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Posts Tagged ‘artists’

Last month I posted a number of enticing books covering art history and appreciation for children. Those were broad titles, whetting our appetites for art and introducing the expanse of art- making around the world and through time.

Today I’ve got a few biographies that zoom in on just one artist, each one a work of art in itself.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company

Winner of the 2017 Caldecott Medal, this is a fresh, urban, vigorous look at the life and art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Steptoe’s innovative illustration work, painted on rough, textured pieces of found wood scavenged from around New York City, sizzles with color, strength, and a contemporary, diverse world. His unconventional approach aptly conveys the ethos of Basquiat.

At the same time, Steptoe’s straightforward text narrates the tempests of Basquiat’s life and the powerful hunger he had to voice through his art what was in his soul — urgent, messy, painful, important ideas that required jarringly new forms, lines, and approaches.

Steptoe communicates all of this with enough subtlety to make it accessible to young elementary children, concluding his brief bio with Steptoe victorious. In his excellent back-matter, he provides more detail about the difficulties of Steptoe’s life including his death due to drug addiction at the age of 27. For many children, this artist’s life and work will reflect their reality with incisive clarity. For others, this keen book offers an essential bridge into the experience of many fellow travelers.

Mr. Matisse and his Cutouts, written and illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen, translated from the Dutch by Jan Michael
first published in Holland in 2015; English edition published in 2016 by NorthSouth Books

Matisse is a marvelous artist for young children to enjoy with his eye-popping colors and his can-do attitude that led him to one extraordinary artistic discovery.

This brief bio features a zesty text with words that sparkle. Its focus is Matisse’s adaptation to his great physical limitations and the momentous new art he created.

That all those glorious cut paper works of his are in response to illness — doesn’t that make the explosive gladness of them even more stunning?

Van Haeringen’s pages zing with the color and courage of Matisse himself. It’s a grand welcome into his artwork, with a short Author’s Note to fill in more details of Matisse’s life. Ages 3 and up.

Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, written and illustrated by Laurence Anholt
published in 2016 in the U.S. by Barron’s

Laurence Anholt has created a lovely series of artist biographies all featuring a child in the artist’s life. This one is his warm tribute to Frida Kahlo and a little girl named Mariana.

Mariana’s family were great friends of Frida’s and Kahlo painted each of their portraits. Mariana is anxious to have her portrait done as well, but everyone says she’s too young to sit still so long. Her brother takes it one step farther and tells her she’d be too scared to go to Frida’s house on account of the skeleton she keeps above her bed!

This does indeed squelch Mariana’s eagerness! When the day finally comes to go to Kahlo’s house for her portrait, Mariana is very nervous.

As the gracious Frida gets to know dear Mariana and paints her portrait, she tells her about herself, her tragic accident, and the way she started painting as a result of those lifelong injuries.

With it’s tropical-colored illustrations and brilliantly-composed narrative, this is an excellent introduction to a truly brave woman, for ages 5 and up.

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature, written by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale
published in 2016, Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

One of the few children’s biographies of Ansel Adams, this well-crafted book introduces children to one of the greatest photographers whose fiercely-high energy propelled him out of doors and eventually into the art of photography.

Adams was a restless, fidgety kid who would likely be on meds were he in classrooms today. Instead his father pulled him out of school and pushed him into the great outdoors. Adams thrilled to the Pacific coastal area where he lived and learned an enormous amount through all his explorations.

When he arrived at Yosemite Valley at age 14, “it was love at first sight.” The roar of water and dramatic light spilling and splaying upon the rock walls transfixed him. Ansel’s parents gave him a camera on that trip, and the rest of the story is well known!

Beautiful cut-paper illustrations bring to life the rugged, dappled, soaring, wilderness as well as the running, leaping, energy of Ansel Adams. A lengthy afterword tells much more about his life and work. Ages 4 and up.

