Click image below for more "still life"

Click image below for more "still life"
Francis Cunningham "Three Baldwin Apples" (1964) Oil on linen 5'' x 16''

Monday, September 30, 2013

Masters Exhibition and Opening Reception

The Masters Exhibition at the Century Association is currently ongoing and includes 23 original works of art and can be seen from October 2 through November 20, 2013.  

The Century Association is located at  7 West 43rd St,  NYC.

If you wish to view exhibition, see the address above and request to see the Francis Cunningham exhibition.  Hours are Monday thru Saturday, 9-3pm.

The opening reception was held on Wednesday, October 2 from 5pm - 7pm.

Francis is also be debuting his new book "Unframing the Nude". A labor of love that was 10 years in the making. 

From inside the front cover, "Francis Cunningham caught the attention of Ben Shahn at a Boston Museum summer school session in 1947, Cunningham was sixteen. Now, after a lifetime of painting, teaching and co-founding two New York art schools, he summarizes his experience in "Unframing the Nude". This book is about ways of seeing and the craft of painting; its focus is on transforming the naked human body into a nude.

"Unframing the Nude" is an incisive and personal account of a lifetime's work, an ardent sharing of accumulated knowledge that speaks to artists and viewers alike."

"With conviction and hope Cunningham has carried forward several long traditions in painting. His work continues not only the Renaissance humanistic practice of depicting the natural world and living men and women, but also the modern practice of discovering abstract forms in those things and letting those forms determine how they are painted"

- John Walsh, Director Emeritus, J. Paul Getty Museum

"Unframing the Nude" is available for pre-order. Please email for details and to reserve your copy today.

 We hope to see you at the Opening!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Behind the Scenes with a Pair of Paintings
Reaching (Regina) and Reaching (Peter)

This week we will begin exploring a pair of paintings, Reaching (Regina) and Reaching (Peter).  As we have already explored the behind the scenes of Reaching (Regina), this week we will begin with Reaching (Peter). In following weeks we will take an in depth look at the role anatomy plays when painting figures.

They were not planned to be a pair of paintings.  Francis recalls being in his studio working on Reaching (Regina). When Peter saw the nearly finished painting, he laid down on the floor and took the pose you see in the painting. He took this pose as a natural response to the pose Regina was in.

Knowing the background on Peter may help to understand the acting out of his response to the painting as contrasted to a verbal description of what he was experiencing when he saw the painting.  In his younger years, Peter was an athlete. When he was in his early thirties he had a stroke that left him almost entirely paralyzed on his right side. If you look closely at his right arm and his right leg in the painting , you can see that they are not quite normal.  What you are seeing is not a mistake in the painting, it is capturing the truth of a particular model.

The stroke also affected Peter’s speech. He could no longer talk in words, he could only make guttural sounds to indicate yes, no or maybe.  These sounds are how Francis and Peter communicated. Peter is a very intelligent man and during his posing Francis conversed with him on a variety of subjects from philosophy to politics, literature and other subjects.  Francis continues to be amazed at the depth of the conversations they had with Peter’s limited means of conversation.  There was, in fact, much he could say with the expressions of his face and body and the inflections he would impose on the sounds he made to express his meaning.

One of the most important observations about Peter is that he is, like Regina, an anatomically functional nude.  Both figures appear able to get up and change pose. They are not locked into their position on the canvas. In general and in most paintings you will find that the figure is fixed in its position by gravity. For example, this may happen because the painting makes clear that the body is standing on the floor or seated in a chair or that an arm rests on a piece of furniture.

In Reaching (Regina), the figure is seen from above and is more directly lying flat on the floor than is Peter in his pose. He is in an unusual position. He is not positioned fully on his side - there are rotations. There is no definitive point where the disposition of his pose has been fixed. Taking this into consideration, you can turn the painting upside down or on   it’s edges and make an entirely different observation about what the subject is doing within the painting.

When John Walsh, former Director of the Getty Museum, first viewed Reaching (Peter), Francis turned the painting on it’s four  edges. Walsh was amazed at the impact he felt seeing the figure in a different position. 

When the painting was turned 90 degrees so  Peter's back faced up, Walsh remarked, "he’s just flying through the space!"  In this position you are no longer viewing a man lying on the ground, partially crippled, reaching out. Walsh remarked how his attention was drawn to the designs and shapes that occur at the back of Peter's right knee and on his left leg, to the shapes on the sole of the foot.

