Artists and models

Oftentimes, the models who posed for famous paintings are overlooked. We are much more inclined to focus on the artist and on trying to interpret the meaning behind the painting. Except for a handful of iconic paintings, the models’ identities remain unknown, as do their stories. Take this painting for example:

Some of you may recognize it as Edouard Manet’s famous Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass, 1832–1883). The jarring image of the naked picnicker is probably quite familiar. She appears in a number of Manet’s paintings including his famous Olympia:

Who was this gal and what was her story? Her name was Victorine Meurent. Her fascinating story is the subject of a newly released historical fiction novel, Victorine by Drēma Drudge. The book pulls the curtain back on Ms. Meurent’s life, her relationship with Manet and her own artistic aspirations.

I’m thrilled to have secured an exclusive interview with author Drēma Drudge who will also select one of my lucky blog followers for the giveaway prize of a free copy of Victorine. Read the interview below.

Welcome to Art and Beyond, Drēma! What inspired you to write a book about a model as opposed to the painting or the artist?

From the moment I saw Victorine Meurent as Olympia in the painting by Manet, I felt she had things to say that the canvas couldn’t contain. Her eyes were condemning the viewer, yes, but it went deeper than that; to me, she was clearly playing a role and not with much patience. Her personality was so large that even Manet couldn’t wrestle it into staying on the canvas alone.

My first encounter with her was as a PowerPoint slide a professor put up for his class The Painted Word.  I couldn’t quit staring from one side of the painting to the other. When I saw the actual painting at Musée D’Orsay the next year, I had an even more intense feeling that Victorine really did want to speak to me. That’s when I began to research her and discovered that she was also an artist herself.

Long story short, I didn’t choose her; she chose me.

There were many model muses in art history. I have to ask – why Victorine?

The more I studied Victorine, the more I discovered that outside of Manet’s paintings, we don’t know much about her. She needed someone to give her back a voice, to bring her back to “Herstory.” For instance, no one remembered that she was an accomplished artist!

The primary book I studied to learn what little there is to know was Alias Olympia by Eunice Lipton. At the time she wrote her book in the 1990’s, no paintings of Victorine’s were thought to have survived.

By 2004, one painting had been rediscovered and had made its way into the museum in Colombes, the town Victorine lived in when she died. Though I really wanted desperately to see other paintings of hers, because I felt I would know so much more about her if I could see her subject matter and how she painted, at least I had the one. I’d have to make it enough, or so I thought.

Thankfully, during my research, my husband and I put together clues and rumors, did deep internet dives, and found that not only one, but that recently three more of her paintings have been recovered. I was giddy to discover this!  

The most exciting one is on my book’s back cover. It’s her self-portrait, one from 1876 that was accepted by the prestigious Paris Salon in a year when Manet’s work was rejected. We believe my book is the first place her self-portrait has been printed, and I am so honored.

Being able to study how she saw herself, instead of seeing her as only painted by so many men, helped me to feel confident that I had read her correctly. (We didn’t discover the painting until just before the book went to press, and yes, my editor said she would stop the press while I made a few last-minute adjustments.)

Do you think Manet would have been inspired to paint some of his most famous works if it were not for Victorine?

No, I don’t think he would have. You see Victorine in those paintings of his such as Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass, and who could have modeled with that same aura of arrogance, confrontation, and simultaneous disengagement that was so prevalent in his paintings of her? I think her bravado gave him courage.

One of the interesting and unexpected discoveries in your novel is the fact that Victorine was an artist in her own right. How did this influence her role as Manet’s muse?

                It appears that Victorine didn’t officially become an artist until after she quit sitting for Manet, and yet that artist’s eye must have been developing in her all along. I think they more or less “co-created” the paintings. In my novel I have her challenging him, helping him to really think about what he’s painting and why. I can’t know if that’s how it was in real life, and yet his was such a unique talent, it does seem that he had to have been influenced by someone or something outside of what was in vogue. I’d like to think that someone was Victorine. 

QUALIFY TO WIN A FREE COPY OF ‘VICTORINE’! CLICK ON THE LIKE BUTTON FOR THIS BLOG POST AND INCLUDE ‘VICTORINE GIVEAWAY’ IN A COMMENT. GOOD LUCK!


