Dances With Brush: An Article by Abena Songbird About the Artist Dede Farrar

Back in September a college student, Abena Songbird, from Black Hills State University located in Spearfish, South Dakota emailed me and asked to interview me to complete a project for her journalism class. I will share her article with you to sum up what the past year has been all about. I must say it was fun to share my thoughts with Abena and receive an article written in someone else’s viewpoint.

SPEARFISH–The distinct vocal gymnastics of Ella Fitzgerald mixed with the silken jazz piano of Duke Ellington waft from a home studio on the edge of the Black Hills. Dabs of thick acrylic paint stain a well-worn easel splattered with a riot of color–vivid crimson, burnt umber, blues, yellows, greens and earth tones. The brush strokes are frequent and pronounced. The artist renders a wing here, a tail there.

Farrar comes from a long line of family artists. Her paternal side is from the Rapid City, South Dakota area. She describes her family members as working artists dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Her paternal great grandmother, Ursula Cleaver was a professionally trained illustrator and single mother living on a mountain near Piedmont, South Dakota as she corresponded about commissions (1910-1920) for W.H. Over who founded a natural history museum at the University of South Dakota-Vermillion to be displayed in the museum. Farrar’s paternal grandfather Fred W. Farrar’s collection of distinct historical photographs of early 20th century Rapid City life are housed at the Center for Western Studies at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Farrar’s grandmother, father, aunt and uncle also created paintings and ceramics. Artworks surrounded her during her childhood. “I so admired them,” she noted. “They were true, creative, eccentric, artistic souls. I wanted to be just like them.”

After graduating in 1987 with a B.S. in Education with an Art Field Endorsement, Farrar went on to earn a Master of Arts in Education in developmental counseling in 1992. Her dedication to education and art lead her to the University of South Dakota Vermillion to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting and printmaking in 1999. Finally, she added a Community Based Counseling endorsement onto her Master of Arts in Education in 2003.

Ironically, it was during her graduate art studies that she started losing her artistic direction. She said it was a place and time where students were pushed to do abstract art that leaned toward a more academic intellectualism that she found not closely aligned within her own heart. “It was not how I saw art for myself or the audience I wanted to reach,” she said. She began questioning what art meant to her. After about 2002 she created very little new art as she battled within her own psyche deciding what to do with her creative self. Her father told her, “You’re such a good artist. When are you going to make art people will like?”

Resurrection of a Talent Farrar felt she needed a clear focus-a brand. For her, she decided this was animal subject matter. “I had an ephiphany,” she said. “Animals are beautiful, they have always surrounded me growing up.” And that’s how her creative forces came back to life in the fall of 2013. For Farrar the love of animals comes with a great appreciation of nature leading to the inclusion of landscape elements in her work. Farrar names Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Klimt, and Mucha as some of her greatest influences. She has always loved the early Impressionists artists and the time period in art from about 1880 to 1917. “Its that dance of the brush strokes. And I also love decorative elements in art.”

Though humble, Farrar has earned some sizeable honors in the past year including being nominated for the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Contemporary Painting, winning Best of Show in the Matthew Opera House and Art Center’s annual show, a second prize in an urban plein air competition sponsored by the Dahl Arts Center, and having one of her paintings travel with the state’s top artists in the exhibit titled South Dakota Governor’s Sixth Biennial Art Exhibition. Her goals include continuing her fervent art production pace and “cracking the gallery scene.” And she is committed to entering as many shows as she can. Her work can be viewed from the website http://www.farrarartworks.com and on Facebook on her business page Art Works by Dede Farrar.

Prologue by Dede Farrar: Thank you Abena for the nice article. What will 2015 bring? Lots more success I hope. Because I have found, that by committing myself to my art, great rewards do come. Stay tuned everyone!

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Letter to Harry Thompson

Dear Harry Thompson,

Boy did you ever blow a big beautiful bubble of light into my world today. I have never met you. I have no idea where you live or how you became aware of my art works.

