Monthly Archives: January 2014

Crows—Inspiring Painters for 15,000 years

I love crows. They inspired me to write a fictional book about them. In doing so, I learned that they are smarter than our species gives them credit for. A lot smarter. They plan dream, love, raise new generations. And they notice us.

But they don’t make art. We do. And we make a lot of it about them.

Though some fear and loathe crows, many of us honor and revere them as intelligent, sentient, creatures; to some of us crows are a source of inspiration. Stroll through my Gallery of Crow Art in its many forms, from famous as well as unknown artists, poets, and writers, living and dead.

Paleolithic Cave Art

Lascaux-Broken
Paleolithic Cave Painting—Lascaux, France
Unknown Artists ~15, 300 B.C.E.

My interpretation of this cave painting: a crow on a perch overlooks a fatal encounter between a human and a big beast. Gored by a spear from this upstart Tool-maker, the beast prepares to impale the naked, hairless human on his horns, while his guts pour out onto the Earth. The crow is waiting for dinner. If it’s not about the Food Chain, it’s just not that important.

Or is it? Many believe the Lascaux cave paintings are star maps of Gemini, Orion, Taurus and Sirius.

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http://www.timothystephany.com/stone.html

Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent van Gogh, July 1890

800px-A_Vincent_Van_GoghArt historians believe Wheatfield with Crows-painted just weeks before his death-was van Gogh’s last work.

 “Crows interest themselves in everything, and observe everything. The ancients, who lived far more completely than ourselves in and with nature, found it no small profit to follow, in a hundred obscure things where human experience as yet affords no light, the directions of so prudent and sage a bird.”—Jules Michelet, a favorite author of Van Gogh

Woman with Crow, Pablo Picasso, 1904

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Picasso painted Woman with Crow during his Blue Period, at about the same time he moved to Paris. The portrait features Marguerite Luc, whom he knew as Margot kissing and caressing a crow. Margot was the step-daughter of a cafe Picasso frequented.

Georgia O’Keeffe, painted crows too. More than once. She painted Canyon with Crows during the time she lived in Texas and depicts Palo Duro Canyon, whose Permian-aged iron-rich ‘red beds’ became the focal point of the painting. Just before your eyes jump to the crows flying in freedom above the red rocks.

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Canyon with Crows, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1917

After O’Keeffe returned to New York, she painted Lake George with Crows.

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Lake George with Crows, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1921

 

Oil paint, real feather. Wish it were mine.

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Crow Painting (Is it Mine?), Jacqueline McIntyre, 2010

The crow is in the painting, the feather is on our side of the canvas. That’s how my imagination works too. Crows step back and forth between it and the world of physical reality. I find their feathers everywhere…
Another unabashed crow-lover:

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Two Crows, Kristin Fouquet, 2010

Kristin Fouquet’s photograph, Two Crows, graces the cover of Full of Crow – “an independent online literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, flash, reviews, interviews, articles, art, photography, and more…”

I could go on. And on and on and on….about the ways and means that crows have inspired our species.  But do go ahead and continue looking…Google ‘crow art’ – 62,400,000 hits.

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Landscape Paint and the Chemistry Blues

419px-Johannes_Vermeer_(1632-1675)_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)Alchemy reigned at the time Johannes Vermeer painted Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1665. Back in that day, before the Periodic Table of the Elementswhich didn’t show up in until 1869—painters made their own paints from the powders of ground minerals by mixing them with linseed oil.

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Lapis lazuli

The pigment in the blue scarf around the head of the Girl with a Pearl Earring, for instance, was made from lapis lazuli, a beautiful but rather expensive mineral to be grinding to a powder.  Unfortunately, linseed oil made the fabulous blue color of this beautiful mineral a bit cloudy.

Linseed oil did that to most of the mineral powders, but there was no way around that in 1665. The mineral powders would be chalky-looking and would not flow onto the canvas smoothly without being mixed with linseed oil.

Better Living Through Chemistry

The Periodic Table going public in 1869 moved the job of creating paint from artists to the laboratory chemist. These days, few artists mix their own paints, or even know what’s in them. I’m a big fan of chemistry, for without it, there is nothing. No rocks, no clay, no paint. And I wonder how they make vivid yellow as well as intense red paint from the same thing. Not a mineral, but an element from the Periodic Table: Cadmium.

Modern painters can thank French artist, Yves Klein and a few French chemists, who created a rich luscious blue paint that retained the brilliant blue hue by suspension of the dry pigment in a synthetic resin, avoiding the murkiness of linseed oil.

They called it International Klein Blue. Yves Klein used IKB, as this patented pigment is known, to paint Blue Monochrome, part of a series of one-color paintings he had been creating for several years.

BlueMonochrome
Blue Monochrome, Yves Klein, 1961

IKB represented something profound to Klein: le Vide-the Void. Not a vacuum or terrifying darkness, but a void that invokes positive sensations of openness and liberty, a feeling of profound fulfillment beyond the everyday material world. Standing before Klein’s huge canvases of solid blue, many report being enveloped by serene, trance-like feelings.

That’s how the Southwestern desert landscape makes me feel.

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The iron-stained colors of my native land inspired me to make paint from it, in the old way—grinding the minerals to a powder and mixing them with linseed oil. Perhaps because these paints are made from desert clays (see my previous blog Desert Paintings), linseed oil did not make them murky.

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Crows Across the Sky, Mary C. Simmons, 2010