"How often do you stop to look at the sole of a foot?", Walsh asked. The anatomically functional nude is able to accomplish these different things but a painting or sculpture is of course static, so viewers will have to use their imagination empathetically to identify with the figure's immediate presence and with its ability to change positions.

With most of Francis’ paintings the figure is to some degree anchored by the nature of the pose. If a figure standing on the floor is turned upside down there still will be this figure standing on the floor, but seen upside down. With Peter, as you turn the painting, you will notice how completely he changes.  You see him first in his reaching pose and then as you turn him, so his back is facing up, he seems to be flying and what is a purple drapery on the floor becomes a cape. Turning the painting once again, he seems to be plunging with velocity downward.

The notion of asking the viewer to empathetically allow an anatomically functional figure to get up and move around was not a part of the requirements for a nude figure in classical art. The Greeks who could make the gods take human form were not concerned with this concept nor was it a concern in the Renaissance, where figures are designed to take their place on the canvas in an idealized form.

Francis regards these two paintings of Reaching (Regina) and Reaching (Peter) as expressions of what the anatomically functional bodies of a particular man and woman can accomplish today.  They bring an immediacy to the body and the human figure because of their potential for changing position and so Francis suggests they are not separated and apart from our space. They are in the room with you. While the viewer always seeks to bring a painted or sculpted figure to life, this particular kind of presence would not happen if these figures were not anatomically functional.

Next week, we will begin to delve into anatomy and the role it plays when painting figures. 

Come meet Francis in person at the Masters Exhibition Opening Reception, at the Century Association on October 2, from 5pm - 7pm. Just email to receive a personal invitation from Francis.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield 

Oil on Canvas, 29“x40“, Painted in 2003

Available at the Laurel Tracy Gallery

This painting was painted during the summer of 2003. Francis prefers to paint larger landscapes in the summer when he has more time and light available. His Premier Coup works of art which are painted in Sheffield, smaller and always done in one sitting, are painted mainly in the fall, winter and spring.

Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield is a view from the pasture behind his summer studio, which is located in the barn seen in the painting. The painting includes a variety of trees, from the apple tree in the foreground to cedar, pine and walnut. In the middleground, you can see the barn where Francis lives and paints in the summertime.

Francis first calls attention to the colors of the pasture and trees and notes that they are not simply a selection of shades of green. There is a variety of color created through color-spots, for instance, the pale greens of the apple trees and the rust colors in the cedar trees. With the color-spot way of painting, here everything is taken by sight from nature.

In this painting, we have dual aspects of painting - work done from sight and also geometry.  In considering the role geometry plays within a work of art, we will look at the Golden Section Ratio.  The Golden Ratio is defined as the division of a line so that the ratio of the smaller segment to the larger segment is the same as the ratio of the larger segment to the sum of two segments. The Golden Ratio was known in the Renaissance period as The Divine Proportion. 

In this painting, Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield, the dark trunk of the apple tree in the foreground of the painting divides the painting into a short section on the left and a longer section to the right hand edge of the canvas. This division of the width of the canvas is in the Golden Ratio. The same ratio occurs between the dark trunk of the foreground apple tree and the light trunk of the first cedar tree to the right, and that cedar’s trunk to the right edge of the canvas. The Golden Ratio can also be seen in such smaller details of the painting as the placing of fence posts and the trunks of other trees. 

The use of the Golden Section organizes harmonically the placing of shapes on the flat surface of the canvas but the picture also communicates sensations of depth and space. Viewers can picture themselves at the left of the painting walking through the orchard, through the fencing and out past pastures towards Canaan Mountain in the distance. Such sensations cannot be accomplished by a photograph which unselectively takes in everything. The photograph cannot create the guideposts necessary to communicate sensations of depth.

Francis states that you are not viewing an illusion of depth so much as you are experiencing sensations of depth. Representation is a tool used to create sensations of depth, space, movement and 3 dimensional form. These are psycho-physical sensations. They are ideated, not actual. As an example, when viewing this painting you can feel the warmth of the sun on the trees even though you are not actually feeling it.

To experience such sensations, you must be in front of the painting and become part of it. In allowing time to absorb all of the elements you will also come to see and respond to the proportional relationships. You do not need to know the mathematics to see these harmonic proportional relationships in the painting. 

Golden Ratio proportions are present around us. They can be found in nature and sometimes in man-made structures. You can see them in the proportions in the growth patterns of plants and in the spiral shapes of shells and pine cones (see the Fibonacci Series). Francis uses the Golden Ratio in many of his landscapes and still lifes but not in the nude or clothed figures, in which he is concerned with the individuality of the human body.