Yet you nominated me for the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Contemporary Painting, a national painting prize that recognizes exceptional artists in the United States. That’s what the e-mail said that came from Utah Contemporary Museum of Art.

Created April 2014 including symbols telling the story of why this artist creates and how she feels about it. Done telling people what it is though. That's the beauty of art. Everyone gets to decide their own meaning.

Created April 2014 including symbols telling the story of why this artist creates and how she feels about it. Done telling people what it is though. That’s the beauty of art. Everyone gets to decide their own meaning.

I had to put my glasses on and look harder. “Is this for real?” I asked myself. Maybe it’s a phishing scheme. I looked up Utah MOCA. I looked up the people who sent the e-mail. Yep, they’re there. I replied to the e-mail asking them to verify this nomination. They replied immediately writing that yes, Harry Thompson had nominated me for the award and I needed to send in images of my work, curriculum vitae, reviews, news clips about my work. You bet I’m going to do it. Except for the last part. You see, I live in an area where there are few if any, bonafide art galleries are willing to let me in. And a local artist association that I thought of joining a few months ago wrote me that I was not professional enough to enter their ranks.

Vance the cat is painted inspired by his owner's love of succulent plants and the artist's affection for Art Nouveau style.

Vance the cat is painted inspired by his owner’s love of succulent plants and the artist’s affection for Art Nouveau style.

I’ve lived in an art desert and prisoner of my own psychological making for several years. South Dakota, state of very little average income per person doesn’t lend itself well to showing work of contemporary or emerging artists, or any artists for that matter. Neither does northwest Nebraska where I lived prior to Hermosa, SD. We have some places that show original art, and those places are usually stores catering to tourists and have very particular and mostly traditional views of art that they are willing to show and sell.

So this letter, as a heartfelt essay on why I create and what I’m creating will have to do for a while. Is it a long shot that I will win this award? Hell yes it is. But to know that some art lover out there somewhere saw my creations and felt I was worthy, to me that is winning in itself.

So at age 50, as some of you know who have been following this page, blog, works, from the beginning know, I took stock of my life and decided that I had to get back to myself. And I AM AN ARTIST. I chose my focus. When I looked back at years of my art works I saw it was there all along. All I had to do was become super aware of it myself.

F Ewe by Dede Farrar created January, 2014. Clearly visible brushstrokes, bright coloring, based on photograph and impression of the moment makes this painting an example of a modern Impressionism. The bighorn sheep wears a tracking collar. Real life moment is shown and the image is not glamorized yet interpreted with the feelings of the artist, another hallmark of Impressionism without overdone sentimentalism and nostalgia.

F Ewe by Dede Farrar created January, 2014. Clearly visible brushstrokes, bright coloring, based on photograph and impression of the moment makes this painting an example of a modern Impressionism. The bighorn sheep wears a tracking collar. Real life moment is shown and the image is not glamorized yet interpreted with the feelings of the artist, another hallmark of Impressionism without overdone sentimentalism and nostalgia.

I’ve been earning a living as a mental health counselor. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t urge people to be true to themselves. Then I finally saw that I must put my money where my mouth was. And there was no looking back. Across the road, the roping nights and rodeos go on. The karaoke in the Trails West Saloon continue, and one artist chasing her dream and destiny paints in her spare bedroom of her mobile home. Queen of the Walnut Grove Trailer Park.

Sincerely and With the Greatest Respect and Gratitude,

Dede Farrar, M.F.A.

Brush Strokes of Genius: Looking Back Again

Brush strokes. The absolute poetry of painting. Why not show the poetry in motion? That’s what I love so much about Impressionism. It’s a movement born of deft quickness. Painting so fast there’s no time to smooth out the strokes. Ah the beauty. Depending on the shape of the brush, the stroke can look rectangular, or maybe more of a line, or a blob. But it’s a stroke in time. It’s the recording of the action the artist took in that very moment, a recording of an artist’s brain. I love it.

