Thursday, October 17, 2019

Image of "Impossible Art" Painting Found Akin to Work by M.C. Escher

In a periodic sweep of the web, we identified a black and white image of a Francis Quirk painting. It is entitled Four Step Gantry Gated. Given the "impossible" nature of the work we suspect that it may have been included in the Impossible Art Exhibition of 1970.


image of gantry
Four Step Gantry Gated by Francis J. Quirk
This painting is reminiscent of the work of M.C. Escher. 

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically-inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. Despite wide popular interest, Escher was for long somewhat neglected in the art world, even in his native Netherlands. He was 70 before a retrospective exhibition was held.

Escher influences Francis Quirk
Impossible Cube by M. C. Escher
Quirk's impossible art paintings are another illustration of his versatility in being able to produce yet another type of painting. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ten Great Art Books for Children

As a parent and writer of a blog about art, I am frequently asked about how to expose children to art. Through the years three approaches have brought some success: books, museum visits, and art classes.

This post will focus on the books and those for younger children in particular. We have compiled this list of ten great art books for kids. All of them are filled with bright colors and almost all containing a narrative. Our eyes have evolved to track to bright colors. (This is part of the reason why cartoons and Sesame Street hold the viewer’s attention.) The storyline helps with the engagement.

Many of these books are available at your library or local bookstore. They make great gift ideas for relatives and grandparents who want to bring something that will catch the eye, but not be a toy or socks.  They are wonderful options for reading with a child or grandchild as the adult can learn a little bit as well. To make it easier we have included links to the books on Amazon to make it easier to find what you need.

1. Babar’s Museum of Art-   Everybody loves Babar! And when he goes to the Museum, you both get the opportunity to learn about various painting styles. The paintings do have elephants subbing in for the original subjects, but it still works swimmingly.  This is a great foundation book.


2. Frida- A colorful story book about this intriguing Mexican painter.


3. Chuck Close Up Close- His unusual painting style captures a child’s attention well while also conveying subtle lessons about different techniques and perspectives. This one is a bit pricey, but Close makes it into the curriculum's of many a school. 


4. Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail (Anholt's Artists Books For Children)- Picasso is a seminal figure in modern art and this book tells his story.



 5. Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci- Leonardo's ingenuity and engaging ideas tend to pull boys in.



6. Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright's Masterpiece- The story of one of the country’s finest buildings by its most iconic architect. If you have a trip to Fallingwater, this book can lay the foundation for a more productive visit.





 7. Through Georgia's Eyes- Georgia O’Keeffe’s beautiful paintings are timeless.



8. Roy's House- Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic comic book style lends itself to exciting graphics. 



 9. Diego- A colorful story book about this intriguing Mexican painter and muralist.


10. A Child's Introduction to Art: The World's Greatest Paintings and Sculptures-This is our one non-story book. It provides a follow-up after the others have piqued the child’s interest.


Did we leave anything out?  What should we add?

Note that these are paid links. 





Sunday, September 8, 2019

Francis Quirk's Solo Exhibition at Lehigh

Through a generous and thoughtful collector of Francis Quirk's art we have obtained a program from an exhibition of his paintings. The year is not provided, however we suspect that the year was 1970. With further research, we will ultimately nail it down as it may have been as early as 1967. One data point is that the painting on the cover of the exhibition catalog entered the collection in Georgia in 1971. 

Cover of Francis J. Quirk Exhibition Flyer

In this post, we are attempting to try to virtually recreate the exhibition, by providing as many paintings as we can. It is a work in progress that we will add to as we gain images. But before we continue, let us first comment on the exhibition and the paintings highlighted in the pamphlet.

Quirk had been the main pillar of arts at Lehigh University before his retirement and conversion to Professor Emeritus in 1969. In his 19 years at the school he scheduled numerous cutting edge exhibitions, fostered the careers of many artists and championed the arts in the region. This exhibition continues that tradition of pushing the envelope and including works from his classic interests: portraiture, maritime and nature.

Placing the portrait of Queenie Williams on the cover was a daring move and illustrates Quirk's ability to push the boundaries of his times. At the time of this writing, almost 50 years later, many US art museums have realized their woeful lack of women of color in their collections. In 1970, putting this painting up front at an exhibition at Lehigh University in a predominantly Caucasian community clearly made a statement.  While it seems hard to believe, at this time, Bruce Springsteen was not welcome to perform at certain U.S. colleges because his iconic saxophone player Clarence Clemons was an African American. This fine work now resides in the collection of the Georgia Museum of Art.

Inside Cover of Francis J. Quirk Exhibition Flyer


It also contains maritime works with several painting of sailboats. Quirk thoroughly enjoyed painting boats and on his retirement looked forward to painting many of them at his summer home in Kinney Shores, Maine.

