Monday, October 31, 2011

LFG, Whistler and Boldini

I wasn’t being maudlin (any more than my steady-state of 24-7 mawkish treacle homeostasis dictates) when I snapped the photo of LFG’s overnight bag at my feet the other weekend. There wasn't too much of a heart string twinge or tug as I recollected the years of every other weekend visits. It was just a visual symbol of logistical recollection. Shut up.
The weekend ended up being a great one…as usual. But the weekends are a-changing as LFG gets older. It’s more of a transportation-finance-logistics commitment what with her various dance classes and birthday parties etc. Gone are the days of a clean slate awaiting my inputs for fun and frolic with a three year old. Her Highness did allow a brief foray into Cactus Cantina. I think I’m gonna buy the place.
But last weekend did avail a four-hour window on Sunday that offered, at LFG’s suggestion, visits to the Hirshorn and the Freer. LFG knew about the Warhol shadows exhibit so our first stop landed us at the Hirshorn to see the massive Warhol expanse. We’ve always loved our local museums and thanks…again...for your Federal tax dollars that avail these local aesthetics playgrounds to us. As LFG inches more towards the predictably reticent grunts and uh-huhs of early adolescent communication with me, museums seem to give us more to talk about.
And post Hirshorn and Warhol saw us with some time remaining so we tucked into the Freer for a bit of fellowship with Whistler. The Freer is my local home-church for art and aesthetic recharge. My visits are so frequent and the Whistler stuff is so rarely rotated, that a thirty minute flurry resets me just right. I've been known, in the midst of a frustrating work day, to hop the Metro to the Freer and wallow in the aesthetic salve between conference calls with corporate blowhards.
I came to know and revere Whistler the same way I became acquainted with all art. Vanity Fair caricatures. I can’t think of another gateway that would have been as intriguing as Vanity Fair prints. I’m satiated now but for years there was more to learn about them. I probably made the Vanity Fair collecting journey as erudite as anyone could ever hope for... too much so I suspect…for most people.
And the Whistler caricature by Leslie Ward (Spy) was and remains one of my favorites. Even Jimmy Whistler liked it and told Leslie Ward so. He kept extra copies of it and would give signed images to friends and patrons. So of course, I had learn more about this fella who until I acquired the Vanity Fair image of him, I knew only as the “Whistler’s Mother” guy. Oh, and that his mother was originally from the Wilmington North Carolina area.
So Vanity Fair led me to Whistler and then Sickert and … Tissot, Menpes, Degas, Sargent, Steer, Lavery, and of course, my runner-up to Whistler in my contrived “London Based Artists Liked by ADG” set, William Nicholson. Nicholson by the way, did the excellent woodcut of Whistler that adorns my hall.
And Whistler led me to etchings and drypoints. I love the art that emerges from scratching needles on copper plates but I’m equally intrigued with the technical processes and nuances involved in inking-wiping and pulling paper from plates.
Most artists will “proof” an etching or three…essentially giving their blessing to the ensuing run of an agreed upon numbers of prints…printed by the owner of the press. Whistler was an outlier in innumerable ways but he was an outlier and then some when it came to tinkering with the printing process.
He played around with various degrees of ink saturation on the etching plate. He wiped them loosely sometimes and other times he would spread the ink with a small feather to create even more nuanced conveyances when printed. He added a needle strike here and there to deepen the ominous presence of an early evening sky or a Thames cataract. Or he would work the plate with his little hammer…beating out a line or two if it fancied him. And as often as possible, he would pull the prints himself.
Oh, and he was crazy about different types of paper. Mortimer Menpes tells the story of Whistler leaving London for Holland in search of, based on rumor, a cache of 18th century fine wove paper. I think Whistler’s toying around with materials and processes was nothing short of genius. And so of course, I began to accumulate a few etchings and drypoints as well.