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, written by Kay A. Haring, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Drop into the contemporary art world with this affectionate, spirited exploration of Keith Haring’s innovative work. I love that this is written by his sister. She brings a unique, intimate knowledge of the inner-tickings of Haring and his lifelong zeal for drawing.

What pops off the page, besides the seemingly indefatigable artist, his bottomless spring of ideas and incessant experimentation, is his generosity of spirit. Haring died as a young man, but in his brief career he exploded onto the world art scene while simultaneously keeping his bearings as a fellow human being seeking to bring healing to the world through art. 

Neubecker’s robust illustration work is the perfect match for his subject. Lengthy afterwords tell lots more about Haring and the pieces of his art appearing in the book. Ages 5 and up.

What Degas Saw, written by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Pieropan
published in 2016 by The Museum of Modern Art

This handsome book exudes all the top production quality you’d expect from MoMA.

Gorgeous illustration work from Italian illustrator Pieropan spreads turn-of-the-century Paris before us with its cobblestones, wrought-iron tracery, horse-drawn carriages, and hustle-bustle. This is the world in which Degas lived. This is what he saw.

Samantha Friedman takes all of these sights and helps us see how they turn up in Degas’ famous paintings. A peek into the milliner’s shop metamorphoses into his At the Milliner’s.

His many visits to the Opera House of course turn into the ballerina paintings we know so well. Minimal text is needed here as the concept is so well conceived. Wondering-aloud types of questions serve to engage children even more in the paintings. It’s like an art appreciation lesson in a book, for ages 3 and up.

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If Art History and Art Appreciation sound like dense, musty subjects full of incomprehensible notions and frame after frame of flowers in vases…

…well, prepare to be astonished and inspired!

There are some stylish, captivating, imaginative, exciting, vastly-informative titles out there which will revolutionize the way your children understand, appreciate, and experience art. And you as well, I suspect.

Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art, written by Michael Bird, illustrated by Kate Evans and with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

First up, this glorious art history book. Oh, I wish I’d had this when my children were young!

Over 300 pages of marvelously-narrated art history, from the first artists carving creatures out of mammoth’s tusks 40,000 years ago or sculpting enormous statues for emperors, through a worldful of religious art –medieval scribes, West African bronze workers, Muslim calligraphers — then on to the Renaissance, portraiture, neo-classical, romantic, and impressionistic works, modern art and contemporary artists right up to Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seed installation.

It is largely Western in emphasis, but I do appreciate that a number of non-Western works are here. And it is overwhelmingly male though there is, happily, a segment on Artemisia Gentileschi, and a few other female artists are represented in later time periods.

What’s enormously engaging is that there’s not a dry sentence in the book. Instead, this books reads like a collection of stories giving us historical context, biographical detail, technical insights that go down like a nice spiced chai on a hot day. My mind was sparking like a swarm of fireflies with ideas of how this book could be augmented with art projects and further reading to make history come alive for young children ages 5 and older.

One reproduction per artist is included, and then the pages are gracefully, beautifully illustrated in Kate Evans’ watercolors, helping us to see these towns and printing presses, galleries and ziggurats, soaring columns and war-torn countrysides and sunflower fields.

Included are a timeline, glossary of art terms, and listing of artworks which includes their dimensions and locations. Coming to us from the UK, this is a dream especially for homeschoolers or art teachers.

Are You an Art Sleuth? by Brooke DiGiovanni Evans, illustrated with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing
103 pages

Being an art sleuth means looking carefully at art and noticing all manner of things you might miss at first glance.

The paintings in this book each come with a list of items to find in them, and they’re not so easy! To find just one bracelet in a sea of Renoir figures, spot a pesky fly in a still life, track down 8 red hats in the Peasant’s Wedding or 3 mirrors in a lush interior takes time and patience and sleuthing!

That’s the first benefit of this book. Just the slowing down and careful looking, something that would transfer well to all of life. Noticing that there’s more to this than can be seen with the same rapidity as the zooming images in an electronic game. Learning to see.