My own recently released novel ‘L’Origine: The secret life of the world’s most erotic masterpiece‘ divulges the identity of a model who has remained a mystery for over a century. The book is receiving amazing reviews – check it out and order a copy for yourself or as a gift. Merci!!!

An artist paints with words

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First stroke Acrylic on canvas

OK. You all get it by now: I love art. I love the drag of my loaded brush against the canvas and the sensuous feel of wet clay spinning beneath my hands. I also love how art can come to life through words. Reading about the lives of famous artists and the stories behind their seminal works adds important context that a purely visual encounter cannot. My novel L’Origine: The secret life of the world’s most erotic masterpiece was inspired by the remarkable odyssey of an iconic 19th century painting that continues to ruffle feathers to this day. Lots of exciting podcast interviews, articles and live readings are coming up in place of a traditional book tour.

Click on the image below for a delicious teasing clip of Lynne Hanley from Beyond the Palette in London announcing the upcoming interview about my book. Her motto is Art, Drama and Passion. She delivers on all three! For the full interview click here.


********DON’T MISS THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE*******

Before you rush off I’d like to recommend two recent novels by women authors who shed light on the hardships that female artists faced in different centuries and cultures.

Sofonisba. Portraits of the Soul by [Chiara Montani, Verna Kaye]

Sofonisba is a historical novel with the taste and the colors of the Renaissance. You’ll fall in love with this unforgettable heroine.

The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel by [Jennifer Cody Epstein]

The Painter from Shanghai is a re-imagining of the life of Pan Yuliang and her transformation from prostitute to post-Impressionist.

Namaste.

See Spot run: Where it all began…

Painting by Lilianne Milgrom. Acrylic on canvas

Who can remember the thrill of learning to read? I distinctly remember the very first time my heart leapt as I strung letters together to sound out a word. That memory is so vivid that I created an installation called Memory in Yellow that was exhibited at Artomatic in Washington DC several years ago.

I had found a reprint of the Dick and Jane book that I learned to read from and that inspired me to recreate my memory as a site specific installation.

Nothing much has changed since then in so far as my love of reading – if I don’t have at least four books in the pipeline I start feeling anxious! Over the years I have channeled my creativity in both the visual and literary arts.

Which brings me to my HUGE, EXCITING, LONG-AWAITED NEWS!!!!!!!!!

Yep – that’s my name there…I can’t quite believe it myself. It only took me ten years but who’s counting?? I just posted this cover reveal on Instagram and wanted to share the news with my loyal blog readers as well. Lots more in the weeks to come about L’Origine but if you can’t wait and are inclined to *PRE-ORDER* a copy of this historical novel that traces the riveting odyssey of the world’s most erotic masterpiece, be my guest! I guarantee an enlightening, fun ride 😉

Tattoo art and the military

For close to two decades, media immersion placed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan squarely in our sights. With the troop draw down beginning in 2010, media attention turned to the returning veterans. News of the shameful bureaucratic difficulties they encountered became more frequent, as were stories about the lasting emotional, psychological and social impact of war.  

I felt compelled to portray these young men and women as the diverse individuals they are, deserving of our respect and recognition for their personal sacrifice, irrespective of our political views on the conflict. As the project began to take form, I discovered that their tattoos provided insight into their journeys, their personal experiences and their beliefs and I chose to expose their stories by translating them into a visible medium that would far outlast the individuals themselves: porcelain.

The Battleskin project is ongoing.

Take care over this Memorial Weekend.

Behind the mask

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Lilianne Milgrom  Collage 2020

In the throes of the global pandemic, the mask has become far more than just a face covering. It has become the symbol of our times and a lightning rod for diametrically opposed political views. Different interest groups are playing tug of war with guidelines for wearing masks while behind the scenes PPE masks and the materials required to produce them have spurned a black market run by profiteering opportunists – or smart entrepreneurs, depending on which side of the geopolitical divide you’re on.

Which brings me to the unlikely subject of this month’s blog post: The world’s newest superhero, Maskman! Forget Superman – or Batman for that matter. Maskman is here!

This is no fictitious comic action figure, although this real-life ‘hero’–known to millions of giddy Chinese fans as the Mask Hunter–has all the makings of one: square jaw, tight fitting black turtle-neck, and a world view that is ruthless yet ethical in a self-serving sort of way. Meet 30-year-old businessman, Lin Dong from Guandong province.