Painting Listing of Francis J. Quirk Exhibition Flyer

One of the hostesses for the evening was his wife, Francis.  We believe she is in the photo below, but do not think this is from this particular exhibition. 


Francis Quirk discusses a painting with Anna J. Quirk and another gentlemen. 




Francis J. Quirk Exhibition Flyer back cover


Below are the images that we have assembled as of this date and a few comments about them.



#2 Shrimper Early Morning   Canton Museum of Art

Fisherman Portrait, Portrait Fisherman, Shrimper Image,
Shrimper Early Morning  Image courtesy of Canton Museum of Art

#4 The Soloist  Queenie Williams

Portrait African American Woman, Gospel Singer Portrait, image gospel singer, Quirk
The Soloist  (Queenie Williams) by Francis J. Quirk  Image courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art

#11 Man's Island

Man's Island by Francis J. Quirk  photo reproduced from exhibition pamphlet

#14 Marconis and Gaff

Quirk Painting, Francis J. Quirk, francis quirk
Marconis and Gaff  photo reproduced from exhibition pamphlet


#37 The Artist     Note that there is another self-portrait in the collection at the University of Notre Dame's Snite Gallery from approximately the same period. They will not authorize reproductions, so it can not be included. However, if you are in South Bend, you can stop by the Snite and ask to see it. We are not fully certain whether this image or the Notre Dame image belongs here. 

Quirk, Quirk Art, Self-portrait, Artist self-portrait
The Artist self portrait by Francis J. Quirk.  

#38 Island Trees #1
Image of painting of trees by Francis Quirk
Add caption

#38 Island Trees #3

Image of painting of trees by Francis Quirk

#42 Dr. J. Rutzky   We do not have an image of this painting at the moment. However, we have reached out to Dr. Rutzky's family to see if they still have the work. If so, we will update this post. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Pine Barrens Painting en Plein Air

A different type of Francis Quirk painting recently came to our attention and we are excited to share it with our followers. ***As you read this post, please follow through to the addendum at the end.*** 

'Morning on the Pine Barrens' was executed in 1970 when quirk was 63 years old. At this time in his life  he had retired from teaching at Lehigh University and served as a Professor Emeritus. In 1969 he had spent a fellowship at Georgia's Ossabaw Island painting from nature.

The Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands or simply the Pines, is a heavily forested area of coastal plain stretching across more than seven counties of southern New Jersey. The name "pine barrens" refers to the area's sandy, acidic, nutrient-poor soil. Although European settlers could not cultivate their familiar crops there, the unique ecology of the Pine Barrens supports a diverse spectrum of plant life, including orchids and carnivorous plants. The area is also notable for its populations of rare pygmy pitch pines and other plant species that depend on the frequent fires of the Pine Barrens to reproduce. The sand that composes much of the area's soil is referred to by the locals as sugar sand.


En Plein Air painting, plein air painting, Painting of the Pine Barrens, Pine Barrens, New Jersey
Morning in the Pine Barrens by Francis J. Quirk











The oil painting is painted on board, a material he frequently used. Parts of it including the trees on the left and right foreground as well as the forest wall seem almost monochromatic with a limited color palette.  He executed several paintings from nature at Ossabaw that truly were monochromatic. Three prominent areas of color dominate this painting: the blue sky, yellow-green treetops and the green ground.

Focusing on the composition the line of treetops guides the eye to the middle right and then the two figures bring it back to the lower center. The hunters also are executed in a monochromatic fashion.



At first glance, it almost appears to be an unfinished work, but the price on the back indicates that it was sold as a finished work.



Reverse of 'Morning on the Pine Barrens' Painting by Francis Quirk


artists signature 'Morning on the Pine Barrens' Painting by Francis Quirk


'Plein Air' is characterized as a style of painting out of the studio, outdoors with less adherence to academic rules. It originated in France along with impressionism in the 19th century. Special painting sets were developed that included mobile easels and cases for paint so that it was easier to get out into the countryside. 

Popular plein air painters include John Constable and Alfred Sisley. An example from both is provided below. You can see that these paintings, like Quirk's, have a loose, less finished format. They capture the essence of the day without intense detail.



En Plein Air painting by Constable



En Plein Air painting by Sisley

Addendum- It has come to our attention that a person familiar with Francis Quirk's work questions the attribution of this painting to him. On the one hand it is less finished in appearance than most his work with monochromatic portions. This initially caused the author to raise an eyebrow. On the other hand Quirk was also producing truly monochromatic canvases at this time.  And not every work by every painter is a masterpiece. Nonetheless, we felt that the nature of the question raised and the stature of the person raising it warranted sharing it with the readership. 


