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Lucien Levy-Dhurmer -- Artist, explorer, and autumn son

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 30, 2013 02:52pm | Post a Comment
Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer was a Symbolist and Art Nouveau artist who was born on this day in 1865. In France, he is still celebrated in some quarters for his work -- which includes paintings, drawings, ceramics, furniture and interior design -- but he remains obscure, especially outside the Francosphere. Even though there aren't any films about him that I know of -- or even any books that I've found -- I'm hopefully wrong. In that case, let me know so that I can add them to this entry and tell fans to seek them out. In any case, he's also a great artist to look at because he was born in autumn, died in autumn, and most of his most recognizable work has a great, autumnal, crepuscular quality which is perfect for viewing as the nights grow longer and summer fades.


CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION

Lévy was born 30 September, 1865 in Algiers (then part of occupied French Algeria) to Salomon Lévy and Pauline-Amélie Goldhurmer. In 1879, when he was fourteen years old, Lévy began studying drawing and sculpture at École communale supérieure de Dessin et Sculpture in Paris. He first exhibited in 1882 at the Salon de Paris, where he showed a ceramic piece, La Naissance de Vénus, d'après Cabanel -- a reference to painter Alexandre Cabanel). 

EARLY CAREER 


After school Lévy first worked as a lithographer. Then, from 1887 till1895, he worked as a ceramic decorator in the studio of Clément Massier, in Golfe-Juan. Though Jewish, much of Lévy's early ceramic work bore the more obvious influence of Islamic Moorish art that had surrounded him during his childhood in North Africa.


In 1892 he became the artistic director of Massier’s studio and as such, began signing his pieces "L. Levy." Throughout his stint at the studio he continued using oils and pastels and exhibited some work produced with them at 1894’s Peintres de l'âme collective exhibition alongside artists Edmond Aman-Jean, Émile-René Ménard, Alphonse Osbert, Carlos Schwabe, and Alexandre Séon.


In 1895 he returned to live in Paris to pursue a career in painting, where he met the poet Georges Rodenbach, whose portrait he painted shortly after in a style that, as with other works from the period, suggests the strong influence of Symbolist painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. 

 
                              Portrait de Georges Rodenbach (ca. 1895)                                                 La Silence (1895)

After a visit to Italy, Lévy's work revealed an increased interest in German and Florentine Renaissance -- resulting in paintings that fit in well alongside those of the English Pre-Raphaelites.

La Bourrasque (1896)


La Femme à la Médaille or Mystére (1896)


Portrait de Pierre Loti or Fantôme d'Orient (1896)

In 1896 the artist had his first solo exhibit of his work, billed as “Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer," which added part of his mother's maiden name (Goldhurmer) to his given family name. The exhibit included two sanguines, five paintings, and sixteen pastels and was shown at Georges Petit’s gallery. Success quickly followed and his prominent admirers included occultist writer Joséphin Peladan and artists such as Emile Bernard and Gustave Moreau.

In 1897, in the tradition of the Grand Tour, Lévy-Dhurmer began extensively traveling in Europe, Africa, and Asia -- visiting Britain, Holland, Italy, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey. His work from this period began to increasingly focus on landscapes, albeit subjectively idealized ones, and he also depicted the inhabitants of the places through which he passed in portraits. As the fin-de-siècle transitioned into the début-de-siècle, Levy-Dhurmer continued to focus on landscapes and portraits that syncretized the styles of Claude Monet and James McNeill Whistler.

Beautés de Marrakech (1901)

LATE CAREER

Levy-Dhurmer continued to exhibit his work in group exhibitions, salons, and solo shows. Also, between 1910 and 1914 he designed the Wisteria Dining Room at the home of Auguste Rateau (now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). In 1914 he married Emmy Fournier (Jeanne Marie Marnière), editor of the feminist newspaper La Fronde.

The Wisteria Dining Room

Levy-Dhurmer's wife, whom he nicknamed "Perla," died in 1944. Levy-Dhurmer died close to his 88th birthday, on 24 September, 1953.

