurat is known as a Post-Impressionist because he was a generation younger than the French Impressionists like Monet, Degas, and Renoir, though he did exhibit in their last Impressionist exhibition in 1886. His work is also, confusingly, called "Neo-Impressionism," a term meant to signify his method of working with "broken" color, because he and painter Paul Signac were interested in light and dark color values, as the Impressionists had been. Whatever you call it, the method they devised worked on the theory that instead of combining red and yellow to make orange, the eye could do the mixing. Seurat and Signac therefore made stripes or stipples of the two pure colors (red and yellow in this example) next to one another, trusting the eye to see the orange they intended. Seurat was interested in the science of optics, and studied color and color theory. He accidentally and reluctantly found himself the leader of what is now called the Pointillist movement, though he found the term offensive. He saw himself as a scientist with a precise system for the creation of his work.

The subjects Seurat and Signac painted were still traditional: landscapes or figures. The dots, points, or stipples were meant to blend to create a recognizable scene. This is what differentiates their work from Kirkland's dot paintings.


Vance Kirkland started using dots in his painting at the end of 1963; his first dot series was the Valhalla series beginning in 1964. The bubbled oil and water mixtures with a high percentage of pigment formed Kirkland's vision of flaming fragments initiating the birth of the universe. The density of the red oil and water forms Kirkland used in this series sometimes produced circular areas of paint which may have inspired the dot paintings.




Kirkland continued and refined the dot technique, with each dot carefully placed on the canvas with a dowel or small brush, until the end of his life. His final, unfinished painting from May 1981 reveals a bit of his process. He had already placed the largest dots on top of his oil and water mixtures, and was beginning to fill in the smaller dots around them when he died.



The Pointillism movement, Kirkland's Dot period and Australian Aboriginal art of the late 20th century may share "dots", but each has an important and separate story. We hope this brief explanation and comparison clarify the differences and enhance your appreciation of the works of all of these important and imaginative painters.

Maya D. Wright
Marketing & Membership Coordinator

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Docent Favorites

Happy Holidays

This year we added 22 new docents to our volunteer program, bringing our total to 40. We thought it would be fun to hand over this year's holiday blog to them all, asking them to tell us about their favorite piece in the Kirkland collections. So many fresh perspectives!

Here are some of our favorites -

Raphael Lillywhite

Untitled (Mountain Stream), 1929
by Raphael Lillywhite (1891-1958, American)
"I love the beautiful colors; the scene is peaceful and inviting. This painting captures what I love about Colorado." - Sue


Clement MassierClement Massier Pottery

Sicardo Line
Art Nouveau Ceramics, 1902-1907, Weller Pottery Company, Zanesville, Ohio
Clement Massier Pottery 1902-1907
"I enjoy seeing the iridescent-glazed vases by Clement Massier (1844-1917, French) and Jacques Sicard (1865-1923, French) displayed together. I like the corporate intrigue of the display since American pottery company Weller hired Sicard away from Massier in order to use Sicard's knowledge of the lustrous glazes for which Massier was famous." - Candace

Charles Fergus Binns

"My favorite piece is the Spherical Vase 1930, made by Charles Fergus Binns (1857-1934, British-American). The shape of the vase is simple and the pale green glaze is rich and subtle. The combination of form and color results in an elegant ceramic vase." - Karen

Split Bush by Harry BertoiaAnd three of the crew are just wild about Harry! They each chose Split Bush 1968 by Harry Bertoia (1915-1978, Italian-American)-


"I love the Harry Bertoia sculpture. It is a large piece that reminds me of the plants that I work with in the summer. Besides that, I feel that it communicates with me through the beautiful sound that it makes as I walk by." - Sally


Almost every visitor stops and with a "what's this" look in their eyes, stares at the bush. As a docent, this opens up a whole line of storytelling. Some people seem to already notice its "soundings," so this gives me an opportunity to talk about Bertoia's connection to Colorado, his many other pieces in the museum, and even his drawings in the hallway. When we finally get to Bertoia's chairs downstairs, many people ask "Don't they make any sound?" - Ron


I love the way you hear the gentle tingling as the floor vibrates when you walk by. He took hard metal and made it appear somewhat soft, organic, and ready to sway in the wind. When I look at it I'm reminded of a perfectly trimmed bush in a lush formal garden. - Ruth


Barry Kryzwicki Interning this year in the collections office, I have seen a lot of objects both on display and in our vaults. While it might not be my favorite piece in the entire museum (there are far too many to blog about here) Barry Kryzwicki's (b. 1952, American) Teapot (1988) sticks out as my favorite for 2009. His use of form and design for an everyday object makes it appealing and unique. It's an object I would love to own in my own home. - Kat

David Yust


David Yust's (b. 1939, American) dramatic 9' circular painting, Circular Composition #118 (Change in Scale #102) 1978, in the back stairs gives me a gasp whenever I go down those stairs. I know that it is one of a triptych that was done for a bank in Greeley and I wish I could ever see the three together, or that I could see this one from a greater distance. I like that he has gotten out of the more usual rectangular shape of paintings and I love what happens, beautiful curvilinear areas of color and repeated shapes. - Jan


And so, with deep gratitude for this wonderful art and these superb docents, we wish all of you a very happy holiday season and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hooray! The Mad Men Are Back!

