David Bruce: Art Anecdotes



Artist Francisco Goya detested the Spanish Inquisition, and he mocked it by creating a series of etchings known as the Caprichos. One is titled “For Having Born Elsewhere.” It depicts a woman who has been condemned to be burned at the stake because she had sinned by being born in another country. Other titles in the series include Because He Had No Legs, For Marrying as She Wished, and For Wagging His Tongue in a Different Way. Yet another etching in the series—For Discovering the Movement of the Earth—depicts Galileo, who wrote a book defending the Copernican theory that put the Sun instead of the Earth at the center of the solar system. Goya himself was put on trial by the Spanish Inquisition, but fortunately he was sentenced only to a period of “purification”—not death.

Many of Alexander Rodchenko’s 3D sculptures are replicas because he and his wife were forced to burn the originals during a very cold winter in 1943 in Moscow. According to Alexander Lavrentiev, his grandson, “They had a small iron furnace in their flat. The temperature outside was -30C. By burning wood, they could raise the temperature inside to just under freezing.” Mr. Rodchenko spent most of his life in Russia, and he could speak only Russian. Of course, these facts limited his contact with European artists. In 1925, he visited Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso. Unfortunately, they did not speak each other’s language, and so all they could do was to bow their heads to each other.

British abstract painter Terry Frost became an artist in World War II. He was taken prisoner of war, and he spent four years as a POW. In Stalag 383 in Germany, Mr. Frost met Adrian Heath, a painter who inspired him. To paint, Mr. Heath and Mr. Frost used brushes made of horse hairs. For paint, they mixed pigment with oil from sardine cans. Boredom was a problem in the POW camps, and the prisoners once started competing in an imaginary Olympics. Mr. Frost’s son Anthony says that “the Germans thought they’d gone mad, so they took them for a walk. Dad always said he couldn’t stand those walks—the freedom without freedom. But he made sure he took in every flower, every leaf.”

Artists see and hear possibilities that other people don’t see. David Hockney enjoyed driving his car in the Santa Monica Mountains. He also enjoyed listening to music such as Wagner’s Parsifal while driving. While driving, he noticed that occasionally the music suited the landscape exactly, and therefore he choreographed two drives in which the high points of the music corresponded with the high points of the landscape. He even took some children with him on one of these choreographed drives. They sat quietly during the drive, then told him, “It’s like a movie,” which Mr. Hockney interprets as “meaning what they saw and what they heard combined into something.”

When Philip Johnson built his Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, many people disliked it, and some people even threw stones at it. This caused Mr. Johnson to visit neighbors’ house and throw stones, too, an act that got him in trouble with the law. Mr. Johnson and a few other local artists with unusual homes knew that their neighbors disliked their taste in architecture. Thinking about how to get on the good side of their neighbors, they decided to hold a tour of their homes annually, with the money going to a local charity. The tours were a great success, but one neighbor lady still told Mr. Johnson that she never wanted to live in his Glass House. He replied, “Madam, I haven’t invited you.”

When creating “reverse graffiti,” the artist does not add paint to a surface, but instead uses cleaning materials to remove dirt from a surface. Scott Wade has created portraits of Albert Einstein and the Mona Lisa on dirt-covered rear windows of automobiles. In Brazil, Alexandre Orion visited a transport tunnel in San Paolo and used water and a cloth to wash dirt from the walls and create a series of skulls, which he hoped would remind drivers of the impact that their vehicles have on the environment. Paul Curtis, aka Moose, often uses only detergent and a wire brush to create reverse graffiti.

Simpsons creator Matt Groening met one of his heroes in May 1998, after he heard that Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts, was eating lunch in town. Mr. Groening raced across town and went into the restaurant where Mr. Schultz was eating. He then thanked him for creating his very favorite Peanuts cartoon, which showed Lucy making lots of tiny snowmen, stomping on them, and then telling Charlie Brown, “I’m torn between the desire to create and the desire to destroy.” Mr. Groening told Mr. Schultz, “Thank you for that strip. In one sentence you summed up my life.”

An artist can send original thank-you notes. Cartoonist/author Posey Simmonds once had a Sunday lunch with British journalist Valerie Grove and her family. Ms. Simmonds sent a thank-you note on which she had drawn a cartoon of the Grove family’s Dalmatian. It was dressed in a striped apron and wearing a chef’s hat, and it was stirring a pot on a stove.

Dr. Seuss got an idea for a book when a gust of wind blew a drawing of an elephant on top of a drawing of a tree. He looked at the two drawings, then asked himself, “An elephant in a tree — what’s he doing there?” Then he answered his own question: “Of course! He’s hatching an egg!” This idea resulted in Dr. Seuss’ book Horton Hatches an Egg.

J. Paul Getty once bought a Raphael-like painting for £38 simply because he liked it. Later, the Raphael-like painting was discovered to be a genuine Raphael and not an imitation. Of course, this gratified Mr. Getty—not so much for the excellent investment he had made, but because the purchase had validated his artistic judgment.

After Native American athlete Jim Thorpe left an art museum, a reporter asked him, “Which was your favorite work of art?” He replied, “Custer’s Last Stand.”

“It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of Art.” — Oscar Wilde


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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