Monthly Archives: April 2015

Top 10 Paintings that Moved Me, Part 2

This is the second part of a series about art that moves me. See part 1.

5. The Coronation of Napoleon, David
Everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa. It is always crowded in that little room in the Louvre. What all those folks might not know is that in the next gallery behind the Mona Lisa they will find one the greatest masterpieces of neoclassical style in the world. The Coronation of Napoleon always makes me smile. Not only does this stunning composition explode in opulence and color, but it depicts one of the most shocking displays of presumptuous conceit the world has ever seen. Napoleon’s ego was even so inflated as to have Jacques-Louis David paint Napoleon’s mother into the painting, despite the fact that she had refused to attend, thereby insulting his mother and rewriting history in one clever hoss move.

4. The Herring Net, Homer
Why are there so few benches in art museums? It is difficult to savor the art when dealing with angry feet. In the Art Institute, however, I can count on the bench in front of this Winslow Homer painting. I almost always sit there when going through the American gallery. It’s a good thing, too, because this painting becomes mesmerizing once you give it a few still minutes. If you look at this painting long enough, you find yourself beginning to sway as if rocked by the waves. You heave a sigh of patience, as if willing the fish to flock to your nets. The painting somehow summons our sympathies for Homer’s faceless fishermen.

3. Pardon in Brittany, La Touche
Have you ever seen so delicate and accurate a portrayal of twilight and candlelight as in this haunting impressionist image? I haven’t.

2. Annunciation, Ossawa Tanner
Last fall we toured Italy and visited as many art museums as we could fit into our itinerary. I can’t tell you how many dozens and dozens of ‘Annunciation’ paintings we saw. What’s more, they were all, well, boring. And this is a shame, for this, of all subjects, should never be boring. Think about it: an ANGEL (i.e. horrifying extraterrestrial supernatural being) comes to an impoverished TEENAGER and tells her that she going to have a BABY who is actually GOD. It is a terrifying encounter of heaven’s greatest grandeur descending to meet earth’s greatest lowliness. Despite this intensely dramatic subject, most of the medieval and renaissance depictions are set in plush and gilded palaces, with the angel announcing, “I have come to fluff your pillows,” and with Mary placidly replying, “that would be divine.”

Once inundated with these less than realistic Annunciations, we Googled around looking for a more interesting Annunciation. So it was we discovered the works of Henry Ossawa Tanner. I had never heard of him before, but I highly recommend looking up his body of work as it is all truly stunning. In his Annunciation, we see both an accurate and intriguing portrayal of Gabriel’s arrival, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop staring at it.

1. Las Meninas, Velasquez
I don’t much care for the city of Madrid, but I firmly believe everyone should go there. Why? One reason: Las Meninas. In the Museo Del Prado there is an enormous ovular room where this Velasquez masterpiece hangs high on the wall, large and imposing and demanding attention. When I first turned the corner into this room I stopped breathing. This was the first time a piece of art had this literal breath-taking effect. It even scared me a little. I just stood there in the uncomfortably crowded room, but I didn’t move. The funny thing is that, to this day, I don’t really know why the painting commanded such power over me. Something about the marvelously complex composition, perhaps; I love how the subject of the painting is ambiguous, for all at once it is a portrait of the little princess, a self portrait of the artist, an indirect portrait of the royal couple, and yet the painting is called Las Meninas in reference to the princess’s servants. The painting is an enigma. When you go see it, come back and explain it to me. (And, for an extra treat, once you see it, go then to Barcelona and see the Picasso museum where there are rooms and rooms of Picasso’s cubist studies of Las Meninas. Absolutely fascinating.)

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It’s Speak like Shakespeare Day!

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your minds;

this day we bid praise to the poet of poets,

the pride of thespians, the god of philologists–the bard.

So collect your courage, thou hearty enthusiasts,

and rend your brains ’til sweet verse from thine lips fall

in tribute to him, for hadst ne’er he lived,

our heritage as Englishmen wouldst we hold infinitely cheaper.

Speaketh, this day, therefore, in a prettier tongue,

and takest up this quest of creative linguistic enterprise

lest his ghost return, as ghosts do so oft in his plays,

and taunt you with flamboyant insults of cowardice.