Italian designer Joe Colombo (1930—1971) must have had Don Draper in mind when he designed these Footed Glasses (Modern design, 1964, Arnolfo di Cambio). The clever offset base means he'll never have to choose between smoking and drinking. Find them in the Lower Level Corridor.

Roger Sterling needs our Dorothy Thorpe Silver Band Serving Bowl Nest (c.1960), also known as a Chip 'n Dip, to go with the Dorothy Thorpe cocktail set he keeps in his office. A few crackers might have helped the gin and oysters go down and stay down.

Peggy Olson dreamed that Peter would call her. Our flaming orange Trim Line Telephone (1965), designed by Henry Dreyfuss (Am, 1904—1972), would make that call sizzle.


Peter Campbell's in-laws would never approve of our Antenna Chair (early 1960s, from the Sculptured House, Genesee, CO), designed by Charles Deaton (Am. 1921—1996). We don't care and neither should he.

What more can we say? Salvatore Romano swooned when he saw our EPIC Lipped Bonbon Dish (c.1962, Viking Glass Co). First, the candy is in and then it comes out . . . over that graceful spout. Come see for yourself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Exploring the Auk Drinking Set


Kayserzinn Drinking Set
Designed by Hugo Leven (1874-1956), German
1900 - 1905
Collection Kirkland Museum
Decanter/jug is 8 inches tall.
Tray is 14 3/8 in x 4 5/8 in.


The decanter or jug in this pewter drinking set is the form of an auk, a bird similar to a penguin which lives on islands in the north seas and eats fish. The largest variety of auk, the giant auk, was last seen in 1844 and is now extinct. Small auks are sometimes known to fly, but the giant auk was a flightless bird whose wings had adapted to swimming.

Hugo Leven was a German designer and part of the Jugendstil (German for "Youth Style") movement, which is considered part of Art Nouveau. Leven became art director of the enormously successful German metal ware company J.P. Kayser & Sons. It was for the Kayser & Sons company that he designed the famous Kayserzinn pewter, of which this auk set is an example. Many of the pieces Leven designed are still in production today. Though Leven made his career designing mass produced products for industry, he was a proponent of the Art & Crafts ideal of creating unique handcrafted objects.

The Kayserzinn Drinking Set is currently on view in the watercolor room, which is the front room of the old studio building where Kirkland's watercolors are on display.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Our Soon-To-Be-Very-Famous Glass

Once again, our remarkable Ruba Rombic glass collection is in the spotlight. The crew from the PBS television show Antiques Roadshow visited us last week to film the museum and, in particular our Ruba Rombic pieces, for an upcoming 2010 broadcast. The following essay was originally written exclusively for our members, but we'd like to share it with everyone now that the line is about to arouse the curiosity of a broader audience.

Ruba Rombic on view at Kirkland Museum

Ruba Rombic, the edgy Cubist glassware designed by Reuben Haley for Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company, debuted in 1928. The Consolidated company was in Coraopolis, PA, west of Pittsburgh. According to the company, the name "Ruba Rombic" comes from the combination of "Rubaiy," meaning epic or poem, and "Rombic," meaning irregular in shape. This design is considered one of the most desirable and important of American Art Deco glass. Kirkland Museum recently acquired the rare large vase and the large bowl (pictured above at left) at the New York Modernism Show.

Most of Haley's previous designs were modeled after Lalique glass (see some on view in Kirkland Museum' watercolor room), but Ruba Rombic was truly original with its very art deco look. The strange angular shapes were made by blowing glass into a mold. It was eventually produced in sixteen colors and nearly 40 different shapes from vases and decanters to trays and candlesticks. Colors included honey, amethyst, French crystal, silver, green, topaz, sunshine, lilac, jade, jungle green, and smoky topaz. The pattern was only produced from 1928 until 1932, when the Consolidated company was temporarily closed.

Two shelves of Ruba Rombic, including a few examples of Ruba Rombic ceramics also by Reuben Haley for the Muncie Pottery Company of Muncie, Indiana, are currently on view in the Kirkland Museum corridor between the garden door and the elevator. The Ruba Rombic is displayed adjacent to, and can be compared to, other important designs of American Art Deco glass of the 1920s and 1930s.


From Colored Glassware of the Depression Era 2, published 1974, by Hazel Marie Weatherman, page 48


By Maya Wright
Marketing & Membership Coordinator

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"*




Have you seen the four straps hanging over Vance Kirkland's work table? Have you heard that he spent many hours a day suspended in those straps? Have you tried to imagine what that must have been like for him to float above a work in progress, sliding the canvas back and forth below on four rustic skateboards?