Monday, August 26, 2019

The Quirk Art Diaspora- Unusual Painting Coming Up for Auction in New York

It is interesting following the dispersion of Francis Quirk's artwork since we first saw the large trove sold in Maine a few years ago. Since then, we have seen pieces sold that day resell in Rhinebeck, New York, New Jersey and now New York City at Cabo Auctions

One unexpected benefit is that the pieces are usually well photographed, and this allows us to improve the quality of our image library. Those who have been following this blog for a long time may recall that many of the images captured in Maine were not of the best quality. 

Quirk Painting, Quirk Art. Picture of Quirk Painting, Francis Quirk Art, Francis Quirk Artist
Francis Quiirk- Futuristic building with hanging ball. Oil on aluminum sheet. Signed at lower right and dated 68. Sheet size, 18 x 24 inches.
Cabo describes it as "Futuristic building with hanging ball. Oil on aluminum sheet. Signed at lower right and dated 68. Sheet size, 18 x 24 inches." Upon initially encountering the painting, it seemed atypical of his work. But perhaps it was inspired by the futuristic buildings of Expo 67 in Montreal. That exposition, like New York's World's fair seemed to highlight the bright future that lied before us. And the architectural creativity still stands out as unique and innovative today. 



Image result for Expo 68 architecture
Habitat 67 Montreal 

Cabo also supplied a photo of Francis Quirk's signature. He never cut corners when it came to signing his name. 
Francis Quirk Artist, Francis J. Quirk Signature, Artist's Signature
Francis Quirk Signature.


We use an app LiveAuctioneers to track the auction market in general and for Quirk's works in particular. If you are collecting a specific artist, or artists, it is a helpful tool. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ruth Gikow- Francis Quirk Brings Her Art to the Lehigh Valley

We continue our stream of posts about artists who were helped by Francis Quirk by looking at Ruth Gikow.

Gikow's career - from aspiring commercial artist to recognized fine artist - began in New York City, where her family settled after fleeing an antisemitic pogrom in the Ukraine. She had been born there on Jan. 6, 1915. During their two year flight they had wandered through Europe including a year outside Bucharest in a gypsy camp. In 1920 her family immigrated to the United States including her father, Boris Gikow, a photographer, and her mother, Lena. They settled on the Lower East Side, where Gikow grew up in poverty. With a zest for living she never lost, she overcame the language barrier quickly and survived the teeming streets, diverting her tough cronies with chalk drawings on the sidewalk. She won distinction for her artwork at Washington Irving High School, which had one of the strongest art departments in New York City.


Ruth Gikow with her family c 1950 including husband Jack Levine and Daughter Susanna
She intended to pursue a career as a fashion artist after graduating from high school in 1932. Instead, unable to find a job, she enrolled at Cooper Union, where she was a pupil of the American regionalist painter John Steuart Curry and Austin Purvis, Jr., director of the school. She was determined, she said jokingly years later, ''to make a lot of money so I could have a French maid.''As she had throughout high school, Gikow continued to support herself and contribute to the family income by working evenings at Woolworth’s.

During her studies at Cooper Union, Gikow abandoned her aspiration to do commercial work and chose painting instead. A fellowship during her second year allowed her to study privately with idealistic young Raphael Soyer. A review of his work will show some similarities in technique. Soon an informal exhibition of her work, painted in a social realist style, was held at the Eighth Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. From then on, her subjects remained the urban environment and the vast multiplicity of its inhabitants.

As an impoverished young woman, she joined the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration as a muralist, an assigment, she later said, compatible with her desire to bring art ''to the people.'In 1939, she was commissioned to paint murals for the children's ward at Bronx Hospital, Riker's Island and Rockefeller Center. We have not been able to find images of these works. With some associates, she helped found the American Serigraph Society, which turned out a volume of original graphics within the range of people of modest means.
Ruth Gikow Tunnel of Horrors 1935 through WPA

Following World War II, after a brief career in commercial art, she met and married artist Jack Levine. Challenged by his dedication and commitment, she returned to her own painting and drawing with renewed vigor. She illustrated Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and began to exhibit at New York's Weyhe Gallery, Grand Central Galleries, Nordness Gallery, Forum Gallery and the Kennedy Galleries. Her endless quest to find humanity in a turbulent and sometimes hostile environment led art critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock to describe her as one of the country's "ten outstanding women painters."


By 1946, the time of her first one-woman show, Gikow had settled into Expressionism. Two years later, a critic found that Gikow was making ''extraordinary progress'' as ''her mood deepened in a new maturity.'' By the early 1960's, most of her paintings were of people, caught in a variety of moods as she emerged as an Early Modernist. 

One representative painting, ''Kleptomaniac,'' showed a prim elderly woman with fear and humiliation on her face. It was inspired by something that Miss Gikow had seen years before when she was working at Woolworth's. The prim, elderly woman had been caught stealing a tiny bottle of perfume.''An artist must constantly refer to life to get a living, growing art,'' Miss Gikow said. We have sought out images of this painting without success. However, the painting below may be an apt illustration of her work and the accompanying description from an exhibition held at the George Grevsky Gallery describes it well.

