Friday, June 1, 2018

John Biggers: A Personal Favorite

When I think of great art and artists there are many “sung” names that come to my mind. Rembrandt, Picasso, O’Keefe among many, many others. All of these creators are world renowned and recognized almost universally. An artist that is not as readily known (in many ways unsung) is but surely as qualified, accomplished and special in my heart and mind; John Biggers.  

Even though Biggers is largely excluded from “The Canon” of art he is far from without noted achievements. He studied first with artist and educator Viktor Lowenfeld who helped enrich his knowledge of African and African-American art. He would go on to study with luminary artists Charles White and Elizabeth Catlett both of African-American decent. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and his fellow the ubiquitous; Orozco would also fortunately be among his teachers and inspirations. 

Early on Biggers was included in an important exhibition at MoMA; “Young Negro Art” that was a huge boost to his career; but it was a UNESCO fellowship that would be in his own words “a positive shock…the most significant of my life's experiences." This fellowship allowed Biggers and his wife to travel to several African nations including Ghana and Nigeria. He would go on to speak about his journey to and around the African continent in this way…

"We spent most of our time in the country. People call it “Bush,” you know, that’s a name sort of like the hunter. I don’t care for that name for the country people because country people have a great traditional culture. And these cultures are all over the continent. They are beautiful. They have endured."                           
Educator John Biggers taught at Texas Southern University where he also painted murals and inspired generations of his students and patrons.  Biggers toiled, bled, sweat and wept (to paraphrase Churchill) for his art and people. His art was dedicated to the world of the African Diaspora in content and spirit. His works (paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints) that early on were much entrenched in social commentaries were later to become in content and spirit allegorical, mystical even surreal. In his late years Biggers’ creations were much more design like and geometric in look.       

In life John Biggers achieved his artistic and cultural goals and in the process the world was enriched. His works as those of every true great are their own most eloquent commentary. A portfolio of his hands mastery for your viewing and enjoyment follows:     

Saturday, April 14, 2018


“Blade of the Immortal” is no less than an epic narrative in words and pictures told brilliantly and consistently engaging to an extent that few story lines achieve.  It has been for me one of the most complete, compelling and satisfying literary experiences I have known to date. It is on par with the greatest works of any genre or artistic form.

The series of graphic novels center around the cursed warrior; Manji an immortal that has killed hundreds of honorable warriors. His efforts are to rid himself of the gift/horror of an eternal life of fruitless blood and battle. In order to admonish himself it requires that he kill an equal number of disreputable warriors. His travels bring him together with a young girl; Rin. She wants to avenge her parent’s brutal and senseless deaths that she; by the way, was forced to witness. The murderers that Rin is seeking out; members of the group, Ittō-ryū are determined to erase the existing order by destroying every school of and ethical form of sword play in Japan. The  Ittō-ryū suite Manji’s needs to the letter as he becomes Rin’s companion and protector.     

Within the pages of this manga journey the reader finds passages of introspection, self-reflection and quiet interludes. While on the other end of human existence; along with and including anger, dismemberment, murder and shockingly, rape are elements of this novel of Feudal Japan. 

The hand drawn illustrations by artist/writer Hiroaki Samura are exquisite; achieve a rare beauty and graceful elegance. The movements of his battles are cinematic. The details of every element of the visual world he creates truly resonate and are in turn amazing. The writing of Samura is often refreshingly poetic, compelling and suspenseful. When appropriate and as needed Samura’s dialogue becomes as gritty as you might imagine in a story covering the vastness of personality types and situations depicted in this uniquely in-depth human drama.     

One of the best examples of the subtly of Hiroaki Samura’s hand is the bath sequence in Volume Nine “The Gathering II.”  It is among his most eloquent passages. The level of sequential story-telling is remarkable, the lines most intriguing. This level of achievement is rarely seen in any form; a joy to behold. As this particular book unfolds the reader becomes completely captivated. Samura’s writing is at it’s most terse, compelling and complete. If I were forced  to recommend a single volume of this series it would be this; “The Gathering Part II.”   