Lin Dong (2)

As the saying goes, one man’s misfortune is another man’s fortune. And that’s the way Lin Dong sees it. While the world is succumbing to COVID-19, Lin jet sets around the world buying up as much of that superfine, super-expensive fabric that filters out virus-carrying particles. Welcome to the COVID world’s hottest commodity: melt-blown, nonwoven fabric. And don’t even try to unload that cheap spun substitute onto the Mask Hunter. Lin can smell a rip-off a mile away. It’s got to be melt-blown or nothing. His primary suppliers are sleazy arms dealers who have temporarily pivoted away from illegal arms to COVID-inhibiting shmattes because the profit margins are astronomical.

How did businessman Lin Dong become a Chinese superstar sensation? Here’s where art comes into it. Chinese video blogger Wu Dong stumbled upon our dashing hero carving out a deal in a hotel in Istanbul and immediately saw the film making potential. He cozied up to Lin Dong’s pretty sidekick and got the green light to tag along and film Lin Dong’s deal making.

The resulting eight-part series “Mask Hunter” was a blockbuster. Over one hundred million viewers and counting. Lin’s search for the rare fabric has made him millions but he stands to lose it all in a bad deal. His Chinese fans are rooting for him as if he were the Robin Hood of PPE, unlike those money-hungry American profiteers. KABAM!

On that note, I’ll sign off with a powerful and thought-provoking video about masks created during lock down by fellow artist, Reda Abdelrahman. Click HERE to watch.

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You can read more about Reda in this interview by CARAVAN as well an interview with yours truly here.

Stay safe!

Another of my articles on face masks can be found on Medium.com.

Praying that it’s over soon…

The world is going through a crisis, a global pandemic, an unprecedented assault by an unseen enemy. Call it what you will, COVID 19 is literally killing us while we’re waiting for our lauded scientists and medical professionals to get us out of this. In the meantime, we’re sitting at home reading, playing, working, singing, chatting, zooming, eating, drinking, crying, watching Netflix and praying that this will be over soon. Praying, the way I see it, is a personal and intimate dialogue with whatever form of Spiritual Other people find comfort in believing in. We’re all searching for ways to comfort ourselves and others during this difficult time and if prayer does the trick, why not?

These thoughts brought to mind an installation I created in 2014 entitled ‘Virtual Angel’.

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‘Virtual Angel’ was created specifically for an international traveling exhibition called AMEN. I was honored to have been selected by CARAVAN as one of 18 Western artists to join with 30 leading Egyptian artists in building bridges between faiths and cultures through Art. Each participating artist received a life-sized fiberglass figure in prayer with which to create a personal expression of prayer.

Close up back

I chose to transform my figure into an angel as angels appear in the sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as well as in ancient manuscripts that predate those texts. These winged creatures straddle the celestial and earthly worlds acting as divine helpers, intermediaries, protectors, and emissaries.

But I wanted to find a way to actively engage the public and provide the viewer with an opportunity for personal prayer. By using a mobile phone to scan the QR code I emblazoned on the angel’s chest (below), viewers were able to send their personal prayers to the world with a click of a finger.

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My Virtual Angel provided a means of bridging the spiritual world and the contemporary digital world. It seemed fitting that these digital prayers are sent to the cloud for safe keeping. I invite you now to scan the QR code and send your own prayers out into the world.

Angel QR

If you do not have a QR code scanner on your mobile phone and wish to send a digital prayer to the cloud, you can do so directly by clicking HERE where you can also read the anonymous prayers that have been sent out by others. And for what it’s worth, I’m sending my prayers out to one and all for a safe and healthy sheltering. Take care. 

Going viral

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CDC’s illustrated image of COVID-19

Artists dream about their work going viral on Instagram or Youtube. If the corona virus COVID-19 weren’t so deadly serious, one could almost be jealous of the speed with which this organism – too small to be seen by the naked eye – ripped around the world, and in a matter of months became known to billions of people.

Soon everyone will be affected in one way or another. It has already impacted my own little universe – two upcoming exhibitions postponed and a decision to decline the offer of a new residency opportunity at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A recent article tapped artists as being more insulated from risk due to the solitary nature of art making. However, some of my artist friends have had to shutter their studios to the public, and art galleries have shut their doors. Art fairs have closed and museums have gone dark.  

