Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Deceiver of the Whole World

Rev. McKendree Robbins Long, The Deceiver of the Whole World, 1964-1969
Collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Painter, poet and preacher, the Reverend McKendree Robbins Long defies the easy categorization often bestowed on artists. Though highly trained and educated at the top schools of the day, the Reverend's work is often included in Outsider and Visionary collections.

Born 1888 in Statesville, North Carolina, Long descended from a family filled with educators, politicians and clergy. After studying at Homer Military Academy and Davidson College, Long began master instruction under Duncan Smith at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1907. After only one semester, he received a scholarship to attend classes at the highly respected Art Students League in New York City. There he studied under America's first Hispanic master, F. Luis Mora.

From New York, Long moved to London. He studied at the Slade School and the Sandow Curative Institute before private studies with Philip de Laszlo, court painter to King George VI. During his time in London, he rented a studio that previously belonged to another American painter, James McNeill Whistler. His two years in Europe also allowed him to copy masterworks in Spain and Holland.

Returning to the US in 1913, Long married, started a family, and, excepting a brief stint as an ambulance driver in World War I, he spent the next ten years attempting an art career. Working in a traditional realist style, his career never materialized in an environment energized by the new directions of Dada and Cubism.

His time in the Chelsea district in London had exposed him to a fiery brand of Evangelical Christianity different from his conservative Presbyterian upbringing. His mother had actually travelled to London to pressure Long into continuing his art studies, as he was feeling a strong calling to the ministry even then. His failure to make a career in art led him to give up all "secular endeavors," and to pursue this calling. In 1922, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister. He became a travelling evangelist, and his skills as an orator garnered him a considerable following. He was not painting at all, but filling journals with sermons, poetry and hymns. His sermons, though, often contained references to biblical masterworks by Caravaggio and Rubens, earning him the title of "Picture Painter of the Gospel." It wasn't long before the Reverend's fiery style led him away from the Presbyterian church. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1935.

In the late 1940s, unable to continue the rigorous schedule of a travelling minister, Reverend McKendree Robbins Long took up his brushes once again. He had done the occasional portrait upon request, but this was his true return to art. He became obsessed with depicting scenes from the Revelation to John, and spent most his his remaining years depicting these apocalyptic visions. He was convinced that the end times were near, and that his Christ would return in his lifetime to destroy the sinners and gather the faithful to heaven. He often depicted this event with contemporary settings and characters. In one painting, Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers and Historical Figures, Long places Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler in the fiery lake. Darwin, Voltaire, Marx and others await the same fate. From above the painter sits with Dante, clearly satisfied with the events. The Reverend was quoted as saying, "I'm the only person who ever made Dante smile."

The works from this period were never sold or promoted by Long, although he did often give them away. The family took no interest in them, and considered the late work a departure from true painting. His brushwork moved from the restrained formalism of his early style toward bold application of pure color. He continued refining this unique and singular style till his death in 1976.

The Reverend McKendree Robbins Long was once quoted as saying, "I'm primarily a preacher. Art is incidental." This was very true at the time. In the 1980s, the American art world became fascinated with a genre known in America as Outsider Art. Although most artists included in this genre were self taught (Sister Gertrude Morgan, Mose T, Bill Traylor, etc.), the works of Reverend Long found a new audience. Although highly trained, his later works definitely exist outside of any academic tradition.

The Deceiver of the Whole World was a gift to the Ogden Museum from the Roger H. Ogden Collection. Painted between 1964 and 1969, it shows Christ's return as promised in the Revelation to John. Christ is pictured on a snow-white horse, conquering the anti-christ, who is depicted as Caesar with "666" written on his robes and stigmata on his hands. All around them, a battle rages, filled with demons, modern bombs, soldiers and chaos. This is classic Reverend Long.

Currently, The Deceiver of the Whole World is included in the Outsider, Visionary and Self-taught gallery on the fifth floor of the Ogden's Goldring Hall. Incidently, the paintings of Bo Bartlett are also exhibited in a separate gallery on the fifth floor. Bartlett, a master of American realism, studied under Ben Long, grandson of Reverend McKendree Robbins Long, in Florence when he was 19.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bomb Scare at Newcomb Campus

Kendall Shaw's Bomb Scare at Newcomb Campus, 1957, oil on canvas
Photo by Richard McCabe

In 1957, Kendall Shaw was a student at Tulane University, where he studied with Ida Kohlmeyer, Kurt Kranz, George Rickey and Mark Rothko. He had already studied painting with Ralston Crawford at the Brooklyn Museum, and with O. Louis Guglielmi and Stuart Davis at the New School. Shaw states, "they were my friends, who taught me about architectural structure on a canvas and music possible from hard edge shapes of high key color." This concept, of music and emotion in paint surfaces, Shaw brought with him to develop at Newcomb.

In 1957, someone called in a fake bomb threat to Newcomb College. Shaw remained in his studio on the upper floor of the art building as the other students gathered on the bright green lawn below. In a recent correspondence Shaw related the experience:

When I looked down at the greens below, I was delighted to see that the Newcomb students dotted the grass in multicolored sweaters. (I thought that only in India would one see a large number of intense colored fabrics on a crowded lawn.) High with the color experience, I put it down as quickly as I could do so.

