Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Brice Marden; printed by Kathan Brown. Marden, American, born 1938. Untitled from the Adriatics portfolio, 1973. Etching printed in black on Rives BFK paper. Gift of Angela Westwater, class of 1964. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:10-2.
Brice Marden; printed by Kathan Brown. Marden, American, born 1938. Untitled from the Adriatics portfolio, 1973. Etching printed in black on Rives BFK paper. Gift of Angela Westwater, class of 1964. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:10-3.
Among my favorite works in the SCMA collection are these two prints by Brice Marden which merge chance expression with methodical control. Known as a “Romantic Minimalist,” his extremely reductive visual language of monochromes, lines, and grids may at first appear similar to that of his Minimalist contemporaries of the 1960s and ‘70s, but Marden never completely abandoned the accidental or idiosyncratic gesture characteristic of Abstract Expressionists.
In the 1970s, Marden discovered his affinity for the etching process through several brilliant collaborations with the master printer Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press in Oakland, CA. Marden found that etching allowed him to make intricate, serial investigations of linear and expressive mark-making, often through the manipulation of a grid composition.
In his second collaboration with Brown in 1973, Marden made the two Untitled prints from the Adriatics series pictured above, named after the Adriatic Sea between Italy and Greece. Divided laterally into two different grids which are reminiscent of nautical charts, these prints are intended to evoke the variation of weight and density of the sky and sea. They display Marden’s characteristic anxious lines, which are especially tense where his etching needle slipped or his sweater was imprinted on the plate (see details below). I have found that my eye is drawn into these works by these miniscule imperfections, wandering aimlessly around and around the image, finding new details with each viewing. Marden skillfully balances these subtle instances of chance expression with the grid’s semblance of perfection. The result is an overall quietude which invites patient viewers into a hypnotic, meditative state similar to that induced by gazing out into the vastness of the sea.
Details of Marden’s two Untitled prints from the Adriatics portfolio, SC 1978:10-2 (left) and SC 1978: 10-3 (right). Details show marks made by a slipped etching needle (left) and an imprint of Marden’s sweater on the etching place (right).
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Postcards are an enormously popular way to share the memories of your journey with other people, and nearly all of us have received a postcard at one time or another. Like many people, I have a postcard collection, full of images from places I’ve gone or where my friends have travelled. My postcards are a physical reminder of memories I treasure.
The Hagia Sophia
Pascal Sebah, Turkish (1857 – 1886) Mosquee de Ste. Sophie, ca. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-968
At the beginning of the 19th century, improved travel by train and by steamship offered Europeans greater access to Turkey and to Constantinople, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire. A traveler no longer needed to be wealthy to go in comfort throughout the near East. Now, a middle-class German could sign on for a planned tour that embarked from Italy, stopped at the pyramids of Cairo, traveled to the holy sites of Palestine, and finally landed in Constantinople. With this influx of European travelers came a greater demand for art souvenirs, particularly photographs that could capture the sights and cultures of these far-off locales.
The Blue Mosque
Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. Mosquee du Sultan – Ahmed, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-970
One photographer who took advantage of this growing market was Pascal Sebah. Under the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Constantinople was a thriving city with a multiethnic population, and Pascal’s family reflects this diversity: his father was a Syrian Catholic and his mother was Armenian.
Sebah opened his first studio in 1857 at the age of thirty-four. His reputation quickly grew, earning accolades from the Société Française de Photographie in Paris. During the height of his career, he collaborated with innovative Turkish painter Osman Hamdi Bey, and exhibited works at the 1873 Ottoman exhibition in Vienna.
Interior of the Blue Mosque
Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. Interieur de la Mosquee Ahmed, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-971
Spurred on by his increasing reknown, Sebah opened a second studio abroad in Cairo. His photographs now included the sights and streets of Egypt. Pascal Sebah continued to travel between these two cities, and to show his work at international exhibitions, until he passed away in 1886 from the debilitating aftermath of a brain hemorrhage.
Still, his legacy continued. His son Jean Sebah took up his father’s business, partnering with fellow photographer Policarpe Joaillier. In 1893, Sultan Abdulhamid made a gift of fifty-one photographic albums representing the span of the Ottoman Empire, two of which were produced by Sebah & Joaillier (as their studio came to be known). The albums, now housed in the Library of Congress, were received by then-president Grover Cleveland.