But artists don’t stop being artists just because they can’t go anywhere, right? And it’s important to try to keep one’s sense of humor.

Covid nails

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‘Mobile World Virus’ by TVBOY (**PLEASE NOTE THAT I MISTAKENLY CREDITED KEITH HARING (!) AS THE ARTIST IN MY INITIAL EMAIL ANNOUNCING THIS BLOG POST) 

I myself am keeping busy tinkering with a bag of air dry clay that has been sitting around the studio for at least two years. Air dry clay is not fired in a kiln and therefore is far more fragile and porous when dry than clay that goes through the firing and glazing process. But it is still malleable and is the perfect material for me to work on perfecting facial structure and expression.

Air Clay

For those of you going a bit stir crazy at home and in need of some art to get your minds off the terrifying graphs and numbers, here are some links to my favorite virtual tours of museums :

-The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has an exciting  virtual tour and you can literally get lost in the Louvre’s virtual tours even sitting on your couch.

More suggestions here.

Please, please, stay safe and hopefully we’ll come out the other end in one piece. Drop me a line and let me know the creative ways in which you are all passing the time at home. 

Van Gogh as never before

I appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as much as the next person, but the immersive, experiential Van Gogh traveling exhibition brings his paintings, his life and his travails to a totally new level. I was fortunate to catch the traveling show in Israel at the Arena complex in Herzliya. It was a stunning, unforgettable experience.

One is first guided into a huge space where the 360 degree surround sound and imagery are otherworldly.  The fact that Van Gogh’s imagery is so iconic and recognizable made the experience feel intimate and monumentally epic at the same time. I’ve never dropped acid, but it felt like I was tripping as Van Gogh’s painted petals detached themselves from the branches of giant cherry blossoms, sunflowers careened underfoot and flocks of black crows took flight from haystacks that danced and spun around me. I could have stayed there for hours.

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Still image of crows flying out of haystacks

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Rousing music accompanied the ever-changing landscape

The artists and production team who created this sensory delight have to be applauded. The viewer is taken on an emotional roller coaster – chirping birds and beautiful vases of flowers morph into gaudily painted characters who peopled Van Gogh’s life in Arles. Then comes the suspenseful music that foreshadows Van Gogh’s descent into madness and despair.

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But just when I thought that it couldn’t get any better, the next phase of the exhibition blew me away. Visitors are fitted with Virtual Reality headgear that literally transports you back to Van Gogh’s time, starting right in his famously painted bedroom.

bedroom

And from there one flies down the steps, walks through the town of Arles, greets his friends and patrons, wanders through meadows, sidesteps chickens, watches the boats glide on the river and the night turn starry over the local church. My hands were reaching out to touch the cows, or hold onto a handrail. Magical, simply magical.

I happened to visit the Van Gogh show just days after another truly inspirational and totally unique cultural experience that played a different game with my senses. The Israeli town of Jaffa is home to a unique space called Na LaGaat (‘Please Touch’). Na Lagaat presents cultural opportunities for connecting the deaf and the blind, those that are both deaf and blind, and the wider seeing and hearing public. I attended a concert there by singer/songwriter Yoni Rechter – IN TOTAL DARKNESS! Not only did the audience experience the concert in total darkness, but the musicians had to play in the dark as well. The words to the songs have never sounded sweeter, nor more poignant.

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I’ll never look at a painting in quite the same way again, nor listen to a song in quite the same way…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN PORTRAITURE TODAY

Every three years, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery hosts the Outwin Boochever contemporary portrait competition. It’s one of my favorite art events because it expands and re-defines what we think of as portraiture. This year’s judges selected 46 out of 2600 entries! Race, gender bias and immigration were the underlying themes tackled by the selected artists. Here are a few of the standouts:

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Deborah Roberts ’80 Days’

Artist Deborah Roberts felt ‘called’ to paint a portrait of 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. who was executed in 1944 in an electric chair for a murder he did not commit. The work symbolizes the injustices against African American youths today (I would highly recommend a visit to another outstanding Smithsonian museum in DC – the National Museum of African American History and Culture). Aside from its message, I loved the subtle confluence of painting and collage in the face, shown in detail:

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Some of you may recognize the face of iconic novelist and activist, James Baldwin (1924-1987), in this work below by artist Nekisha Durrett.

