The American Dream was first publicly defined in 1931. Historian James Truslow Adams used the phrase in his book 'Epic of America'.
Adams' often-repeated quote is, "The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."
This is the theme of an exhibition at the British Museum that runs until 18 June 2017.
The exhibition charts the evolution of print art over 6 decades starting from the 1960s. It covers key artistic styles of the times and the art scenes of New York and the West Coast: Pop Art, the Rise of Minimalism and Conceptualism, Photorealism and also assess Contemporary art and living artists of our time.
The importance of print making as an art form is the focus of the exhibition. We see print making as an artistic medium come into its own reaching a climax in the colourful and highly stylized images of Andy Warhol. Prints have made art accessible to a wider audience of viewers and art collectors.Artwork is easily reproduced making it suitable for modern life, mass media, mass production and mass consumerism.
At The Hornshaw Gallery, we have a selection of print artworks. A notable artist is Leigh Bagley. He is a print maker who has previously worked in industry as a designer for brands such as Calvin Klein and Nicole Fahri. This is evident in the striking design and vibrant colours of his compositions:
'Vas Colour' by Leigh Bagley (Acrylic Inks on Paper, £70.00)
The above artwork by Leigh Bagley is a striking image. It also encapsulates everything that has made prints popular: it’s a bold statement of colours and composition. This is a beautiful image that captures all that makes Leigh Bagley such a popular designer and print maker. The use of a vibrant colour palette and balance of the composition, these are qualities that have made Leigh a popular choice with designers such as Calvin Klein and Nicole Fahri, both of whom Leigh has worked for previously.
A limited edition print, this artwork is affordable and is a popular choice for new collectors.
Another artist whose work translates well into prints is Lauren Mortimer. She is a highly skilled draughtsman whose limited edition prints are extremely popular:
Lauren Mortimer 'The Owl and The Butterfly' (A limited Edition Print of a Graphite Drawing, Edition of 75 £125.00)
Lauren Mortimer is an outstanding draughtsman; this is evident when looking at the selection of her artworks available at the Hornshaw Gallery.
This example is available as a limited edition print. It is a beautiful image that could be a gift and would be suitable to display in a variety of settings from a sitting room, study or possibly an office space.
The Art of the American Dream Exhibition:
Returning to the American Dream Exhibition at the British Museum, it is divided into 12 sections that span the chronology of print development throughout the decades. The latter parts of the exhibition (from rooms 9 – 12) deal with political and social events such as the Assassination of JFK and the AIDS epidemic.
Notable artworks from the exhibition include:
Andy Warhol ‘Jackie II’ 1966
This is a sad and sombre image of the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at the funeral of JFK. The image of Jackie is in black, the colour of mourning. There are no details and the image is flat, reflecting the sad nature of this occasion. The background is a muted pink/mauve. The contrast in the colour of the figure of Jackie is sharply contrasted with the background. It is interesting to contrast this image of Jackie with another Warhol print. 'Red Jackie'. In the case of the latter, Jackie is depicted in her prime: this is a frontal profile image of the smiling Jackie. She is glamorous and set against a scarlet background. Contrast the colours chosen for both backgrounds and how these choices transform the image.
Andy Warhol ’Red Jackie’ 1964
Although not a print, the bold colours and striking images by Andy Warhol are an inspiration for Lisa Smith whose work can be seen in the link below:
Lisa Smith 'Bite Me' (Water-soluble Crayon on Cartridge Paper, £245.00)
This artwork has the 'Wow ‘Factor! It depicts luscious lips that are provocatively teasing......The bold image and colours make this a striking and beautiful artwork that would be a bold statement in any room!
Lisa, along with Leigh Bagley and Lauren Mortimer will all be featuring at the forthcoming Hornshaw Gallery exhibition 'Genius in Beauty'. More news on this will follow shortly.
Returning to the exhibition, there is another artwork that is exhibited that is worth noting:
Kara Walker (born 1969) No World, from An Unprecedented Land in Unchartered Waters. Aquaint, 2010.
I think that the title of this artwork is significant and ties in with the subject of the American Dream exhibition and worth commenting on. The American Dream is still an idea that touches and inspires us, it is the idea that we can all improve our situation and reach the heights that we dream and aspire to. The title of this artwork conveys this message to us so strongly: as an image, and more significantly as a print that can be reproduced in quantity.
It is accessible to those inspired by the title and message and are able to access the image and tap this visual inspiration. An unprecedented and unchartered land is key, it captures the idea of an American Dream and the hopes and aspirations of aspiring contemporary artists. Charting new lands and waters, embarking on a
journey and taking a risk - these are all factors and attributes that comprise the American Dream: the unknown, unchartered territories and living our dreams!
