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Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus Flies to Paris, Repainter Reminisces

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2016 at 12:53 am



Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, on view at the Centre Pompidou, Paris


At the Centre Pompidou the other day, I met up again with Paul Klee’s famous painting of an angel, Angelus Novus, made famous by German philosopher, Walter Benjamin, in his posthumously published book, Theses on the Philosophy of History. It is on view in a sprawling Klee exhibition there until August 1, 2016.


Installation view of Angelus Novus with the other Klee painting Walter Benjamin owned, Presentation of the Miracle, 1916, Museum of Modern Art, NY

Seeing it there took me back to the year 2000. It was then that I re-painted Angelus Novus for a solo exhibition devoted to angels (scroll down) at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami. Klee’s painting mystified me. I had read about Benjamin buying the painting from Klee, and then writing about it. His words, while powerful and disturbing, seemed to me to bear little relationship to what I saw in the image: an almost gleeful, goofy, alert figure, centered in a bright clearing. Difficult even to discern any wings. How to reconcile this with the dark despair of Benjamin’s text?

Quoting Benjamin’s text about the angel on the glass over my painting, I superimposed Klee’s image with its negative opposite to suggest multiple readings. I’ll leave it to readers to decide what Klee’s angel has to say!

Walter Benjamin is looking, 2000

Ken Aptekar, Walter Benjamin is looking, 2000, 60” x 60” (153cm x 153cm) four panels, oil on wood, sandblasted glass, bolts TEXT IN GLASS: Walter Benjamin is looking at Angelus Novus, a Paul Klee painting he owns. In the dark spring of 1940, shortly before his death, Benjamin writes about its subject: “This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” Collection: Andrew Sheinman & Eleni Tsanos Sheinman, New York, after Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, Israel Museum, Jerusalem





Mme de Pompadour: More than a Patron?

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2015 at 2:01 am

Madame de Pompadour (detail), 1750, Francois Boucher, Collection Harvard Art Museums

A good moment now to pay a visit to Madame de Pompadour with the publication of Women Artists: A Linda Nochlin Reader, edited by Maura Reilly and the attention to women artists in, for example, ArtNews.

Mme de Pompadour, though not herself an artist in the strictest sense, made the art of France in the 18th century her own. She was the most powerful woman of her time, more influential even than the Queen of France whose husband, Louis XV, she loved for twenty years. Her role as a patron of the arts helped produce a golden age of French decorative and fine arts. Today the prodigious number of artworks she commissioned fill museums the world over. Yet credit for her savvy artistic choices has been buried under the style known as “Louis XV.”


Drawing on the rich art and history of 18th century France, I made a series of paintings with texts engraved on glass that take viewers into the glittering rococo world of the court of Versailles. A fortune teller, Madame Lebon, told the nine-year-old Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson that she would one day become the King’s lover. Fifteen years later, three years after she had married Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Etioles at age 20, the King paid off her husband and moved her into the Palace of Versailles. For twenty years she remained there with the King. Or in numerous palatial homes she built or redesigned for them, including today’s Presidential residence in Paris. My introduction of French and Yiddish texts in this work, along with English, revives Mme de Pompadour’s 18th century life for today’s multi-ethnic, multicultural world.


Ken Aptekar, Reflections, 2003, 30″ x 360″ Twelve panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
TEXT IN GLASS: my dependence, the wrong past, what I could not do, fear of a life cut short, my money worries, the calculating careerist I wish I could be, my desires, my passivity, dearest sister, neither Russian nor a Grandmother, nor a Yiddishe mama, my beloved
After (l to r) Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame de Pompadour as Diana, 1748
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1759
Francois Boucher, Portrait of Madame de Pompadour Standing, c. 1750
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour at her toilette, 1758
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, c.1750
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, c.1750
Francois Boucher, Apollo and Issa, 1750
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1756
Francois Boucher, The Toilette of Venus, 1751
Francois-Hubert Drouais, Madame de Pompadour with a Fur Muff, 1763
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour seated outside, 1758
Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame de Pompadour as Diana, 1748


Reflections, detail (installation view)


Reflections, Installation View at Reed College in Ken Aptekar: A Personal Public

For an exhibition about Pompadour at Reed College, “Ken Aptekar: A Personal Public,” I produced a video. “Three Acts” is a chronicle of my transformation into King Louis XV and then Mme de Pompadour at the hands of a Parisian make-up artist/stylist, Pierre Marie Humeau. Videotaped in Paris and in the private apartments of Louis XV and Pompadour in the Chateau de Versailles, Three Acts premiered in 2004 at Reed College. It was shown at Espace d’Art Contemporain Camille Lambert, Juvisy, France, in 2005, and at the Beard & Weil Galleries at Wheaton College, Norton, MA, in 2012.