After you’ve worked hard to find everything on the list, turn the page and read about the artist, the scene, the special qualities of this piece of art. Be enticed with some questions to use your imagination about the subject matter. In other words, learn to think, surmise, wonder, and understand art a bit more deeply.

This book relies solely on Western paintings, the majority from the 19th century. Inviting page lay-outs will draw in children ages 4 or 5 and up. It could be used independently by kids ages 7 and up to while away the time when traveling or otherwise waiting. Answers to all the puzzlers are included.

Where’s the Artist?: From Cave Paintings to Modern Art: A Look and Find Book, text by Susanne Rebscher, illustrations by Annabelle von Sperber
published in 2015 by Prestel Publishing

This book is a little trickier to use for those less familiar with art, yet it’s an engrossing, oversized book that practically immerses you in art and includes ideas to learn and wonder about together.

Each large, two-page spread ushers us into a new time period. Twelve jumps take us from prehistoric cave dwellers into our contemporary world.  There’s simply gobs to absorb in these illustrations. Surroundings, clothing, architecture, activities, all can be observed and enjoyed and talked about at leisure. Incorporated within these scenes are representations of art from that time — the towering statue of Athena, the girl with the pearl earring, Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. Even the overall pages have the flavor of the art period — a Mondrian-esque series of rectangles hold the images on one page while a surreal countryside of blue horses and lush wildly-colorful foliage comprises another.

this is just a small section of one large spread

There is no text on these pages. You are on your own to observe. The last pages of the book provide some context about each time period and its artwork — just a small bit. Our attention is drawn to a few particulars in some of the scenes and we’re challenged to find some elements.

The brevity of the text here makes this a great choice for those who want to dip their feet into art without being overwhelmed, while at the same time it means you will likely miss references to particular artists and works of art as there is no attempt to be thorough. That’s okay. Hopefully your appetite will be whetted for more. Ages 3 and up, depending on how you use the book.

Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs, by Joel Meyerowitz
published in 2016 by aperture
67 pages

This incredible guide to appreciating photography is unusual and insightful. I was fascinated by it and learned a lot, even though it calls itself a “kid’s guide!”

Meyerowitz has selected 30 photographs taken by a roster of photographers he has encountered over the 50+ years he’s worked in that world. He has constructed the book around principles or ways of seeing or tools that make a photograph special. Timing. Noticing something unusual. A sense of humor. Shadows. Perspectives.

Each two-page spread features one handsome photograph — some in color, others black-and-white. Such a wide range of subject matter and composition! Accompanying it are Meyerowitz’s keen remarks that serve to open the photo up for us, teach us to see what’s inside it and underneath it, to observe anew, to understand the remarkable nature of this particular shot.

The conversational tone of the text invites us to learn sophisticated ideas, fearlessly. Because of the author’s concision, he never overwhelms us. The page layouts are unusually elegant, terrifically inviting, pulling us to settle in, read slowly, and keep turning the pages to discover more. A fantastic choice for exploring with ages 7 and up.

Splat!: The Most Exciting Artists of All Time, by Mary Agnes Richards
published in 2016 by Thames & Hudson
92 pages

That’s a fairly heady claim within the title — the most exciting artists of all time?! — but we’ll overlook that and enjoy what is here.

And that’s a mix, a hybrid, between “fact pages” laid out for quick perusal, and “narrative pages” that dig a bit deeper. This format is geared, perhaps, to draw in slightly older children who love those stats and sound bites. For me, I did not love those overview pages. For each artist, we get one sentence (!) describing that artist’s main contribution, and a quick succession of who-what-where, background, and some mini-mini notebook pages with a few quick ideas associated with that artist. There’s also a full-page reproduction of one representative piece.

Turn the page and there are about four stout paragraphs of narrative text telling us about the artist and the piece on the previous page. Side bars  provide the added-bits-and-pieces approach to the subject which middle graders tend to devour.

This book is almost completely Western in focus, with only Hokusai and Kahlo breaking up the all-male, Euro-American club. A large portion of the book — about half — is devoted to modern and contemporary art. In fact the first artist is Michelangelo. So — much briefer than the first book but with a vibe that might appeal to older readers.