LFG and I headed straight downstairs last Sunday when we rolled into the Freer. Why? I might have shared it before in a story or two but on the lower level there’s always a minor (major to me) little Whistler collateral exhibition on the hallway walls. It’s usually a niche cull from the turgid repository of Whistler goods en perpetu at the Freer. And for me it’s always a refreshing little splash of genius.
I love that Whistler worked in pastel, watercolour, drypoint and oil. And currently downstairs at the Freer, you’ll see a well curated flurry of each. It's... Sweet Silent Thought: Whistler's Interiors.
But what about Whistler as the subject of portraiture and caricature? Eric Denker wrote what I think became his Ph.D. dissertation, In Pursuit of the Butterfly. The National Portrait Gallery in tandem with Denker’s publication had an exhibition of the same title and it was Whistlerian nirvana.
The fodder for Whistler images was just too seductive for anyone during his time to pass up. To say that Whistler was pugnacious is an understatement so he was always creating some kind of Chelsea based shit- storm in the art and social realms of London. That’s fancy talk for being an easy target. So Denker’s book is loaded with evidence that Whistler in his prime was as much a subject of art as he was a creator of it.
I visited the Whistler exhibit probably a half dozen times, including one tour that Denker narrated. But kinda like the first of many times I saw the Allman Brothers; my maiden trip to the exhibition was more riveting than anything subsequent. You entered the gallery and Whistler, courtesy of Giovanni Boldini, greeted you. Boldini’s portrait is almost six feet tall and it captures, larger than life, the essence of what one sharp elbowed critic called Whistler… “a pocket Mephistopheles.”  If I was limited to one image of Whistler to illustrate his whateverishness, it would be the Boldini portrait. Those closest to Whistler, including Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell, declared the Boldini image of Whistler to be a remarkably accurate capture of the man. Whistler predictably, cared nothing for it.
Being the sucker for a collateral or back-story, I enjoyed learning about Boldini’s sneaky little drypoint of Whistler. The story goes that Whistler, while posing for the Boldini painting, would tire of posing and insist on a nap. So Boldini grabbed an etching plate and needle during one of these little snoozers and dashed off the image. Here’s a better characterization of it from our friends at Childs Gallery inBoston... “Gary A. Reynolds notes the incident surrounding the creation of this drypoint, in his catalogue "Giovanni Boldini and Society Portraiture": "In 1897 Boldini painted a seated portrait of Whistler, the most famous monument to their friendship. Edward G. Kennedy [Whistler's American dealer]...remembered that 'Whistler frequently got tired of doing what he had made other people do all his life - pose - and that he used to take little naps. During one of these, Boldini made a drypoint of him on a zinc plate." This incident is also noted in Elizabeth and Joseph Pennell's biography, "The Life of James McNeill Whistler" (1911), fifth edition, on page 346. Other impressions are in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard.”
I have a fairly decent collection of Whistler images but the Boldini drypoint, an edition of less than fifty, has always been out of my financial reach.  No worries. One can’t nor should have everything. 
And besides; the drypoint of Whistler by Paul Helleu was one I coveted even more than the Boldini and at about ten to fifteen thousand pounds, I was never gonna own that one.
I've not acquired much in the way of art in the last several years. If anything, I've divested my walls of various treasures here and there. But the art market is hurting. Hell, almost every market is hurting right now. And the Boldini image came up at auction last week. I placed a low bid that surely wasn't enough but even so, I culled the necessary possessions to sell if indeed I did win it and needed the dosh to pay-up. I've done the deal on dosh raising and probably by this time next week, the Boldini image will be here, in fellowship with me, at CasaMinimus.
Onward. Boldly.  Avec Whistler and Boldini. Sans LFG...till Friday