 

If you’ve been following me you already know that I have a thing for the Impressionists. Those rebels refusing to take “no” from the French Academy and setting up their own way of doing things. The French Academy (started about 1648 and lasting into the early 1900s) was a group of well trained, excellent artists of their day, but they had their own traditions and ways of doing things and they didn’t want to accept the new ways. In came the Impressionists. The Impressionists, the new artists tired of getting kicked out of the Academy shows called Salons, didn’t even know yet that they would be branded one day as Impressionists. They were just tired of the French Academy telling them no, you’re not good enough to join our club. Get outta here. Every artist experiences the “no’s.” It’s so hard. But what’s an artist to do?

 

Using loose brush strokes is a hallmark of Impressionism (1870-1910). A loose brush stroke shows a painter in action, a fast painter. A loose brush stroke, not overly worked makes a softer edge and is able to show the play of light and color to a greater degree. A loose brush stroke can show the buildup of texture. Say you have a glob of paint on your brush and you lay it down on the canvas and leave it there untouched. Beauty. A glob of color waiting to catch the light. Light that brings color to life. A blob can catch a ray of light much more than an absolutely flat surface of smoothed out paint.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) self portrait. A perfect example of brush strokes at their finest. All color and vibrancy with no smoothing yet the image comes through loud and clear. I like loud, clear, color. Van Gogh's got it all.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) self portrait. A perfect example of brush strokes at their finest. All color and vibrancy with no smoothing yet the image comes through loud and clear. I like loud, clear, color. Van Gogh’s got it all.

 

I’ve chosen a Van Gogh painting to show you the utter delight of the brush stroke. He’s technically called a Post-Impressionist but still hangs into the very end of the Impressionistic art history movement. Look at the way he shows the subject, brutally. No smoothing out. Every touch of the brush is evident. Ah painting.

Impression Cougar by Dede Farrar created April 2014. The foliage is painted with brush strokes in complimentary colors. No leaves are actually depicted, only the impression of leaves using the stroke of a brush, fully loaded with color with no smoothing of the edges. The passion and poetic language of painting.

Impression Cougar by Dede Farrar created April 2014. The foliage is painted with brush strokes in complimentary colors. No leaves are actually depicted, only the impression of leaves using the stroke of a brush, fully loaded with color with no smoothing of the edges. The passion and poetic language of painting.

 

I do not dare to compare myself to Van Gogh other than I love the brush stroke. I do not aim to smooth out every detail. The essence of color and movement of the brush is key in my art work. The Impressionist artists are one of the influences that matter in my creative endeavors. I believe that if you don’t have at least a decent grasp of history and where you’re coming from your work will probably lack in some profound way. Take a look back folks, and let it help guide you into the future.

Monet Plants Seeds for Impressionism to Flourish into the Future

I bill myself as Dede Farrar, Impressionist Painter of Animals. It’s got me thinking. Is that accurate? My latest work, as yet untitled, has me thinking, yes. And I look back into the works I’ve created in the past few months and I say yes, again. Why? Because of the use of color, expressive, choppy brush strokes, and the use of the photograph.

 

Impressionism. A style of art loved by many of people of today, NOW. But what did they say back THEN? Claude Monet is credited with really starting the label Impressionism. And it wasn’t him that made that label. It was a journalist dissing his work. Guess we’ve got the last laugh, ey?

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet created 1872 is the first painting to have the label Impressionism stuck onto to it, a dismissive, negatively critical comment by a journalist of the time.

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet created 1872 is the first painting to have the label Impressionism stuck onto to it, a dismissive, negatively critical comment by a journalist of the time.

 

Impressionists of the mid 19th Century made a new way of painting using choppy brushstrokes that people could see. It was “fast” painting. Impressionism had to do with light and color. Light is fleeting. If you watch the moon or sun rise you see how fast the light changes. You had to be fast to capture that. Or maybe there was another way. Maybe there was a photo to look at.