An artist whose work creates utopian images is Amarjeet Kalsi:
Amarjeet Kalsi 'Follow that Dream' (A digital print of 50, £75.00)
The image of this artwork best sums up the enterprising and aspiring nature of emerging artists carving a future and careers as working artists. This is a popular artwork both because of the title and also the image. It is also versatile and could be displayed in any room at home or in an office.
Art of the American Dream and Beyond:
The Art of the American Dream is one of 2 exhibitions that have highlighted American art that have been shown recently in London. The other exhibition was 'American before the Fall' recently at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, London. This exhibition focused on the artistic response to events following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The artistic response to catastrophic event.
This may be seen to draw parallels with the recent exhibition 'Russia Before the Fall' also at the Royal Academy of Arts, this exhibition focused on a period of creativity in all art forms following the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Both exhibitions at the Royal Academy deal with major historical events: an economic crash and revolution. By definition these are events that, on the surface convey feelings of trauma and turmoil. They also mark a change in events from that time onwards.
In the case of America before the Fall, there has never been an economic crash in the US of this scale and magnitude. The repercussions of this event sent shockwaves throughout American society making many penniless overnight and creating mass unemployment. Yet, with this traumatic event came an artistic flowering and in time, a new optimism that would give rise to the phrase 'The American Dream'. Optimism again returned and a resilience in American that resulted in no economic crash of this magnitude.
In the case of Russia after the Revolution of 1917, this is arguably one of the, if not the most significant world events of the 20th Century with shockwaves being felt internationally: the return of Lenin to Russia catalysed the Revolution and Russia's subsequent withdrawal from World War 1 as well as the spread of Communism in Eastern Europe. Yet, despite the turmoil, there was a flowering and what can be described as a renaissance of artistic experimentation that had long been suppressed and discouraged under the tsarist regime. This exhibition was interesting in that it highlighted a variety of artistic mediums.
The significance of both themes of Crash and Burn and Revolution is that despite the initial catastrophe and chaos, there emergences an new and inspired outcome and a new chapter. I think of a phrase I heard recently at a lecture on Buddhism:
'In order to gain something you must first lose everything' and how apt this phrase is when considering artistic creativity. This phrase can also be applied to the contemporary emerging artists that exhibit on The Hornshaw Gallery website, they are all talented artists selected because they have a talent and aspirations.
America After the Fall, Painting in the 1930s (The Royal Academy, London):
Despite this exhibition having closed, it is worth mentioning. It could be argued that this exhibition precedes the Art of the American Dream in that it is concerned with art following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This exhibition focuses on 7 artists and themes: New York and the work of Stuart Davis, City Life and the work of Edward Hooper, Industrial Life and the work of Alice Neel, Looking to the Past and Charles Sheeler, Country Life and the work of Grant Wood, Visions of Utopia and the works of Helen Lundeberg, and lastly Looking to the Future and the works of Arthur Dove.
Country Life is an interesting theme. Modernisation and Urbanisation convey images of cityscapes and high-rise buildings. This is in contrast to the idea of Country life conveyed in the works of Grant Wood.
An artist that depicts all that is idealistic in country life and rural living is Tom Cringle:
Brancaster Beach View past Club House (Acrylic on Canvas £850.00)
Below is a beautiful example of Tom Cringle’s artwork. The sweeping gestures of the paintbrush depict a windswept scene. The sky is of particular interest; the subtle observation of colour: at the horizon a pale mauve is subtly blended to a blue. Similar sweeping brushstrokes are used on the sand where the colour scheme again is a rich palette of colour.
Brancaster Wind Break (Acrylic on Canvas, £850.00)
This is another artwork by Tom Cringle, note the similarity in technique and brushwork as well as the subtly blend of colours. It is these qualities that make Tom Cringel a popular artist!
Looking to the Past is also another interesting theme that was considered in the exhibition. The idea of looking to the past is conveyed in the works of Daisy Clarke. Daisy’s work is popular with collectors; it is imbued with a romantic view of the past. Her work includes a variety of subjects and demonstrates her versatility as an artist. Daisy has recently added some new works to the gallery, notable works include:
Widely sought after and collected by everyone from New York Managers of JPMorgan, to actors Hugh Grant and Jeremy Irons; Daisy Clarke creates whimsical artworks that reveal a unique sensibility.
The moment a fairy tale moves from dark to light, the sound of the wind through the pines, the sentience of animals, far beyond the edge of the clouds. What we fear in the dark and what lies beyond fear.....'
Daisy Clarke The Tower (Oil Paint on Canvas, £550.00)
This is a recent painting by Daisy Clarke. It depicts a tower and landscape, there is also a woman standing on a hillside positioned beside the tower. This is a sensitive depiction which is demonstrated in the subtle use of colour and attention to details.