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween—What chy’all Goin’ As?

I’m going as a Strunk and White reading, angry-ass middle aged divorced man with a mildly enlarged prostate.
How ‘bout you?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Imperious Faggots

You know what happens. Some commenter drops a bomb on my ass and I get riled up. And when the comments rile me up, I turn it into a post. Here’s the Glenn O’Brien comment that got me going…

“Anonymous said...
I'm sorry but the guy strikes me as an imperious faggot. What's so "manly" about a book of catty comments about the way other people dress?
OCTOBER 26, 2011 5:32 PM”

And here’s my latest comment...

“I deleted my original response to the “imperious faggot” commenter because I stooped to his level and then regretted it. O’Brien’s book is NOT a three hundred page tome of sniping ass arrogant pot shots.  It’s a well written, wise and fun book. And there’s even some self-deprecation in it…which, and this is coming from ADG, the preening peacock of self-deprecation, gives the book and O’Brien further cred. And it’s not my job to defend it further.

So if anyone is being imperious, it’s the “faggot” commenter. Five makes ten he hasn’t read the book so his authority is nil…leastways it is here in ADG land. And if Glenn O’Brien is an imperious faggot, then so am I. And those who are important to me know unequivocally, that I love girl-bootie better than Peter loved the Lord.

And finally, Glenn O’Brien wasn’t being haughty and aloof to me. He was, if anything, appropriately startled that someone got in his face so enthusiastically and started firing off specifics about what he’d written. He was courteous. I knew, based on social cues, to be brief.

Ok, I’ve gotta go back to work now. I have Cleverley shoes to pay for.

Oh, and Greg D. ... I'll take wine any day.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to be a Man…Glenn O’Brien for President

I met Glenn O’Brien last night. Actually, I abandoned my date and pounced from my bar perch at Rasika and like an adolescent Labrador, floppy ears and big paws in the lead, jumped in his lap and started licking him. And it was obvious that he wasn't impressed. I think he was as shocked to be suddenly recognized in Washington DC as I was to recognize him. I barged my ass back out almost as fast as I barged in on him.
I stand by my assertion that DC is three-button goofball sack-coat company town. The kinda town that cool cats like Glenn O’Brien don’t generally hang out in. So when I, with my typical pinball machine synapse firing machinations, giddily told him that his recent book, How to be a Man should be required reading for any male under the age of fifty-five (guys older than probably forty-five are irredeemable but what the hell, I wanted to include myself in the demographic), he thanked me politely and looked to his two, I assume local cohorts, for a rescue move. I may be a country ass redneck from South Carolina but I’m coachable. I knew to amble back over to my bar stool without delay.
So why is O’Brien the Shit? A better explanation will manifest when you get up off of some of that moldy ass money of yours and buy his book. But for now, let me provide you with an excerpt or two. If I was limited to only one paragraph…one exhibit to support my "O'Brien is the shit" premise, it would be this:

On Shirts…
“…The worst male fashion trend of the millennium so far may be the shirttail worn out. On purpose. I know that many consider it hip to go around with the shirt untucked, or even half tucked, like you slept in your clothes and haven’t had coffee yet. I know this is intended to convey a youthful, casual je ne sais quoi, but more often than not he looks like he’s too fat to tuck. Even worse than the shirttail out is when this is under a jacket. Of course, some casual shirts are made to be worn out, and these have squared off bottoms, but even these should not be worn under a jacket. A caftan would look better. Another egregious trend was unfastened French cuffs hanging loose through and far beyond the jacket sleeves, giving the wearer a waifish street urchin look. Accessorize this look with a tin cup.”

That paragraph is worth the price of the three hundred and two page book.  But here’s the opening statement on O’Brien’s tie treatise…

“I love the necktie because it is the only article of clothing in a man’s wardrobe that has real enemies. Iranian revolutionaries for instance, see the tie as an evil phallic symbol of Western decadence, emblematic of the Crusader’s Cross of the Great Satan. The enemies of the cravat point to it as a symbol of conformity, even servitude. Some see covert obeisance to black magic encrypted in it, a fashion version of the “cable tow” of Masonic initiation rites.”

So mode it be. Buy the damn book.
I could end it there but there’s a bit more of the Glenn O’Brien oeuvre that caused me to lick him. Without it, I’d have limited my fawning to a sloppy paw or two. They say he can drive the piss out of a golf ball. He’s a husband and father and his journey includes a stint with Warhol. Not some vague collateral thread of Studio 54-esque Factory wannabe. O’Brien was Editor and Art Director at Interview and Warhol includes O’Brien a half dozen or so times in his diaries. I checked it last night. Shut up. I'm erudite. January 26, 1987… “Oh, and I talked on the phone to Glenn O’Brien about why the sixties are coming back or something, he was doing an article for Elle, he was fun.

