Artful: Tarsila do Amaral

Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973) helped shaped  Brazilian Modernism. The exhibition of her work at the Art Institute of Chicago (which ended January 7, 2018) focused on the decade of the 1920s, when she moved back and forth between São Paulo and Paris and drew influences from the cultural, social and creative life of both cities.

Her important contribution was part of a broader Brazilian movement called Anthropophagy, whose proponents imagined their work as a sort of “aesthetic cannibalism” in which they consumed and digested a variety of artistic forms and traditions to create a new artistic language of their own.

The information at the exhibit said that Tarsila do Amaral is quite famous in Brazil, but almost unknown in the United States. I talked to my Brazilian sister-in-law about this artist, and although she didn’t know her by name, she did recognize some of the paintings that I sent her photos of.

These are my favorites of the 120 works displayed.



Abaporu (1928), oil on canvas. The name comes from two words in the indigenous Tupi-Guarani languages: aba, which means “person” and poru, which means “who eats.”  This is one of Tarsila’s most famous works, which my sister-in-law was familiar with.



Anthropophagy (1929), oil on canvas. The faceless figures, which may be identified as male and female, are set against a green wall of cacti and a banana plant. Inspired by European paintings of bathers, the landscape sets the figures in a Brazilian rather than European setting.





Sketches for Serra de Mantiqueira






Carnival in Madureira (1924), oil on canvas




Hills of the Favela (1924), oil on canvas. Favela is the Brazilian word for shantytown or slum, which began to crop up on the hillsides surrounding Rio de Janeiro and other cities in the late 1800s. In visiting the favelas, Tarsila and her companions explored the rich Afro-Brazilian music and culture.



The Bull (1928), oil on canvas



Study for Blue Woman (Water Spirit) I, (1925), graphite and water color on paper



The Lake (1928), oil on canvas



Manacá (1927), oil on canvas. A stylized portrait of the manacá plant of Amazonas, used by the native Tupi people for medicinal and magical purposes.




Anthropophagic Landscape (1929), oil on canvas





The Papaya Tree (1925), oil on canvas



Sleep (about 1928), oil on canvas





A Cuca (1924), oil on canvas. Tarsila wrote to her daughter about this painting: “A cuca is a strange animal, in the forest with a frog, an armadillo and an invented animal.” The cuca is adopted from Brazilian mythology. This painting is possibly the last of Tarsila’s paintings in its original frame with faux-snakeskin trim, which adds to the exoticness of the work.



Workers (1933), oil on canvas. In 1929, Tarsila experienced a series of setbacks including the loss of her family fortune and the end of her relationship with Oswaldo de Andrade, which resulted in the end of the Anthropophagy movement. She became interested in socialism and traveled to Moscow in 1931 where she became inspired by the “great collective effort.” As a result of her involvement in left-wing politics, she was imprisoned by the Brazilian government for one month in 1932. This left her very cautious, but she continued to participate in socialist activities for a short time and painted this work the following year.

I found Tarsila do Amaral’s work to be very colorful, creative, unusual, and VERY Brazilian. Which of these paintings did you find most interesting or beautiful? I welcome all comments, as well as links to any artwork you find inspiring!










Artful Photos: Soviet Art

If you would like to share artwork you have photographed or created, please include a link to your blog in the comments! I would love to see the art other bloggers have admired! 

In early January, Dale and I went to the Chicago Art Institute, to see a couple of temporary exhibits. One of them was called Revolutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test.

20180106_142816There were several sections to this exhibit, including magazine covers, theatre, plastic arts, propaganda. Many of the revolutionary posters from the Bolshevik Revolution were primarily black, white and red. Red was the color that seemed to dominate many forms of art in the Soviet Union.  I noticed a lack of a variety of colors used in most of what was on display. I may post more of the artwork featured in this exhibit, but today I feature two of my favorite items: a chess set and a robot.

First is a fancy chess set created by Natal’ia Dan’ko, called The Reds and the Whites.


The artist Alexandra Exter (1882-1949)  created a marionette “robot” for a film that was never completed by Danish filmmaker Peter Urban Gad. Exter emigrated to Paris after a career in Russia that included making festival decorations in Kiev and teaching color at a Moscow art school. She had introduced stage design as an area of study in 1918 and continued instruction in this area in Paris.

The set of marionettes she created numbered at least 20 and “treated the human body as a sum of lines and planes in movement.”
There were photographs (gelatin silver prints) of other marionettes from this set, Marionettes for an unrealized film by Peter Urban Gad, although it is uncertain whether they were also made for the film. The pieces were created in 1926-27.20180106_144234 (2)

The marionettes in the photographs actually appeared in a 1928 Punch and Judy sketch. The performance included “raucous interaction” by lively carnival crowds.


The exhibit overall was interesting, but I was struck by a lack of imagination and creativity, perhaps due to restrictions imposed on artists. It bothered me that the Soviet leaders, professing the goal of egalitarianism and exalting the worker, seemed to bend over backward to show the workers’ daily lives and prescribed that realism in their art.  Did they not think that the “proletariat” was able to appreciate art for art’s sake? If museums were free, and the workers had leisure time, wouldn’t they enter an art museum to view the works of the world’s best painters? The beauty, the colors and designs…there was a sterility in Soviet artwork: instead of nature, abstractionism or fantasy, what we saw was the stark realism, the drudgery of workers’ lives. Over a door in the back of the exhibit was this sign, which seemed to be part of a poem describing what is lost in modernization and urbanization, but for me put into words what I was feeling:20180106_152401





Artful Photos weekend: Ivan Albright

Ivan Albright was an American painter, born 1897 and died 1983.  The Art Institute of Chicago permanent collection contains a few of his works; these two in particular struck me.

