Everett Shinn: American Realist Painter

Text by Taylor Wilson, Gallery Attendant

Dance is an art in and of itself, but the ability to catch the beauty of it in a piece of art is even more special. Dance has been a common theme for centuries with artists like Degas attempting to capture moments on stage. In our collection at the Forsyth Galleries, we have a pastel drawing from the American realist painter Everett Shinn, who is often described as an American Degas. Shinn is able to portray the power, grace, and beauty of ballet through fluid strokes of the wrist.

Everett Shin was born in Woodstown, New Jersey to rural farmers. He attended the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia to study mechanical drawing and eventually moved on to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. By his late teens he was a staff artist for the Philadelphia Press, which he considered the beginning of his art career. Shinn traveled to Europe during his young adulthood to study other painters and was extremely influenced by the Impressionist movement and, it is believed, specifically depictions of the stage by Degas, Manet, and Forain. While in Philadelphia, Shinn was a member of the Charcoal Club, established by fellow artists Robert Henri, John Sloan, and Joseph Laub, which eventually became the origin of the Ashcan School. Shinn was also later a member of The Eight, a group of artists named from a 1908 exhibition. Although others focused on a more idealistic outlook on upper class leisure, Shinn chose to paint realistic depictions of urban life, which often included gritty scenes of tenement life, social and economic diversity, and forms of urban entertainment.

Infatuated with the theatre, Shinn’s depictions were generally of unusual angles, often with the audience as the backdrop. He also liked to take up an aerial perspective or one from the orchestra pit. No matter the angle, Shinn would capture the excitement from the movement on stage. In the pastel drawing On Stage, from our collection at the Forsyth, the viewer is given an aerial perspective with the orchestra conductor in view in front of the stage. The dancer is mid-jump which is evident, not only from the obvious position, but the way Shinn imagines the skirt in movement. By including the conductor, the viewer is left with a sense of anticipation. If the dancer were by herself in the shot, it would seem as if she were frozen in time, but by including the conductor there is the expectation that the music is continuing and you are waiting for her to land. The position Shinn chose for the dancer exhibits not only her grace, but her strength as visible in the delicate placement of her arms juxtaposed with the musculature of her legs.

Though influenced by the Impressionist movement, which strove to capture snapshots of everyday activities, Shinn was not afraid to make a bolder statement with his subject matter. While it is easy to capture moments in the theatre as fantastical, idealistic split seconds of true beauty, Shinn did not shy away from reproducing the scene in a way that allowed the viewer to connect with society at the time, which was riding the rollercoaster of the Great Depression. This set Shinn apart from his peers and allowed him to become a truly wonderful artist.

Everett Shinn, N.A.  On Stage, c. 1918 pastel on paper, Bill & Irma Runyon Art Collection, 988.001.0203
Everett Shinn, N.A. On Stage, c. 1918 pastel on paper Bill & Irma Runyon Art Collection 988.001.0203

Featured Artist: George Rodrigue

George Rodrigue, best known for his Blue Dog paintings and prints, was born in 1944, in the Acadiana region of the state of Louisiana, USA.  His strong Cajun roots influenced his art throughout his life.  Indeed, the Blue Dog was created from a combination of memories of the local Louisiana legends of the loup garou (a French Louisiana variant of the European werewolf tale) and his deceased pet dog.  Originally the Blue Dog appeared in his paintings and prints as a more menacing character with glowing red eyes, but later transitioned into a more humorous figure.

My Baby Made a Clown of Me (Big Top Dog) by George Rodrigue, 1991, acrylic on canvas

He attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but it was in Los Angeles at the Art Center College of Design that he was exposed to the pop art that greatly influenced his later work.  After completing his degree in Los Angeles, he returned home to Louisiana to pursue his career as an artist even though the major art scene was in New York City.  After a stint as an art director for an advertising agency, he began painting full time and in 1969 was commissioned by then Louisiana governor John McKeithen to create a painting that would become Louisiana’s gift to the Prime Minister of Quebec.

