Saturday, February 1, 2020

Franz Marc, Laurel Burch, and Me

Franz Marc, Blaues Pferd I (Blue Horse I ), 1911
Another blog post, another note about forgetting to publish this when I drafted it, almost a year ago... I know, my blunder is old news.

Don't worry, we're almost through this old batch about last year's Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse project. I just couldn't allow myself to trash all this content, even if it's old. I really love sharing my inspiration with you. Please stay with me just a little longer?

I'm still embarrassed, but I take great comfort in the fact that you're still here, reading all this. I appreciate the support, more than you know!

I promise, new content will come soon. I've got some really exciting things headed your way... more art, more poetry, more everything. In the meantime...

Franz Marc rocks.

Not sure who he is? No worries! I'm going to talking about him today so if you're curious, keep reading. If you're not curious, well... I really hope you keep reading anyway?

Laurel Burch, "Indigo Mares"
Okay, back to Franz Marc. Franz Marc painted lots of subjects, but he was especially fond of animals, and of all the animals, he painted horses the most. As one who has grown up with a love for horses, I can't help thinking of Franz Marc as "the blue horse guy".

Growing up, I tended to prefer realism. As my appreciation for expressionism has grown, so has my enjoyment of Marc and his colorful cubist critters.

Nevertheless, there's a connection which didn't occur to me until I opened this old blog draft. I was preparing a basic piece on Marc and his animals, but I realized that Marc and I seem to have something in common... And we're not alone.

Enter Laurel Burch!

In one fell 16-page swoop starring a blue horse, I managed to accidentally echo both Franz Marc and Laurel Burch.

I would be mad if they both weren't so great!

Detail, "Meeting," Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse.
Watercolor, gouache, ink, and mulberry paper on paper
cloth. March 2019.
Oops, did I say that? Yes, I'm also a Laurel Burch fan! Not the cats; I'm not a cat person, but I'm all over her horses. Her use of colors and shapes is gorgeous.

Between the two of them, Marc and Burch managed to capture animals in entirely new ways, using vibrant colors, shapes, and patterns. They both favored cats and horses and created dynamic compositions with them.

They also both felt strongly about the meaning of art and the feelings they could evoke with their paintings.

"Today we are searching for things in nature that are hidden behind the veil of appearance... We look for and paint this inner, spiritual side of nature."
- Franz Marc

Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky, and some of their avant-garde friends formed an organization called Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911.

This group was deeply interested in spiritual meaning within art. Their mission was to get away from the long-standing art traditions and returning to a raw, primal, spiritually meaningful art. They were deeply invested in symbolism and spiritual representation in art. Kind of a kooky bunch in my opinion, but we all have different beliefs. I won't fault them for being a little kooky.

Cover of Der Blaue Reiter. Design by Wassily 
Kandinsky, 1912.
In 1912 Der Blaue Reiter published a journal of essays by the artists and almost 150 reproductions of primitive, children's, and folk art.

Marc, like many influential artists, had some traditional art training early on. He fell in love with the work of Vincent van Gogh, and left art school in favor of developing his skills alongside other avant-garde artists.

As Der Blaue Reiter focused more and more on the spiritual meanings of color and form, their work continued to drift more and more toward cubism and the abstract, leaving their traditional art education behind.

The start of WWI brought an end to The Blue Rider organization and publication. Franz Marc was drafted into the German cavalry and killed in battle in 1916.

However, Marc and Kandinsky sparked something that lasted far longer. Der Blaue Reiter led the way for the Abstract Expressionists, 20th century "modern artists" like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko.

"My paintings are the most intimate portrayals of all that is precious to me, my greatest joy is to offer them in forms that enhance and brighten the lives of kindred spirits all around the globe."
- Laurel Burch

Like Franz Marc, Laurel Burch felt strongly about the meaning in her art. She used color and form as tools for spreading joy, building her career on that mission. Whereas Marc and Kandinsky were focused on the spiritual and mystical, Burch's focus was on the mythical and fantastical, creating images of cats, butterflies, horses, and other animals in sparkling jewel tones and geometric designs, ignoring fashion trends and instead drawing influences from folk art and her imagination.

Laurel Burch started out as a young single mother making jewelry to sell in shops in San Francisco, but quickly outgrew her humble beginning. She made jewelry, painted, and experimented with many art and craft techniques.

Laurel Burch with one her numerous cat paintings
Burch had a bone disease, osteopetrosis ("stone bone") and passed away in 2007 due to complications from that. Her bones were very hard and brittle, and she broke over 100 bones in her life. She knew pain, and strove to outweigh her pain with vibrant, joyful art.

Like Marc and the artists of Der Blaue Reiter, Laurel Burch's influence went beyond simply painting. Burch was something of a pioneer— she was one of the first Americans to partner with Chinese manufacturers, in the early 70s when China was generally considered a closed market. Burch stood up for the integrity of her work, politely but firmly insisting that every product reproduce her images exactly, with no change or interpretation.

Burch's colorful, fun-loving art and her mind for business led to a worldwide market, expanding to license numerous companies to create products using her original artwork. She made her art accessible to all, with everyday products like jewelry, accessories, and clothing, sold at inexpensive prices. Laurel Burch, Inc. virtually exploded in the 80s and 90s, and is still known and loved today, especially among cat-lovers.

Am I breaking some rule by comparing Franz Marc and Laurel Burch?

Did an art critic somewhere in New York, London, or Paris just start inexplicably crying?

I really don't know, and that's the thing about the art world. I've barely dipped my toe in with a few art shows and that awesome RAW: Columbus experience, but from the outside I see so many unspoken, unwritten rules. So many "shoulds."

As a child I fell in love with Norman Rockwell's paintings, and as a teen I discovered that many artists and critics claim he was "only an illustrator" or "only a cover designer." Apparently he didn't count as a a "real artist"...whatever that means.

Detail, "The Dance," from Silhouette Girl and the
Moonhorse. Watercolor, gouache, ink, and mulberry
paper on paper cloth. March 2019.
As if being an illustrator or a designer is somehow not being an artist? Somehow, I don't see the logic there...

For a long time I grudgingly believed that pretentious, long-held, harmful idea that if an artist is not devoted to making it in the fine art world of galleries and agents, cocktail dresses and auctions, they don't belong. Grudgingly, because I don't like the idea of being boxed into that role.

Finally I found my mistake, and suddenly I felt free to have an Etsy shop and design on Redbubble, and still call myself a serious artist.

I had spent so long wanting to "be an artist" as if that were a dream job to work toward, not realizing that I was an artist simply because I made art!

I now believe the purpose of art is to build bridges and bring people together, not divide them. Art is meant to open the eyes of those who cause hurt, and to heal those who are hurting.

Whether the artist is Franz Marc, Laurel Burch, Norman Rockwell, Leonard da Vinci, whoever - our art exists to try to bridge the gaps between all of us.

I believe that when two people who are otherwise opposite—upbringing, nationality, age, religion, class, education, values—become lost in the same painting, feeling the same emotions, longing for the same things, utterly eclipsed by a single painting, song, book, or movie... that is why we make art.


Some sources on Franz Marc, Der Blaue Reiter, and Laurel Burch:

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