Artists · History · Visual Art

Collaborative Visual Art by The Beatles

I’ve always enjoyed learning little oddities and details about people, topics, and other things many probably don’t know, especially for subjects that are familiar to some extent to most. For instance, did you know that The Beatles had made a collaborative painting? I suspect most of you didn’t. To be honest, I can’t remember how I learned of this: I believe I was searching for a specific photo of The Beatles and stumbled upon this by complete accident. I’ve noticed that this subject doesn’t come up much, even among huge fans of The Beatles, which I suppose you could categorize me as such.

"Images of a Woman" by The Beatles
photo provided by The Beatles Bible

The above painting is titled “Images of a Woman” and is a thirty inch by forty inch piece made with oil paint and watercolor on paper. This piece was completed over a period of three days in 1966 in Japan when they were there to perform at the Budokan. Due to security reasons, they were sequestered in their hotel suite for a good portion of their time and needed something to occupy them. There is discrepancy reported in who provided them the art supplies: it has been said to either be their manager, Brian Epstein, or their Japanese promoter, Tats Nagashima.

The photos taken by photographer Robert Whitaker, who accompanied The Beatles during a significant portion of their touring years, provide some insight on how this painting was made. As you can see in most of the photos I have shared below, there is a lamp resting in the middle of the substrate that they are painting on. The base of the lamp is what had formed the white circle in the middle of the work. Seeing how the circle is noticeably not in the center of the piece and how their signatures in it are adjacent to the corner that they worked on, you can’t help but to wonder if John and Paul had hogged up the workspace and George and Ringo had less room to maneuver, if George and/or Ringo wanted more overhead light to better see what they are doing (and if we were to go by that theory, I’d say that applies more to the aforementioned member rather than the latter, seeing how the lamp was the closest to George’s corner), something else, or even them not even thinking that much or any about where the lamp was placed.

The Beatles painting a canvas with table lamp resting on it
photo courtesy of Robert Whitaker, provided by The Beatles Bible

Something else I have observed is how they had added the background color after everything else. The photo immediately below best shows that: you can clearly see how blank canvas occupied the surface as they painted in their respective corners. I think most of you Path with Art painters have experienced how difficult it is to fill in the background of a painting, if you decide to paint the subject first. I am wondering if the use of watercolor paint factored into this choice, as it is a paint with low opacity, meaning that it doesn’t usually allow you to block out lower layers of paint entirely with subsequently painted layers like acrylic, oil paint, or gouache does.

George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon painting a canvas
photo courtesy of Robert Whitaker, provided by The Beatles Bible

There’s not a good photo of John working on his portion (upper left of painting), which makes it a tiny bit harder to scrutinize his process. But what I find interesting is how clear it is to comprehend what he made. What I mean by that is that he struck me as the sort who planned very little, if he were told to be somewhere at a certain time, he would arrive at some point later, and had an all-around chaotic nature. But I suppose those who are often part of the chaos, and perhaps even perpetuate it, are often the ones who can make sense of it and find ways to refine it.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney painting a canvas
photo courtesy of Robert Whitaker, provided by The Beatles Bible

Paul’s corner (upper right of painting) doesn’t surprise me in the slightest in how it comes across as seeming the most planned and orderly. (After all, that sort of nature is a key contributor in what formed a rift farther down the line, but it was also what helped them keep on task earlier on.) It’s the corner the strikes me as being the most literal, too. (Though, John’s corner is the one that I’d describe as being the second-most literal, and for different reasons, but still running along the same vein as Paul’s section.) But by no means would I call his part plain or dull. It’s still aesthetically-pleasing.

Paul McCartney painting a canvas
photo courtesy of Robert Whitaker, provided by The Beatles Bible

George’s piece (lower right of painting) is the portion I could hear a lot of people describe as being the most enigmatic. His portion has a painterly and sprawling quality that the other corners lack. I would perhaps describe it as being not corporal, which I can’t say that of the others. (And I would also say that that aspect makes perfect sense, too, not just visually-speaking, but who the artist was, too.) I wouldn’t describe it as complete and total chaos—there’s still a certain sort of cohesiveness and distinct flowing movement to it. It strikes me as having a base-level structure or plan that is improvised upon based on what George saw or found fit at that moment—kind of how I interpret how he functioned in general from what little I know of him (and I know him the most of all of The Beatles).

George Harrison painting a canvas
photo courtesy of Robert Whitaker, provided by The Beatles Bible

Ringo’s portion (lower left of painting) is probably my favorite. It’s probably the part of the painting that I actually find confusing on some level in terms of subject, but I like it despite that. I think describing it as methodical, but not insomuch planned, somehow seems apt. And it’s deceptively simplistic, in that the forms are strong and clear, but that aspect gives it a special sort of harmony that I can’t quite articulate.

