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Please Don't Go (Maria Tomasula, 2010, oil on panel)

Please Don’t Go (Maria Tomasula, 2010, oil on panel)

Maria Tomasula is a contemporary artist who paints strange collections of beautiful items coalescing into miniature glowing geometric systems (usually against an empty black outer space backdrop).  Dew, flowers, and fruit are the most frequent items in these compositions, but sculptures, amphibians, skulls, mollusks, weapons, and disembodied organs (among other things) also find their way into these little microcosms.

Ground of Being (Maria Tomasula, 2010, oil on panel)

Ground of Being (Maria Tomasula, 2010, oil on panel)

Tomasula paints the shining or dewy objects which make up her still life works with finicky photorealism, yet the abstract structure of the works takes these images towards mathematical abstraction. Her delightful little paintings give us the aesthetics of the natural world as viewed through a dark melting kaleidoscope.

Intercession (Maria Tomasula, 2007, oil on panel)

Intercession (Maria Tomasula, 2007, oil on panel)

Tomasula has a particular flair for teasing humankind’s magpie-like fascination with shininess and bright colors.  From across the gallery, her works beguile the viewer closer and closer.  Only when one is next to them does one notice the carnivorous pitcher plants and bird skulls among the velvet, petals, and jewels.   However the dark imagery does not outshine the sensuous appeal of these fastidious spirals, loops, and curtains.  Tomasula invites us to reach into the dark fractal pattern of beauty to grab the waxy flowers, the moist fruits, the polished gems…if we dare.

Second Nature (Maria Tomasula, 2011, oil on panel)oil on panel

Second Nature (Maria Tomasula, 2011, oil on panel)
oil on panel

 

 

Here are three Chinese paintings of mallard ducks from 3 different eras.  Coincidentally, the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is one of the quintessential success stories of animals alive today.  It lives throughout Asia, Europe, North America, and North Africa (in addition to places where it has been introduced) and it was the ancestor to most domestic ducks.  However we will leave an in-depth wild duck essay for later this year (seriously, they really are magnificent & fascinating animals) in order to appreciate these three watercolor on silk paintings.

Duckling (Artist Unknown, Song Dynasty, ink and watercolor on silk)

Duckling (Artist Unknown, Song Dynasty, ink and watercolor on silk)

The first (and greatest) comes from the Song dynasty which ruled China from 960 AD to 1279 AD.  As mentioned earlier, the Song is regarded as a glorious apogee of Chinese art and poetry and the simple court painting of a duckling makes the reasons self-evident.  The animal is foreshortened and painted with effortless naturalism.

Waterfowl (Chen Lin, Yuan dynasty, ink and watercolor on silk)

Waterfowl (Chen Lin, Yuan dynasty, ink and watercolor on silk)

The Second painting comes from the Yuan dynasty—the era of Mongol occupation.  Although the duck is presented from the side as though diagramed, it still has a charming naturalism.  Additionally the bird has an amusingly insouciant look.  His magnificently rendered plumage and feet also serve to give him character while the autumn vines in the background further serve to give the painting piquancy.

Just Like Mum (Danny Han-Lin Chen, Contemporary)

Just Like Mum (Danny Han-Lin Chen, Contemporary)

Finally we have a lovingly rendered contemporary painting.  Even though it is separated from the others by nearly a millennium, the brushwork is similar. The feathers have been painted with swift sure strokes.   The background though vibrantly colored has been sketched in to suggest a landscape (rather then rendered in detail.  Although and there is a touch more photorealism in the duck’s plumage there is also a touch less charisma and personality in the ducks’ faces.

Anonymous, 12th Century, Painting on Silk (National Palace Museum, Taipei)

Once again I am shamelessly trying to seize the attention of the internet’s kitty-loving throngs, this time via the unconventional path of Song dynasty artwork.  The Song dynasty flowered between 960 AD and 1179AD.   It was a great age for China and the great age for Chinese art. Traditional Chinese painting reached its zenith during this time: all subsequent Chinese painters have looked back to Song paintings either for inspiration or in rebellion.

Although Song artists found antecedents in the styles of Five Dynasties Period and the Tang dynasty, they vastly outdid their predecessors.  Their age has become synonymous with exquisite deft naturalism.  Here an unknown painter from the twelfth century has perfectly captured the likeness of a little tabby kitten. The painting accurately portrays the delicacy, naïve curiosity, and cuteness of a kitten–and yet there is also an ineffable hint of wildness in the animal’s mien which suggests what a fearsome predator a cat can actually be.

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