Americans get a little bit nostalgic this time of year, clinging to traditions from their own childhoods and creating new traditions to carve out some sense of ritual in an ever modern world.  We look to the illustrations of Norman Rockwell, with their sweet coating of cane sugar and gender roles served on sterling silver plates, and mourn for the loss of our collective innocence.  What we don’t realize as we’re looking at these savory slices of Americana is that many of them were based upon photograph that sometimes tell a very different story than the resulting painting.  In one photograph, a man and woman sit in a marriage counselor’s office; the woman sits next to her angry husband with the expression and posture of a woman begging forgiveness.  In the illustration, the man has a black eye and the woman wears a teasing, sly, proud expression.  The photograph, though devoid of any evidence of domestic violence, is nonetheless chilling in its implication of male power.  In another series of photographs, three little girls are shot from the same angle wearing the same dress.  He used the reference image to create one of his most well-known works:  The Problem We all Live With.  The photographs behind the paintings, nearly 20,000 in all, are often works of art in their own right, and do much to inform the illustrations, adding depth and historical context.  Ron Schick has collected a selection of the photographs and their resulting illustrations in a book called Norman Rockwell:  Behind the Camera, available for purchase here.

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Photograph taken in 1963

Marriage Counselor by Norman Rockwell, 1963

Marriage Counselor by Norman Rockwell, 1963

Photograph taken in 1964

Photograph taken in 1964

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The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell, 1964

Photograph taken in 1948

Photograph taken in 1948

Breakfast Table Political Argument by Norman Rockwell, 1948

Breakfast Table Political Argument by Norman Rockwell, 1948

-Jayme Catalano

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Dennis Wojtkiewicz defies the destructive nature of time passing in his large scale, photo realistic paintings of fruit and flowers.  Using a technique perfected by Vermeer and other Northern European masters, he captures and enhances the transitory nature of his subject matter.  “Each painting is constructed by beginning with a monochrome under painting in the complement of the featured subject.  Subsequent layers of semi-opague through to transparent colors follow with up to ten passes before the end result is achieved.”  In explaining the meditative qualities of the work, Wotjkiewicz says, “There are a number of elements in the visual undertow which function as a metaphor or representation of themes such as spirituality, relationships (or lack thereof), reproduction and, generally speaking, the transitory nature of most stuff.  When I go into the studio, it is with the intent of imbuing the paintings with a living spirit and to realize something that will connect with the viewer on a sensual if not metaphysical plane.”  His work is currently on exhibit at the Castle Gallery.

Dennis J. Wojtkiewicz

Dennis J. Wojtkiewicz

Dennis J. Wojtkiewicz

Dennis J. Wojtkiewicz

Dennis J. Wojtkiewicz

Dennis J. Wojtkiewicz

Dennis J. Wojtkiewicz

-Jayme Catalano

Memorial photography and Victorian post-mortem photography are popular subjects among bloggers, especially around this time of year.  It seems we can’t get enough of this seemingly morbid and alien cultural practice.  If you’ve been living under a rock or would like more information, click here.

German artist Walters Schels and writer Beate Lakotta have resurrected the practice of post-mortem photography with their project “Noch Mal Leben” (Life Before Death:  Portraits of the Dying).  A collection of portraits taken while the terminally ill subject was alive and again after death, the images and text explore the experiences, hopes and fears one encounters at the end of a life.  As one subject says, “I’m going to die!  That’s all I think about, every second when I’m on my own.”   Another subject says, “I’m surprised that I have come to terms with it fairly easily.  Now I’m lying here waiting to die.  But each day that I have I savour, experiencing life to the full.  I never paid any attention to clouds before.  Now I see everything from a totally different perspective:  every cloud outside my window, every flower in the vase.  Suddenly everything matters.”  To see the complete collection and read the interviews, visit the exhibition website here.

Heiner Schmitz, 2003 by Walters Schels

Edelgard Clavey, 2003 by Walters Schels

Wolfgang Kotzahn, 2004 by Walters Schels

-Jayme Catalano

Renowned photographer Frank Espada spent the first 50 years of his career documenting the issues concerning minorities, culminating in The Puerto Rican Diaspora:  Themes in the Survival of a People, a book which has won numerous awards, and is represented in the Library of Congress along with 83 vintage prints.  Now in the sunset of his own life, Espada has turned his lense toward the sunset views over the Pacific Ocean, photographing the same patch of sky every day for a year.  “Pacific Skies” is an examination of the dynamic between the sun and the atmosphere as well as photographic composition and aesthetics related particularly to color, light, perspective, and form.  To view more from the collection, please click here.

Frank Espada

Frank Espada

Frank Espada

-Jayme Catalano

Photographer Martin Wilson, upon receiving his first camera at age 8, was given sage and ultimately prophetic advice by his father, “make every picture count.”  Wilson has been following his advice ever since.  His work is created frame by frame on 35mm film, a painstaking process whereby every frame from the roll is on display and every image has been shot in sequence.  The film is developed, scanned, and then pieced together digitally to make a large contact sheet.  Ultimately the contact sheet becomes the final piece of artwork.  He does not post process the film or digitally manipulate the images beyond arranging them side by side.  He calls the works “records of real journeys, the visual remnants of hours walking or cycling round town, bringing to life unheard of voices of the city.”  Martin Wilson is currently on exhibit at the London Tap Gallery in Altrincham, Cheshire.

My Burden is Light by Martin Wilson

Modern Art by Martin Wilson

Red Letter Days by Martin Wilson

Message from the Bears by Martin Wilson

Look Both Ways by Martin Wilson

For more information about purchasing the work, visit the artist’s website.

-Jayme Catalano

Susan Mikula uses expired and aged Polaroid film found at rummage sales to capture images of decimated Americana, ghostly figures, and haunting landscapes.  Like the badly outdated film itself, the images tell a story of the American Dream gone sour.  As her website describes, “Mikula has captured a fading aspect of a bygone era with fading film and an obsolete technology.”  Whether derelict and deserted industrial buildings, docks, or houses, the images all evoke the same feeling of barely remembered, semi-coherent dreams and memories. Mikula’s work is showing in Secretly Seeking at the Curatorium in Hudson, New York.

Susan Mikula

Susan Mikula, desidero 01

Susan Mikula, american vale

Susan Mikula, desidero 44

-Jayme Catalano

I was so honored to be a guest on the What is Art? Blog Talk Radio show recently.  Our topics of conversation included public relations for artists in the digital age, the rise of social media and visual marketing, branding, and advice on raising your profile among galleries, buyers, and the press.  Take half an hour to listen.

-Jayme Catalano