Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why Attempt Suicide Mickey???

The question of Mickey Mouse attempting suicide is one I never expected to consider. But; why would the writers of the original Mickey Mouse newspaper strip and Disney, himself want to create something so unusual and startling? Under what circumstances would the lovable, optimistic, Chaplanesque character of a mouse take his own life?   What devices might he use and how possibly to make this unlikely thing…well; cute? There are many questions raised and there are answers to be found.

The idea of Mickey’s suicide came from the great innovator and man himself; Walt Disney. It is thought by some that the idea was based on the silent film work of Harold Lloyd. One of Lloyd’s films, “Haunted Spooks” featured a series of botched suicide attempts by the actor and Disney was (pardon) blown away by them. This was in 1920 and it was among Disney’s favorites. Why not try the same thing with Mickey?

In 1930 Disney started a comic strip for King Features Syndicate. Walt had originally written Mickey’s strip with Ub Iwerks illustrating. Iwerks would only work as the strip’s illustrator for a while handing over both writing and illustrating to Floyd Gottfredson within the same year. Walt would continue with some plotting and continuity for a while. We’ll let Mr. Gottfredson’s words from a past interview speak from here:     

"He would make suggestions every once in a while, for some short continuities and so on, and I would do them. One that I'll never forget, and which I still don't understand was when he said, 'Why don't you do a continuity of Mickey trying to commit suicide?' So I said, 'Walt! You're kidding!' He replied, 'No, I'm not kidding. I think you could get a lot of funny stuff out of that.' I said, 'Gee whiz, Walt. I don't know. What do you think the Syndicate will think of it? What do you think the editors will think? And the readers? He said, 'I think it will be funny. Go ahead and do it.' So I did, oh, maybe ten days of Mickey trying to commit suicide—jumping off bridges, trying to hang himself... I don't remember all the details. But strangely enough, the Syndicate didn't object. We didn't hear anything from the editors, and Walt said, 'See? It was funny. I told you it would be.' So there were a few things like that."
Floyd Gottfredson

The answer in reality is a simple and uncomplicated one; it was done for laughs. In our politically correct, focused grouped, socially conscience world “The Mickey Suicides” couldn’t and probably shouldn’t be published. I would like to think the cartoons, by showing suicide as folly prevented some potential suicides at the time of the strips publication. They are entertaining, humorous and life affirming.
Within the confines of the strip Mickey thought he had lost his great love, Minnie. We know that Mickey survived, he reconciled with Minnie and their romance (aside from a few expected bumps and minor bruises) thrives to this day. Mickey and Minnie are infatuated with each other and life as we continue our infatuation with them. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Henry O Tanner: His Life, Times, Art and Fame

 Among America’s and the world’s most accomplished academic artists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century resplendently reside the works of Henry Ossawa Tanner. His paintings works on every level; composition, dramatic and distinctive lighting, attention to anatomy, textures and form. 

They are naturalistic, traditional, and technical feats of wonder. His master-works are tributes to his influences while remaining original. Every painting of the mature Tanner possesses his distinctive, incomparable, robust yet poetic style. Equally evident to the eye of the trained and the studied as well as to the untrained…the man was brilliant! He speaks to the ages.
Tanner was the son of an “African Methodist Episcopalian” minister, a scholar and an expatriate. He moved to France (the center of the art world at the time) in his effort to distance himself from the pervading inequalities of race and the intolerances he faced in the America he knew. He would produce the masterpieces we know to be his greatest in France. It was in France that he was to become unburdened and reach his maximum pinnacles of success and creativity.   

Ultimately it is the work that transcends and speaks to our times and undoubtedly into the future. Tanner; in his lifetime, was considered by many to be the fore most living painter of biblical themes and events. He had a marvelous knack and ability to reinterpret passages from the Bible in new and exciting ways while retaining a reverence rivaling the great masters of eras previous to himself.   “The Annunciation” and “The Raising of Lazarus” are among the works that speak to us as paintings of conviction and dedication as much and in ways equal to many sermons.    

The Genre paintings Tanner produced were startling! The subjects often featured African-Americans but were not exclusively or restrictively so. “The Banjo Lesson” and “The Thankful Poor” are simply stand-outs and almost iconic in stature. They speak to his depth of spirit and have inspired generations. Tanner; this son of Philadelphia, represents his most American of cities so well and so splendidly.

Henry O Tanner’s portfolio ranged from the biblical to portraiture, from landscape to anatomical studies and photography.  He studied and worked passionately as every committed artist has through all of history. With his uncanny sense of greatness and devotion, it was his wife that was his greatest inspiration. She modeled for a number of his most powerful works including “The Annunciation.” She is eloquently and lovingly depicted here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Vivid The Varied The Vivacious Sculpture of Beth Cavener Stichter

It was love at first sight. That sight was an ad in “Art in America” magazine featuring one of her addictive clay sculptures; promoting and introducing me to her work. The works are almost exclusively animals that are realistic, whimsical, provocative and alluring. They are Freudian in nature, they droop and cling and hang like a Dali time piece. They are also extrodinariarly unique in their invention. She amazes us with her distinctive and highly unusual style. She is among the most imaginative artist of our times; she is truly marvelous. She is by the way Beth Cavener Stichter.   

As viewers we can look, study, peruse for hours on a given piece of art. It can be a selected work or a body of work in question. We come to conclusions. After all this; many times the artist’s themselves are the best at describing what they do. Miss Stichter is no exception in this:

Both human and animal interactions show patterns of intricate, subliminal gestures that betray intent and motivation. The things we leave unsaid are far more important than the words we speak out-loud to one another. I have learned to read meaning in the subtler signs; a look, the way one holds one's hands, the tightening of muscles in the shoulders, the incline of the head, the rhythm of a walk, and the slightest unconscious gestures. I rely on animal body language in my work as a metaphor for these underlying patterns, transforming the animal subjects into human psychological portraits.

Beth Cavener Stichter

The counter culture has embraced Miss Stichter’s work in a large way. The sometimes erotic and compellingly different approach to the form is hardly main-stream as reflected in the attention of “Juxtapoz” magazine and the vastly similar “High Fructose” and their readers. The dedication to craft and artistry is not missed again by more “High Brow” publications like the International Sculpture Center’s monthly “Sculpture” and the eternal “New York Times.” 

Her combination of human and animal, anthromorphic forms are much to her credit as she shakes up all our perceptions. She continues to grow creatively as she looks deeper into the self and the Id as well as the collective conscience. I look forward to seeing her work soon in person. Perhaps; in the future, even a conversation with this artist of phenomenal feats. An artist of works to love.