I hope you find something beautiful and useful here!

 

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charlotte in london cover imageCharlotte in London, by Joan MacPhail Knight, illustrations by Melissa Sweet

Charlotte Glidden is a (fictional) American girl, living in France in 1895. Her father moved the family there in order to study plein air painting under the great master, Claude Monet.

Now, her father is taking them on a jaunt to London. His plan is to spend several months painting his impressions of England. This provides Charlotte an incredible treasure trove of opportunities: viewing the sights of London, watching boat traffic on the Thames, attending fabulous dinner parties and teas with the likes of Henry James, marketing at Covent Garden and Piccadilly, the cotswoldsventuring into the Cotswolds, and meeting famous artists such as James Whistler, Sir John Lavery, Edwin Abbey, and above all, John Singer Sargent.

It is Mr. Sargent that they are most interested in, with Charlotte’s mother greatly desiring that he paint her portrait. As the Glidden family moves about England and the glittering circles of artists and collectors and

The Black Brook by John Singer Sargent

The Black Brook by John Singer Sargent

writers there, Charlotte learns more and more about the current art scene, and in particular about Sargent’s life, temperament, and painting genius.

This is, I believe, the fourth of the Charlotte books in which we meet artists and their worlds in such enchanting, creative stories.  Charlotte in Giverny meets Monet for the first time, in Paris she meets a number of the Impressionists, and in the midst of all this European living, she voyages to New York for a special exhibition. Her journals are the format of the books, and are full of the enthusiasm and delight of a young girl encountering these thrilling people and places.

Melissa Sweet’s collage art is perfect for the scrapbook look of these accounts. Color reproductions of masterpieces by the featured artists fit in alongside Sweet’s bright, charming watercolors and ephemera. The pages are a visual joy that draw us like a magnet into the lively, fascinating text.

charlotte in london illustration melissa sweet

These are fantastic introductions to the art of this period, with this book capturing as well the glories of England at the turn of the century. Included are short biographical entries on each featured artist and an author’s note clarifying what the fictional Charlotte would truly have encountered on such an expedition. It’s 64 profusely-illustrated pages long and will capture the interest of ages 7 and up — younger for some artistic souls.

Here’s the Amazon link:  Charlotte in London

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a splash of red cover imageA Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Horace Pippin, of Pennsylvania, completed his first oil painting in 1930 when he was more than 40 years old. By that time, he’d lived a whole lot of life. The grandchild of slaves, Pippin had worked, and studied, and worked, and drawn, and worked some more, until World War I broke out a splash of red illustration2 melissa sweetand Horace left for France.

Not only was the trench warfare he experienced there horrific, Horace was shot in his right shoulder. This injury severely limited his use of that arm for the rest of his life.

Yet Horace hungered to paint so much that he taught himself to grasp his right wrist with his good left hand and guide it along, first burning designs into wood, then picking up a paint brush and painstakingly creating over 140 paintings. Horace painted scenes of the war, and scenes of common life, scenes of nature, and Bible stories.

A self-taught artist, Pippin’s work has a primitive feel — plain in perspective, yet rich in appreciation for the beauty of ordinary aspects of life — women at work in the home, children playing, men singing on a street corner. He often painted in bright splashes of color — rag rugs and quilts, head scarves and the glowing fire of a woodstove, sing out to

Giving Thanks by Horace Pippin

Giving Thanks by Horace Pippin

us of the joy Pippin found in the commonplace.

Jen Bryant has written a wonderful biography of Pippin, crammed with juicy, vivid descriptions of Horace’s life and art. The darkness of war is there, the grit and toughness of life is there, but washing through the entire account is a wave of joy. Beautifully cohesive, concrete, and absorbing, this is a winner for ages 5 and up.