Ringo Starr painting a canvas
photo courtesy of Robert Whitaker, provided by The Beatles Bible

I wish I could find information as to how they selected their subject and who came up with the painting’s title. (Seriously, during any new interview conducted with Paul, someone should ask him some questions about this painting. So much of what people ask him has already answered a million times.) I’m curious if knowing such information would change my analysis of each segment.

Supposedly, creating this painting was something the four of them really looked forward to doing and perhaps even found the process therapeutic. Part of me is curious as to why they didn’t make more collaborative visual art pieces, apart from one other that I will mention a bit below, together. I suppose it was largely due to a lack of time. But if they had worked on numerous visual art projects, I suspect that tension would eventually develop between them with that task, too—after all, there seems to be more overlap to creating music and creating visual art than many probably realize. But then again, seeing how much painting “Images of a Woman” calmed them, maybe that would’ve lessened or prevented what turbulence eventually happened.

The history of whose hands this painting has passed through is interesting, too, including how the painting remained under someone’s bed for decades. Though, to be honest, I don’t find this part as intriguing as learning about the creation process and analysis of this work—I’m like that about visual art in general. I suggest reading the article from The Atlantic that I have sourced throughout this post, if want to learn more about its sales history and ownership.

As for the other collaborative piece I had briefly mentioned earlier, it was a drawing in colored pencil that they had made in 1967 known as “Peace To Monterey.” This piece was sent to the organizers of the Monterey International Pop Festival, an event that they regretfully were unable to attend (which is interesting, considering that Paul was one of the musicians who was involved in the festival’s genesis). There seems to be even less information out there about this piece than the one that is of primary focus for this entry, including its whereabouts. Unlike “Images of a Woman,” this piece doesn’t feel as if it initially started as something collaborative—it looks as if one of them might had been doodling during a moment of rest, and everyone realizing that it would be polite to contact the coordinators of the music festival decided this picture would be something nice to send, and the others added bits to it. If my theory is right, I can’t help but to feel that George was the one who started the drawing, as the primary subject (not objective) was more in his wheelhouse than anyone else; also, if you have ever seen any of the doodles John had drawn, this piece isn’t what I’d see as indicative of them (and this is even taking into account of how his latter drawings are looser in form than his earlier published drawings—honestly, I think his earlier stuff has a certain charm that his later stuff lacks, and this whole tangent would probably make a neat future blog post).

"Peace To Monterey" by The Beatles
photo provided by The Beatles Bible

A point to mention about both pieces before I close out: I have yet to locate prints made of either of these pieces. I think “Images of a Woman” would make an interesting wall decoration and conversation piece, and would be a piece of fan memorabilia that strikes me as being classier than the usual sort of fare. I think if this work were more widely known, there would be enough fan demand for prints of these works to be financially lucrative.

History · Writing

The Mural of Unusual Size

photo courtesy of Angela Michaelina

Everyday when I wake up, the first thing I see when open the curtains of my balcony door, I see a certain mural. This mural is very hard to miss because it takes up the side of three steel-framed, yellow brick buildings, the primary building being five-and-half stories tall. This piece of art is the primary reason why I am glad to have apartment on the side of the building that is located. I know that one of my neighbors is of the opinion that a child designed this, but judging by that comment, I realize that he doesn’t have much knowledge about the technical aspect of art. Everybody’s a critic.

Because of the mural’s enormous scale, the title of the mural is “The Mural of Unusual Size.” This piece was designed and painted in 2017 by HENSE, an artist from Atlanta, Georgia and was part of a project to revitalize blighted properties in the city. The painting required 170 gallons of paint to complete. While I was glad to learn this information, I wanted to learn a bit more, as I’ve never been pleased with answers on a superficial level. In particular, I wanted to learn a bit more about the building.

I knew that the buildings were currently occupied by an audio-visual consultant and an automotive repair garage, but I didn’t know anything about the building’s past. Someone had told me that it was once an old factory, but they did not elaborate beyond that. And for all I knew, what they told me was incorrect. I tried searching for the desired answers online, but I only got articles about the creation of the mural. I knew that someone had the answers. So decided to contact the artist—maybe someone had told him of the site’s history when he took on that job. I sent him an e-mail through the contact form on his site. A couple of days later, I thought of someone else who might be more helpful: the Washington County Historical Society. So I sent them an e-mail, too.