Besides the video, I added paintings related to Pompadour for the exhibition at Espace d’Art Contemporaine Camille Lambert, in Juvisy, France, in 2005: La Chasse Humaine.  (For those with patience for my French, here is a video interview about that exhibition, by David Vielotte.) And in 2006-7 my Pompadour work was shown in at the Musée Robert Dubois-Corneau, in Brunoy, France.

A brief timeline of Madame de Pompadour’s life:

1721    Birth of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson in Paris

1725    Marriage of Louis XV, King of France, to Marie Leszczynska (1703-1768)

1727    Flight out of France of François Poisson, father of Jeanne-Antoinette, to avoid prosecution for fraud, and Birth of Abel-François Poisson, brother of Jeanne-Antoinette

1741    Marriage of Jeanne-Antoinette to Charles-Guillaume Lenormant de Tournehem, the nephew of her mother’s lover (March 9) and Birth of Jeanne-Antoinette’s son who dies in his first year (December 26)

1744    Birth of Jeanne-Antoinette’s daughter, Alexandrine

1745    Start of affair between Jeanne-Antoinette and Louis XV following masked ball at Versailles, and Purchase by Louis of marquisate of Pompadour for Jeanne-Antoinette. Louis pays off her husband, Jeanne-Antoinette becomes Madame de Pompadour, and she moves into Versailles, where she later introduces the cultivation of flowers for bouquets to decorate her apartment. Offers bouquets to Queen for her apartment.

1749     Madame de Pompadour sends her brother on study tour of Italy with architect, artist, and abbé

1750     End of sexual relationship between Louis XV and Mme de P

1751     Brother of Mme de P becomes director of buildings to King, takes title of Marquis de Marigny, and Publication of first volumes of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedia with support of Mme de P

1754     Death of daughter Alexandrine, age 10

1764    Death of Madame de Pompadour, Versailles, age 42

Ken Aptekar, Some for me, some for you, 60

Ken Aptekar, 2003, Some for me, some for you, 60″ x 90″ six panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
After (clockwise, from upper left) Francois Boucher, “La Chasse ˆ l’oiseau et L’Horticulture” (Bird Hunting and Horticulture), Ornamental Panel Painting, c. 1751-1755
Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame Henriette en Flore” (Madame Henriette in Flowers), 1742
Edouard Manet, Still Life, c. 1882
Jean-Marc Nattier, Portrait of Manon Balletti, 1757

Ken Aptekar, 2003, En voila pour moi, en voici pour vous (

Ken Aptekar, 2003, En voila pour moi, en voici pour vous (“Some for me, some for you”), 60″ x 60″ (153cm x 153cm), oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
After details of three portraits of Mme de Pompadour by
Francois Boucher and Carl van Loo, and a portrait of Manon Balletti
by Jean-Marc Nattier (upper-right)

Ken Aptekar, A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir, 2003, 60

Ken Aptekar, A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir, 2003, 60″ x 30″ (153cm x 76.5cm), diptych, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
Text IN GLASS: A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir [tr.: Some for me, some for you]
After Francois Boucher, “Les Genies des Arts” [tr.: Geniuses of the Arts], 1761
“A bisl far mir, a bisl far dir” refers to Mme de Pompadour commissioning art to please herself
as well as the King as well as herself, and also to my using previous art–for you and for me.
One can see in the image that the putti is making a painting of a sculpture, and Boucher has painted a painting-in-progress in his painting as well. The painting in progress behind the putti’s is of Madame de Pompadour holding a profile portrait of Louis XV. The Yiddish provides a means of declaring the relevance of 18th French art for those of us for whom it was never intended (Jews in Poland, for one example–Pompadour’s “competition” for the King’s attention was a Polish girl, Queen Marie Leszinska).

Ken Aptekar, She was decorating, 2003, 60

Ken Aptekar, She was decorating, 2003, 60″ x 60″ (153cm x 153cm), four panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts 
After (l) Francois Boucher, The Bath of Venus, 1751, National Gallery of Art, Washington, (r) Francois Boucher, The Toilette of Venus, 1751, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
“She was decorating” is based on two images Mme de Pompadour commissioned from Francois Boucher for her bathroom at the Chateau de Bellevue (now destroyed), one of the many homes she built or decorated for herself and to encourage Louis to visit. Distortion of the two images suggests the way the two works might have appeared when seen in the corner of the bathroom from a single vantage point.

Ken Aptekar, Scenario, 2003, 60

Ken Aptekar, Scenario, 2003, 60″ x 90″
six panels, oil/wood, sandblasted glass, bolts
SCENARIO is comprised of images of the walls of Mme de Pompadour’s private apartment in the Chateau de Versailles, to which Louis XV had a secret staircase built leading from his private apartment below. The painted image on the wall (not the mirror) is a detail of a Boucher mythological painting, APOLLO AND ISSA, in which he used Mme de Pompadour’s face for the character of Issa. Jen refers to Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Mme de Pompadour’s birth name; Lou is short for Louis. “Scenario” is “screenplay” in French.