*****

Happy birthday, John Gray - the real life Dorian Gray

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 2, 2013 01:01pm | Post a Comment
Today is the birthday of English poet and Dandy, John Gray. As a writer, Gray is best-known for Silverpoints,The Long Road, and Park: A Fantastic Story. Though celebrated in his day, today he is perhaps best known for being the rumored inspiration for Oscar Wilde’s fictional character and literature's most famous Decadent and Dandy, Dorian Gray.

John Gray was born on 2 March, 1866 in Bethnal Green, London, the first of nine children. Like most people with great taste, he came from a working class background. At thirteen he quit school and began working as an apprentice metal-worker (continuing his education with evening classes). In 1882 he passed the Civil Service exams and five years later passed the University of London matriculation exams. He subsequently joined the Foreign Office and became a librarian. Gray’s evening classes had included (among other foreign languages) the study of French and he translated the work of Symbolists Arthur Rimbaud, Jules Laforgue, Paul Verlaine, and Stéphane Mallarmé into English -- some for the first time.

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Happy Birthday, Simeon Solomon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 9, 2012 02:26pm | Post a Comment
Simeon Solomon was a Jewish Pre-Raphaelite painter. He was born 9 October, 1840 at No. 3 Sandys Street, Bishopsgate, London, England. Were he alive today he'd be turning 172.

Solomon was the eighth and last child Michael (Meyer) Solomon, manufacturer of Leghorn hats, and artist Catherine Levy. Two of his older siblings, Abraham and Rebecca, were also painters. It was Abraham, in fact, who first gave painting instruction to Solomon around 1850.

In 1852 he began attending the Royal Academy where, that same year, his sister's work was being exhibited. At the Academy, Solomon became friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the other Pre-Raphaelites, their associates, and Dandy and Decadent poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne.

His first exhibition at the Academy took place in 1858 and, until 1872, he continued exhibiting -- also at the Dudley Gallery. The subject matter of his work was in many ways typical of the Pre-Raphaelites although also drawn from The Tanakh. In 1865 he contributed illustrations to Swinburne's posthumously-published pornographic novel, Lesbia Brandon. Some of his high-profile patrons included Eleanor Tong ColtartJames Leathart, and Lord Battersea.

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring The Arts District

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 22, 2009 09:22pm | Post a Comment

This edition of the neighborhood blog is about The Arts District... or The Artist District... or is it The Artist-In-Residence District... or perhaps The Artists' District? This, and other issues, will be sorted out by blog's end to everyone's satisfaction.

 


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Arts District

To vote for another Los Angeles neighborhood to be the subject of a neighborhood blog, go here. To vote for one of the communities in Los Angeles County other than in Los Angeles, go here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


            William Wolfskill                                                                      La Grande Station
 

The area along the western bank of Los Angeles River currently designated The Arts District in Los Angeles has gone through many changes in identity and name over the years. It passed from the hands of the Tongva to the Spaniards to the Mexicans and, most recently, to the Yankees. One of the latter, a Kentuckian named William Wolfskill, planted the land (or had it planted) with citrus trees to sell to scurvy-prone miners who swarmed the area following the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Central City East in 1909

TRAIN HUB

By the 1870s, trains began arriving in the area both to transport the citrus to far off locales and to bring in migrant workers to work in the groves. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad opened the Moorish-style La Grande Station in 1893. Thirteen years later, a new depot opened at 3rd and Santa Fe.

BIRTH OF SKID ROW

Following the arrival of trains and the immigrant laborers they brought, the area began to rapidly industrialize. Much of the work in Los Angeles, based as it was on agriculture, was seasonal. To cater to the workers between jobs, many bars and flophouses sprang up between downtown proper and the growing industrial district which gradually became known alternately as Skid Row and the Nickel -- because it’s centered on 5th St.