Melissa Sweet’s exuberant illustrations in watercolor, gouache, and mixed media are as enticing as a new box of crayons! So much lavish color! If you look at a selection of Pippin’s work on-line, you will have great fun spotting bits and pieces of his artwork incorporated into her a splash of red illustration melissa sweetillustrations. Really fun! Wonderful, hand-lettered quotes from Pippin are set into a number of pages.

A lengthy historical note,  notes from author and illustrator about their process of creating this book, and many leads for further investigation of Pippin’s art,  are included. They say we have some of his work in Minneapolis, but I could not figure out where it is held. New in 2013, this book fairly bursts with life and beauty.

Here’s the Amazon link:  A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

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monet paints a day cover imageMonet Paints a Day, by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Caitlin Heimerl

It’s a sunlit morning in Étretat, France, and Claude Monet is on his way to the beach.  He has packed paints and palette, brushes and canvases, easel and stool, and he is off to try his hand at the massive stone arch — the Manneporte.

Monet pauses a moment to absorb the scene around him — the water, the rocks, the sand — and most of all, the light.  Monet is captivated by the way light reflects on water or rock or cloud,  producing  dancing, swizzling, monet paints a day illustration caitlin heimerlfragmenting, ever-changing colors.  As a painter, he is determined to capture his impressions of this interplay of light on the scenes before him.  Since the light constantly changes, through movement of the sun, cloud cover, atmospheric changes, Monet never has long to paint each precise moment.   He works furiously.  He concentrates enormously.

And that’s the reason for a mighty big surprise for Monsieur Monet on this particular outing!  But I won’t spoil it for you!

Julie Danneberg has written an entirely engaging account of a true incident in Monet’s life.  Her story is not long on words, but packs in a terrific mix of sensory detail and  vivid particulars of Monet’s personality.  Additionally, in small asides, she fills us in on numerous interesting facts about Monet’s methods.  I never knew, for example, how few minutes at a shot he would work on a particular canvas before moving on to another when the light changed.  Quite fascinating.

A concluding Author’s Note gives a few more biographical details on Monet, and two pages of further information on his painting techniques will intrigue upper-elementary through adult readers.

monet paints a day illustration02  caitlin heimer

Caitlin Heimerl has beautifully illustrated the book with her watercolors.  She captures the quaint French seaside town and the blue-smocked Monet, the sun-dappled rocky cliffs and ocean, using a style that perfectly suits the

Waves at the Manneporte, by Claude Monet

Waves at the Manneporte, by Claude Monet

subject.  It’s a very appealing book, full of airy, light spaces, swimming in blues and glowing with golden sunlight. 

There are lots of books on Monet for young children; this one is a stand-out.  The main story is wonderfully suited to early-elementary age children, with the additional information on Monet creating a highly interesting read for all ages.

Here’s an Amazon link:   Monet Paints a Day

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Chuck Close: Face Book, based on an interview by Chuck Close, created by Joan Sommers and Amanda Freymann, with Ascha Drake

Chuck Close is an incredibly influential contemporary artist who works on just one subject:  the human face.  Whether he’s painting a massive, abstract, oil portrait, or squeezing pulp-paper into a collage, etching, silkscreening, or using his own fingerprints — Chuck Close focuses on faces, on which he loves to read “a road map of a life.” 

Glue + Paper Workshop has created this incredibly unusual biography of Close.  It’s a fascinating read; it’s chock-full of reproductions of his work;  AND… it includes a way-cool, mix-and-match-the-faces section — awesomely inventive!

The book is based on an interview between Close and a group of 5th graders from Brooklyn.  Their questions steer the book in directions we are all curious about:  What made you start to draw?  Why do you only paint faces? Why doesn’t anyone in your art smile?  And, referring to the accident at age 48 which caused paralysis from his chest down:  When you were paralyzed, were you afraid you wouldn’t be able to paint again?  Close answers beautifully.  Without talking down, he articulates his thoughts in language elementary students can grasp, honestly revealing many technical, philosophical, and emotional elements which undergird his art.  