Stacked by George Rodrigue, 2001, acrylic on canvas

Prior to painting his first blue dog in 1984, George Rodrigue’s subjects focused mainly on oak trees, Cajun myths, people, and traditions.  He has exhibited his works in venues around the world and in 1992 was chosen by Absolut Vodka as an influential pop artist.  His works appeared in national advertising campaigns for Absolute Vodka alongside artists like Andy Warhol and Hans Godo Frabel.

The Wild Blue Yonder by George Rodrigue, 2000, acrylic on canvas

In 2005 George and his family were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  He painted We Will Rise Again directly in response to the devastation caused by the storm.  This work later became the first in a series of five paintings used to fund his charitable initiative, Blue Dog Relief: George Rodrigue Art Campaign for Recovery, to aid the New Orleans Museum of Art.  The museum had been closed for months due to the massive flood damage caused by the storm.  Prior to Hurricane Katrina George became intrigued with the weather patterns of the storms that hit Louisiana and he began painting abstract images of hurricanes.

We Will Overcome by George Rodrigue, 2005, mixed media and acrylic on canvas. Note the return of the red eyes, a reference to his early blue dog work and the original loup garou myth.

George Rodrigue’s charitable work also includes campaigns for New Orleans levee protection, the Louisiana 2-1-1 phone system, and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  Mr. Rodrigue’s work continues to be recognized as some of the most influential pop art of the past thirty years.  The paintings on exhibit in the Reynolds Student Art Gallery at Texas A&M are on loan from the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Nannette by George Rodrigue, 2003, oil on canvas

George Rodrigue’s homepage.

His wife Wendy also has an art blog in which she often features George’s work: Musings of an Artist’s Wife.

Portrait of Pete Fountain by George Rodrigue, 1996, acrylic on canvas
Hot Green by George Rodrigue, 2000, acrylic on canvas
Nannette (2003), Elvira (2003), and Frederic (2002) by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas

Featured Artist: Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is largely considered one of the most influential living artists produced by Japan and is one of the artists to give birth to the pop art, minimalist art, and feminist art movements.  She was born the 22nd of March, 1929, to an upper middle class family and began to paint at the age of 10.  However, she experienced resistance from her parents to her wish to continue pursuing art as a career rather than marry and start a family.  Her mother even took away her canvases and art supplies.

Yayoi Kusama as a child.

In spite of the familial opposition she experienced, Yayoi Kusama went to study art in Kyoto at the age of 19.  She became increasingly frustrated with the constraints of the traditional art taught there and in 1957 moved to New York City, USA, after becoming interested in the European and American avant-garde art movements of the time.  She quickly became influential in the pop art movement and her work was both shown alongside and helped influence Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and George Segal in the 1960s.  She came to the public’s attention for organizing body festivals in the late 60s where the nude participants were covered in polka dots.

Kusama in polka dot body suit with horse, 1967.

In 1973 Kusama returned to Japan.  The art movement and culture there was much more conservative and she had to completely rebuild her career as she was unknown in her native country.  While still practicing art, she became an art dealer, but her business ultimately failed.  In 1977 she voluntarily admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital after experiencing increasing episodes of mental distress.  She continues to live at the hospital, but every day works in her studio with her assistants and continues to create art.

Kusama creating dot art in her studio.

Kusama is well known for her polka dot art, both in the forms of paintings and installation art, but she has also experimented with film and writing.  The film “Kusama’s Self-Obliteration” (1968), which she produced and starred in, won prizes at two international film festivals.  She has produced one book of poetry (titled “7”) and eight novels.  Kusama is probably best known for her surreal, interactive installation art which continues to be shown in galleries and museums worldwide.

From the “Look Now See Forever” exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia, 2012.
Infinity Mirror Room, exhibition at the Tate Modern, London, 2012.
Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees, Singapore Biennale, 2006.
Flowers that Bloom at Midnight, 2009.
One of Kusama’s many polka dot paintings.
“I Want to Live Honestly, Like the Eye in the Picture” 2009

To visit Kusama’s website Click Here!

To see a short film on Kusama Click Here!