A Repainter Isn’t Necessarily a Painter

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2015 at 9:40 am
Interior View, Linn Underhill Studio, Lisle, NY, 2/22/2015

Interior View, Linn Underhill Studio, Lisle, NY, 2/22/2015

In photographer Linn Underhill’s studio this weekend I saw a new work pinned to the wall. Though I doubt that she had Jackson Pollock in mind when she made it,

Jackson Pollock, Number 31

Jackson Pollock, Number 31, 1950, MoMA, New York

I couldn’t help but think that her photo-based work elaborated upon Pollock’s iconic drip paintings in Underhill’s very personal and feminist way. Without ever setting brush to canvas, Underhill repainted Pollock, making a disturbing, haunting new work.

Underhill’s mother was a photographer too. She photographed many 1950’s weddings in northern California. Over the years Underhill has occasionally incorporated her mother’s photographic archive in surprising ways, for example, using wedding shots to give the lie to the “happiest day in a girl’s life.” Those forced smiles and stiff family groups sometimes can prefigure the profound disappointment and tragic melancholy that leads to lives of misery.

View out the back door of Linn Underhill's studio, Lisle, NY

View out the back door of Linn Underhill’s studio, Lisle, NY

Underhill trapped some of these wedding moments in the tangled bramble that she photographs in the woods out behind her studio in upstate New York to powerful effect.

Linn Underhill, Roots, 2015 (Archival Inkjet Print)

Linn Underhill, Roots, 2015 (Archival Inkjet Print)

Linn Underhill, Roots, 2015, DETAIL (archival inkjet print)

Linn Underhill, Roots, 2015, DETAIL (archival inkjet print)

More here on the work of Linn Underhill.

Mr. Leigh’s Mr. Turner

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2014 at 11:59 am
J.M.W. Turner, The Slave Ship (1840). Oil on canvas. 90.8 × 122.6 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

J.M.W. Turner, The Slave Ship (1840). Oil on canvas. 90.8 × 122.6 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851) was painting recently on West Houston St. in New York, at the Angelika Film Center. The repainter has never been a huge fan of Turner’s canvases. Rather thinly painted, for me they often drift away, even while I recognize his work as a notable early precursor to abstraction, and both distinct and unusually evocative of the sea. Despite this ambivalence, a painting of his, “The Slave Ship,” appears repainted in one of the repainter’s paintings (more of which below).

Before seeing “Mr. Turner,” Mike Leigh’s ravishingly photographed biopic just released here, I had little knowledge of the painter’s biography. I can see why the politically progressive 71 year-old Leigh chose Turner as his subject.


Surely he was drawn to Turner’s commitment to his art, his rigor and intellectual curiosity, and his adventurous drive to love and be loved even later in life. Though at-times repugnant, Turner captivates because Leigh creates a real living person on screen. There’s barely a narrative to speak of; in fact, I found myself marveling at being so compelled by the dramatic construction of the film. It’s almost as if we happened to find ourselves in the rooms of Turner’s life: his studio in what seems like just an ordinary room in his London house, his bedroom, the bed and breakfast in Margate where he stayed from time to time to study the sea, the galleries at the Royal Academy. Though one may wonder how in the world Leigh knows what went on in them, one never doubts that he does.

In the course of our privileged presence in these private spaces, we meet the key players in Turner’s life: his spurned, bitter  lover, the aunt of his housekeeper, and the two daughters Turner had with her; the faithful, submissive housekeeper, towards

Turner and his father, still from "Mr. Turner," a film by Mike Leigh

Turner and his father, still from “Mr. Turner,” a film by Mike Leigh

whom Turner is at best indifferent; his dear loving father, presented as the probable source of Turner’s immense artistic confidence; a late love. Pain-in-the-ass painter Benjamin Haydon periodically reappears hounding his successful friend for financial aid. There are exchanges of camaraderie—and violent confrontation—with fellow painters, among them Clarkson Stanfield another marine painter from whom the repainter once borrowed a work.

Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, "A Dutch Dogger Carrying Away her Sprit; On the Dogger Bank," 1846, collection Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, “A Dutch Dogger Carrying Away her Sprit; On the Dogger Bank,” 1846, collection Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Ken Aptekar, "THE WHOLE PICTURE," diptych, oil on wood, sandblasted glass, bolts, 30" x 60", after Clarkson Stanfield,

Ken Aptekar, “THE WHOLE PICTURE,” diptych, oil on wood, sandblasted glass, bolts, 30″ x 60″, after Clarkson Stanfield, “A Dutch Dogger Carrying Away her Sprit; On the Dogger Bank,” (above)

Then there are satisfying scenes ridiculing a pompous critic (Ruskin), Turner’s witnessing the painful derision of his detractors, sales negotiations successful and otherwise with collectors in Turner’s private red-walled showroom (“careful, three steps down!”), and, of course, energetic painting and sketching. Remarkably, they all add up to the most sympathetic, ordinary, and hero-worship free portrayal the repainter has ever seen of the artist-as-small-businessman, merely and utterly gripped by his unique project of painting.