One aspect of “Blade of the Immortal” that might be off putting or disturbing is the Swastika that the swordsman Manji wears on the back of his kimono. It is explained by the author in “About the Translation” opening comments reprinted in each issue and abbreviated here as such:

 The Swastika was a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. It appeared on Mesopotamian coins and in multiple uses in North and South America. In Japan it has been a symbol of Buddhism since ancient times. The Japanese Buddhists called it the Sauvastika or Manji.  The main character in this narrative derives his name from the Buddhist. The Sauvastika also is a symbol of and believed to possess magical powers and probably appealed to the Nazis’ for these reasons. The origins of the Swastika as appreciated in 18th Century Japan (the time period these writings reflect) were honorable and had no connection to the Third Reich. The author intends no pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic meaning in his story-telling or use of this symbol. The perversion and hate attached to the ancient Swastika began long after the time period depicted in this historical fiction.   
“Blade of the Immortal” was translated and originally published in the United States in standard monthly comic book format. Each issue represented one chapter. It has since been collected in paper-back additions by “Dark Horse” publishing with each new addition containing approximately six chapters. These collected volumes come together beautifully in this convenient form. Individually and as a whole these works are very satisfying and best read sequentially. There have been thirty of these books completing a thing epic in scope. In essence, becoming and representing the entirety and conclusion of a truly great; brilliantly crafted and lauded artistic series.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Treasures of Rembrandt van Rijn

His name has lived in the hearts and minds of lovers of fine art and especially portraiture since the 1600’s beginning in his native Holland. His fame was quick to spread beyond Hollands borders. He became a symbol for all things artistic, exuberant and beautiful.  As his esteem grew his importance and legend grew in equal stature. He would truly become and be called “Prince of Painters.” This unofficial but lovingly granted title was rightly and justly earned. Rembrandt van Rijn   will remain likely as such as long as the art of painting and excellence is considered important in this world.

Rembrandt excelled at many different schools of painting and forms of “picture making” he was a master draftsman and printer. He thrilled the many by creating biblical scenes, landscapes, mythologies and allegorical pieces.  Among his most revered works are The Night Watch,    The 100 Guilders Print and The Raising of Lazarus.   

The massive gifts of Rembrandt are evident and displayed in his understanding of humanity, his story-telling and his love of detail. With all that has been previously stated; it is his dramatic manipulation and control of light that is his hallmark. The technique known as chiaroscuro (the placing of extreme lightness in conjunction with extreme darkness) was never better executed than by the hand of Rembrandt. For that alone he could have been immortalized.

A few years ago at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC I was able to visit one of Rembrandt’s greatest pieces with someone special; my very young grandson. This happened to be a slow day at the museum and we pretty much had the gallery to ourselves. Looking at this particular one of the “Master’s” self-portraits was more akin to looking at a living breathing man. You could almost imagine this gentile, knowing soul blinking or taking a breath. Rembrandt had gone beyond photo-realism, surrealism or any noted form of realism. He had endowed life or as close as the alchemy of painting would allow. 

After a time I asked my grandson if he would like to meet this man? He had remained very calm for a child his then age as I held him raised in my arms. He answered; yes. 
I told him we have met him to a certain manner of speaking through Rembrandt’s exacting and specific methods. Time had been made to stand still. This work of art; the artist Rembrandt  had stood before at this exact proximity and distance as he worked the canvas, stood before the piece looking, studying, pausing, painting then seeing again,  creating. It was almost as if we were breathing the same air that Rembrandt had breathed so many centuries ago. We left the Rembrandt to move on to other works in this world class collection of art. We left the Rembrandt to another visitor, a respectful man who had waited patiently for his own time, personal moments with the master.

The selected works of Rembrandt featured here; hopefully, will touch your psyche in a special, singular way…in such a way as only can be reached through the embracing of his gifts, the gifts of Rembrandt’s visionary talents. 

 "Compare me with Rembrandt! What sacrilege! With Rembrandt, the colossus of Art! We should prostrate ourselves before Rembrandt and never compare anyone with him!"

                                                                                                                                                Agustuse Rodin

 "I have had three masters: Nature, Velázquez, and Rembrandt.

                                                                                                                 Francisco Goya

"Whenever I see a Frans Hals, I feel like painting; whenever I see a Rembrandt, I feel like giving up"

                                                                                                                      Max Liebermann