Meanwhile, about one-third of the book is printed on sturdy cardboard pages, sliced in thirds, each of which has a full-page self-portrait done in a number of styles and mediums.  Foreheads generally take up the upper third, mouths and chins rest on the bottom, eyes and nose take up the middle.  Flip the pieces back and forth to compile brand new Chuck Close self-portraits!  Brilliant!

The book is rounded out with a graphic timeline of Close’s life (he’s still living, mind you), a list of some of the museums where you can view his work, (For those of you in Minneapolis, the book does not mention that we have the mindboggling “Frank” hanging in the MIA, and a number of gorgeous portraits at the Walker Art Center, so do go see them after you read this book!), along with other resources, a nice glossary of art terms, and more.  It’s like a triple-scoop ice cream cone:  the yumminess just keeps going and going and going… Highly recommended for ages 8 and up.  

Sandy’s Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Have you ever seen a mobile?  Thank Alexander Calder, the playful, inventive artist from Connecticut who experimented with dancing, whimsical, wire.

The child of artists, Calder began dabbling with wood, leather, and wire as a child, creating clever toys that entertained and delighted.  Moving from engineering to art as an adult, Calder took a job sketching scenes from the circus, which prompted him to return to the wire he loved and create an elaborate, ingenuous miniature circus.  Flying trapezes and high wire walkers, curly-maned lions and prancing ponies — Calder’s circus could pack up in a crate, then be set up to entertain audiences for hours.

Calder is most known for his mobiles, of course –his colorful, geometric pieces, suspended on thin, sweeping arms, elegantly hanging, gently bobbing, in air.  They are a joy to see.  Mobiles belong to the list of ideas that, when once brought to life, seem so essential to the world, so obvious almost, we cannot imagine that for millennia they did not exist.  Yet that bright, cheerful mobile suspended over your baby’s crib is a descendant of Calder’s genius.

This is a short, accessible story, focusing on Calder’s wire circus, that will introduce children as young as 4 to this brilliant artist.  Kulikov’s bright, sunny illustrations fill the pages with enthusiasm and optimism and liveliness.  I love the Muse who gads along, inspiring Calder here and there on his life-journey!    Read, then look for Calder’s mobiles in a museum near you, including, Minneapolis-dwellers, the MIA and the Walker.

The Wonderful Towers of Watts, by Patricia Zelver, with pictures by Frané Lessac

Simon Rodia was an Italian-born immigrant who settled in Los Angeles in 1921, purchasing a small lot in the Watts neighborhood.  Known as Old Sam, Rodia was a bit of a quirky fellow, who worked in a tile factory by day. 

And by night?  Outside of his work hours, Old Sam was a collector…and an artist.  His collection included shards of colorful tiles, fragments of cobalt blue and emerald green glass bottles, bits of bright pottery and shimmering mirrors, quaint knobs and funky faucets.  Sam purchased cement and steel.  Then, without any fancy machinery, without any help, Old Sam began to build. 

Crazy towers, towering spires, eccentric spiraling sculptures began to rise from behind Old Sam’s walled yard.  On the surfaces of these steel structures, Sam affixed the gewgaws and doodads he’d been collecting, until a fanciful, fantastical, mosaic-adorned monument glinted against the blue-blue California sky.

The Watts Towers still stand, now on the National Register of Historic Places.  They are a grand spectacle of folk art, built by a man with a singular vision who just kept carrying on until he succeeded.  I’m looking forward to seeing them for myself when I visit L.A.  later this year.  This simply-told story grabs our attention, giving just enough details for kids ages 4 and up.  Just be prepared for some backyard construction projects in consequence!  Brilliant, sun-baked, jewel-colored gouache paintings by Lessac mimic the rustic and whimsical nature of Rodia’s artistry.

Vincent’s Colors, words and pictures by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh wrote often to his brother, describing his paintings, telling a few of his thoughts about them.  In this beautiful book, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has paired sixteen of his paintings,with a short, evocative phrase of van Gogh’s to describe each one.  Using translations of the Dutch or French van Gogh wrote in, and setting them in pleasant rhyming patterns, the book calls our attention particularly to the colors he chose and his descriptions of them.