Ken Aptekar, "Portrait of Susan Whitehead," 2010, oil on wood, sandblasted glass, bolts, four panels 60" x 60" overall

Ken Aptekar, “Portrait of Susan Whitehead,” 2010, oil on wood, sandblasted glass, bolts, four panels 60″ x 60″ overall

For one of the portraits I made for a 2010 exhibition, Recent Portraits, at the Graham Gallery in New York, I used Turner’s “The Slave Ship,” along with Van Gogh’s “The Ravine.” The form of the text in this “portrait,” was inspired by a comment made to me by my portrait subject, Susan Whitehead. When her father called to ask how she was doing, and she began to answer, he would cut her off with, “just give me the headlines.” During a videotaped interview (jump to 1:46 in the videotape) with Whitehead in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where I had asked her which painting she’d like to take home, she was drawn to Turner’s darkly sinister painting, “The Slave Ship,” and Van Gogh’s twisty torturous “The Ravine.” Turner painted his abolitionist canvas after learning that the captain of a British slave ship had ordered 133 slaves to be thrown overboard so that insurance payments could be collected.

National Gallery (UK) Visit, in Paris

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Recently saw Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary film, National Gallery, at Cine104 around the corner from my studio in Paris. The Repainter watched with particular interest. Here’s a work of art also made from old paintings, awfully good ones, as befits a collection representing the British Empire.

Leonardo da Vinci's Belle Ferronierre at the National Gallery

Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière at the National Gallery, UK, seen in Wiseman’s documentary film.

As I watched I wondered when I would hear what museum-goers thought as they encountered works on the brocaded walls. How they understood what they were looking at. I wanted to walk into the screen and tap the shoulders of some of the many visitors shown during the three hours of Wiseman’s film. What are you thinking as you stare so intently? You can tell me, I need to know that you really care about this scrap of canvas with some smears on it, from a few hundred years ago, about a world that no longer exists, of people long dead, wearing clothes you couldn’t buy if you wanted, picturing places barely recognizable today, and—in a typically enlightening passage in the film—showing a screaming red lobster that, after being painted, vanished forever. Except for its vivid presence in that Dutch still life now hanging in the National Gallery.

Still Life with the Drinking-Horn of the St Sebastian Archers' Guild, Lobster and Glasses by Willem Kalf (c. 1653), Collection National Gallery, London

Still Life with the Drinking-Horn of the St Sebastian Archers’ Guild, Lobster and Glasses by Willem Kalf (c. 1653), Collection National Gallery, London

The film is mum. The only talking heads are experts: art historians, docents, restorers, museum administrators. Make no mistake, they’re all illuminating, thrilling at times, as they talk out of their particular expertise. The high level of theoretical sophistication and historical erudition is eye-opening, and immensely stimulating. Does it also leave the paintings, the museum, on a very high pedestal?
That was my question as I left the film. Despite the fact that National Gallery wears its considerable heart for painting and the museum dedicated to preserving so many great examples on its sleeve, I wondered if Wiseman inadvertently reaffirmed painting as beyond the reach of mere mortals as we. So you need a PhD to really get it…?

Interview being filmed in National Gallery, seen in Frederick Wiseman’s documentary

 Wiseman’s modus operandi is to observe institutions, fly on the wall style. He is invisible, a wizard behind the curtain, carefully selecting what to present of the rarified life unfolding in and around the museum, and how to present it. Nobody talks to the camera. Or to him. He even grabs moments of other film-makers filming experts—never just random museum-goers— talking to THEIR cameras, but not his. Perhaps the only way he could have given us the verbal responses of museum-goers would have been to document conversations between them as they looked at paintings.
 But what makes National Gallery extraordinary is the silent visual bond between solitary viewers and works of art. We are left to imagine the thoughts and emotions produced by that alchemy.
There is poetry in what transpires. Art begets art. Wiseman concretizes this notion by including a poet reading her painting-inspired poem (for another camera), a pianist performing a concert in the gallery, a magical pas de deux danced between two giant canvases.

Portrait Painter Verot

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 4:14 am

I love portraits. A seemingly inexhaustible genre, portraiture is as endlessly fascinating to me as the variety of people in the world. Only rarely, though, does an artist offer up some new and compelling angle that meets the originality of a unique person head on. When that happens, the portrait manages to transcend the individuality of the sitter.

