MSB brainstorming

14 April 2019

Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 49: Performance-Paintings

Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 49: Performance-Paintings. Peaceable Kingdom, Georama, Kamishibai. Edward Hicks, John Banvard, Toba Sojo. Inspirations and antecedents for my Dr Great Art performance-lecture-paintings.
#arthistory #drgreatart #markstaffbrandl #performance #painting

The text.

Dr Great Art Podcast 49


Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 49th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today my Artecdote concerns an element in the context of my larger Dr Great Art project. Many listeners will know that these podcasts are only one component of the whole. The largest portions are my "live" custom Performance-Lectures, in English or German, concerning various topics, but always seeing them through and in art history.

These are "live" events in front of a public, usually one that has invited me for a specific topic. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss entire eras, single artworks, a topic of theme within art history (from social work to philosophy to dogs), or indeed through the entirety of art history. These performance-lectures take place with large, painted background artworks, a section of which serves as a projection screen, or even in spaces filled with my entire painting-installations.

Because of this, I have long been thinking about paintings, in art history, which were made specifically to be used as the center of lectures or shows.

The first and foremost inspiration for my version of this was Edward Hicks.

Edward Hicks has been a favorite of mine for most of my life, flickering in the back of my thoughts. Edward Hicks (born April 4, 1780 – died August 23, 1849) was an American folk painter, or Outsider artist, and a notable religious minister of the Society of Friends (aka "Quakers"). A peace-loving group, for which I have an affinity. I will do a full podcast on him in the future, I hope. Hicks was a minister, traveling preacher, farmer, sign-painter and artist. His ornamental painting was lucrative, but some Quakers took exception with him doing this, as it conflicted with their "plain customs," aimed at simplicity. He was less successful with his other jobs though. He painted many paintings, using symbolically embodying Quaker beliefs.

Most uniquely though, Hicks, in 1820 began creating many paintings of 'The Peaceable Kingdom,' which he later used as a sermon-prop, it has been related.

Hicks painted 62 versions of this composition, at least. The animals and children are taken from Isaiah 11:6–8 and Isaiah 65:25. The key phrase from Isaiah is sometimes beautifully hand-lettered around the outside edge of many of the images.

Isaiah 11: 6-8
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

Isaiah 65:25
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Hicks depicted humans and animals, white European-immigrant Quakers and Native Americans, working and living together in peace. They often further contain portrayals of Native Americans meeting the settlers of Pennsylvania, with Quaker William Penn prominent among them. Predators and prey lie down together in harmony, including the lion eating straw with the ox, and a little rosy-cheeked child—the Christ child—leading them.

I made my own version of this image in a drawing for Sister Theresia, a wonderful Franciscan nun and Zen priest my wife Cornelia and I know, who expresses her two faiths by rescuing and harboring animals, farm animals and pets, in a shelter connected to a Zen Center called Felsentor on the Rigi Mountain in Switzerland. I put Catholic saint St Francis and the Zen Master Kōbun Otogawa, her two spiritual inspirations, with peaceable animals, many of which live with or near her, such as Anton the pig, various chickens, sheep, a wolf, dogs and more, including a few birds from Giotto's fresco of St. Francis. And around it all I quoted from these passages in Isaiah in German.

I always found both Hicks's image-making and the integration of that into preaching thrilling!

Another inspiration. In the US in the 1800s, there were several panoramicists who painted huge, very huge paintings, a mile, 2 kilometers, or more long. Usually of scenes from so-called wild areas being discovered by white explorers in America's West. These included John Rowson Smith, Samuel A. Hudson, Samuel B. Stockwell and Henry Lewis. These were then transported from town to town as rolls. These rolls were then slowly unrolled before a paying audience, with a dramatic narrator, called a "delineator," describing and enlivening the image. This was often on steamboats on the Mississippi River, which would dock at the towns, prepare seating, and so on, on the dock and then they would present the semi-documentary or didactic entertainment.

There might be some influence of Joseph Beuys on me in this too, although I did not really think about him until just this moment. He was very important to me in the early 80s, but more in his installational approach and the way he had of creatively, agonistically, purposefully "misreading" the artists of Modernism who influenced him, such as Duchamp or Tàpies, turning their often more formal and reductivist works into highly personally symbolic agglomerations. I even built an installation for him and repeated a performance in the Illinois State Museum. His last works, where he wanted his teaching to be his greatest artwork, were exciting, and I saw the remnants of one repeatedly years later when I moved to Switzerland, as it was in the wonderful, but now defunct, Halle für neue Kunst in Schaffhausen. However, they seemed too abstract and rambling to me compared to his objects and installations, so I actually forgot about them. I AM happy though, that I seem to have returned to an inspiration from my past, as I have visually with my painting technique influenced by Gene Colan.

The most famous of the panorama-event artists of the 1800s mentioned already was entrepreneur John Banvard. Let me qualify that, most famous in his time. He is now largely forgotten.

At that time, people didn’t go to movies or watch TV. He created giant scrolling paintings, presented in a wonderfully constructed contraction to roll them past seated audiences, while he narrated. Banvard’s works included a 12 feet (366 cm) High, 3-mile-long Mississippi River panorama. As described in his biography, "He toured the world with it, showed it to Queen Victoria, and grew rich enough to commission a reproduction of Windsor Castle on Long Island—but died broke and forgotten." "He started from poverty—he really had nothing, as a starving artist on the Mississippi—to become the first American millionaire artist.” But overextended himself, and as new entertainments arose, interest in his panoramas shrunk.

As a side note, "in 2016, a new musical entitled Georama: An American Panorama Told on Three Miles of Canvas premiered at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. The musical tells Banvard's life story through his rise and fall as an artist, his conflict with PT Barnum and love for his wife Elizabeth. Georama was written by West Hyler, Matt Schatz, and Jack Herrick."

Another version of such a event-paintings is the kamishibai, ("ka-mish-ee-buy"), "paper dramas." I just recently discovered them. They are one precursor to manga in addition to US comics. Storytellers in Japan, traveling from town to town, used to entertain crowds with hand-painted artworks. They would show the images, using them to illustrate highly dramatic stories they would recite "live." One possibility for creator of this genre is the priest Toba Sōjō (1053–1140). The kamishibai were popular during the 1930s and the post-war period in until the beginning of television. Television, indeed, was known originally as denki kamishibai ("electric kamishibai").

They, in turn, were partially originated in Japanese Buddhist temples where Buddhist monks from the eighth century onward used emakimono ("ee-mak-kee-mono"), "picture scrolls") as "live" aids for telling the history of monasteries, early combinations of picture and text and indeed history to convey a story. I need to research both more. They sound exciting.

These are a few of the historical precedents for my Dr Great Art Performance-Lectures and lecture paintings and installations. Discovered after the fact of my creation of their specific form, but perhaps also re-remembered. Either way, I love them and will research them more and wish to acknowledge them. To my mind, as I have often stressed to students, one of the best uses of art history is to simply follow your own thoughts and feelings. Then, when you have something that feels significant and promising, THEN go back into art history and see who has existed (and not only among the greatest hits) who has done some related artwork, and study and appreciate them. They are your spiritual ancestors, antecedents, precursors. Use them for strength, but stay true to yourself.

That was Performance-Paintings.

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 49. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch, with Performance-Paintings!

As described above, I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.

A recent one was on Mongrel Art. Coming up will be one on Jan Petr Brandl, the Prague Baroque artist and my distant relative, which I will be giving in Prague, Czech Republic!

You can find or contact me at (spell)

book me at (spell)

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.

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