Friday, January 16, 2009

Happy New Year. What's Old is New Again.

I recently discovered the works of Marsden Hartley. His art captures the male form as few artists of the 20th century have achieved. His masterpieces are timeless. These models could have lived today.

Below is an exerpt of Mardsen's life and his talent from a press release announcing a special exhibit of his work at the Bates College Museum of Art in Maine.

Born in Lewiston, Maine in 1877 to immigrant parents, Marsden Hartley achieved recognition as a painter and poet late in life.

In a letter dated December 20, 1942, Hartley wrote to his favorite niece Norma Berger, "When I am no longer here my name will register forever in the history of American art." Evidence of the artist’s efforts to establish his name and to fix himself in the collective memory of the public, his friends, and family, can be found throughout the Bates College Museum of Art’s collection.

Hartley’s personal archive not only provides a wealth of information about the artist’s life, relationships, and interests, but demonstrates his attempt to construct both a personal history and a public identity.

Hartley was fascinated with autobiography from the early stages of his career. Through self-portraiture and prolific writing, he chronicled his life partly in an effort to prove to himself that it had been worthwhile. Friends and acquaintances often described the artist as lonely, anxious, frustrated, gloomy, and bitter – yet lighthearted and affectionate "when he thought he was being liked or loved."

In a life largely spent unsettled, collecting photographs of others, and sharing images of himself was a way to maintain relationships and initiate new ones. Hartley’s ongoing struggle to find his place – geographically, philosophically, artistically, and as a gay man – is documented in his writing, reflected in his work, and revealed through a study of his archive.

Along with 99 drawings, the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection contains a large number of photographs, including personal snapshots, formal portraits, and studio reference materials. As part of the Museum’s collection of Hartley ephemera, these images function as important documents of his life, interests, and studio practices.

Hartley recognized the power of the photographic image and believed in the "honesty" of the medium and its ability to communicate, which he attempted to control. Photography allowed the artist to portray himself in any image he desired: New York modernist, European aesthete, native Mainer.
In honor of this great contemporary American artist, celebrate his works by giving Mega Hairy Muscle Hugs in abundance as we celebrate a new chapter in American history.

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