Kirkland saw musical explosions and vibrations, mysteries and forces, rhythmic and discordant, in his imagined galaxies and had the artist's drive to capture these visions in pigment on canvas. He mixed the unmixables—oil and water. Zealous in his conviction that the responsibility of an artist is to show people something they had never seen, he tried to send the colors "where no man had gone before", into brilliant spaces beyond the visible sky.




The techniques he developed required his canvas to be laid flat on a table top so that he, and not gravity, could control the flow of the paint. He poured and spooned the mixtures from baby-food jars and moved them with rags, mopping up the water when it had deposited the paint just where he wanted it. He placed each peaked dot with a wooden dowel, dipped once in color and dabbed two, maybe three times before it required a refill.



Once he made the first small paintings, the first small worlds, it was only a matter of time before he cut the replaceable notch in his studio doorway to accommodate ever larger canvases, ever larger creations. The 5'2" visionary adventurer wanted to make paintings larger than himself, paintings that demanded a heroic reach.



His arms were too short, his aging back too vulnerable. So he and a friend devised a system of four straps to suspend him above his work. They bought the 3-inch green cotton webbing at an army surplus store. Imagine how long it took them to work out the details, the number of straps, the length of each, and the distance between them. There must have been a lot of trial and error to get them positioned so that he could climb in and then forget them. In these straps, he could defy gravity. He could lose himself in the weightless work of bringing a universe into being.



Sadly for us, Kirkland was never photographed at work in his straps. His assistants staged and photographed a recreation of the scene using fresher and narrower nylon slings to help us imagine the artist at work. Everyone who sees those now-empty straps must wonder, if just for a second, what it feels like to fly with a paint-loaded brush or dowel in their hand.

I never met Vance Kirkland, but I work in his space, always surrounded and enriched by the cosmos he created. Recently, at the end of a long day, with only a few staff members left in the building and Vance's work table empty, I asked for the oft-fantasized favor and it was Granted (Hugh Grant-ed, that is—permission given by our founding director and curator). So, not for hours, but for a few moments, I flew in the straps of a genius – "Ah...", indeed!




* from the poem Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Vance Kirkland As Collector

Visitors to Kirkland Museum are usually surprised by the depth and breadth of the collection. Many come expecting to see only the paintings of Vance Kirkland. In fact, the museum is dedicated to sharing with the public three important aspects of Kirkland′s life and career. In doing so, painting and sculpture by over 170 Colorado artists, and an impressively large collection of international decorative art is also displayed within the museum′s walls. It is believed to be the largest decorative art collection on display in North America.

In addition to being a visionary modernist painter, Vance was also a committed educator and an avid collector. He founded the current School of Art at the University of Denver in 1929, thereby touching the lives and affecting the work of many Colorado artists. He enjoyed a wide range of friendships within the artistic community inside and outside of Denver. He also began collecting the work of artists and designers he admired when he was a very young man. He′s been quoted as saying, “If I′m going to sit on it, eat off it, or drink out of it, it′s going to be great design.”





Here he is, at the age of 32, sitting by his lily pond at 817 Pearl St., Denver in his Art Deco style Machine Age Rocking Chair from the McKay Corporation (c.1930s). You can see the chair today in the museum′s Watercolor Room.



You may have heard that a young Vance Kirkland was the first college student to win a prize at the Cleveland Museum of Art May Show with his watercolor The Brewery, but have you heard what he did with the award money? It was 1927 and he was twenty-three years old. It may surprise you to know that he used his prize money to purchase the winning entry in the ceramics competition of the same show - four Russian Peasant Figures designed by Alexander Blazys and manufactured by the Cowan Pottery. Kirkland had studied ceramics with Blazys and Guy Cowan at the Cowan Pottery Company. The musicians are on display in the Lower Level Corridor.




In January of 1929, Vance hired Anne Gregory Van Briggle, widow of Artus van Briggle and former president of the Van Briggle Company, to teach Life Drawing at DU (just 11 months before her death in November of that year). It is likely that he acquired these two early Van Briggle Vases directly from Anne during that time. The small blue vase dates from 1902 and the brown one from 1904, the same year that Artus Van Briggle died from the tuberculosis which originally brought him to Colorado in search of a cure. Both vases can be seen in Exhibition Room I.


Vance purchased this fantastic hand-blown La Donna Vase (1950) from its designer, Fulvio Bianconi with whom he became acquainted during travels to Italy in the 1950s and ′60s. The artist was reluctant to part with this, as he was with many others of his premium pieces which he thought should be preserved in museums. Vance persevered until he agreed to sell it and, true to his philosophy of actually using the great design objects he collected, he kept the vase filled with flowers on his desk for many years. You can see it, complete with residual water stains, in the Museum Corridor.



As a result of hepatitis contracted during a surgery, Vance endured several hospitalizations during the last years of his life. During the registration process for his final hospital admission, he was asked to state his religious affiliation. With characteristic humor, he directed the clerk to write, “Drinking Buddhist.” This Cambodian Buddha (c.1850) was one of several from his home. It now presides over the Studio Corridor.


In future blogs, we′ll look more closely at Vance Kirkland as an artist and as an educator and art supporter.