Adoration of the Gadget 1969 by Ruth Gikow



"Nowhere are these themes more clearly relevant than in Adoration of the Gadget, 1969. In this painting, various people are preoccupied by their cameras, hair dryers, and other electronic devices. Gikow, however, is not praising the rise in home electronics, but is commenting on the captivation of the human mind by that which it does not fully understand." - Text from George Krevsky Gallery


The people she painted seldom were anchored in a particular place, but instead seemed to hover on the surface of the canvas. Sometimes the figures were almost fluid, an effect that Gikow helped to achieve by using oils thinned by turpentine. Against 'Facelessnes'I wanted to get underneath things,'' Gikow said, ''to be more involved with individuals, and to get away from facelessness.'' Miss Gikow's last show, at the Kennedy Galleries in 1979, was almost entirely of people - sitting, standing, walking, running, dancing and, matter of factly, growing old.

The two works below as are renditions of the same image in two different media. Since she reproduced the work, she must have had some affinity for it. 

Ruth Gikow- The Kitchen    print
Ruth Gikow-  The Kitchen   oil on canvas

The works below show Gikow's range of style, technique and media. 
Ruth Gikow- Ballerinas

Ruth Gikow- Interior   lithograph


Ruth Gikow- Psychosis- Two Napoleons and a Josephine    screen print

Ruth Gikow- Seance

Gikow's work is represented in numerous private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Portland Museum of Art, Maine, National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford Arts Foundation, Connecticut, and the Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, Ohio. Among her awards were an Institute of Arts and Letters grant and a Childe Hassam Fund Award.

If you are a fan of her work, or if this blog has piqued your interest, you may be able to locate or purchase a work through the George Krevsky Gallery.

Learn more about Ruth through her Wikipedia profile.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

James Penney- Muralist, Hamilton Professor, Work in exhibition curated by Francis Quirk

As we work through the artists that exhibited their works at Lehigh University Art Galleries under Francis Quirk's aegis, we will today highlight James Penney who taught in the Hamilton College Art Department from 1948 until his retirement in 1976.


A native of Saint Joseph, Missouri, James Penney came to New York in 1931 after graduating from the University of Kansas. At the Art Students League he studied with George Grosz, John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton and the printmaker Charles Locke.

In our research, we checked out the oral history interview kept at the Archives of American Art and learned that Penney's first mural commission at Queens, New York's Flushing High School was through the WPA. Photos are below and textual descriptions can be found here. 


WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney

WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney

WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney

WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney


First recognized as a major American artist during his years as a muralist with the WPA Arts Project. He made the mural the Memories of Marion Country for the Palmyra Post Office, and Aspects of Rural Missouri for the Union Post Office – both in Missouri. 


Memories of Marion County by James Penney  Palmyra Missouri Post Office
Memories of Marion County by James Penney  Palmyra, Missouri Post Office
Close up of  "Memories of Marion County" by James Penney  Palmyra, Missouri Post Office



Close up of  "Memories of Marion County" by James Penney  Palmyra, Missouri Post Office




Aspects of Rural Missouri By James Penney




The realist style of the 1930s and early 1940s eventually gave way to a freer, more expressionistic handling of both oil and watercolor. Penney went on to teach at Hunter College, Bennington College, and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute and Hamilton College.



Studio West 58th Street by James Penney


Penney went on to win several national competitions, including the commission in 1963 to paint the murals in the vestibule of the Nebraska State Capitol at Lincoln. (Note that some biographies give him credit for murals in the rotunda, which does not appear to be accurate.) We reproduce two of them below. First Furrow is particularly striking in that it captures the effort to break the sod of the Nebraskan plains. One can feel the oxen straining and hear the creaking of the plow with the driver struggling to retain his balance as he guides it through the sod.  The second provides a classic American scene of people coming together to frame a house. 


First Furrow by James Penney Nebraska State Capitol

Raising the House by James Penney Nebraska State Capitol


An archive of Penney's New Yorker cover drawings, mural studies, and prints, is in the New York Historical Society (the lithograph Subway was in their exhibition Impressions of New York, 2005). There are Penney lithographs in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.


Subway Interior by James Penney


"Girders and Lights" Etching by James Penney


Like Quirk, Penney would master realism and establish himself as a beloved figure in academia. Penney differed  in that he took his art in different directions including city life, prints, abstract, recycled objects. 


"Edge of a Field' by James Penney 



In 1955 the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art had a retrospective of his work referring to him as a member of the Ashcan School. You can see/buy the catalog here on Etsy. He also has works in the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

We also note that Penney definitely held strong opinions as this painting executed during the depression makes a strong point. 


"Thoughts of Capitalism by a Missourian in the Depression" by James Penney