“Thou crusty botch of nature!” is what he wouldst call thee

if thee dost fail to entertain;

“Thou stale old mouse-eaten dry cheese!” is how he would chide;

so wherefore do you not participate?

If thou shouldst require aid in this noble engagement, seek within

and arm thine verbal arsenal; let not thy trepidation nor thine idleness

deprive you of honorable legacy. So Go! And assume Shakespearean airs.

For tis nobler in the mind to suffer slight embarrassment

than risk William’s ghost return and assured harassment.

Happy Birthday Mr. Shakespeare!

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Top 10 Paintings that Moved Me, Part 1

Josh and I were reminiscing about life in Chicago the other day. One of the things we miss most is the Art Institute. We thought about the famous Ferris Bueller scene in which the three friends explore the magnificent collection.

As I might have anticipated, Josh then asked me about my favorite paintings. As an artist, he asks such questions frequently. Normally, though, he asks about my favorite pieces specifically at the Art Institute, but this was a much broader, much more difficult question. In all of my travels I have visited dozens of museums, so I had to give this a great deal of thought. Do I consider style? Technique? Color Palette? Composition? Themes? How to define ‘Favorite’?

I decided to go with instinct over analysis. Below are the pieces that have most moved me. I am talking about a gut-level response, a reaction I can’t fully explain. For me, the most memorable pieces produce a visceral feeling, a sensation of gripping all of my attention, leaving me motionless and quiet. These works are not just beautiful; they show me something true as well as lovely.

10.  Self Portrait, Rembrandt
Rembrandt painted many self portraits, but this one housed at the Frick museum in New York is almost life-sized and, if I remember correctly, sits at eye level, inviting viewers into a staring contest with the Baroque master. I so admire the piercing gaze, the evidence of age etched into his face, and the deep, deep dark from which he emerges.

9. Venetian Glass Workers, Sargent
So many of Sargent’s paintings featured aristocrats surrounded by the sensuous textures of affluence. As much as I appreciate his masterful technique in painting satin and velvet, I admire even more this scene of laborers in the shadows.

8. Bordighera, Monet
This painting sits in the corner of a room full of Monet’s work at the Art Institute. There are so many pieces in there it is easy to walk right by it. But if you catch it, stand right in front of it, and try to tell me you don’t think the tree is moving. The illusion of branches rustling in a breeze makes me smile every time. I also love this painting because I once saw a real view just like in in the hills above Nice in France.

7. Crucifixion, Tintoretto
I realize it is futile even to mention this piece in this list as the photo does nothing to prove my interest. It is the SIZE of this scene that so impresses viewers. It made my sister cry. The scale (17.5 ft x 40 ft) and amount of activity in this painting of the world’s worst moment takes my breath away.

6. Woman at Window Reading a Letter, Vermeer
This painting actually represents a category of paintings I call “Dutch people standing by windows and candles.” This category is vast. I recommend studying this genre as few styles capture realistic light so well as the Dutch Baroque. In this painting, admire with me the softness of the light, the woman’s reflection in the window, the shadows across the curtains and carpets, and the feeling we are being pulled into a story. 

To see the remaining five paintings, stay tuned for Part 2!

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Tale of a Magical Turkey Burger

DSC_0385OK, so I’m really proud of myself. I don’t want to get cocky, but I did something great this week. I made a magical turkey burger.

OK Fine. It might not actually have magical powers; there was no pixie dust available. But ask yourself this: have you ever had a really magnificent turkey burger? Health nuts, ya’ll sit down; your opinion is void. Beef lovers…have you ever? If I guess correctly, and you are being honest, the answer is no. Turkey burgers tend to be dry and unsatisfying. They don’t have that zing-mm-pow! that great beef burgers provide. And honestly, if you are craving beef, there is no substitute. Remember the Parks and Recreation burger contest?

Like a true beef fan, I would normally never pick a turkey burger over a regular burger from a menu. But several years ago at a Chicago pub called the Gaslight I took the leap. It was one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever had. Loaded with thyme, topped with a garlic aioli, and nestled within a pretzel bun, this glorious pile of goodness stretched my realm of culinary possibilities. I vowed to recreate the turkey burger, and, if possible, improve upon it.

But the years passed. I forgot about my vow. Then last weekend I saw ground turkey for sale and it rekindled my curiosity. I did a little research, made some decisions, bought the necessary accouterments. And so it began.