 
Nate Starkman & Son   


                                                                                  Industrial Street after sunset

RISE OF INDUSTRY - THE WAREHOUSE DISTRICT

Between San Pedro and the Los Angeles River, Central City East was soon covered with large factories and warehouses. By 1950, Los Angeles was an industrial powerhouse where more cars were assembled than in any American city besides Detroit. The city’s tire production was only exceeded by that of Akron. Los Angeles also outranked all American cities in garment production except for New York City.

One famous warehouses was owned by George Shima, the first Japanese-American millionaire. Shima was born ???? in Kurume in 1864 and lived in Berkeley (when he bought a house the newspaper headline read "Yellow Peril in College Town." His base of operation was out of a warehouse on 1275 E. 6th Street. After beginning his career as a domestic servant and later becoming a migrant worker, he nonetheless managed to amass a fortune of about $18 million (about $200 million adjusted for inflation) due to his Shima Fancy potatoes commanding 85% of the potato market.


As the population of the city swelled, much of the industry and especially the residential population center moved away from the city center, leaving behind many massive empty buildings.

Looking west near Wholesale and Mill

VIETNAM WAR ERA

In the late ‘60s, many returning emotionally-disturbed and drug-addicted Viet Nam vets joined the older, by then permanent population of alcoholic ex-hobos, tramps and bums. Many missions had long serviced the indigent area and the mostly abandoned industrial area became a hotbed for those both dropping out of society and those expelled from it. Not all of the industrial core was abandoned and as different areas took on different characteristics are still organized around smaller districts, including The Wholesale District (an area where most of the produce, seafood and flowers pass into the city), Skid Row (an area where most of the county’s 10,000 or so homeless pass through), The Fashion District (formerly known as The Garment District), The Toy District and -- on the eastern edge -- The Arts District.

Economy Supply (with large chess pieces on the roof)   

Looking east down 5th St from Alameda


BORDERS OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

Not all of the district's borders have been accepted by all parties. Since it became a highly desirable area, developers have continually attempted to stretch its borders so that they can convert and sell more properties. The western border has always been accepted as Alameda. The eastern border has always been accepted as the L.A. River. Though the northern border is defined in city documents as 1st Street, both Temple and the 101 have also been described as the border and even appear as such in some unofficial maps. Confusingly, the only "Arts District" signs in the area are located at Hewitt & Traction and at 3rd & Santa Fe, intersections within anyone's definition but not marking a border. In 2000, the Central City North Community Plan officially set “Artists-in-Residence District’s” southern boundary at 6th street. Then, in 2007, the southern boundary was officially extended several blocks further to Violet St.

It is bordered by the Civic Center to the north, Boyle Heights to to east, the Wholesale District to the south, the Downtown Industrial District to the southwest, and Little Tokyo to the northwest.



***

BIRTH OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

The area began to take shape as the Arts District around 1976 when artists began to come to the area to inhabit the by-then often vacant buildings, attracted in part by the ample space and average rent of thirty cents-per-square-foot. Since the empty warehouses weren’t zoned for residences, there were occasional raids by the fire department and it was all a bit lawless.

AL'S BAR

In 1979, the storied Al’s Bar opened on the ground floor of The American Hotel when Marc Kreisel bought the property from the titular Al. Over the years, the club hosted many underground and then-obscure acts like The Fall, Gun Club, The Jesus Lizard, The Residents, The Misfits, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Red Kross, Sonic Youth and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even acts that would never likely play there were attracted by its "cred" and so poppier acts like Bad Religion, Coolio and Pennywise all filmed videos there.


 A massive Iron Mountain warehouse   




Mesquit under 6th St Bridge


1981 - AIR ORDINANCE

In 1981, the Artists-In-Residence (AIR) ordinance was passed, allowing artists to live in their work spaces as long as the residences conformed to building and safety standards. After the neighborhood began to build up a bit of Bohemian cache, some enterprising individuals began buying the buildings and the rents began to climb, at first fairly slowly. The area came to be known by a variety of names, including The Lofts District and more often The Arts District.


