Sunday, November 8, 2009

Black Velvet, If You Please

Alright folks, we missed the bus to the museum, so let's head out to the airport Marriott to look at an American art form (if you don't mind that so many of these are mass produced in Mexico), the painting on black velvet. I learned some of my first real lessons in painting technique from looking at these paint scumbles on black nylon velvet. I learned scumbling, even before I knew the word, and I learned a little about tone and chiaroscuro.

Before we get too high on our horses, let's remember that Italy, France, and China each have magnificent and ancient traditions of kitsch. Do you really think most of that stuff recovered from the ruins of Pompeii, the Las Vegas of ancient Rome, would have been considered fine art in their day? Pliny turned up his nose at it in disgust. Lord knows what the Divine Tiberius had decorating his gardens and villas on Capri, but it's a safe assumption that it was closer in spirit to the art below than to the demanding aesthetics of Polykleitos.
Some artists these days actually take this stuff seriously. Julian Schnabel did some works on black velvet. But, let's face it, Schnabel ain't no Velazquez and couldn't paint his way out of a paper bag. Let's hope he sticks to movies. Elizabeth Murray used the lurid colors and screaming high contrasts of this budget art form with much more subtlety and to more poetic effect.

So let's set sail through the shallow seas of budget aesthetics. These things are either mass produced on the cheap, usually in Mexico, or they are the work of earnest amateurs. When Americans dream on the cheap, they dream on black velvet.

We can't do a post on black velvet paintings without clown pictures.

This one is actually a little better than most.

And let's not forget unicorns, especially unicorns in space.

It's remarkable how the subject matter of these things has changed over the years. When I was a kid, it was clowns, Jesus, matadors & senoritas, and vaguely tropical landscapes. Now it's Kiss, babes, sci-fi, and unicorns.

Flying unicorns in space. Someone somewhere must be doing a paper on unicorns in popular American culture. To me, they are very phallic male metaphors.

And everyone's favorite, dogs playing poker.

Time to get serious now. Here is some religious work, Jesus and Elvis. A standard issue Jesus meets Elvis who has a brighter halo. Jesus seems to be deferring to him. Elvis here is 1970's sentimental drug addict Elvis, not sexy 1950s Elvis. I wonder what this is all about?

And we end with the amateur copy of Leonardo's Last Supper hanging askew in a used furniture store.

Art is indeed all around us.


Rick+ said...

     OK, I admit to being a fan of the young Elvis, but black velvet really brings out the creepiness factor in the clowns. I should never have read Stephen King's It.

Leonard said...

I spent my youth, really, running to Mexico and it wasn´t such a big deal because I lived in Los Angeles anyway and many of friends were Mexican-American...we all ran from those velvet paintings but we didn´t run from the cheap black pottery with primary colored fruit/flower designs...I think I´m still reflecting afterimages in my current bold contrasts and I always think Latin American (Interestingly in Puerto Rico they hate bold ¨Mexican¨ colors and love monochromatics...they don´t look like West Side Story except off the island as it turns out) Guatemala, think VIVID! Almost imprints the brain forever in a colorblinding collagelikeway to go to Chichicastenango on a Market Day (Thursday and Sunday)...dazzle!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

If you can ever find me "The Ascension of Elvis" in black velvet, I'll buy it!

I saw it in a truck stop once and I should have bought it simply for its sheer black velvet tackiness.

It has Elvis ascending into heaven on a golden staircase (young Elvis), musical notes trailing behind him, and up in the clouds is Jesus in the center, Elvis' mother on the left, and Hank Williams on the right.

I regret not having that one to drag out at parties after a few drinks!

Counterlight said...

That's even better than the Jesus-driving-a-big-rig-truck I saw years ago somewhere in Texas.

Leonard said...

Refined is such a boring word...let´s skip it.

June Butler said...

My eyes!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I wouldn't have imagined the poker playin dogs...

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Yeah, I really liked the theological significance of the Trinity of Jesus, Elvis' mom, and Hank Williams. That was just an extra special touch.