While I still have not heard back from HENSE, the office admin of the historical society suggested that I should check the Maryland Historical Trust’s website. Turns out that that was an excellent piece of advice. Using Medusa’s, their online database, map tool, I found an application from when the building applied for historical status.  I had learned that the building was once the site of D.A. Stickell & Sons Feed Manufacturing. This company was both a flour and feed producer. The building was constructed in 1947 and continued to operate until some point in the 1950s. Through this information, I was able to locate some of the burlap sacks that they used through online antiques dealers:

photo courtesy of powerballteresa

photo courtesy of lowerferryflair

photo courtesy of fordnut88

But to dig even deeper and farther back, another mill occupied the location of D.A. Stickell & Sons prior to its existence. According to the application, the site was once the place for the Anchor Milling Company. Reportedly, one of the old warehouses that stands there belonged to them and is dated as 1919. I cannot find much information about this particular company. I do come across information about an Anchor Milling Company that had once existed in Missouri, but I cannot figure out if this is the same company. What makes determining this more confusing is that I found information about a family that lives in Miller County, the site of the Missouri Anchor Milling Company, who originally lived in Hagerstown, Maryland prior to immigrating from Switzerland, and that people in this very same family worked for the mill in Missouri. I cannot figure out if the connection to Hagerstown is a mere coincidence or not. And what muddies the waters even more is that there was an Anchor Milling Company in Ohio at some point, too. Was that one in any shape or form connected to the other Anchor Milling Companies? Prior to starting this post, I thought I had my dots connected, but a second look has made me realize otherwise. I suppose asking the Miller County Historical Society could clarify matters.

There is even something more baffling that I have come across. I had found an ad for D.A. Stickell & Sons, but it is filed as being from 1915 in the digital library of WHILBR, Western Maryland’s Historical Library. I had originally not noticed that date, and assumed it was from the time frame that was reported on the aforementioned application. But looking a bit more closely at the artwork and typefaces, I highly doubt that the ad was from the 1940s or 1950s and that the year it is filed under is correct. (Printed ad artwork and typefaces throughout history is another subject that would make for an interesting post, but that is aside my overall point.) While the location has a different building number than what the building currently has and was filed as having in the historical status application, I am sure this is for the same buildings. Either the number in the ad is a typographical error or the buildings had a different (but similar) number at that time. I am certain that this ad is for the same location as the cross street that is mentioned is the same one that is where the mural is located. Perhaps these were entirely different structures that had been demolished at one point. But even if that were the case, why does the information in Medusa allude to the Anchor Milling Company being there at that time? For that matter, 1915 predates the existence of the Anchor Milling Company existing in Hagerstown by four years. Did the Anchor Milling Company buy D.A. Stickell & Sons and the former name was kept?

While I am a bit flustered that my question has yet to fully be answered like I thought it was (and perhaps it never will be), the buildings are a bit less of a mystery. Ironically, this newly acquired information does not paint a clearer picture of the artwork itself, and the mystery is as tangled as the artwork itself.

History · Inspiration

Some facts about the color red

Red is one of the oldest colors still in use. For example, artists continue to use red ochre, which was originally used for prehistoric cave drawings. The pigment is made from clay that turns red after being mixed with a mineral.

A deep red ochre called sinopia — named for the ancient Greek city where it was mined — became a valuable and expensive pigment representing power and victory. Women in ancient Egypt used sinopia in makeup. During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, and many other artists used it. It also is still in use today.

Read more about the color red at Mental Floss.

History

“Remember the Ladies”

Painting of a young Abigail Adams on a book cover“IN THE SPIRIT
OF
CELEBRATING
OVERLOOKED CAREERS…”

A museum on the southern coast of Maine, in the small enclave called Ogunquit, is hosting a small exhibition of work by women artists dating from the first half of the twentieth century. Its title — “Remember the Ladies” — is a phrase borrowed from future First Lady Abigail Adams. She wrote it in a letter to her husband John, eventual POTUS, as he headed off to represent Massachusetts in the Second Continental Congress in 1776. “The exhibit places the artists in a continuum of American history that begins with the Revolutionary War era and continues to today.”

“Art made by women represents a tiny fraction of what contemporary museums show and collect. This has always been an unwavering prejudice, though in the late nineteenth century and for several decades thereafter change was in the air. Women achieved new levels of education and professional employment, and enthusiastically turned their attention to art. This show highlights a small group of artists who spent summers in Ogunquit, studying with Charles Woodbury, founder of the town’s first art colony. Because they made art their life’s work, these women were exceptional for their time.”

History

Flowers from clay and metal

My great-grandmother had a younger brother who volunteered for the Iowa National Guard just after the Pancho Villa expedition into Mexico. After America became embroiled in World War I, he was sent to Europe to fight in the trenches. He was injured in July of 1918 and died from his injuries in France, where he is buried.

Since learning about him, I have been researching his life and experiences. He wrote many letters home which have been saved for posterity.

Recently I watched a film, They Shall Not Grow Old, by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. It is an incredible movie. It is about the First World War, using film recorded more than a hundred years ago during the war. The soldiers come to life. It is amazing the technology and techniques used to make the documentary.

It inspires me to create similar projects of my own. I want to tell the story of great-great-uncle who died in France. I want the world to know.

In Flanders Fields

BY JOHN MCCRAE

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.