GORKY'S CAFE 
 

Gorky's (image source: Vespa Vamanos)

Gorky's Cafe opened at 536 E. 8th Street in 1981 by a former librarian, Judith Markoff, and originally catered to local homeless and artists. Fred Powers bought the cafe in 1985, and added a microbrewery, nightly live music, neon and security guards -- promising "Foodski, Funski, Brewski" athe venue, renamed Gorky's Cafeteria & Russian Brewery. It got trendier and Powers opened a second location in Hollywood. The Hollywood location soon closed and a patron, Candace Choi, took over the Arts District location in 1992 before permanently closing the doors in 1993. The building has since been absorbed by the growing Flower District and is home to a flower shop with googly-eye dogs made out of poms and crosses made of flowers. 




In 1982, multimedia artist Stephen Seemayer finished his rough cut of an 8mm film titled Young Turks. Its setting was the area around and including the Arts District between 1977 and 1981, when few of the wealthy loft dwellers would've likely even risked a drive through the area. The stars include artists Bob & Bob, Coleen Sterritt, Richard Newton, Woods Davy, and Al's Bar owner, Marc Kreisel.


BLOOM'S GENERAL STORE


Bloom's General Store  




                                                                               Acme Modern Supplies

As is normally the case in industrial areas, there was a distinct lack of greenery aside from vegetation springing up in hard to access nooks and crannies until some of the locals began planting trees. As the area grew, the distinct lack of nearby services for residents became an issue until Joel Bloom opened Bloom’s General Store. Bloom, along with other community activists, lobbied the city to make The Arts District official. Recognizing the by-then thriving scene, the city began actively encouraging people to move to the district and many of the warehouses were re-zoned and converted into Artist in Residence dwellings. They also installed signs declaring it The Artist District. Even today there are official signs referring to it thusly, or in other cases as, “The Artists' District” but it has long been known primarily as The Arts District, which is what the signs now say. For a while, there was one of the old signs mounted on the exterior of Bloom's store.


Looking east on Conway 



Newly restored building on 6th St.


BEDLAM ART SALON
 
 
Jim Fittipaldi started a speakeasy/art space and magazine of the same name located in the warehouse that is now Molino Street Lofts around 1994. It briefly moved  to Los Feliz in 2000 for a bit before returning to the Arts District, making its home on E. 6th Street (in the Potato King's old warehouse). It closed in 2006.

In a predictable narrative, after the artists begin reversing the long decline of an area with their efforts, gentrification followed. Aiding the speed of the shift were clauses in AIR that exempted the building owners from rent control, so massive developers began to price out and evict long-time residents, converting the buildings in the process into appealing, if less affordable, condos. As the old timers were forced out and the buildings transformed, not surprisingly the character of the Arts District once again began to transform. The American Hotel was sold to Magnum Properties and in 2001, Al’s Bar closed its doors. In 2007, Joel Bloom passed away and his famed store closed its doors after struggling for two years in 2009. Though the intersection of 3rd and Bloom is named Joel Bloom Square, for better or worse (or both), the Arts District has quite a different character than it used to in its heyday as an arts colony.


 Between Barker Block and Molino     

 Former train depot, now SCI-Arc

As with Historic Filipinotown, the Arts District's name now applies largely to an historic population, as most artists can't afford to live in the expensive neighborhood. No longer is the area populated primarily by practicing, struggling artists, but rather by wealthy loft owners attracted by the concept of "artist" as a lifestyle rather than an actual creative pursuit. Although slumming will always hold an attraction for those from a privileged background and realtors bounce around words like “gritty,” “funky,” and “hip” like a hacky-sack in a college dormitory courtyard, in reality the big lofts, including Barker Block, Molino, Toy Factory, Biscuit Company, 2121 and the proposed AMP, are squeaky clean, posh and only affordable to established, celebrity artists or dabbling trustafarians.

The lofts are at least tastefully done (although it would be nice if part of the conversion process had included installing green roofs or walls!) and residents of the neighborhoods busily crowd their ground floor businesses whilst expertly leaving the non-loft areas surprisingly desolate and empty except for the homeless.