Anthony Verot paints portraits in Paris. I first saw his work in 2004 at Maison d’Art Contemporain Chaillioux, in Fresnes, a suburb of Paris known primarily for its prison. Maybe the dedicated and tireless director of MACC, Marcel Lubac, intended a sly reference to mugshots. More likely he was drawn to the painter’s exacting formal and conceptual rigor. Amazingly, Verot, now 40, had hardly shown before, though he had piled up an impressive stack of canvases.

My friend, Shirley Jaffe, took me to the opening in Fresnes. I found Verot to be dedicated, earnest, singleminded, and determined to create a space for deadpan, distinctly unsensational representations in oil paint of ordinary people with a lurking dark side. Think August Sander with a dash of Ingmar Bergman tossed with Ingres, and drizzled with Lucien Freud. With shavings of Alfred Hitchcock.

Parc Monstouris in the 14th Arrondissement, Paris

A few years ago I visited his studio in the 14th arrondissement, not far from the Parc Montsouris. Despite the proximity to this lush garden, there’s not the slightest whiff of greenery to be found in what Verot paints. He was working on a 24-panel portrait of a woman, 8′ x 12′ altogether. He had filmed her with a movie camera turning her head, and the sequence of paintings corresponded to the images produced on film in a single second. The nearly identical 60cm x 60cm (about 2′ x 2′) canvases were arranged in four rows of six each, stacked one on top of the other. I was mystified by the effect. How crazy, how obsessive, how meticulous, how ridiculously simple and riveting!

Anthony Verot, Une Seconde de Cinema (Nathalie), 2005

Warholian in it’s Jackie-esque repetition, it dazzles the eye because of the progression of almost imperceptible changes in the course of the sequence. Hardly seductive, the woman is seen moving from what might have been modesty toward a direct confrontation with the viewer’s gaze. It is the contemporary embodiment of Manet’s Olympia with her famously unsettling self-possession. As Eunice Lipton put it about the model Victorine Meurent in that work, “she could say yes, or she could say no.”

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

Verot’s paintings draw on heavily on canonical masterworks. Flatly painted, distinctly modern, they feel timeless. Very little situates them in the present moment. Wardrobe is nondescript, though vaguely today. Backgrounds are either monochromatic or minimally descriptive of bland interiors. Despite the fact that there is little joy in Mudville, these people are thoughtful, intensely present, curiously confrontational, often stern. You recoil as much as you are drawn to them. Nothing is idealized about their appearance.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Monsieur Bertin, 1832

One, an homage to Jean-Baptiste Ingres’ 1832 portrait of Monsieur Bertin, is a portrait of Monsieur Piquiaud, from 2004. Verot’s Monsieur is every dignified head of state, unforgiving father, French philosopher, retired insurance company CEO, befuddled grandfather, frustrated diplomat all rolled into one. Neat!

Anthony Verot, Monsieur Piquiaud, 2004

His most recent paintings double up the subjects by including images of their backs seen in mirrors. Verot heightens the intimation of reality, paradoxically, by including a reflection of the person painted. I get the feeling I know more about the person because I’m getting more of them. These doubled images (the one on the right below is a self-portrait)  seem to suggest that the artist is trying to reveal more even than his subjects will allow, by “going behind their backs.”

Anthony Verot, Installation view at Centre régional d’art contemporain de Montbéliard, France, 2010

You can find Verot’s work at the Galerie Francoise Besson in Lyon.

Repainter Sturtevant

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 4:13 am

Richard Kalvar, Magnum Photos, Man talking to sleeping friend, Paris, 1974

The repainter has been reposing in Paris. Racing to finish the portraits for my exhibition at James Graham and Sons knocked the paint right out of me. I’m slowly finding my way back to work, though, in my studio in the 10th arrondissement.

Paris is my perfect repainter city. I can waltz out the door of my studio and in 15 minutes be wandering the galleries of the Louvre, where one can find a lifetime worth of top-notch material for new paintings of old. And if the 19th or 20th centuries beckon, it’s a hopstop to the Centre Pompidou or the Musee d’Orsay  (the Louvre is reserved for pre-mid 19th c. for the most part). Over the years I’ve taken paintings from all these museums back to my studio.

Sturtevant, Warhol Flowers, 1969-70

Returning to Paris I had hoped to see a major museum exhibition by another repainter, Elaine Sturtevant, that opened while I was in New York. Her entire long art career has been devoted to remaking mostly sixties and seventies American artworks by the likes of Stella, Lichtenstein, Johns and Warhol. Once, reportedly, she convinced Andy to let her have the silk screen he used for a series to make her own versions. I’ve seen the works, Johns flags, Warhol poppies, etc. They are indistinguishable from the originals. The Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris exhibition of her work, “The Razzle Dazzle of Thinking,” closed, turns out, just before I arrived.