The Galata Tower and the Beyoğlu neighborhood
Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. Yüksek Kaldırım, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-976
Many of the sites Pascal Sebah and his successors captured – the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower– are still instantly recognizable to any modern person in Turkey. The clothes many have changed, and the advertisements, but the bones of this age-old city still remain.
Bazaar in Istanbul
Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. 440. Bazar a Istamboul, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-975
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Nusra Latif Qureshi, Pakistani (1973 - ). Tropic of Capricorn, 2002. Siyah-qalam, gouache, liquid gold, and gold leaf on wasli paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:4
The tradition of Mughal miniatures first appeared in South Asia in the mid-16th century, under the patronage of Emperor Akbar. In the spirit of cultural tolerance, this Muslim ruler commissioned his court artists to produce manuscripts illustrating Hindu epics, historical narratives and personal biographies; these works blended the local Jain manuscript tradition with Safavid (Persian) miniatures. The result was opulent, precise, rich in color and in detail. We have some examples in the Smith Museum collection, such as this portrait of Emperor Akbar painted after his death.
Unknown artist. Mughal Emperor Akbar, 17th century. Opaque water base colors and gold on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Kenneth Galbraith (Catherine Atwater, class of 1934). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1981:27-9
This rich tradition still lives on, although only a few practice it. Nusra Latif Qureshi is a leading figure in the contemporary miniature scene, having studied the art at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan.
Three Songs of Desire reveals Qureshi’s mastery of the miniature style, in the beautifully rendered figure of a woman. The colors are as deep and saturated as the portrait of Emperor Akbar. She even painted the work on wasli, the delicate handmade paper created for traditional miniatures.
Nusra Latif Qureshi, Pakistani (1973 - ). Three Songs of Devotion, 2002. Gouache on wasli paper with tan-colored paper frame. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:5
That said, her work is decidedly untraditional. As a woman engaging with an art form dominated by men, she plays with those images and motifs gone unquestioned in miniature art for centuries. Often, she draws focus back to female figures in her work, something you can see clearly in Three Songs of Devotion. The man and woman embrace, a typical romantic intimacy, but the man is blotted out in black, a silhouette. All detail and individualism belongs to the woman, who sits straight and barely supported by her lover.
Detail of couple from Three Songs of Devotion
In this piece, Qureshi has also stripped out the typical opulence of a Mughal miniature, and replaced that environment with flat plains of color. Layered above the main scene are lines of white, forming new images entirely.
Detail of birds from Three Songs of Devotion
These untraditional additions actually have their basis in a different era of Indian art. Starting in the late 18th century, the British East India Company began to expand further into South Asia, and with it came an influx of British employees. With this migration was a demand for art that recorded these unfamiliar settings and Indian artists were hired to paint local monuments, flora and fauna. Watercolor was the medium of choice, as this type of paint is quick to dry, and easy to carry around. Eventually, Indian artists began to produce these works in large numbers to sell as souvenirs to foreign travelers.
Detail of a putto (cupid) from Three Songs of Devotion
The style became known as ‘Company painting,’ and these realistic, detailed watercolors have their echoes in Qureshi's works. In Three Songs of Devotion, ghostly white outlines form birds that overlap each other and the larger image, flanked by the winged putti (or cupids) so often seen in European Renaissance art.
Nusra Latif Qureshi, Pakistani (1973 - ). Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds, November 2003. Gouache on paperboard. Purchased with the Richard and Rebecca Evans (Rebecca Morris, class of 1932) Foundation Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:6
Qureshi's drawing Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds likewise references these Company paintings; she even renders a crane’s body with watery brushstrokes, reminiscent of the preferred medium for these early ornithological souvenirs.
Detail of bird in Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds
A major part in Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds is the ghostly outline of a group sitting and standing together, posed for a photograph. Qureshi has taken what seems to be a colonialist photograph from the early 20th century and recreated it here, although she has omitted many details.
Detail from Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds
The light color makes the figures difficult to see against the white background. I wonder if they are the fourteen-year-olds referenced in the title, but I can’t tell from the image alone. Indeed, they are faceless, their identity obscured, an omission made more powerful by the text floating above them: “But the poor orientals have a collective identity…”
Detail from Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds
Qureshi is telling a story of erasure, both present and past. Her art speaks to a history some would prefer to forget, and racist attitudes that still pervade.
There are purists who prefer the unadulterated miniature style. In her own way, however, Nusra Latif Qureshi carries on the spirit of experimentation foraged in the artists’ studio of Emperor Akbar, creating a hybrid art that weds the complex cultural interactions that still influence South Asia today.