The result of that experience, Bomb Scare at Newcomb Campus, 1957, has been generously donated to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art by his niece, Eileen Madrid. It is a welcome addition to the permanent collection, representing a key moment in the development of his style. It is currently on exhibition on the fourth floor of Goldring Hall.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sneak Peek: Universal Mule

Study for Universal Mule, 2008
Collection of Shelley and Romi Gonzalez

In November of 2008, Canadian-born artist, Jack Niven, opened his project, American Beauty-South, on Airline Drive in New Orleans. Airline Drive is the last leg of Highway 61 on its journey from the Canadian border to New Orleans, a journey symbolic of Niven's own to his adopted home on the Mississippi. The project utilized streetside walls of motels to exhibit seven artist-created billboards, addressing three main themes: American Beauty, the South and Highway 61.

American Beauty, South billboard at Premium Parking Garage
Photo by Jack Niven
American Beauty, South began as a personal project of Niven's design at the London Lodge Motel before being expanded to include works by Robert Tannen, Richard McCabe, Megan Roniger, Sarah Kabot, Stan Denniston and Marianne Desmarais. Niven's Universal Mule was the first work on the drive from downtown to the airport, a sixteen-foot sentinal to the action on a notorious stretch of a notorious American highway. It welcomed international art tourist visiting Prospect One with the same knowing gaze as it used to witness the late-night dealings of the locals. In his statement for Universal Mule, Niven states, "The Universal Mule I have called upon here is the everyman among us. I wanted this mule to stand as witness to the highway from a cosmic trajectory."

Universal Mule installed at London Lodge, October 2008

London Lodge installation
Now that American Beauty, South has come to an end, Universal Mule has found a new home. Jack Niven and his wife, Marianne Desmarais, have donated this iconic work to the Ogden Museum's permanent collection. Like the beasts of burdon that worked their lives in the fields of the American South to be rewarded with a retirement of leisure, so too Universal Mule has been put out to pasture within the air-conditioned walls of Goldring Hall.
Jack Niven on Highway 61

Friday, August 7, 2009

Storming the Ramparts: Objects of Evidence

Gilbert Gaul's Storming the Ramparts, circa 1893, oil on canvas
Collection of William Dunlap
William Dunlap's artist installation, Storming the Ramparts: Objects of Evidence, is an exhibition unique in the Ogden's history. The historical content and Victorian influenced style is a break from our decidedly contemporary approach to exhibitions. Most importantly, though, it represents a truly collaborative effort with our closest neighbor, Confederate Memorial Hall.

Gilbert Gaul's Taking the Ramparts, vintage photogravure
Collection of William Dunlap
The exhibition is built around the Gilbert Gaul Painting, Storming the Ramparts, probably painted in the early part of the last decade of the 19th century. On either side of this singular epic battle scene are examples of photogravures, Taking the Ramparts, that first appeared on the market shortly after the painting was finished. The gallery is then completed with objects from the permanent collection of Confederate Memorial Hall, including weapons, photographs, clothing, medical kits and other detritus of war from that defining moment in American history.

Photo by David Houston

Photo by David Houston
Gilbert Gaul (1855-1919) is best known for his realistic, if not romantic, depictions of Military life, particularly scenes from the Civil War, but also extending from the European conquest of the American West through World War I. Born in New Jersey, Gaul entered the National Academy of Design in New York City at seventeen, and went on to become one of the nation's leading illustrators, publishing regularly in Harper's Weekly and Century Magazine. He received awards from the American Art Association, the 1889 Paris Exhibition and the 1893 World's Exposition in Chicago. At the turn of the century, Gaul settled in Tennessee. He opened a studio in Nashville, and began the series, With Confederate Colors, in 1907.

Gilbert Gaul in his studio.
Storming the Ramparts: Objects of Evidence opened on White Linen Night, accompanied by essays from Winston Groom and Dunlap, and a ceremonial burying of the proverbial hatchet on the grounds of Confederate Memorial Hall.

Winston Groom and William Dunlap bury the hatchet.
Photo by Cheryl Gerber.
Read Doug MacCash's review here: Times Picayune.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stretching and Hanging Bo Bartlett

Richard McCabe adds hardware to a large-scale canvas.

In preparation for the current exhibition of large-scale paintings by Bo Bartlett at the Ogden Museum, Chris Polson, of Twin Brooks Stretchers, travelled to New Orleans to stretch the canvases and add finish frames. Chris manufactured the frames and stretchers for several of the works in his studios in Lincolnville, Maine. His daughter, May, was enlisted from Boston to help with the stretching and framing. A leader in his field, Chris uses only Maine aspen wood, sawn and dried at his facility in Lincolnville. Photos by David Houston.

Chris Polson setting a Bo Bartlett in the frame.

Richard McCabe, Bradley Sumrall, May and Chris Polson.

Chris Polson and Richard McCabe frame Bo's Resurgere e Renasci.