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    Drawing Notebook
by N. F. Karlins
 
     
 
Claude Lorrain
Landscape with Procession Crossing the Bridge
at the Morgan Library
 
Claude Lorrain
Landscape with Sheperd and Flock at the Edge of a Wood
 
Edgar Degas
Promenade beside the Sea
ca. 1860
at the Frick Collection
 
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Staircase in the Entrance to the Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli
ca. 1826
 
Frederic, Baron Leighton of Stretton
View in Capri
ca. 1859
 
Jean-Michel Cels
Sky Study with Birds
1842
 
Claus Anton Kølle
A Courtyard in Rome
ca. 1860s
 
Wolf Kahn
High Trees
1994
at Beadleston Gallery
 
Wolf Kahn
Storm over the Connecticut River
1994
 
Sam Gordon
Untitled
2000
at Feature, Inc.
 
Lorenzo de Los Angeles
Untitled (no. 134)
2000
 
Kali's Tongue
1999
 
Two Meditations on the Four Dimensions
1999
 
The Seven Rays of Sun on the Seed of Life
1990
 
Acharya Vyakul
Untitled
at Lawrence Markey
 
Claude Lorrain (1600-86) worked mainly in Rome, as did fellow French expat Nicolas Poussin. The two are the most acclaimed French landscape painters of the 17th century. This year is the 400th anniversary of Claude's birth, at least if Claude can be believed, although one biographer has put 1606 as the nascent year.

Whatever the correct date of birth, the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York has mounted a drawings show in his honor, titled "Claude and the Ideal Landscape." The roughly 30 drawings come largely from the Library's collection, and are accompanied by eight etchings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lorrain's nature studies are done principally with the brush and emphasize the massing of trees and hills. His neoclassical organization seems perfectly plausible, not merely perfect, as in the hands of lesser artists. An early work, Tiber Landscape (mid-1630s), shows the stricter, virtuoso Dutch School pen work that he quickly discarded in favor of more suggestive Arcadian vistas.

Claude, alas, had some trouble with human anatomy. As is noted in one of the Morgan's informative labels (there is no catalogue), an early biographer recorded the artist himself saying that he "sold you his landscapes but gave you his figures." Claude typically used small figures for scale to emphasize the grandeur of nature -- and no one can draw (or paint) billowing trees better. But if you peer at Alexander Refusing the Water, for example, you may think that there was more than one reason for those minuscule humans.

Over the years his figure drawing improves, as David and the Three Heroes proves; yet Claude is at his best in pastorals like Landscape with Shepherd and Flock at the Edge of a Wood.

And though Claude may not have been at ease with two-legged animals, he was with four-legged ones. A selection of animal drawings, especially of cattle, are just plain wonderful.

Through Oct. 29, at the Morgan Library, 29 East 36th St., New York, N.Y. 10016.

*    *    *
Are oil sketches drawings? I think so. They reveal an artist's first thoughts in an intimate manner. Landscape oil sketches, usually small open-air drawings that were used as studies for more finished works or as exercises, have become a collecting category only since the 1950s. That was the period when the late John Gere, keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum, and his wife Charlotte started amassing their collection.

On a very modest budget, the Geres gathered together a collection of more than 60 landscape sketches from across Europe, dating from the 17th through the 19th centuries. They kept them in their home in London, generously inviting friends in to share their treasures at a time when these small-scale drawings were rarely considered of much value. In doing so, they established this new collecting genre.

"A Brush with Nature: The Gere Collection of Landscape Oil Sketches," just shown at The National Gallery, London, is currently on view at the Frick Collection, its only U.S. venue. After that, the collection will return to the National Gallery on long-term loan.

There are lots of views of Italy. Savor Degas's Promenade beside the Sea -- with the Bay of Naples and two riders, both in black with top hats, the female rider with her veil flaring in the wind -- or Corot's Staircase in the Entrance to the Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli. These early works are fresh and inviting, also important for the future of each artist.

There is a mini-show of work by Lord Leighton, perhaps more properly known as Frederic, Baron Leighton of Stretton. Of his eight drawings, five are of Italy, among them his brilliant light-splashed peasant houses in View of Capri.

Most of these pieces are less finished than View of Capri and by little known or totally unknown artists. Attributions are still uncertain in many cases, so connoisseurs are especially welcome.

Don't miss Belgian Jean-Michel Cels's Sky Study with Birds, recalling Constable's cloud studies or Danish Claus Anton Kølle's A Courtyard in Rome.

Through Nov. 12, at the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th St, New York, N.Y. 10021.

