Dark magic

Today’s Zippy, a Bill Griffith bulletin on the art world:


Along the way, we get a connection between surrealism and magic realism, Picasso as a cartoonist, and a note on the convention that cartoon characters don’t age.

On the artist, from Wikipedia:

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (February 20, 1897 – November 18, 1983) was an American magic realist painter and artist, most renowned for his self-portraits, character studies, and still lifes. His dark, mysterious works include some of the most meticulously executed paintings ever made, often requiring years to complete.

… Albright focused on a few themes through most of his works, particularly death, life, the material and the spirit, and the effects of time. He painted very complex works, and their titles matched their complexity. He would not name a painting until it was complete, at which time he would come up with several possibilities, more poetic than descriptive, before deciding on one. Such an example is Poor Room – There is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End (The Window), the last two words actually describing the painting (it was as such the painting is generally referred)

Referred to in the cartoon, Albright’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1943-44): From the Art Institute of Chicago site:


Ivan Albright painted this lurid portrait for the Oscar-winning movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. In Wilde’s tale, Dorian Gray commissions a portrait of himself as an attractive young man and later trades his soul for an ever-youthful appearance. As the still-handsome Gray leads an increasingly dissolute and evil life, his painted representation rots and decays, revealing the extent of his moral corruption. Albright’s renown as a painter of the macabre made him the ideal choice of Albert Lewin, the director of the movie, to paint the horrific image of Gray. Although the movie was shot in black and white, Lewin filmed the painted portrait in color to emphasize Gray’s shocking transformation.

Referred to in the Wikipedia entry, The Window (1942-43, 1948-55, 1957-63):


And Albright’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1944-45):


(Discussion of the St. Anthony theme to come in a little bibliography below.)

On-line photographic reproductions can’t begin to do justice to these remarkable paintings.

On magic(al) realism in art. (Putting literary magic(al) realism aside here.) From Wikipedia:

While the term magical realism first appeared in English in 1955, the term Magischer Realismus, translated as magic realism, was first used by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925 to refer to a painterly style also known as Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity), an alternative to expressionism championed by fellow German museum director Gustav Hartlaub. Roh identified magic realism’s accurate detail, smooth photographic clarity, and portrayal of the ‘magical’ nature of the rational world. It reflects the uncanniness of people and our modern technological environment. Roh believed that magic realism was related to, but distinct from, surrealism, due to magic realism’s focus on the material object and the actual existence of things in the world, as opposed to surrealism’s more cerebral, psychological and subconscious reality. Magic realism was later used to describe the uncanny realism by American painters such as Ivan Albright, Peter Blume, Paul Cadmus, Gray Foy, George Tooker and Viennese-born Henry Koerner, along other artists during the 1940s and 1950s. However, in contrast with its use in literature, magic realist art does not often include overtly fantastic or magical content, but rather looks at the mundane through a hyper-realistic and often mysterious lens.

German magic realist paintings influenced the Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli [1878-1960], who has been called the first to apply magic realism to writing, aiming to capture the fantastic, mysterious nature of reality.

Coming up now, an inventory of my postings on magic realism in (mostly American) art. A large number of the magic realists I’ve posted about are gay men. This is not just a reflection of my interests (though there is that): a great many magic realists are (or were) in fact gay men. (There are straight men, like Albright, and women, like Frida Kahlo, but there’s a preponderance of gay men.) The attractions of magic realism might have to do with gay men’s engagement with what I’ve called the subterranean world of male homosexuality, an emotionally fabulous place (however gritty it might sometimes be in real life) that transcends the bland surfaces gay men must present to the world for their own safety.

from 3/28/11, in “Magic realism”: first in a series of postings on magical realist art: on Jack Frankfurter

from 3/31/11, in “George Tooker”: the magic realist artist; influence on him of magic realist Paul Cadmus and social realist Reginald Marsh

from 4/2/11, in “The Torment of Saint Anthony”:

[from an NPR Morning Edition Saturday story on George Tooker:] In 1946, near the start of his career, Tooker painted Children and Spastics. The work shows a group of boys menacing a trio of gay men. It’s “one of the cruelest paintings” Tooker made, says art historian Robert Cozzolino. The artist was commenting on “things that he had witnessed or what he had felt people were capable of.”

Tooker channels Michelangelo’s The Torment of Saint Anthony with a Renaissance technique that comes in part from using egg tempera paints — a painstaking technique favored by the early masters.

[from Wikipedia:]The Torment of Saint Anthony is the earliest known painting by Michelangelo, painted after an engraving by Martin Schongauer when he was only 12 or 13 years old… It shows the common medieval subject, included in the Golden Legend and other sources, of Saint Anthony being assailed in the desert by demons, whose temptations he resisted; the Temptation of St Anthony (or “Trial”) is the more common name of the subject. But this composition shows a later episode where St Anthony, normally flown about the desert supported by angels, was ambushed in mid-air by devils.

[AMZ:] In Tooker’s painting, instead of devils, the tormentors are children, three gay men replace the figure of St. Anthony, and the event takes place on a city street rather than in mid-air.

from 4/21/11, in “Robert Vickrey”: the magic realist artist

from 7/16/11, in “Two deaths in the arts”: painter and photographer T. Lux Feininger

from 1/11/13, in “Realism plus”: a Zippy strip on Griffy’s favorite artists:

The artists Griffy is drawn to are all what you might think of “realism plus” artists: like Griffith in his cartoons, they create realistic depictions, but infused with extra content (allegorical, magical, self-mocking, absurdist, etc.). Hence the title “Realistic expectations”.

… Griffy’s favorites include several “magic realists” — Hopper, Tooker, Cadmus — people who probably wouldn’t turn up near the top of other people’s lists of great artists.

from 3/22/13, in “Surrealists”: connections to magic realism

from 1/12/15, in “More homoerotic magic realism”: Igor Sychev

from 1/13/15, in “Bernard Perlin”:

[from an obit in the Telegraph:] After his wartime experiences Perlin’s delivery turned towards Magical Realism, an informal school with an artistic lineage that can be traced from Frida Kahlo to Edward Hopper. His aim was to capture an “everyday magic” powered by both realism and surrealism.

from 7/25/16, in “George Platt Lynes and Jared French”: and their circle, including Tooker and Cadmus


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