How many of her collectors regard her work as low-cost knock-offs? When she was showing at the same gallery as I in SoHo, NY, our dealer at the time told me “Whatever works!” with a wink and a nod. This question set me thinking. You copy a work of art. You present it as a new work of art. The new work carries new meaning, apart from its source: “I was NOT made by Jasper Johns,” it announces emphatically (if the viewer is aware of who actually made it). Perhaps it continues, “I am a simulation of a work by a famous male artist, by a woman artist named Elaine Sturtevant. As a result, you the viewer look at me as….  A fake? A sign of just how crazy sexist the art world continues to be? The clairvoyance of a young artist who knew whom to copy before they got famous? A meditation on the unstable value of an artwork? A provocation about the ($) value of originality?”

Where does this take you beyond the slimier aspects of the art biz? Does the work stay smugly inside the narcissistic regions of the art world today? Is it just another reason for those not enthusiastic (nor informed) about contemporary art to dismiss it as snake oil?

Here’s Sturtevant with the last word (jump ahead to 3 min. 10 sec. in…).

Recent Portraits Revealed

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 4:12 am

Ken Aptekar, Recent Portraits installation view, James Graham & Sons, NY, 2010

Some months ago I launched Repainter Diaries with the back stories behind paintings I was making for an upcoming gallery show (Ken Aptekar: Recent Portraits, March 11 – April 17, 2010, James Graham & Sons, NY). My encounters with my portrait subjects brimmed with juicy material, certainly more that I could contain in each of their portraits. I didn’t bolt the glass panels that carry my texts to the painted panels until two days before installing in the gallery, so I couldn’t include images of the actual paintings in those early posts. But I also admit to heating up a little suspense about the final results.

Now, of course, the exhibition is over. So I thought it might be a good idea to post a virtual gallery visit for those who couldn’t make it. Also included in the exhibition (but not here) was a series of works based on a historical portrait of Queen Charlotte, and now being installed in the new Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC. Those will be the subject of a later post.

I’m thinking now about new portraits, and hereby open the floor to any and all suggestions! If it’s someone famous, I would appreciate a personal introduction; celebrities can be so elusive! Anyone close friends with Michelle O?

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF ARLETTE L'HOPITAULT, 2010, 30" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF ARLETTE L’HOPITAULT, 2010, 30″ x 60″, after (right) Jean-Baptiste Chardin, Saying Grace, 1740, and (left) Young Man with a Violin, or Portrait of Charles Theodose Godefroy, c.1738, Louvre, Paris

Text on glass:

To Arlette the woman is not the mother.

The parents are absent. Life in this French home

is sweet. She hears a violinist off to the left.

A servant, a musician, two obedient children.

The sweet harmony of family.

But the woman is trapped. Arlette understands;

every time she slipped up Maman wrote it down

for Papa. Then he would drag her out to the edge

of the wheat field and beat her. She left home

when she was fourteen.

Six months after marrying an abusive butcher,

Arlette begins plotting her getaway. Sixteen years,

one child, and a few finance courses later, she

and Delphine pack their bags and get out.

Later she marries Sammy, the love of her life.

She’d prefer to see the painting without the

protective glass.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF IRA GLASS, 2010, 35" x 70"

PORTRAIT OF IRA GLASS, 2010, 35″ x 70″, after Jennifer Bartlett, 5AM (from the series, AIR: 24 Hours), 1984, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Text on glass:

Why the children’s drawing in Jennifer Bartlett’s

painting? Ira evades my question, then gives in.

“You’re in love, giddy, you’re dancing in the

kitchen at 5AM. You feel like a child and that

child part of you is alive. If you’re lucky you

have relationships where you can express

yourself as you are at every age. The 5 year-old,

the 10 year-old, the 20 year-old in you comes

alive again with certain people, when you’re

in love, most of all. You want every part of you

to live. The seven year old is right there making

the painting. That’s what expresses just how

in love they are.” Ira glances at me. “Alright,”

he laughs, “you dragged it out of me.”


PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST’S FATHER (MILTON APTEKAR), 2010, 30″ x 60″, after Peter Bruegel the Elder, The Wedding Feast, 1568, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Text on glass:

“Chicken soup,” he thought. “Bagpiper at your wedding?” I ask.

“No way.  Sam Barnett on tenor with a trio. Supper at the synagogue,

nothing fancy.”  Sam introduced Milt to Anne three years before.  “Your

mother and I,”  my Dad recalls, “always liked a lot of people having a good

time at a party.  Live music, that was it.”  Sixty-five years later in 2005, Sam

played at Anne’s funeral.  Milt bought the Bruegel print at the museum in

Detroit for their first house, picked up a raw wood frame for two, three dollars at

Hudson’s.   “I had to come up with a finish,”  he told me recently before he died.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF JULIA PEYTON-JONES, 2010, 35" x 35"

PORTRAIT OF JULIA PEYTON-JONES, 2010, 35″ x 35″, after Thomas Gainsborough, Self-portrait, 1758-59, National Portrait Gallery, London

Text on glass:

They were a sign of her family’s history of art patronage. After her parents

moved out of Hengrave Hall in Suffolk, her mother thought about

whom to leave what. Julia asked for the Gainsborough drawings.