*    *    *
One contemporary American landscapist of note, Wolf Kahn, is having a mini-pastel retrospective, "Wolf Kahn Pastels," at the Beadleston Gallery to coincide with the publication of a new book by Abrams with the same title. Having worked as Hans Hoffman's studio assistant, Kahn is no stranger to hot colors and vigorous gestures. They are part of his technical apparatus, and he uses them at just the right moments to express a range of feelings, as in High Trees ($8,000) and Storm over the Connecticut River ($6,500), both from 1994.

Through Sept. 30, at Beadleston Gallery, 724 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019.

*    *    *
Not outer landscapes but inner ones are the focus of the season's lift-off at Chelsea's Feature, Inc. Hudson (just "Hudson" as he prefers to be called) is Feature's pundit for its current three exhibitions.

Sam Gordon's five newest paintings, his largest to date and a selection of his recent photographs are in the front gallery. The paintings are complex amalgams of Eastern mysticism and Western pop culture that percolate with psychedelic '60s energy. The surfaces are mixtures of oil, acrylic, enamel and spray paints, watercolor, and gold leaf that have been sanded down and then built up again in layers. The five-by-four feet paintings are untitled and priced at $8,500.

In the back room is a two-person show of drawings by Lorenzo de Los Angeles and photos by Judy Linn. Linn's black-and-whites of people and animals have a whiff of nostalgia about them, as do the colored pencil drawings by de Los Angeles.

De Los Angeles's sensitive handling of color seduces the eye, as do the everyday images in these pieces, like a woven grid or a tissue box. Once inside the drawing -- uh-oh! -- you realize you're not in Kansas anymore.

De Los Angeles gently spins you into another world, one so satisfying that you can spend a long time looking around and enjoying the scenery. In Untitled (#135), priced at only $1,500, a basket-like wall of blues and yellows has at its base what look like sea anemones or maybe anemone-like glowing candles -- whatever they are, you come away sensing that they belong there, that they have always belonged there.

The pervasive aura that clings to this gallery takes another turn, also otherworldly, in the side room, with a selection of Indian "Contemporary Anonymous Tantra Paintings on Paper." These formally simple, abstract meditative aids are made usually by artists who produce only this type of art, not professional miniaturists. Materials are often scavenged, and the pieces are not made to last long, but to be replaced by similar images in a year or two whether used at public temples or home altars.

Tantra is often associated with hot sex in the West -- not a bad idea, but the teachings behind Tantra are a little subtler. This branch of Hinduism suggests that one can become enlightened in a single lifetime, rather than many, and in a secular setting, rather than a monastic one. This requires meditation and other practices that will liberate the believer from the delusions of life by concentrating on the explosive force of complementary male and female energies. Sex is one part of the equation.

Many of the drawings are abstract symbolic representations of the lingam (male) or yoni (female) reproductive organs. (There's another type of Tantric art related to Himalayan Buddhism, think Tibetan thankas, so don't get confused!)

Feature is selling an untitled work invoking the horrific goddess Kali by an image of her tongues that look as fiery as rows of chili peppers. It's 11 ¼ by 8 ½ inches and costs $1,300. Two related pieces, one with vertical and one with horizontal lines of paint that seem to vibrate (13 by 11 ½ inches, $2,500 each), are meditations of the four directions. A third symbolizes seven rays of sun on the seed of life (8 by 10 ½ inches, $1,300). Other drawings employ circular smears, dots, orbs, and other spare shapes. All date from the last eleven years and come from Rajasthan in northern India.

The exhibition of Tantric paintings at Feature is organized by with Franck André Jamme in association with Galerie du Jour agnès b. in Paris, where he has also shown works of this type. Jamme is a poet who has been collecting, investigating and writing about Indian Tantric art for many years.

Jamme is also behind the memorial exhibition "Acharya Vyakul: Works on Paper" at the Lawrence Markey Gallery uptown. The artist, whose full name is Acharya Ram Charan Sharma (1930-2000), lived most of his life in Jaipur in Rajasthan. A member of the Brahman caste in India, this sophisticated man was a guru to many and an ardent collector of magical and religious items, maintaining his own museum.

Acharya Vyakul created his drawings in spurts. According to Jamme: "He [Vyakul] makes his colors himself, grinds in his mortars plants, stones, clay, cow's urine, coal, glues, flowers and powders -- what's at hand." His pieces are a blend of tantric and folk styles. Many are similar to the works at Feature. Untitled and priced from $2,200 to $3,000, they are proving as popular as their unsigned downtown cousins.

All shows at Feature Gallery are on view through Oct. 21, at Feature, Inc., 530 West 25th St., New York, N.Y. 10001.

"Acharya Vyakul (1930-2000)" through Oct. 7, at Lawrence Markey, 42 East 76th St., 4th floor, New York, N.Y. 10021.


N.F. KARLINS is a New York writer and art historian.

 
 
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