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Posts Tagged ‘Mint Museum’

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

Moment of Color

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Charlotte's Crown in Sir Allan Ramsay's Coronation Portrait, 1761

While Barack Obama was working at getting elected, I was occupied with a series of paintings. I had been commissioned by the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, to make work based on their portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Allan Ramsay.

Sir Allan Ramsay, Coronation Portrait of Queen Charlotte, 1761, Mint Museum

Queen Charlotte, for whom the city was named, was married to King George III. The two ruled England when the colonies decided enough was enough. Now, you may wonder what Obama has to do with an English royal. And if you’re anything like me, the near certainty that Queen Charlotte was of mixed race escaped you. If you live in Charlotte, however, it wouldn’t have. Charlotteans, as they call themselves, have strong feelings about their namesake. For the 33% who are African-Americans, she is the Black Queen. For most of the rest, she’s British, by which they mean white. She looks white in her portrait hanging in the museum. More or less. Maybe her hair’s a bit frizzy, her lips somewhat thick and her nose broad, but Black is not the first thing that springs to mind when you see her. Stuart Jeffries, reporting on my project in the Guardian in London, writes:

Charlotte is intrigued by its namesake. Some Charlotteans even find her lovable. “We think your queen speaks to us on lots of levels,” says Cheryl Palmer, director of education at the Mint museum. “As a woman, an immigrant, a person who may have had African forebears, botanist, a queen who opposed slavery – she speaks to Americans, especially in a city in the south like Charlotte that is trying to redefine itself.”

Jeffries continues:

…[Aptekar] started by conducting focus group meetings with people from Charlotte to find out what the Queen and her portrait meant to citizens of the US city…. Among those who attended is congressman Mel Watt, one of very few African-Americans in the House of Representatives and who represents the 12th district of North Carolina that includes Charlotte. “In private conversations, African-Americans have always acknowledged and found a sense of pride in this ‘secret’,” says Watt. “It’s great that this discussion can now come out of the closet into the public places of Charlotte, so we all can acknowledge and celebrate it.”

I fly down to Charlotte.  Why should I care about this Queen Charlotte, I’m wondering? OK, so she was a precocious seventeen year-old plucked from obscurity out of the Duchy of Mecklenberg-Strelizia in the north of what was to become Germany and she was crowned Queen of England. An idealistic teenager, she was upset by the number of her countrymen returning home in caskets or wounded from a senseless war. She wrote King Frederick of Prussia a passionate letter urging him to end the war. Though he ignored it, others didn’t and her humane gesture made the rounds of royals all over Europe, including King George’s mom who was trying at that very moment to pry her son away from a hot commoner. She invited Charlotte up to the palace.

I ask the groups to imagine Charlotte writing her letter today, in Charlotte, NC. To whom is she writing, and about what? Someone suggests she’d have a blog about the pathetic public education and crushing poverty effectively killing young people in Charlotte. Another proposes a green agenda–she was wild about horticulture and founded Kew Gardens in London. The bird of paradise, originally from Brazil, was given its botanical name, Strelizia de la Reine, to honor her for first cultivating it in England.

Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia Reginae)

Viewers notice her vulnerability in Ramsay’s painting. Despite all the regal trappings, the throne, the crown, the heavy drapes, the lavish Queen get-up, when you focus just on her face, you find the 17 year-old who doesn’t know what hit her.

DETAIL Sir Allan Ramsay, Coronation Portrait of Queen Charlotte

Much beloved as Queen of England, Charlotte offered something for everyone in in this southern city–a touch of English class, a black heroine, an anti-war activist, a nature lover, the founder of the first orphanage in London, plus an ad for luxury textiles, a major industry in North Carolina.

When I get on the plane to NY that night, at the end of a very long day made easier by Contemporary Curator Carla Hanzal who had commissioned me, I leave with four hours of videotape, and I am reeling from all the Charlottes revealed to me. Soon after, I set out formulating what will become six separate panels each revealing a facet of this Queen. Together, these six paintings equal the surface area of the original portrait. They will hang in the new Mint Museum building now under construction in the Charlotte business district, and will link its collections to those remaining in the original historic Mint building more off the beaten path. Before they leave for Charlotte I will show them in New York as part of an upcoming portrait show.

I am bringing Charlotte, the Queen of England with African blood, back to life in new paintings just when Barack Obama becomes the first mixed race President of the United States. Palette change.

Barack "Barry" Obama, second row center, seen with his junior varsity basketball team, 1977, Punahoe School Yearbook, Honolulu

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