 

Back in the late 1860s and early 1870s photography was becoming a new technology more people had access to. Very baaaad news for artists. You see, artists, up to that time period, had earned their living rendering a realistic likeness on what they saw, and what the patron who was paying for it wanted. Who could afford a portrait? Or a girlie girl painting to hang on their private castle bedroom wall? Not people like you and me, regular folk. Rich, nobles and wealthy tradesmen. Yes, I said men.

 

When the camera came along, the lens captured a real likeness. It wasn’t always a pretty likeness. It was what the camera lens saw and nothing more. Real life. That’s what artists had been for—to capture that likeness. Well, not really, because artists are creative and they could make people better looking and more glamorous than in real life. But it took a lot of sittings.

 

The invention of photography could capture a moment. A moment in action. A moment captured forever. Then the artist could take that image and do whatever he pleased with it. Yes I said “he.” There were a few wonderful female Impressionists, like Mary Cassatt, for example. Back to the subject at hand. Stay focused, Farrar.

F Ewe by Dede Farrar created January, 2014. Clearly visible brushstrokes, bright coloring, based on photograph and impression of the moment makes this painting an example of a modern Impressionism. The bighorn sheep wears a tracking collar. Real life moment is shown and the image is not glamorized yet interpreted with the feelings of the artist, another hallmark of Impressionism.

F Ewe by Dede Farrar created January, 2014. Clearly visible brushstrokes, bright coloring, based on photograph and impression of the moment makes this painting an example of a modern Impressionism. The bighorn sheep wears a tracking collar. Real life moment is shown and the image is not glamorized yet interpreted with the feelings of the artist, another hallmark of Impressionism.

 

Some artists just love breaking rules. In the mid 19th century art academies taught “real” artists what was expected of them. But when the camera broke out into wide knowledge, some artists wanted to paint what was actually happening—a snapshot in time, plus they were sick of being kicked out of Academy shows. Japanese printmaking also had a big impact on the Impressionists as the Eastern way of composition was totally different than the European thought about composition. Japanese prints were used as packing materials in many ships bringing spices, tea, other tradable goods from the far East to Europe in the mid 19th century. Eastern composition was “weird,” more like a camera might capture. Major subjects cut off at the borders of the image, diagonal views, skewed perspectives. New idea! To Europeans anyway.

 

Some of the artists in France, including Monet, got sick of being excluded from French Academy shows and therefore, having no way to show anyone their paintings. They started their own art group and started having their own shows. Claude Monets’s Impression Sunrise was the first painting stuck with label Impressionism. We have him to thank for that. Thank you, you rebel Monet.

 

The Egg Sunny Side Up and Hard Boiled

The egg. If we eat the egg the energy contained inside the egg is transferred into our body. If we crack open the egg and let the contents drain out, the energy in the egg is transferred into the soil—or the landfill, its potential wasted, or maybe fertilizing the soil. If the egg is incubated, the energy contained inside grows into another being. No wonder the egg is seen as mystical.

 

In the Christian tradition the egg is seen as a metaphor for resurrection, the act of rising from the dead or returning to life. Resurrection also means the act of bringing back to practice, notice, use or revival.

 

In my most recent painting titled, “Allegory of the Artist,” I used symbols of Easter to tell my story of resurrecting my practice of art. I started this work in March with the promise of spring approaching. It’s been a long, cold winter in South Dakota and the thoughts of a warm spring time with Easter approaching were on my mind. I’m a Christian who doesn’t attend church but believes in the principles of Christianity. I believe in talents as being God given. After giving up practicing art for almost a decade, resurrection of a talent with a lot of hope added is on my mind constantly.

Allegory of the Artist by Dede Farrar, March of 2014. The egg is a hopeful symbol and a point of focus for positive light.

Allegory of the Artist by Dede Farrar, March of 2014. The egg is a hopeful symbol and a point of focus for positive light.