There are now a handful of restaurants, stores and bars in the area. I've been known to knock back a few (OK, more than a few) at
Royal Clayton's English Pub in the Toy Factory Lofts. Across the street are The Biscuit Lofts, where Sandra Oh's character lives in Grey's Anatomy. I believe that show takes place somewhere in the northwest which is why, when filming down there, they routinely wet the street.


  The Biscuit Lofts



Looking south at Mateo and 6th
 
To be fair, there is still art being produced in the neighborhood, although much of it has a controlled, prescribed and commodified vibe. Perhaps no space embodies the well-mannered, inorganic and sanctioned "edginess" more than the Barker Block's private, enclosed (and therefore off limits to non-residents) “Artists' Alley.” Most of the rest of the public art in the neighborhood is run-of-the-mill graffiti of the sort favored by the backpack-and-hoodies crowd whose notions of gritty street culture more likely come from Urban Outfitters than firsthand urban experience.

There’s also fair amount of theater in the neighborhood (which I haven't checked out) and several art galleries where you’ll hear terms like “outsider art” and “new ideas” bandied, even though most of what’s being discussed (and most modern art in general) seems to me ironically to be highly uniform, generic and excessively rule-bound. Ironically, much of the online discourse from new residents of the neighborhood revolves around complaining about the twin nuisances of the homeless population, on the one hand, and industrial activity on the other. Sure, Andres Serrano, Chris Ofli and Survival Research Labs type stuff is apparently fine-and-dandy as long as they’re on display in galleries -- but not when the same "media" are on the sidewalks where you walk your tiny dogs on your way to an upscale coffee shop. While I agree that homelessness and pollution are enormous problems in Los Angeles, if you hate water you probably shouldn't move to the coast and then complain that the ocean won't dry up.


In 2000, The Southern California Institute of Architecture moved to the former train depot on Santa Fe. In 2006, Gideon Kotzer opened the last Crazy Gideon’s in the Arts District. His son Daniel runs Café Studio nearby, on Palmetto. The elder Kotzer is trying to get out of the electronics game and now trying to get the approval to convert his property into a truly hideous series of ugly corrugated box residences lined stupidly by palm trees. Given the high standards on display throughout the neighborhood, I doubt the final version will look much like the Crazy One's warped vision.



Currently the Arts District is one of the most unique and physically attractive urban sections of Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, it’s been featured in several films. La Grande Station used to contain a Harvey House, was the subject of (and featured in) The Harvey Girls. In The Limey, Terence Stamp’s character utters his most memorable line before menacingly crossing Willow St. after shooting some pests in a factory there. I'm sure there've been other filmss, (I think Repo  Man), videos and TV shows filmed in part or in whole down there. If you know of any, let me know.


*****


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The roots of jazz -- cakewalk -- Amoeba's Jazz Week

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 21, 2009 08:00am | Post a Comment
A performative, competitive dance known as the chalk line walk first appeared around the 1850s on the plantations along the Gulf Coast. Its origins lay in the African-derived dance known as the bamboula -- also the name of a drum -- and it was performed in New Orleans, where on Sundays slaves were allowed to congregate. In their limited freedom, they not only danced the bamboula, but also dances like the pile, chactas and the carabine in Congo Square and at their masters' homes. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a local creole composer was inspired by the dances and wrote "Bamboula, dance des nègres, Op.2" in 1848. By the 1850s, the bamboula's popularity had spread to Florida, where it possibly mixed with the dance traditions of the Seminole. It eventually developed into the cakewalk, which quickly became popular throughout the Gulf Coast. 


Whereas the minstrelsy craze of the 1840s-1860s was the first major cross-racial American musical exchange, cakewalk's heyday from the 1850s-1890s was probably the second and importantly, a reversal. Minstrelsy was a product of white musicans seeking to simultaneuosly imitate and mock black customs, but cakewalks were initially produced by black performers imitating and mocking whites. Thus began a long history of back and forth musical and cultural dialogues that have been behind nearly every significant innovation in American music.

