Over the past few weeks I have been putting together research on three works in the collection that are currently on display: Love is Real by Karl Fortess, Red Head by Richard Lindner and Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head by Keith Rogers Alford. With this research I have been able to develop a “lecture” to present to the docents at the Maier Museum of Art and will be able to talk about these works in a public tour this coming weekend (Sunday, August 4th).
It is truly incredible what you can dig up about the artworks in your collection if you know where to look (…google). I stumbled across a lot of interesting information, some historic, some opinionated. Each work has offered unique and new information and has led me to develop my own thoughts which I will share along with what I have found for each piece.
Love Is Real
Karl Eugene Fortess was born in Antwerp, Belgium on October 13th, 1907. He later moved to the United States and gained citizenship in 1923. He studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, Art Students League in New York, and the Woodstock School of Painting with Yasuo Kuniyoshi. He has won several awards including the E. Keith Memorial Award in 1935, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946, and the Childe Hassam Fund Purchase Award in 1952. He taught at multiple schools and state universities like Boston University School of Fine Art where he worked to supply higher education students and faculty with resources to art by creating an archive of 250 interviews of contemporary artists. Other notable institutions where he taught include: Brooklyn Museum Art School, Louisiana State University and Fort Wright College. Fortess has been an active member in the art community being a part of: the Artists Equity Association, Society of American Graphic Artists, American Association of University Professors, and the British Film Institute.
Aside from all of his teaching and education, Fortess worked in the Artist for Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, which was a New Deal Program to fund the visual arts. Fortess worked under this program in 1937 with several other artist who were sent to Alaska to document the towns, villages, and remote wilderness landscapes. This information was then given back to the US Department of the Interior for filing and documenting purposes.
A lot of Fortess’ art deals with themes relating to the environmental impact that mankind has on the earth. His works often depict a tree stump or a dead tree in the foreground with objects placed around it.
The work Love is Real is a great representation of his themes and composition. An oil on canvas, the painting was completed in 1964. It features a tree stump with a sign posted on it “love is real”. There is a small tin can that is at the right side of the stump that contains tree branches and there are wooden boards that seem to be nailed into the stump as well as held up by a couple of, what I am interpreting as, belts.
What is interesting about this painting is that it is the third and final version of a painting called Portrait. With each recreation, the painting was altered. The first version depicted a stormy sky and a planter filled with flowers to the right of the stump as if it acted as a grave site. The paper that was posted on the stump showed a tree. The second version replaced the planter with an old tin can containing tree branches and the sky was lightened. The paper changed to be a self portrait of Fortess. In the final version, the work that is on view at the Maier, the sky has been set to a grey scale with the branches in the tin remaining and the sign posted “love is real”.
“This painting is the third version of a painting called Portrait. The first painting had on a paper the entire tree nailed to the stump. The second had a self-portrait in place of the tree. The third version had the slogan “Love is Real”. All three paintings were a continued exploration of man’s effect on the landscape, in all cases man’s contrivance with the real elements that exist in the landscape around us. (My concern is with a reality that is contrived from direct observation of man’s effect on the environment.) This also involves the mood I reflect on nature.”
– Karl Fortess, March 3rd 1976
When I look at the artwork, Love is Real, I see what Fortess is trying to convey, but I am wondering why this work is called portrait. Looking at the first painting of the series we see the tree on the paper attached to the stump. Does this resemble the tree as it once was? Is this a portrait of the tree? The second painting shows us Fortess’ portrait attached to the stump and finally no imagery at all, just a slogan. With these clues I almost see it as the story of the Giving Tree, written by Dr Suess.
Where the first painting is a portrait of the world, the second painting is a portrait of man, the third combines the two together to tell the story of how the world loves man and will give him anything to make him happy, but man keeps taking from the earth, depleting it of its resources, yet the world still finds a way to provide for mankind. That is real love; love is real. But, of course this is just a speculation.
Richard Lindner was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1901. after fleeing Nazi Germany, Lindner came to the United States where he worked for magazines, such as Vogue, as an illustrator. Later, he became a professor of art at Pratt Institute in New York. His education started in Germany at the Nuremberg’s School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1922 and ended in Germany at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1924.