Chairs the color of “fresh butter,” and cypress trees “of a bottle-green hue.”  So satisfying to hear what he had to say about his own color choices, and then to have our eyes drawn to the other colors and brushstrokes he used in his dancing skies, undulating hills, and radiant stars.  

The book is beautifully arranged with a full-page, gorgeous reproduction set opposite a white page with just a short phrase walking across the middle of it; simple, undistracting, thought-provoking.  Children as young as toddlers can feast their eyes on these paintings, surely some of the loveliest in the world; can revel in van Gogh’s colors and textures; can be prompted to see and name the glorious colors in their own worlds.  Really lovely.

Romare Bearden: Collage of Memories, by Jan Greenberg

Romare Bearden was born in 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and spent his artistic life in New York City before he died in 1988.  He was an African-American man who experimented with collage, focusing his art on the nitty-gritty of ordinary life and particularly on the history and culture of his people.

Bearden’s life was anchored in a childhood spent in places like  Harlem, whose streets were bursting with new immigrants trying to become those who truly belonged in America, and Pittsburgh, where the steel factories dominated the cityscape.  He stocked his memories with jazz singers and folk musicians, neighbors and friends rejoicing, mourning, dancing, working.  These bits and pieces of his life emerged in his complex, vibrant collages later in life.

Bearden experimented a great deal, cutting, painting, mounting, contrasting images and colors and placements until he achieved the style and rhythm and force he is famous for.  His massive collage “The Block” at the Met in New York, stretches 18 feet long by 4 feet high — an incredible representation of interiors and exteriors of an urban, black neighborhood.

This extensive biography by Jan Greenberg explores the influence of Bearden’s life and his artistic choices which culminated in his unique voice.  Lavishly illustrated with reproductions of Bearden’s works, Greenberg also often quotes from Bearden, seeking to help us understand the artist from his own point of view, rather than describing him from afar.  It’s a solid introduction to this thoroughly American artist which will help children ages 9 and up appreciate his work all the more when they see it.  

Here are Amazon links for these artistic biographies:
Chuck Close: Face Book

Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder

The Wonderful Towers of Watts (Reading Rainbow Books)

Vincent’s Colors

Romare Bearden: Collage of Memories

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

If you lived in New York City in 2005, you could have gone to see the largest work of art ever created.  Wending their way through Central Park, were 7503 brilliant tangerine fabric panels, created and installed under the direction of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.  They called their installation, The Gates.

The Gates stretched for 23 miles, all around the big backyard of bustling NYC,  orange frames fitted with saffron nylon curtains, all ready to be released in one glorious burst of color on February 12, 2005, for a world-wide audience charged up with curiosity over something so…huge, so…unusual, so…inexplicable.  What would it be like?

Beyond the artists’ dreams, that’s what it was like.  Beyond the wildest expectations of untold numbers of people who flew in from around the globe to experience the strangely exhilarating, happy display.

This fascinating book tells the story of The Gates, from conception to realization to its ending, just 16 days after the unfurling of the draperies.  It also introduces us to this unique, husband-and-wife artistic team and a number of their other wildly inventive artworks around the globe.  The book ends with the glimmerings of their newest project along the Arkansas River in Colorado.  Although Jeanne-Claude has since died, Christo is still working towards this  — a silver, 40-mile-long tunnel.  You can find out more about it here.

Photographs of the entire, detailed, enormous process of producing this massive installation, as well as a number of their other curious, outsized, outdoor artworks, enliven the large pages of this book.   See magenta-encircled islands off Florida’s coast, a brilliant orange curtain stretching across a gap in the Colorado mountains, and a billowing white fence running for miles through the hills of Sonoma County, California.  I’m guessing, even though you may have difficulty wrapping your mind around this art, your kids will think it is quite exciting!  

Here’s an Amazon link:  Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond

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