 

 

In “Allegory of the Artist” the fingers in the sky hold an egg, the promise of life, of returning spring, hope for the future. Energy, rays of light intersect on the highlight of the egg.  Light, sun, hope, positivity spread forth from the choppy spring sky with the cross nestled into the clouds. Rays of light shoot from the eyes of the American Jack Rabbit and the Rhode Island Red rooster. Rabbit and chicken are both common in the commercialized presentation of the Easter holiday but with their roots in far deeper meaning beginning with pagan symbols of fertility, and Christian symbols of vigilance against evil and ability to flee from evil. Rabbits also stand for fertility—lots of life to come.

 

The other painting I feature here is titled “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man” created by Salvador Dali in 1943 as he visited the United States. Of course, 1943 was the height of the struggle of World War II. I admire Dali for his great skill as painter. He is a man, and therefore this painting looks very masculine in my opinion. Dali is known as being a Surrealist painter. Surrealism is an artist’s presentation of realistic images in a way that could not possibly happen in real life and often looks dreamlike or totally irrational. Surrealism didn’t come about until the 20th Century, probably as a reaction to more study of mind and thought processes, like psychotherapy and psychology really coming into their own as a recognized discipline in the earlier parts of the 20th century.

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man by Salvador Dali, 1943. An ominous egg picture with symbolism depicting thoughts about World War II.

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man by Salvador Dali, 1943. An ominous egg picture with symbolism depicting thoughts about World War II.

 

In “Geopoliticus Child…” Dali uses the egg to show North America emerging as the preeminent world power during the struggle of World War II with England in its grip. Blood flows from inside of the egg onto the ground showing loss of life that North Americans sacrificed to the world war effort. Really in 1943 no one knew what the outcome of the war would be, so the grip of the figure’s hand over England could be seen as potential rescue or perhaps devastating. Now we know that North America, and the United States in particular, was crucial in assisting England and Europe to save itself from the despotism of Hitler and the Nazis. The color scheme in this painting is not as bright and does not bring forth thoughts of happiness. To me, it is a rather ominous work, as many of Dali’s paintings are. To me Dali is full of rather nightmarish images, but to each his own, just as many people love watching horror flicks.

 

So here we have two presentations of the egg. One as very hopeful and with more of a Christian spiritual slant, the other egg as containing a struggle that no one at the time knew how it would end up being resolved. I wonder how this artist’s struggle will be resolved?

A Few Words About the Symbolism Art Movement 1886-1916

The Sphinx by Fernand Khnopff, 1896. The solitary artist with his muse imagination depicted as a female Sphinx. She caresses him. He looks troubled and melancholy. Beauty has not died. But modernity is creeping into art.

The Sphinx by Fernand Khnopff, 1896. The solitary artist with his muse imagination depicted as a female Sphinx. She caresses him. He looks troubled and melancholy. Beauty has not died. But modernity is creeping into art.

Symbolism is not a well-known movement in art history but one worth mentioning. I was thinking about it due to my current work in progress tentatively titled Passion for Life. My painting contains symbols, images full of deeper meaning. I have a book titled Symbolism by Michael Gibson that I browsed through again this morning. I was reminded that that actual Symbolist movement was rather melancholy, not what I’m depicting in my current painting. Symbolist paintings are full of images of women as evil temptresses, some supernatural imagery, and ideas about death and sexuality. Not a lot of happy stuff.

Symbolism, a state of mind, appeared toward the end of the 19th century as a reaction to increasing industrialism combined with a predominantly Catholic population. Modernism was creeping into art but ideals of beauty and realism still predominated. By the time the First World War began in 1917 many intellectuals and artists believed the ideal of beauty was dead.

War by Arnold Bocklin, 1896. A supernatural image inspired by biblical text. Death and destruction. Not uncommon in the history of Europe. Again, supernatural imagery is a hallmark of the Symbolist art movement 1886-1916.