The cakewalk was initially a sort of whiteface satire of the slaves' owners and involved mocking their customs with participants adopting the exagerated postures witnessed in the courtship rituals of their toff masters, making it sort of a reverse minstrelsy. Participants doffed hates, bowed exaggeratedly, puffed out their chests, high stepped and twirled their canes alternating with expressive and more obviously acrobatic moves. The performance judged best earned the winners a cake or other prize. The accompanying music, also known as cakewalk, combined the polyrhthmic character of West African music with the various European-derived forms played by brass dance bands. The result was a syncopated music with a swinging rhythm that led to the development first of ragtime and ultimately of jazz.

  

For their curious white masters, the cakewalk could be co-opted in a simultaneous mocking and expression of fascination with black practices, almost as with minstrelsy, then in decline. The first published cakewalk was Rollin Howard's 1871 hit, "Good Enough!" In 1876, cakewalk was demonstrated at the Centennial of the American Independence. Harrigan and Hart's 1877 jam, "Walking For Dat Cake," followed and the popularity of the music and dance quickly spread. Initially, as with all expressions of minstrelsy, the cakewalks would regularly close blackface medicine shows, helping white audiences overcome their fears of blacks by reducing the recently-freed and no doubt ex-slave-owner-hating blacks to cartoonish images of harmless buffoons who loved life as slaves. At the same time, it cautiously opened the door for black musicians and their music, furthering the great cultural dialogue at the center of American art.

     

Over time, as with most appropriations of black American culture, the watered down version was soon judged to be impure and white audiences began to pursue the authentic black expression. Beginning in 1892, The National Cakewalk Jubilee was held anually, going from 11:00 p.m. till 5:00 a.m. the next morning.


In 1893, the famed duo of Johnson and Dean were a featured attraction at the Chicago World Fair. The monacle-wearing Charles Johnson and his partner Dora Dean were another celebrity cakewalk duo.  Famed black entertainers Bert Williams and George Walker incorporated cakewalk into their routine and played for forty consecutive weeks at Koster & Bial's and appeared in advertisements for Philip-Morris.
 
   
       

Caricatures of cakewalk stars were soon collected and traded like baseball or Pokemon cards today (assuming kids still do that). As evinced by the sheet music, caricatures of cakewalkers could be cartoonish and grotesque, but nowhere near as much as coon songs, the spiritual offspring of minstrelsy. In many cases, the images didn't seek to mock their subjects at all. As the popularity of cakewalk spread, it became accepted amongst high society, whose members used the popularity and subsequent semi-respectiblity as an opportunity to unleash their otherwise carefully repressed libidos.

  

Although John Phillip Sousa disliked cakewalk, his Missouri-born trombonist Arthur Pryor often arranged them and Sousa relented in the face of public demand. Sousa's band performed cakewalk at the Paris Exhibition in 1900, and a veritable cakewalk craze was instigated in Europe. Not long afterward, Pryor left Sousa's band to start his own, explaining, "The regulation bands never got over being a little embarassed at syncopating. The stiff-backed old fellows felt it was beneath their dignity and they couldn't or wouldn't give into it."

      

Soon after, the most famous cakewalkers toured England, France and Germany, where even Kaiser Wilhem shook a tailfeather. In Europe, the cakewalking teams were highly paid celebrities and their exploits were covered in newspapers which had previously banned depictions of blacks. In 1903, Edward VII requested cakewalk lessons for the British royal family. By 1905, the peak of cakewalk's popularity had largely passed.


In 1913, Claude Debussy published "Golliwog’s Cakewalk." In 1915 there was a bit of a revival and cakewalk was increasingly viewed nostalgically. However, the revival proved to be short-lived and by the latter part of the decade, the cakewalk had truly declined and far fewer examples were published. To a large extent, the cakewalk dance had transformed into the Charleston and Jazz had begun to completely supplant cakewalk and ragtime music's position as the new, popular black American music.
 
     

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