As an artist, Francis may spend a hundred 3 hour sessions, creating a single painting. A true appreciation of what is involved in a work of art cannot be had by someone viewing it for only a few seconds. Francis notes that when a painting hangs in a persons home and they live with it and contemplate it, they develop a relationship with the subject in a way that can never be accomplished by walking past a painting hanging in a museum or art gallery.  The appreciation of art takes time. You need time to engage in it and become a part of it.

You can see 23 Francis Cunningham originals at the Century Masters Exhibition October 2 - November 20 at the Century Association in New York.

Please email if you would like an invitation to the Opening Reception October 2, 5pm-7pm.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Harvest Tools

Harvest Tools is oil on canvas and was painted in 1973 (60"x44").

These tools were owned by Floyd Woodbeck who, as you may remember, was the subject painting of the first blog post in this Behind the Scenes series.  They and most of his tools were destroyed in a fire when his cabin burned down.

When dancer/choreographer Rudy Perez saw this painting he said it reminded him of Martha Graham. As has been said, Graham is to modern dance as Picasso is to modern painting and Stravinsky to music. Perez was responding to the energy, rhythm and simplicity of the design - a paring down to essentials.

This arrangement of tools includes a scythe with a cradle, a two-pronged fork and a flail for threshing. These are the three main tools which would have been used to harvest wheat in an earlier day. *The cradle was used to gather the straw as it is cut and to deposit it in a swath. At the end of the cutting stroke, the cradle is tilted to drop the straw in a pile. A benefit of using the cradle is that it did not require stooping. Also, substantially more grain could be cut in a day with the cradle.The two-pronged fork was used to pick up and move the straw and the flail, which is made of two sticks connected with a chain link, was used to strike a pile of grain, separating the wheat from the chaff. This was known as threshing. These tools were used by farmers well into the 1920s, when the age of machinery was ushered in. Small farms continued to use these tools.

When Francis first came to Sheffield, Massachusetts in the early 1960s, he would go with Floyd to various secondhand stores where you could find boxes of tools, once so important to the livelihood of the local farmers, which were being sold for only a couple of dollars. For the most part no one knew what they were for but Floyd had worked with many of them on his father's farm.

The craftsmanship and simplicity of the tools tells a story from another time, back when farmers built their barns and fashioned the handles of the tools they used by hand. They knew the best woods to use. For example, ash was preferred for an axe handle because of its springy quality. If they would have used a brittle wood such as hickory, the handles would have snapped. Local blacksmiths would forge the blades.

Francis has an appreciation for the beauty found in the simplicity of these early tools. They were made to work perfectly for the task at hand.  They were not made to be beautiful. These qualities of simplicity and truth were embodied by the Shakers, a Christian community founded by Mother Ann Lee, a Quaker, in Watervliet, New York in 1774. There was an important Shaker community in Hancock, just west of Pittsfield where Francis grew up.

By the 1960s, the Shakers had disappeared from Hancock and also from their center in nearby Mount Lebanon. However, their ability to go to the essentials of a task and craft a tool or object to fulfill the task lives on today in the buildings, tools, furniture and other household items in the present Hancock Shaker Village. As Francis puts it, "They got rid of the ornamentation and went for truth instead of beauty or simply mercenary gain. In their practicality, they created something we see as beautiful - as Thomas Merton said, "Made with God in mind."

As for the painting, Harvest Tools, the appearance of these 3 tools gives the viewer a chance to engage with them and create one's own story. Francis says, "I can give you clues, but it is the viewer who responds. That's what matters. This brings the viewer into the painting and the viewer becomes a part of the art."

Of particular note are all of the different kinds of angles and shapes. Look for the triangles and the arcs. There is a balance in this painting between the concrete and the abstract. Another interesting point is the wood of the hemlock floor. This painting was painted in the same space as the Floyd Woodbeck painting. However, in that painting, you will notice that the floor is a solid color without the boards outlined or the grain of the wood included. Francis has painted several paintings in this same space and in each painting the floor is approached differently. He allows the painting to tell him what it wants to be. The same can be said about knowing when a painting is finished. Francis states, "I know when the painting is finished when I can live its life. I give it as much time as it needs until it is right. You cannot force or dictate when a work of art is done, you have to let it speak to you in it's own time. I believe this caring is like the Shakers, who have been a great inspiration to me."


You can see Harvest Tools and 22 other Francis Cunningham originals at the Century Masters Exhibition October 2 - November 20 at the Century Association in New York.

Please email if you would like an invitation to the Opening Reception October 2, 5pm-7pm.