War by Arnold Bocklin, 1896. A supernatural image inspired by biblical text. Death and destruction. Not uncommon in the history of Europe. Again, supernatural imagery is a hallmark of the Symbolist art movement 1886-1916.

Symbols communicate feelings. In Fernand Khnopff’s painting known by three different names: Art, or The Sphinx, or the The Caresses, created in 1896, the artist shows the idea of a solitary artist combined with his imagination depicted as the Sphinx. In Arnold Bocklin’s painting War, created in 1896, the image is inspired by St. John’s vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Both paintings create an image of supernaturalism.

In my painting I am going for a feeling of something supernatural occurring. I’m not finished yet so I don’t know how it’s going to look really. But I wanted to convey a feeling of God, man, animal and world connected in relationship somehow, even magically, or metaphysically. Rabbit and rooster are symbolic for religious ideas, not just as creatures. Roosters stand for vigilance against evil. Rabbits stand for fertility, spring, rebirth. The hand in the sky holding the egg—that a great maker, God, a higher power, has created us to be stewards of the Earth and the animal kingdom.

This work in progress by Dede Farrar is tentatively titled Passion for Life. Metaphysical happenings and symbolic meaning of egg, human hand, rabbit and rooster can be interpreted as God's hand in creation, life, hope, and rebirth. Or maybe its just a pretty picture.

This work in progress by Dede Farrar is tentatively titled Passion for Life. Metaphysical happenings and symbolic meaning of egg, human hand, rabbit and rooster can be interpreted as God’s hand in creation, life, hope, and rebirth. Or maybe its just a pretty picture.

Really, every piece of art can be thought of as a symbol. When a human makes a piece of art, the art is a symbol of his thought process. The end work of art conveys thoughts originating in the brain and then flowing out through the eyes and hands—or whatever body part—to create the symbol—conveying more meaning than just simply an artifact or image.

Rabbits Split Hares Both Positive and Negative

Rabbits have been symbolically hopping around with humans for thousands of years. In the past two thousand years of Christian art, rabbits have flip flopped as both negative and positive symbols. Today we see the rabbit as more positive. During medieval times, the rabbit was associated with witchcraft and shape shifting. Rabbits were seen as symbols of wanton, unbridled sexuality which used to be considered a no no. Rabbits do very weird things under the moonlight during their spring mating rituals and humans want to explain everything, so what else but the devil could have been involved during the Dark Ages? Demonic rabbit gargoyles carrying off virtuous maidens exist on some Christian cathedrals prior to 1500.

Demon Rabbit of Chartres Cathedral created c. 1200 (Dark Ages). This sculpture is part of one of the most famous Christian churches still in existence today located in France. The demon rabbit reminds people to be fearful and to follow Gods teachings, or else!

Demon Rabbit of Chartres Cathedral created c. 1200 (Dark Ages). This sculpture is part of one of the most famous Christian churches still in existence today located in France. The demon rabbit reminds people to be fearful and to follow Gods teachings, or else!

Strangely, or maybe predictably, the rabbit then became more positive during the Renaissance (1500s and onward) as the rabbit was viewed as a symbol of virtue and rebirth. How? It was believed that the female rabbit could conceive and give birth without contact with a male rabbit. I guess someone wasn’t paying very close attention! White rabbits as symbols of virginal birth of Christ appeared in paintings. Even the name Renaissance means “rebirth.” The Renaissance brought a more positive world view as the Dark Ages waned into history.

Today we think of rabbits as the Easter bunny. Today’s Easter bunny evolved from the pagan, medieval, and Christian ideas of the past. Nothing we do today appears out of a vacuum. It is all descended of past ideas. Past ideas get blended with current ideas. Rabbits today still have connotations of sexuality and good luck. But now it seems rabbits are more loved for the superficial facts that they are cute, furry, and playful. Don’t let that stop you from looking deeper into the meaning of the hare.