The painting below is titled “A Picture of Dorian Gray” which the artist painted for the 1945 movie version of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel. He was chosen for this work because of his ability to portray the macabre. In the novel, Dorian Gray is a young, handsome man who has his portrait painted showing his attractive, youthful appearance. As he proceeds to live a life of debauchery and evil, his portrait gradually changes to reflect the ugliness of his life.



Ivan Albright, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943-44; oil on canvas


The painting below, “That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do: The Door,” took Albright a decade to complete. He spent weeks collecting and arranging props for this work, then took nearly ten years to paint it, covering every bit of the canvas with intricate and obsessive detail, as characterizes his work. He considered this his most important work, “a powerful meditation on a life unlived.”


Ivan Albright, That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do: The Door, 1931-41; oil on canvas


Artful Photos Debut! – Haitian Art

Artful Photos is a new feature that I am starting in 2018. I am going to publish a photo (or more than one) of artwork from museums that I have visited. I go to a lot of art museums when I travel, plus I am a member of the Art Institute of Chicago (which means I get in free, so I try to get to as many of the special exhibits as possible). Most art museums (though not all) do allow you to take pictures of the artwork as long as you don’t use the flash. I take photos of everything from classic European art to modern art, sculpture to artistic everyday objects, and artwork from around the world.  I have posted a few of these previously on my blog.

I will publish Artful Photos every weekend. If you would like to participate by adding a link to your own photos of artwork, that would be awesome! Then we would all get to enjoy many kinds of art each week!

I am going to start with a series of Haitian paintings and metal sculptures that I photographed at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) when I was visiting last November. The Haitian art is part of the museum’s permanent collection and has been there since 1991, when a Milwaukee businessman and his wife donated the Haitian art  they had collected since 1973, to the museum.

It is well worth a visit if you happen to be in Milwaukee.  Plus, the building itself is a wonder of modern architecture,



MAM is on the right – the boat-like structure. 

designed by Salvatore Calatrava. (He also designed the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro; I posted several pictures from that museum, including the architecture, last year.)




Laurent Casimir (1928-1990), “Crowded Market (Ampil Moun Nan Mach),” 1972; oil on masonite


Haitian art has a complex tradition. It combines characteristics from native populations that occupied the island of Hispaniola prior to European colonization with African and European elements. It is usually very colorful and detailed, depicting scenes of Haitian life or religious figures from the vodoun (vodun, formerly known as voodoo) tradition native to Haiti.



Rigaud Benoit (1911-1986), “Flower Carnaval (Flè Kanaval),” 1973; oil on masonite

This religious tradition has its origins in West Africa, from where slaves were brought to  the island nation. With the introduction of Christianity, a blending of elements from both African and European religions, called syncretism, became the expression of religious practice in Haiti.  Haitians are mostly practicing Catholics, but their symbols and rituals combine both African and Catholic traditions. For example, the Catholic saints each have also a vodun name and are said to be influential for certain purposes, usually similar ones in both religious traditions.




Serge Jolimeau (b. 1952), “Demon,” 1977; cut and forged metal

Three “schools” of Haitian art are presented here. The Southern school, based in Port-au-Prince, is represented by Hector Hyppolite, who mostly deals with the subject matter of Vodun. The Northern school is typically more secular and historical, such as the work of Philomé Obin, in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. The production of steel drum sculptures is located in the northeastern suburb of the capital, Croix-des-Bouquets.



Rigaud Benoit, “Recall of the Dead (Rele Mò),” 1973; oil on masonite

The art of Haitian steel sculpture comes from the town of Croix-des-Bouquets, an eastern suburb of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. The sculptures are made from 55-gallon oil drums that companies used to dump in this impoverished town, along with industrial waste. In the 1940s, a local blacksmith combined the metal from these drums with iron bars to make elaborate metal crosses for the cemetery. Thus he turned waste into something useful and a new tradition was born. Once small and forgotten, Croix-des-Bouquets now bustles with artisan activity. The sounds of hammers and other tools emanate from almost every home.



Serge Jolimeau, “Sagittarius (Sagitè),” date unknown; cut and forged metal



Haitian Vodun banner (Danbala) (Drapo Vodoun), 20th century; sequins and beads on cloth

The language of Haiti is French Creole, which has influences from several languages, especially French. A small minority of educated members of the upper class in the capital also speak standard French, but the vast majority of Haitians speak only Creole.




Philomé Obin (1891-1986), “Outdoor Dance (Dans Nan Deyò),” 1958; oil on Masonite



Serge Jolimeau, “Peristil (Peristil),” ca. 1977; cut and forged metal

Haitian art came to international attention in 1944, when American artist DeWitt Peters opened the art school Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince. The art school allowed artists from all over Haiti, both trained and untrained, to come together to make art and share their ideas.



Gerard Valcin (1927-1988), “Ceremony in Vodun Temple (Seremoni Nan Tanp Vodoun),” 1963: oil on masonite



Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948), “Black Magic (Magi Nwa),” ca. 1946; oil on board



Gerard Valcin, “Communal Fieldworkers [Konbit] (Konbit Travayè [Konbit]},” 1971; oil on masonite