Her sister wanted the jewels. Later in London, her mother, a drinker and

chainsmoker, started a fire in the living room. She was lucky to escape

unharmed.  Not so, the Gainsboroughs. Julia left for Florence at 19,

met and fell in love with Art, became an artist. Later, she took over a former

tea pavilion in Kensington Gardens. Twenty years on, it’s the world-renowned

Serpentine Gallery, where as Director she presents the work of numerous

artists and architects amidst the greenery. The fire destroyed three of the

four drawings. Julia has the fourth. When I ask how she felt about her mother’s

explanation for why she didn’t save them, she replies, “I took it quite

literally, rather as if she had said, ‘The wall is green.’” In fact her mother

told her, ‘I didn’t want you to have them so I burned them.’ ”

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF JULIE & PETER CUMMINGS, 2010, 30" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF JULIE & PETER CUMMINGS, 2010, 30″ x 60″, after Freidel Dzubas, Towards Darkness, 1978, Collection Peter Cummings and Julie Fisher Cummings, New York

Text on glass:

She likes the blue speeding

like a comet out of the dark into

the light. He sees it going

into the darkness. She lingers

at the side of the painting,

preferring small spaces. He feels

cramped by them, and breathes

in the painting’s airy center.

After they met, he told her

he probably wasn’t going to

get married again, but if he did,

“it would be to you.” Her parents

gave them the Dzubas canvas

for a wedding gift. Together

thirty-two years later, they love it

each in their own way.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF SAIED AZALI, 2010, 60" x 30"

PORTRAIT OF SAIED AZALI, 2010, 60″ x 30″, after Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Two Women at a Window, c. 1655/1660, and Sir Anthony van Dyck, Head of a Young Man, c. 1617/1618, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Text on glass:

If not for the Revolution, I would have become a doctor. My

parents sent me abroad to study before it began. Both of

them were doctors. They were never around.

We had cooks at home. Under the new regime,

my father, an Anglican convert, was sent to prison. Shortly

after he got out, he died. With school finished, I stayed away

and partied. Got into the club scene, opened the restaurant

in DC. I was never close to my parents. Two years ago, just

before my mother died, I went to her and tried to understand.

She’s happy to see me. If I walk up to the window, she’ll talk

to me. I can’t read him. His mind is grinding. He looks

bruised, distant, reminds me of my brother in Australia.

If my parents said Sit, he’d sit, and be miserable obeying.

I don’t want to be there.

In Iran there are boundaries you don’t cross. She told me,

We did our best with you kids, we aren’t perfect. Even last

week I picked up the phone to call her.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF SUSAN WHITEHEAD, 2010, 60" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF SUSAN WHITEHEAD, 2010, 60″ x 60″, after (left) J. M. W. Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and (right) Vincent Van Gogh, The Ravine, 1889, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Text on glass:





Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF NINO ALCOCK-BOSELLI, 2010, 30" x60"

PORTRAIT OF NINO ALCOCK-BOSELLI, 2010, 30″ x60″, after (left) Jacques-Louis David, General Bonaparte, c. 1797-98 and Portrait of Gaspar Meyer, 1795-96, Louvre, Paris

“Vague, vague, vague. It’s not done.

He’s ugly, his hair reminds me of a

bad teacher. They should give it away

or maybe sell it,” says Nino, a 7 year-old

Parisian. Nino can get to the Louvre in

ten minutes on the Metro.

As for Jacques-Louis David’s Portrait of

Gaspar Mayer, he’d take that one home

with him. He likes “the funny curls of

Gaspar’s hair, the blue and the white

and the red” of his clothes. Plus

it’s all colored in.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST, 2010, 60" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST, 2010, 60″ x 60″, after (clockwise from upper left):

Charles Demuth, Love Love Love [Homage to Gertrude Stein (?)], 1929, Fundacion Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Charles Demuth, Poster Portrait: O’Keeffe, 1923-24, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven

Charles Demuth, I saw the figure five in gold (Poster Portrait: William Carlos Williams), 1928, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Francois Boucher, Young woman with a bouquet of roses, Private collection

Text on glass: NOW SHOWING K.A.!

Ken Aptekar, TAKE MY HAND (Portrait of Mme de Pompadour), 2009, 35" x 35"

TAKE MY HAND (Portrait of Mme de Pompadour), 2009, 35″ x 35″, after Francois Boucher, Portrait of Mme de Pompadour, 1759, Wallace Collection, London

Text on glass: take my hand


In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Some people think a painting career is a Greek tragedy. The central character is Oedipus. In order to get ahead, father-killing is required.