Madonna with Rabbit created by Titian c. 1530. Here the rabbit is a symbol of purity, and virgin birth. The time of the Renaissance was a positive rebirth for the Western world, a time of new knowledge and discovery. A rabbit as a symbol of immaculate conception was stretching it though!

Madonna with Rabbit created by Titian c. 1530. Here the rabbit is a symbol of purity, and virgin birth. The time of the Renaissance was a positive rebirth for the Western world, a time of new knowledge and discovery. A rabbit as a symbol of immaculate conception was stretching it though!

Roosters Have Symbolic Meaning in Art History

 

Roman mosaic of rooster created around 200-400 A.D.

Roman mosaic of rooster created around 200-400 A.D.

Roosters have a place in art history. We don’t think too much about the cocky bird being something to crow about when it comes to a historical perspective in art but the fact remains that roosters actually have a great deal of symbolic meaning. Mostly I’m going to write about roosters and what they mean in the Christian history of art. I’ve chosen three pieces in art history just to show that artists have been depicting the showy and noisy bird for a couple of thousand years—at least.

Roosters announce danger. We can look out for things that might get in the way of a virtuous life. “In Christian symbolism, the rooster is a familiar Passion symbol. Prior to being arrested by the soldiers, Jesus correctly predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed on the following morning. At the rooster’s crowing, Peter remembered Jesus’ words and went out and wept bitterly. The rooster represents Peter’s denial of Christ and also stands for his remorse and repentance upon hearing the rooster’s crow. Because Peter later became the leader of the early Church, the rooster represents papal vigilance.” (http://ww2.netnitco.net/users/legend01/rooster.htm)

The oldest image I’ve chosen to show you (above left) is a Roman mosaic of a rooster dating back to 200-400 A.D. This was dangerous time for Christians, a time of persecution and hiding. And, of course, the printing press hadn’t been invented yet so visual symbols were important to convey meaning.

In the next painting (middle right) by Melchior de Hondecoater created sometime in the 1600s, the art is complicated and dramatic, a hallmark element of the Baroque style. Baroque art dates from about 1590-1725 and features intense emotions, sensationalism and is closely tied to the Catholic church glorifying the church and its power at that time. The painting I’ve chosen features a dramatic use of roosters full of energy and action. Its symbolic meaning was more clearly evident at that time than it is for us today. But you can rest assured that the use of roosters does have religious meaning, warning viewers to be vigilant against sin.

Religious symbolism was common in Baroque painting of the 1600s.  By Melchior de Hondecoater, 1600s. Dramatic and full of action.

Religious symbolism was common in Baroque painting of the 1600s. By Melchior de Hondecoater, 1600s. Dramatic and full of action.

Finally, how could I resist showing off another Theophile Steinlen image of the Art Nouveau era, my favorite (bottom left). Here the rooster announces an art show and seems to have lost its religious significance, just as the Catholic church lost much of it dominating power by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here the rooster looks to be more of announcer, his colors and shape more important that the symbolism of previous eras in history. Many prominent artists of the day are written on the bill including Steinlen, and Alphonse Mucha, who I will be showing more of in the future.

Poster by Theophile Steinlen of Art Nouveau era (1890-1915) advertising an art show.

Poster by Theophile Steinlen of Art Nouveau era (1890-1915) advertising an art show.

 

 

Roosters crow. They announce the sunrise. The sunrise brings the promise of a clean fresh day, a day full promise. We can choose to do good things with the dawning of a new day. And be vigilant against the force of evil. Now days we see roosters more for their visual appeal, the colors, the strength and vitality of roosters. The fact remains that there is more to roosters in art than immediately meets the eye.

Numbers as Ideas & Decoration in Art

 

I Saw the Figure 5 in in Gold

By Charles Demuth c. 1929

Luckily, there are as many tastes in art as there are individuals. Some people enjoy more abstract ideas and symbols in their art and others like straight forward images with no extra fuss.