The big question was how to keep the meat moist. As turkey needs to be fully cooked, I had to take extra measures to ensure moisture. I read in one recipe that adding an egg helps burgers hold together and remain moist. I read in another that adding yogurt does the same. I added both. I also remembered another beef burger recipe that added chopped mushrooms. I did that too. Then I stirred it all up with salt, pepper, and tons of fresh thyme.

Emily’s Thyme and Mushroom Turkey Burgers

2 lbs ground turkey
2 cups chopped mushrooms
1 egg, whisked
3 tbs greek yogurt
1 tbs fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp gr. pepper

Mix the above together and form into patties. Add an indent in the middle of the patties to stop the burgers from poofing during cooking.

DSC_0369Melt 1 tbs butter and 1 tbs olive oil in large skillet. Just before the oil begins to smoke, add sliced red onions and sauté on medium heat until slightly browned. Set onions aside. Now that the skillet is seasoned with the caramelized onions, add more oil and make sure the skillet is well coated. Place the patties in the skillet with at least an inch between each burger. Cook burgers on medium high heat for a few minutes. Flip when the bottom half of the burger becomes firm and starts to brown. Burgers are finished when the juices run clear.

DSC_0373While burgers are cooking, prepare the sauce.

Combine:
3 tbs mayonaise
3 tbs greek yogurt
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Serve burgers on toasted buns, preferably pretzel buns; if you can’t find them, consider adding a little sugar to the sauce to compensate for the lack of sweet. Top with sauce, onions, avocado, and mixed greens. SAVOR!

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AND FOR EXTRA FUN….

The next morning, slice some onion and potatoes. Toss in a few tablespoons of flour. Heat oil in a skillet to almost smoking, and sauté until potatoes are lightly browned and can be pierced easily with a fork. Chop up a leftover burger and add to the skillet. Remove when meat is warm. Add a little more oil to the pan, get it hot, and lower heat. Fry an egg to desired doneness and top your TURKEY BURGER HASH with your gooey egg. VOILA! Best brunch ever. You’re welcome.

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Creatively Combatting Gun Violence

Warning: These photos might make you cry. I cried.

I stumbled across this article this morning highlighting a new art exhibit in downtown Chicago. The exhibit seeks to bring awareness to the epidemic of gun violence plaguing the city:

Victims of Chicago gun violence memorialized in lifelike statues

This is one of the most creative and poignant awareness projects I have ever seen. It is both elegant in its simplicity and gut-wrenching in its depth. The poses and figures seem so lifelike, but as I continue to look I just keep asking, “Where is the face? WHERE IS THE FACE?” The answer, “Gone,” hangs in the air like the echo of a gun shot.

I hope that they make this exhibit permanent. I would like to see these statues placed strategically in areas of frequent gang activity to stand guard over the neighborhoods and to prick the consciences of the perpetrators. I think the statues should be encased in bullet-proof glass so that, like Snow White in her glass coffin, their beauty will be preserved and the imprint of life that remains will nevermore be harmed.

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A True Story of Traveling Pants

Here is a little treat to cap off your week…

Let’s go back in time to a little over a year ago. Our setting is one of the coldest Chicago winters on record. Josh and I set out to the YMCA on a bone-chilling day in February. We scuttled through the doors, buzzed our member cards, and began to disrobe and thaw. The coat rack looked a little unstable with all the winter layers weighing it down. I squished my coat and outer pants into the mass and went off to do my workout. Josh, however, folded his brand new jeans and placed them underneath the rack on the floor. He went to do his workout.

Finally warm and sweating slightly, we returned to the coatrack and began to bundle. But Josh paused and started to search the vicinity. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “I can’t find my pants!” he exclaimed. “Why would someone take pants?”

Seriously, who takes pants? Pants that fit well are painfully tricky to find, so it seemed highly unlikely that anyone could just slip on another’s pants and walk out without noticing. Plus, Josh is on the narrower side, whereas many other members of the YMCA were, well, not. Suspects seemed few on the ground.

We went up to the front desk to report the lost pants. The guy at the desk looked at us quizzically. “Pants?” Yes, pants. Who takes pants??

Poor Josh had to go home in 15 degree weather in his gym shorts.