I am the repainter. Does that mean I must be a serial father killer? Do I need to knock off all my Old Master Dads? Did I became the repainter to fulfill some gruesome destiny?

Milton Aptekar, 1915-2010

I loved my Dad, who died at 94 last August. Recently, I made a portrait of him for my show at James Graham & Sons. He was a loving husband and father, full of appetite, a much adored music teacher, a talented trumpeter. Early on, my Dad and Gene Fenby, his partner in the Fenby-Carr Quintet (“The Singing Schoolteachers”), decided not to go out to Hollywood to try to make it big. They chose instead to continue teaching  in Detroit, while moonlighting with the band. When I got my first NEA grant, I called him, trembling, to ask what he thought of my quitting the locksmith business to become a full-time artist. I  thought he’d be angry if I made such an “irresponsible” and risky choice.

Fenby Carr Quintet, "The Singing Schoolteachers"

I was in Paris painting, when I got him on the phone.

“Great,” he said. “Go for it!”

I didn’t kill my Dad by going to New York. His orchestra prospered in Detroit, became well-known local entertainers for many years. My father enjoyed the family life he and my mother created, and fifty years worth of grateful high-school students with whom he shared his love of music. Greek tragedy? More like Ozzie and Harriet. Not to say that there was no drama–my father could be mighty judgmental, and I had to learn to live with it.

So with the subject of artists and fathers in mind, here is a short, idiosyncratic, personal selection of works by artist friends, me, and a few others. I’ll update periodically with your suggestions if you pass them along.

ROBIN TEWES, Father and Son, 2001, oil on birch, 20" x 20"

RON MUECK, Dead Dad, 1996-97, installation view, Brooklyn Museum

DAVID HUMPHREY, Dad, (text reads "I'm") 1987, oil on canvas, 70" x 80" (installation view)

PAULA REGO, The Family, 1988, acrylic on canvas-backed paper, 213 cm x 213 cm

KEN APTEKAR, Milt Ken Paris, 1987, oil on wood, 30" x 90" triptych

DENNIS KARDON, Roughhousing (with the Inner Child), 1997, oil on canvas, 45" x 54"

Rothkowitz, Red, and Ken

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2010 at 6:50 am

Mark Rothko, Seagram commission paintings on view at Tate Modern, London

Saw the new play, Red, on Broadway last weekend. Tragic, unnerving, brilliant, it’s a portrait of a terrifying bully, Mark Rothko, unbearably trapped by the impossible demands he places on his work. If you care about what Art does, how artists work, and the ways that changes over time, see this play. Not to mention the dazzling performances of Alfred Molina (Rothko–used to be Rothkowitz) and Eddie Redmayne (Ken (!), his assistant). Ninety minutes without intermission disappear in a red flash as Rothko hurls, in addition to red paint, insults at Ken, whose youth, intelligence, and emotional endurance allow him finally to break loose and fly.

Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne in John Logan’s new play, Red, now on Broadway

We’re in Rothko’s Bowery studio. He’s working on a series commissioned for the then massive sum of $35,000 for the Four Seasons restaurant in Philip Johnson’s Seagram’s Building. He’s poured a Red Sea’s worth of artistic intention into the paintings, all red and black. He bludgeons Ken with the symbolism of the palette he’s chosen for the commission: red for life, black for death. Though that’s not the whole story, there’s something to it. (I saw them last year in a recent and brilliant show curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume.) At one point Rothko talks about the moment he first saw Matisse’s Red Studio at MoMA. It took me right back to 1973 when I first arrived in NY for graduate school and saw the painting. I don’t think I had ever seen so much red.

Henri Matisse, Red Studio, 1911, Museum of Modern Art, NY

I had no idea then that Matisse’s “re-paintings” in this image would later suggest the path I took. In 1979 I grabbed Matisse’s Red Studio for my own. It was one of the first paintings I sold in a gallery (Barbara Flynn’s and Ed Rath’s Art Galaxy in Little Italy). The many monochromatic red paintings I’ve made over the years–even a suite of prints titled “Red Read”–is some indication of just how much that Matisse got under my skin too.

Ken Aptekar, Red Studio, 1979 Collection David Savran

For Rothko, black won when he ended his own life in 1970. Much as I respect Rothko’s work, its moral weightiness, universal aspirations, and aesthetic purification amounted to a black hole for him. He couldn’t find his way out of the dark loneliness of the Great Artist. I thought that bringing others along with me in my work through their responses to paintings might make my work more fun. I need their lives. I was the youngest of four kids and the love I got from my older siblings I expect.

When I was a boy, people noticed the color of my hair. I’ve always been “Red.”

Portrait of Ken Aptekar, 1952, Edward Skinner

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