Lindner’s work follows that of a the surrealist and cubist movements along with elements of his personal history and literary associations to create a sort of “personal fantasy world”. His subjects often include street walkers, circus women, and men in uniform who take on characteristics of Berlin Cabaret culture from the 1930’s through the depiction of exaggerated body parts and sexual implications.
Although his characters seem to be posed to take part in everyday activities in New York, they do not interact with one another; giving way themes of loneliness, which was often Lindner’s intent.
The work that is on display at the Maier, Red Head, does not seem to follow the cubist and surrealist approach. Instead, this lithograph which was created in 1971 displays an up-close image of an individual, anonymous figure. There is no telling on who the person is, there isn’t even any telling on whether the person is male or female. The ambiguity of this figure, along with the subject matter that Lindner depicts, leads me to the assumption that this person could be transgender or possibly a male in drag.
There is something about the face that is so mask-like. The use of bright blocks of color divided by harsh black lines creates a distinguished facial structure, especially around the eyebrows, chin and nose.
The viewer is in close proximity with this figure and it is almost terrifying, yet empowering. The figure’s direct eye contact with the viewer reveals a feeling of confrontation which is emphasized by the deep purple tones around the eyes and dilated pupils.
Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head
Constance Keith Rogers Alford was born in Louisville, Kentucky on March 27th, 1943. She received her Bachelor of Arts at Randolph Macon Women’s College in 1965 (during her time at RMWC she was the president of her freshman class as well as an artist and editor of the literary magazine on campus, The Sundial) and her Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Mississippi, where she later taught as an assistant professor of art. Her works have been exhibited in sites such as Elizabeth Gaskell College in Manchester, England, Catherine Smith Gallery, Appalachian State University, Louisiana State University, the New Orleans World Fair, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, Meridian Museum of Art, Attic Gallery and the Gulf South Gallery.
There is not a lot that has been said about the painting, Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head that has been hanging in Thoresen Gallery at the Maier all summer, but there has been a lot of questions and I have had my own, such as: Who are these people being depicted and did they even exist? The answers rest in my research.
Saint Cuthbert was a shepherd in Melrose, Scotland. When he was 16 he received a vision from a soul of a saint that influenced him to enter the holy order at Melrose Abbey, but before joining the monastery he served in the army for the Kingdom of Northumbria in England. In 664 he became the head of the Melrose Abbey which he later retired from to go and live a life of solitude as a hermit. In 685 he was called back into the church and became the bishop at Lindisfarne, UK, (also known as the Holy Island) where he died two years later.
He was first buried at Lindisfarne Priory which became a place for pilgrimage. It was reported that numerous miracles had occurred at his grave and thus he was given the title “Wonder-worker of England”. He was buried in at least six locations before his final resting site in Durham Cathedral (Durham, England). The need to travel so much was because the Lindisfarne Monks were being threatened by Danish attack so they were forced to vacate their monastery and wonder the land for several years.
In his final resting site, years later the head of St. Oswald, the King of Northumbria from 633-642, was placed in his grave. St. Oswald was the Uncle of St. Edwin, whom of which is depicted laying in his spot in Saint Cuthbert’s grave. Could these symbolize the dethroning of St. Oswald from Edwin or was this just a misinterpretation from the artist?
“On one level, Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head describes an historical event that came alive to me when I saw Cuthbert’s tomb in Durham Cathedral. King Edwin’s head was deposited in St. Cuthbert’s grave. I imagined the saint, who had laid quietly for a long time, was shocked to be disturbed in the first place and then repulsed by the nature of the thing disturbing him. On another level, the painting is about the human spirit. The body of the saint is decaying: it is dead. But, his spirit is alive and reacts to the head with revulsion and pity. The saint does not move like a bug which continues to twitch after it has been killed, but moves on impulse rooted in compassion.”
-Keith Rogers Alford, March 16th 1976
St. Oswald was King of Northumbria from 633-642 after the death of his uncle, St. Edwin (Who is being depicted with Saint Cuthbert in Alford’s painting). Oswald’s death was seen as a martyr for the Northumbrian Church, having been killed in battle, hence giving him his title of “saint”. Edwin was King of Northumbria in 616 until 633 (that’s when his nephew Oswald came into power). He was considered to be the most powerful English ruler of his day and the first Christian King of Northumbria. When St. Edwin died his head was buried in York, England where it has remained to this day.