Monday, June 22, 2009

The last of the John Carlsons

I have narrowed my search for a new laptop down to several choices and soon I will no longer be blogging on 19th century computers with wooden cases and rock crystal screens and run on steam. When I do get that new lap top up and happening I can get into some posts that I am holding off on doing.

As this is the end of the collection I am showing the oddballs tonight, This one looks more like Thieme or a Gruppe. I think it must be early. I like the color, but oddly, since it is a Carlson, I don't think much of the design. This painting would be better if there was something else to look at to the left of that big tree I think. Even a walrus would do. It seems a little short on subject matter. I also don't like the way that branch "kisses" the frame on the left.

Here is another in a restricted palette. I think this is a pretty good one. I really like the shadows that are spandexed onto the trees to break up their edges. It is surprising to me sometimes how much an artist can get away with. There are no branches on these trees at all. I have painted similar situations and had to leave them out myself, but not quite like this! A major horizontal branch would stop that nice upward flow the painting has. Notice also all of the shadows on the trees and almost none on the ground. There is a whole lot of invention going on here. Remember Carlson made these in the studio from sketches done outside.

This is only an average Carlson but there is an interesting thing about it. Notice all of the concave humps in the foreground. In his book Carlson talks about the convexity's of nature at length. Here he is doing it himself.

That stick in the foreground seems to have the purpose of stopping the eye from first perceiving the major trees and then sliding down the line of the foreground bank and out the bottom. I am guessing he got well into the painting and added that as a problem solver.

This one is very strange indeed.It must be from the Colorado period. I think some kind of animal lives in there. An unpleasant animal. It is a good example of his ability to design unique shapes, and from that standpoint it is instructional, but it is a novelty act.
Below is a real dark one I guess its a twilight painting. It has a mysterious quality.

There's an interesting story I ran into about Carlson. He taught at the Art Students Leagues' auxiliary school in Woodstock New York and then left to teach in Colorado for several years. He then returned . The Woodstock art colony was then dividing into the modernists and the traditionalists. Carlson was very much in the traditional camp. Two women teachers described in the text I have found, as lesbians ( which was probably controversial enough to bear noting then, and hardly worth an aside now) started an outdoor painting group called the blue dome fraternity. These womens' fraternity (?) was called the blue dome because they hung a blue gauze "dome" above the model that they were posing out doors . I suspect it may have been to soften the light and prevent the harshest shadow from cutting up the forms.

Evidently this outdoor figure class really caught on and Carlson was pushed by the directors of the school to teach a blue dome class too. He felt that his students hardly knew what they were doing with a landscape and that teaching them to do the figure in the fast changing natural light of the out doors was a ridiculous idea. Ultimately he resigned his teaching position over it.

As I have studied the history of various great teachers from Eakins to Paxton I have constantly found stories of their being fired from their teaching positions and replaced with others who are totally forgotten today, we have to scratch our heads and ask "what were they thinking" firing John Carlson from a position teaching landscape?

Only twice in my life have I seen a collection of large Carlson paintings. Both were about twenty years ago. Once was in a gallery that used to be downstairs from the old Grand Central Gallery in New York. It had, I think, antiques and other things also. The Carlsons were "skied" around the tops of the walls and were very large. I think some might have been from the book.
Another time my wife and I drove over to Woodstock New York and visited the Cox gallery there, that had the estate, I believe. They also had a handful of very large and very good examples. I have never seen one in a museum and I think they must all be out in private hands. That is really too bad, its the same with Hibbard, Mulhaupt, Pleisner, Waugh and others of that generation who will ultimately be in the museums. It effectively prevents any scholarship on these artists and prevents aspiring painters from learning from their art. The museums are deliberately ignoring this whole generation of painters because they are only interested in those artists from that period that they deem modern. The odd thing is that they all do. You would think there would be a breadth of opinion, and some museums would do this, and that others would do that. But they seem to march together in lockstep. How that level of conformity serves the art world that is supposed to be dynamic and creative is beyond me. Its a good thing I am only a guest in this world, because a lot of the time I cannot fathom what the hell is going on here.


Unknown said...

very interesting story on Carlson. I'm sad these will be the last of them. And speaking of last, the twilight painting is not in the post.

"lochrurb" I haven't had enough coffee to think of a definition for that one!

Bob Carter said...


That first one is such an oddball I wonder if it's really a Carlson. As you point out, the overall weak design is atypical. The kissing branch can be helped if you crop the left side, putting the little bush near the edge (still not good). But there's more about this that is un-Carlson. The anatomy of the big tree is all wrong, and that's one thing Carlson always got right (as the second picture shows). Those three branches on the left, making a fork, are very awkward looking, and the thickness at their base (the crotch with the other branch) is too thin. The "tine" of the fork on the right is too thick at the top. The line of tree trunks leading to the big tree seems to have rather heavily worked edges, and all the tree trunks are darker than Carlson usually made them. I smell a rat!

There's no doubt about the second one. I love how he's made that central tree the star of the show by having it be the lightest. All the others, even the slender one just behind it, are lower in key the more they approach the frame on either side. In case we missed it, the S-curving stream points to it. Now that's Carlson!
Thanks again for posting these. This has been a real treat.


Knitting Out Loud said...

Stape, I bet if you called the Currier Museum, or the Addison Gallery, they might have some of those guys in storage. Also, such an inquiry might stir them up a bit.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deb; I have posted another, twilight. There are so many images and they are not labeled in any way. I couldn't find the one I wanted before I had to go out the door, so here is another that is similar. I have left out about 6 or so that were either weak or not clear in the photography...Stape

Richard J. Luschek II said...

I thought you might be interested in this laptop. I think it is right up your alley.

Unknown said...

Perhaps the same types of people are funding most museums?

Bob Carter said...

I know what you mean about the museaums. But I just got the Hibbard book (Artist in Two Worlds) out of the library and noticed while thumbing through it that there was an acknowledgement to the MFA. I just searched their on-line catalogue and was surprised to see they have three Hibbards: "Sharon Hills, Vermont" (48.563), "The Sentinels (35.1232), and "Winter Days" (20.598). There were no posted images. No doubt these are deep in the basement, which only reenforces your point. I say we liberate 'em. :-)

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think it is a Carlson after some reflection. I think it is early when he was more like Gruppe, the more stylized stuff is I think the latest.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The Currier actually has, and hangs a Hibbard. They are the exception to my accusation,

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is exactly what I want.Can I get one with obsidian keys?
Everyone should go look at this

Stapleton Kearns said...


I think that is part of it. But I think the universities are training generations of curators who are partisan defenders of the status quo.................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

They do retrospectives for 35 year old college professors but will never do a Hibbard show. The may quietly sell those Hibbards as they obviously don't value them as art. Even though he is a Massachusetts artist.

willek said...

Read "The Painted Word" , Tom Wolfe, a couple of months ago. Just so great to see that view in print. It is really true what you say about how hard it is to see good American work. I have been looking at a ton of images and there are always American artists who did great work that I never heard of.

Lochrurb... Body of water in Scotland near a rurbarb patch.

Mine tonight is Truimpef. I am quite sure it is the precurser to the English sports car.