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But take a closer look at how she created this portrait:

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Individual shapes made of polymer clay

A video work by performance artist, Anna Garner, presented a totally different interpretation of self-portrait. Garner filmed herself engaged in a potentially harmful situation of her own making. To watch the video, click on the image below. 

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The portrait of ‘April and June’ by David Antonio Cruz features Cruz’s focal subject – black and brown members of the queer community. I particularly liked the artist’s fearless treatment of color and the clash of patterns (see detail below).

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Detail from ‘April and June’

The exhibition also included several outstanding photographs.

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Portrait of DeRay Mckesson by Quinn Russell Brown. Mckesson has dedicated his life to the Black Lives Matter movement. The photographer captured his seriousness of purpose.

AND THE WINNER IS….

The judges of the Outwin Boochever competition awarded first place to Hugo Crosthwaite for his stop-gap animated ‘Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chavez’ dealing with one woman’s American Dream. Click on the image below to watch the video. 

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Before concluding this brief overview of the portrait competition, I want to introduce another two works that greatly impressed me. I was blown away by the sensitive treatment and paint quality of ‘Hidden Wounds’ (below) by Luis Alvarez Roure, who painted his childhood friend after the latter returned from war. The half-shadowed face hides the hidden scars below the surface.

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Another powerful service member portrait (below), this time representing women in the armed forces, was painted by Julianne Wallace Sterling who found her subjects by advertising on Craigslist!

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Specialist Murphy by Julianne Wallace Sterling

(I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the service of another young woman, close family friend, 2nd Lt. Rosenberg, United States Marine Corps, pictured below with General James Mattis)

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Art and Literature – inspiration goes both ways

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On a recent visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), I felt connected to three artists in particular as a result of having recently read books inspired by these artists and their work. The first artist was Henri Matisse (1869-1954), the famous French painter, unparalleled for his vivid color and line work.

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I just finished reading Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living my Dream by James Morgan. Morgan takes the reader along as he follows in Matisse’s footsteps. There are no big discoveries or surprises, but Morgan makes some wonderful observations. The Baltimore Museum of Art inherited an outstanding collection of works by Henri Matisse, thanks to the Cone sisters of Baltimore (Claribel and Etta, below). These dour-faced sisters amassed over 3,000 works in their lifetimes, including hundreds of paintings and sketches by Matisse.

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Van Gogh’s expressive painting of hobnailed boots (below) immediately caught my eye. It brought to mind Vincent van Gogh’s lifelong struggle with poverty, articulated in his prolific correspondence with his brother, Theo (The Letters of Vincent van Gogh). 

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I doubt there ever lived an artist more dedicated and obsessed than Vincent van Gogh. His letters describe a sensitive, observant, frustrated, and anguished man. His obsession with his art ultimately contributed to his mental breakdown and tragic demise. 

Also on view was a bronze cast of Degas’ iconic, tutu-clad ballerina, Little Dancer (below).

 

 

This sculpture – one of the best-known works in modern art and first exhibited in 1881 – is the subject of a recently published, introspective book entitled Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Camille Laurens. Ms. Laurens’ narrative is a hybrid memoir/art historical dive into the sculpture’s controversial history. The author’s research into the model’s identity provides an in-depth view of 19th century life for these young dancers, preyed upon by wealthy Opera goers and exploited by artists such as Degas.

I can personally attest to the inspiration that a work of art can spark in a writer. I have recently completed my manuscript ‘L’Origine‘ (seven years in the making) based on Gustave Courbet’s erotic 19th century painting L’Origine du monde. (In case you missed it, read about it in my article published by the Huffington Post.)

Before signing off, here are two works at the BMA from two of my favorite women artists.

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Alice Neel (1900-1984) Nancy and the Twins

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Anne Truitt (1921-2004) ‘First’

Read the inspiration for the above work in Truitt’s own words:

What did I know, I asked myself. What did I love? What was it that meant the very most to me inside my very own self? The fields and trees and fences and boards and lattices of my childhood…rushed across my inner eyes as if borne by a great, strong wind…’