Jean-Phillipe Delhomme illustrated O’Brien’s book and offers a postscript portrait of Glenn. It isn’t fawning. It’s fact. He says… “I could mention TV Party, the cult TV show that he hosted in the early 1980’s or Downtown 81, the poetic film that he wrote about his friend Jean-Michel Basquiat. I could mention some of his current projects. But it would still be incomplete. In fact, every time I see Glenn, I have to update his bio.”
So Mr. O’Brien, I apologize for licking you. Labrador slobber stinks. Even if it’s slap-dashed all over you with an admirable tongue. I’ll hope that a few others will buy your book. And send me the dry cleaning bill.

Onward. Rube ass that I am.
ADG II                           

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ahh...But There's Always Monday

And George Cleverley provided the perfect unguent this morning. An emotional healing salve called bespoke shoe fitting number one.

Sublime. I'll write more about it later.

Onward. Post Stellar LFG Weekend.

Cleverley yours,


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Laurence Fellows

Certainly there were other talented and noteworthy illustrators for Esquire and Apparel Arts. But those of us who are clothes nuts…sartorial history buffs…devotees of the drapy era of men’s clothing when waist suppression and higher button stances were de rigueur…default to Laurence Fellows’ as the illustrator of note.
But who was he? Here’s an excerpt from Walt Reed’s write up on Fellows…
“…showcased the talents of such major illustrators as Charles Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, Orson Lowell, T.S. Sullivan, Peter Newell, Art Young, and many others who mirrored the country's foibles in their enthusiastic ridicule. 
Joining the group in the early teens was an ultra-sophisticated young artist named Laurence Fellows. A native of Pennsylvania, Fellows had received his training at the Philadelphia Academy of Art, with several follow-up years studying in England and in France at the Academie Julien under J.P. Laurens.
 Upon his return to the United States, Fellows' fresh point of view, particularly reflecting a French/Vogue influence, found him a ready audience. His style was distinguished by a thin outline, flat tonality or color, with the emphasis on shapes rather than details. Just as quickly, however, he acquired many imitators. Before John Held, Jr., for instance, had invented his "flapper," he was clearly adapting much from Fellows' mannered drawing style into his own submitted gags. Other new converts were Hal Burroughs, Bertram Hartman, and Ralph Barton, who would each run with it in their own way. Fellows particularly liked to play with off-balanced compositions, even in the more conservative arena of illustration for advertising.
One of his early commercial clients was Kelly-Springfield Tires, which gave him the opportunity to combine his elegant draftsmanship with the clever, humorous copy depreciating the competition, thus often violating the rule against "negative" advertising. But Fellows' drawing and the copy had an edge of good humor that attracted a national following and the successful campaign lasted for many years.
In the thirties, Fellows gradually shifted his emphasis to fashion art, including both men and women, finding clients in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The American Magazine, and McClure's. He also became a regular contributor to Apparel Arts magazine. 
With only a limited number of men's fashion artists available, Fellows was most in demand for the male-focused subjects, particularly by the newly launched Esquire magazine in the thirties, where he was regularly featured in full-color spreads for many years…
So this guy Fellows? What did he look like? Was he as sartorially bulletproof as his subjects? I found totally by accident, a group photo recently that included a twenty-six year old Fellows. Here below is the group shot and caption.
"Unknown photographer: A Group of Young American Artists of the Modern School (from left to right: Jo Davidson, Edward Steichen, Arthur B. Carles, John Marin; back: Marsden Hartley, Laurence Fellows), c. 1911."
 And here’s Fellows. I’ve got a trove of Apparel Arts books and other sources containing Fellows’ illustrations. But my goal is to one day own one of Fellows’ original watercolors. Keep your eyes peeled on my behalf.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