Every new visit to the gym Josh asked about his pants. The guy at the desk would look at us with a mixture of pity and laughter and shake his head. As the days passed, we decided that whoever took the pants was either too heinously apathetic to be bothered to return them, or too painfully embarrassed to admit their mistake.

About a month after the incident Josh and I returned to the gym. By this point we had resolved to consider the pants lost. Josh had also won the nickname “Pants Man” among the YMCA staff. We went off to do our workout. When we came back to the coat rack we did a double take looking at the floor. There, folded, are a pair of Levis. The right color. The right size. Could it be? Did the pants return?

Josh tentatively took the pants to the guy at the desk. “So, umm, I think my pants have returned.” The guy’s eyebrows lifted. “Seriously?!” “Well,” Josh continued, “They are the right size and the right color and I’m almost positive these are my pants. So if anyone comes looking for lost pants, let me know, but I’m gonna take these.”

We stumbled to the car, laughing and marveling at the pants. The pants, the wonderful pants, the pants that have seen things. What have they seen? Where did they go? Why did they return? While these questions won’t rank among the first asked in heaven, we do intend to ask them when we get there.

And so goes the story of how Josh and his pants were reunited. The pants cover his bum to this day. And yes, Josh washed the pants before he wore them again.

The End.

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Why I painted a tiny egg globe…

So I was thinking, ‘Wow, it has been a while since I did any zany art projects. I’ve let myself slack off. Shame.’ Fortunately, Easter gave me impetus to get back on that wacky horse.

You see, I grew up, well, not normal. My mom raised us to think outside the box whenever possible with our creative energies. Do you want to build a snowman?* Well, what if we build a life-size snow LION instead? You want to bake a birthday cake? What if we made a birthday PIRATE SHIP cake? You want to carve a jack-o-lantern? How ’bout a political caricature pumpkin instead?

More than likely my children will likewise be NOT normal. My friend Michelle has already jokingly told me her children are not allowed to play with my (as of yet unborn) children. She means it as a compliment (at least I hope she does). Most people don’t spend energy the way I do. She understands that my drive to zaniness is so deeply ingrained I won’t be able to help myself from dropping everything to paint Easter eggs into tiny globes.

She has a point. This is, in fact, what I did today. I ought to be packing for our move this Saturday, but instead I woke up and immediately got to work on a tiny egg globe. Not. Normal.

Here are photos of my globe as well as the last two years’ egg projects. I hope they encourage you to step beyond the boundaries of normal and dig deeper with your creativity!

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Our growing collection, including some done by friends.

Our growing collection, including some done by friends.

*I won’t judge you if you just started singing Frozen music.

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Good Friday Edition: We are Dead

On Wednesday we went to our church’s Tenebrae service. Tenebrae, Latin for ‘shadows’ or ‘darkness’, focuses on the grim truths of our humanity, i.e. the reasons Christ had to die. Focusing on these truths sets the stage for Good Friday and makes the resurrection all the more miraculous. At our service with Church of the Redeemer, several artists contributed film clips, visual art, and musical performances to envelop our senses in this theme of darkness. Afterward, I immediately wanted to create something in this vein, but wasn’t sure what I should do.

Fortunately, I had a super awesome project in my back pocket. A few weeks ago at a coffee shop, this tall, chummy barista asked me about my UChicago sweatshirt. A Loyola grad himself, we bonded over missing life in Chicago. It turned out that he was a musician and was looking for someone to help him produce a video. Now, if you spend any amount of time in Nashville, you are bound to run into some musical hopefuls; you nod and say “That’s nice” and move on. But, as you will see and hear in the video below, Peter McKeown of Woodferd is the real deal.

The song we chose for the video fits perfectly for Good Friday. “We are Dead” bluntly identifies the harsh reality of our temporal existence and simultaneously smiles at how miraculous it is that we should exist at all. We shot the video in an abandoned church to emphasize the contrast between temporary and eternal things, and to pose questions of what in life really matters in the end.

Wow, I just went all UChicago in those last few sentences, like I actually knew what I was doing. In reality the whole thing was a serendipitous experiment. Let me know what you think of the outcome.

To find out more about Peter McKeown and Woodferd check out Woodferdmusic.com or like him on Facebook.

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