Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fine Arts Foundation - Visit to John Svenson some photos

Photos from our visit to artist John Svenson's home and studio yesterday. At the top, my wife Minche stands next to "Deep Sea Madonna." In the next photo, Paul stands next to "Sea Sprite," another of John's impressive sculptures in wood. At the bottom, Paul and Minche are with John Svenson in front of a relief carved into redwood of an octopus.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fine Arts - A visit to John Svenson' house by Scripps Fine Arts Foundation

Scripps College Fine Arts Foundation. We had 35 members and guests for a tour of artist John Svenson's home and studio today Saturday Jan 29, 2011. We raised more than $1,000 for our Senior Art Grants program, which will be awarded to the students on Monday, February 14 during our visit to the Lang Arts Studios at the Scripps College Art Building. Seven senior art students are slated for grants. The tour was followed by a buffet lunch served on John's beautiful patio in brilliant California sunshine in San Antonio Heights overlooking Upland. Minche Myers, Connie Layne, and Marci Stewart put on a beautiful spread of salads, sandwichs, chips and salsas, desserts, coffee, fruit salads and a beauitful cheese plate. The artist's son David and his wife, sculptor Reese Williams, and the mother-daughter team of Norma and Cindy provided docent talks on John's magnificent collection of art that he and his late wife collected from around the world plus his many own original works. The singular striking thing about John's work is its originality: it is rare in my experience for so many pieces of art to just get inside your head and heart and imagination the way John's work does.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review - "Lords of Finance" by Liaquat Ahamed

This is a fascinating look at the personalities and beliefs of the top central bankers of the US, Britain, France, and Germany from before World War I through the Great Crash and the Great Depression beyond. The personalities shaped the beliefs upon which these bankers acted and more importantly the huge blind spots in their thinking that caused these men to be unable to master the complexities and fundamentals of the Great Depression. Many of their erroneous beliefs have re-surfaced in the modern Republican party's rants against the stimulus and its primitive need to go back to "the ol' time religion" of budget balancing in the face of depressed demand. So the morality tale is hugely relevant to today's economic debate.

The voice of reason out in the wilderness to this tale is that of John Maynard Keynes, who by the end of the book has risen to worldwide preeminence and is a major architect of the worldwide prosperity that followed World War II, the prosperity from which we have all enormously benefitted.

A profile of Keynes early in the book describes his position as one of the most influential figures in the British Treasury during and after World War I. There is a fascinating summary of his thinking: "As the war dragged on, he himself became increasingly disillusioned with its terrible waste, the relentless loss of lives, the refusal of the politicians to contemplate a negotiated settlement, and the steady erosion of Britain's financial standing."

I am utterly fascinated by the wisdom of the Western leaders throwing away the opportunity to negotiate a settlement with Germany in 1916 or 1917 or even early 1918. Keynes made a hugely wise observation about one of history's great missed opportunities. A negotiated peace would have meant that a new equilibrium could have been established. Kaiser's Germany was not Hitler's Germany. A lot of lost lives could have been saved. The Second World War could have been avoided because its underlying driving forces would simply have not been present. That is because World War II did not become some inevitability at Munich in 1938 but rather it became an inevitability in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference with its Treaty of Versailles. Keynes miraculously prophesied the coming of the Second World War in his book "The Economic Consequences of the Peace," which came out in November 1919.

This will be a book I will blog about again in the future, particularly the rise of French central banker Emile Moreau. And we will come back to Keynes acidic portraits of the Allied leaders meeing in Paris in 1919.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fine Arts - A visit to John Svenson's house

Yesterday, I and several other board members of the Scripps College Fine Arts Foundation went up to sculptor John Svenson's house in beautiful San Antonio Heights overlooking Upland. Above is a view from his patio towards Cucamonga Peak. We are planning an open studio tour and buffet lunch for the last Saturday of January. Details to be announced later.

It is always nice to see John, one of the colorful characters from the Claremont Golden Age of Art after the Second World War and that runs up to the present. He and his wife built the house and it is simply loaded with charm. Besides many examples of his own art, he has a fascinating collection of artifacts from ancient Peru, the Far East, Alaska, and Europe. He and his wife travelled the world.

What makes visiting the house so unique is that the tremendous originality and uniqueness of his art sort of bowls you over. To sit and take tea in that magnificent living room is to sit in the middle of a visual feast. This "ain't visiting the museum."

I also got a copy of John's new book, a beautiful story of his life and his art spanning the eight decades or so of his life. This is also one of the best art books by one of the art greats of Claremont.

Attached link to a recent exhibition of John's gives a good view of some of John's distinctive works over the years.

John Svenson exhibition at Oceanside Museum of Art

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Review - "Fireworks at Dusk: Paris in the Thirties" by Olivier Bernier

This book, published in 1993, by art critic and French historian Olivier Bernier is a superb mix of the cultural and political history of France and life in Paris during the 1930s. This was when Parisian culture was burning at its brightest just before its extinguishment in the crushing German defeat of June 1940. For someone like me writing novels set in Paris in the 1930s, the book is gold dust. The entire cavalcade of artists, writers, dress designers, and aristocratic celebrities is portrayed in their comedy of manners with the doomed politicians of the Third Republic, an entire glittering society is sleepwalking to its rendezvous with defeat.

Bernier has a great command of the material and is not afraid to express judgements. President Lebrun is a hopeless mediocrity; Edouard Herriott, the great Radical Socialist politician, is hopelessly inept at the central economic questions facing France during the Depression, Edouard Daladier is fatally indecisive in the face of the big questions facing France at the end of the 1930s. The profiles are highlighted with colorful anecdotes involving women that are not these politicians' wives! Paris was one of the first capitals where political and cultural celebrity intersected.

Sharp profiles of the cultural personalities are also made with Bernier's great self-assurance as a critic. Jean Cocteau's limitations are described as "the curse was an irradicable frivolity" and that he "led a life of relentless chic." He comes across as an earlier version of Truman Capote. Interestingly, Bernier takes dead-eye aim at Andre Malraux, describing him as "a living paradox" and attributing his cultural presence "to his extraordinary eloquence. In a city of talkers, Malraux was famous for the brilliance and uninterruptible abundance of his conversation." He sums him up, "Malraux knew how to dazzle; but behind the torrent of glittering words, the thought was often simplistic or plain silly--his later books on art offer abundant proof of that." Ouch! Bernier gives Malraux credit for his novels of political involvement that went far to define the cultural melieu of the 1930s.

The book is an excellent companion to Alan Riding's book about Paris under the German Occupation "And The Show Went On."  Both books will be subject to further blog essays because the relevance of the themes they deal with are so germane to understanding the 1930s and today. Superbly executed, fascinating to read.