PREPPY: Cultivating Ivy Style

I long felt, before the blogoshpere revealed to me a few other sartorial history nuts,  that Alan Flusser was the only guy I could really talk to about a rather superficial subject that I'd somehow made erudite. Mighty-Mighty-Erudite. Surely you remember the Earf Wind and Fire song. And I've got a ton of books and periodicals over here in my shack. I'm perpetually curious about subjects sartorial and always eagerly assess new offerings on the subject. Where I would probably draw the line regarding additions to my sartorial library is technical manuals.
I desire not, any tome that takes me through from a training perspective, the husbandry of fabric bolts from pattern guided cutting to the union of sleevehead and sleeve. Said union being probably the most important step in clothing gestation. That, and as Thomas Mahon shared with me...."getting that collar to hug nicely around ones shoulders and neck." What I know about the technical aspects of clothing has been fun to learn but I'd rather get such information through folk wisdom, verbally transferred here and there from a master, usually adorned with a tape measure around his well as a quip or two from a blog. And speaking of technical and structural insights, I believe that Will Boehlke over at A Suitable Wardrobe conveys clearer than anyone, technical information that's prudent and interesting to know regarding sartorial construct. 
Ok, but back to sartorial tomes that interest me. I have a reference library that probably equals or bests most. I love some of the more erudite members of the ADG bookshelf including all of Flusser's well written volumes as well as in my opinion, the Flusser runner-up, Bernhard Roetzel. But in addition to erudition, I like picture books. Nothing's more fun than grabbing a less robust volume of visual goodies and having a ten minute gander between whatevers. So my sartorial shelf has a dose or two of more visually inclined sorbets to balance the robust and chewy volumes of information rich resources.
Unfortunately, PREPPY: Cultivating Ivy Style fails on all fronts. The first person to offer me twenty bucks plus  a fin for shipping can have my copy. (That's $25.00 total... for you South Carolinians) Keep in mind that I enjoy picture books and thus assessed this one through both the lens of weighty, scholarly sartorial history contribution as well as through the loose sieve of just a lovely and fun book of pictures. Either way, this book falls short.
First, there's no new information nor is there a twist or two on the well known facts. Kind of like a new biography on Churchill or Robert E. Lee...the proverbial freaking topic has been done. And done. And done. However, there's always a new nugget or two to uncover that makes the narrative compelling enough right? I'd say so. But you won't find it here. Additionally, it's fraught with editorial oops. I thought for a moment that I was reading a pre-pub galley proof and then later concluded that the publisher was in a rush to get this thing to market. That "lived in preppy/trad threadbare look" ... you know...a key element of the preppy oeuvre...was obviously overlooked in the photo above. Take the freakin' rubber bands off of ALL the tassels when you transfer them--spanking ass new from the shoe box to the model. Surely this Hilfiger print shot didn't make it to press so why did it make this book? ("oeuvre"...the entire body of work...the aggregate expression...for you South Carolinians)
"So it fails the reiterated in a cool/interesting way information/erudition test." Big deal ADG; it might still prevail as a great picture book...a bolus dose of eye candy that's always fun to gander. Nope. Sorry again. If you removed all of the Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and other brand ad campaign material from this book, it would probably reduce the overall page count by half. So where's the crime in that? There is none and if this book had launched prior to the explosion of style/trad/prep fashion blogs, there might be a hint of value then found. But we've all seen these pictures before.
Opposite Top and Opposite Bottom. Hilfiger and the Tenenbaums. 
If my Attention Deficit Adderal long-worn-off ass caught this one, surely a copy editor would. An arguably subtle mistake? Sure. And the liner notes inspire nothing. Bottom line from a picture-visual interest perspective, this book is a slapdash rehash. Two sources might represent most of the photos...Ralph ads from the eighties and the ever so entertaining Life Magazine photo archives.
Ok, ok...there were a few photos that I'd never seen before...maybe six. Including this double breast pocketed Polo fella. Big whoop.
Oh, and one of Bill Buckley in Camden South Carolina, before he abandoned horse and hound for the snap of canvas sails catching a gust amidst the ocean's spray upon his shaker knit sweater and Nantucket Reds. 

If you haven't ordered it...don't. Wait three months and then snag a copy over at Alibris for twenty bucks.

Onward. ADG II