The image on the left is titled “I Saw the Figure Five in Gold.” The artist Charles Demuth created this painting between 1924 and 1929 in a style called Cubist Realism. What I like about this piece is the shape of the five and the color. I’ve got to admit that any time I’m painting a fairly large number I think of this work of art so it is, indeed, an influence on my own art.

According to historians Demuth was honoring his friend William Carlos Williams, a poet writing during the same time Demuth was creating art. “I Saw the Figure Five . . .” is an illustration of ideas contained in Williams’ poem “The Great Figure” describing the experience of seeing a red fire engine with the number five painted on it racing through the streets of New York City on the way to a fire. Abstract art is an illustration of ideas more than actually straightforward images of a subject. The five symbolizes the fire engine instead of Demuth having painted an actual red fire engine with a five on the front.

I like numbers in art because a number is a picture symbol. More than a single alphabet letter, a single number actually does stand for a particular idea, the amount of something or the count of something. For instance the letter “h” doesn’t really stand for anything other than the letter itself or the sound of the letter. “H” has to be added to several other letters before a meaning tends to emerge. The symbol “5” on the other hand could be five of something, a number title for something, or number five in an order of things.

In my recent painting shown below titled “Counting on . . .” I used numbers to symbolize thoughts and as a decorative textural layer. People tend to count money, time and possessions. Sometimes counting is done just to pass time in solitude.

Counting on...

Numbers are used as meaningful symbols and as decoration in this mixed media collage/painting created by Dede Farrar, February 2014.

On the top of the painting the numbers go in sequence. In the bottom of the painting, the numbers are piled on top of each other. Are the piled numbers the result of a jumble of ideas or purely the decorative use of the shapes creating another textural layer? People often ask me, “What are those numbers for?” I don’t want to give them an answer. I would like viewers to assign their own meanings to the numbers. I like to try to insert a few unexpected ideas or images in my art works because I would like to viewers to be able to look and think and continue to come back to whatever piece to look and think and discover more.

Advertising and Fine Art

To this day, a debate continues whether illustration is actually art. If you’ve followed me on Art Works by Dede Farrar on Facebook you probably already know what side I am on. Go illustration!

I’m a huge fan of Art Nouveau which features many advertising posters. The heyday of Art Nouveau ran around 1890 to about 1915. During this time, art was making a change from highly detailed works to more simplification leading to abstraction.

Clinique Cheron by Theophile Steinlen created 1894.

Clinique Cheron by Theophile Steinlen created 1894.

The work on the left by artist Theophile Steinlen created 1894 advertises pet medicine. By 1894 pets are becoming more important to a growing middle class who can afford to feed and care for them. Still, in the 1890s, food was hard to come by for many regular people and so pet ownership was beyond the reach of people who struggled financially. Thankfully, most of us who love animals can afford to live with a few now days. Dog, cats, and fishes are part of my household.

Elements of Art Nouveau I really enjoy are the colors and the design. The figures in the posters are simplified. Framing devices are used like blocks of colors around the edges. Lettering is featured advertising a product or event. Images are clearly recognizable and most people consider them beautiful and pleasing to the eye.

To show how Art Nouveau influences my own work I’ve included my latest painting which is a

This painting will be entered in the Prairie Berry Winery Pumpkin Bog wine label contest. Created by Dede Farrar, M.F.A. February, 2014.

This painting will be entered in the Prairie Berry Winery Pumpkin Bog wine label contest. Created by Dede Farrar, M.F.A. February, 2014.

design for the Prairie Berry Winery Pumpkin Bog wine label contest. Bright colors, framing device of the dark blue around the edges, outlining shapes in fine black line, images of animal and plant recognizable but not overly detailed can be compared with Art Nouveau design. The rules of the contest prohibited me from adding lettering, but my next project will incorporate lettering.

So, I’m documenting current events happening in my own environment. One hundred years from now, if my paintings survive, they will tell a story of the local area. I like that idea. So I think advertising can be art. Today, most advertising art comes from photography and computer generated images, but there is still room for artists like me to contribute.