Daisy Clarke 'Blue Bird' (Oil on Canvas, £2,000.00)
'Blue Bird' is a recent portrait by Daisy Clarke, it depicts a lady in costume, she is standing in a room holding a red rose; some of the petals have fallen on the floor in front of her. This is an interesting and compelling image; do the fallen petals signify something? The owl in the portrait may also be a symbol; it is usually a symbol that traditionally represents or accompanies Athena goddess or Wisdom (or Minerva in Roman history.)
This is an area of art work that explored modernisation and urbanisation. When one thinks of these words, there is also an organic image of carbon, mining and fossil fuels. Alice Freemen's work is organic in shape and form and demonstrates these qualities:
“Alice Freeman’s work focuses primarily on what she calls ‘the dark edge of beauty’. Through both sculpture and exquisitely detailed metal plate etchings, she explores the textural qualities of natural and biological forms, creating works that are at once visually appealing and oddly disturbing… Alice’s thought provoking pieces are as much about the phenomenon of viewer response as the forms that inspire them. Ideas of the incongruous and intrusive are themes which run throughout her sculptural work, while ideas of decomposition and the erosion of form are reflected in the corrosive, metal plate etching techniques she uses to create her images.”
Corrosive Stage Eleven (Etching on Paper, £500.00)
This is a beautiful image that conveys the image of 'Corrosive' an industrial process. The details and intricacies of this image make it a beautiful and unique piece of artwork.
Revolution, Russian Art 1917 - 1932:
This is another Royal Academy exhibition that is of interest when considering the ideas evoked in the artwork of the American Dream. Revolution as a terms is:
A forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system.
"The country has had a socialist revolution"
Synonyms: rebellion, revolt, insurrection, mutiny, uprising, riot, rioting, rising, insurgence, insurgency, coup, overthrow, seizure of power, regime change;
Revolution is also the ending of an old regime or order and its replacement with something new. It is the ensuing chaos, out of which emerges a new system and ideas. There is the French and American Revolutions that saw a change in regime, then war and a new meritocratic system emerge; in the case of France we see the rise of Napoleon. Revolution conveys the idea of what is possible and an idealism that pushes at the boundaries.
The Russian Resolution exhibition comprised several themes that explored the explosion in creativity from 1917 until 1932 when Stalin decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable style for the Soviet Union; thus ending an era of dazzling creativity that flourished in desperate times.
Wendy Hyde's artwork is idealistic in its portrayal of a utopian image. Her artwork is a series of beautiful images inspired by music, nature and beauty:
'I paint not what I see of the visible world, but how I feel it to be. It is not a literal description of a place, but a feeling of a place and how one is affected by that environment. My inspiration comes from the Landscape, Skyscape, and Seascape, music that I listen to Classical, blues soul, jazz or colours that I see in everyday life. I like to work on a large scale when possible, as this gives me more freedom of movement and allows me to be experimental.'
Wendy Hyde 'Nuances of Colour' (Oil on Canvas, £1,300.00)
The focus on colour and the Abstract nature of this artwork epitomises art of a utopian image: the bright and vibrant colours and the abstract nature of the art work heralds a modernist approach to seeing.
David Ridley is an outstanding artist whose abstract images are immensely popular with international buyers. His work can be viewed as abstract and resembles seascapes:
'Drawing upon element of abstraction, my paintings seek to capture the atmospheric and transient qualities of the landscape; contemporizing the traditional landscape. Through an alternation of line, colour and texture; each painting takes on its own unique setting. Rather than replicating an image I seek to evoke the aura of a place, to capture an atmospheric scene or moment in time - immersing the viewer in a sense of space and timelessness...'
David Ridley 'I forget Where We Were' (Mixed Media on Canvas, £1,300.00)
The exhibitions discussed are all concerned with aspirations: dreams, rebirth and new beginnings that follow a trauma. I think these themes are all of interest and relevant when discussing art and contemporary art in particular.
Art is about challenging ideas and developing new ways of seeing: think of the Early Renaissance when Masaccio challenged the way of seeing and the way of painting. Prior to him the International Gothic Style of 1400 was the accepted style of the time: figures were beautiful and highly stylized, in contrast his Madonna and Child (now in the National Gallery) takes up space! The drapery of her cloak appears to hang from her body, note the contrast in light and shade.
Think of Leonardo da Vinci's ground breaking drawing of the Adoration of the Magi, the facial expression and psychology of the reactions of onlookers, this was ground-breaking, never seen before…..
Art is about challenging, ideas, not just the visual. Contemporary Art is still dynamic and continuing to challenge accepted ideas and attitudes. I would like to end this blog with a quote that best sums up what I believe Contemporary art is about:
We are concerned with the relationship between art and life. Contemporary art is only intelligible in terms of its relationship to our life. David Elliott