Monday, June 1, 2009

Ranchers, Farmers, and Farm Workers in the Arts

Fredric Sackrider Remington (born 1861-1909), Bringing Home The New Cook, 1907.
Western ranch life evolved from open range herding overseen by cowboys or vaqueros,
and Remington was the best.
This dramatic western artist, sculptor and illustrator, depicted wild horse scenes, Indian attacks, and renderings of the various hardships endured by the men of the Western. Cowboys usually ate in the open, usually standing up, and a single cook prepared the meal. With lots of strong coffee, they ate fried eggs, beef, mutton and bacon, beans or refritos, and biscuits.

Given the importance of tasty, hearty food, a skilled cook was a prize, held high status, and was paid twice the salary of cowpokes. Finding one willing to come to the prairie to cook for a bunch of roughnecks was sometimes difficult and thus a celebration took place when he arrived.

Warren Chang (born Monterey CA 1957) Lettuce Growers. Chang depicts agricultural workers for very personal reasons wishing to explore the human conditions as it applies to field workers. Chang grew up in Monterey County, home of vinyards, seafaring, vast agri-business holdings and family farms and ranches. His realistic technique is a contrast to George Campbell's ventures into abstraction (below)

George Campbell (County Wicklow, Ireland, 1917-1979) Fruit Seller, 1970. (Collage, watercolor and pencil on paper)
Campbell is Ireland's most important modern painter.He lived also in Malaga, Spain, and was highly regarded by artists of that country. Seeking to be known as international in scope and intellectual in his interpretations, he often introduced abstraction into his many landscapes. Like others of his generation, he sought to go beyond traditional painting,
but he aso sought literal meaning in his paintings and commercial recognition.

Aaron F. St. John, Morning Oats,, n.d.

Thomas Hart Benton, Louisiana Rice Fields, 1928

Vincent Van Gogh, Farmers Planting Potatoes, 1884

John Cherney's Roadside Art

Left: Sam's Friendly Produce Stand, 1997
by John and Cerney and Dong Sun Kim

Cerney's billboard-size figures have been dotting the fields around Salinas California (and elsewhere) since the 1990s. Figures are cut from plyood, stabilized against the wind that sweeps the area with steel and wood supports, then painted with acrylics. His images are based on real people in the area.

Below: Lettuce Trimmer by John Cerney. Salinas, located in California's Central Valley, is recognized as the lettuce capital of the world.

Above: Cerney's rendition of a scene from John Steinbecks 1940 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the story of dispossessed Oklahoma farmers driving to California to pick fruit during the Depression of the 1930s. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1962.

Farm Workers' Champion: David Bacon, prolific writer and photojournalist, based in Berkeley, CA.
His work appears in The Nation, TruthOut, the San Francisco Chronicle and various other liberal newspapers and magazines. He often speaks at global conferences about his ideas and concerns.
Many of his essays focus on the plight of farm workers in America whose working conditions are often inadequate and unhealthy. Below: Onion Workers in Arvan and Farm Workers at Lunch. Photos by David Bacon.

Bacon's sharp essays alert his readers to working conditions in the US,Mexico, Asia and elsewhere - wherever workers are neglected or oppressed and labor laws are broken. He has written several books and has photo-documented thousands of farm fieldworkers around the world.

I knew first when he was a skinny tenth grader at Berkeley High School, sometime in the late 1960s. He had red hair and freckles, wore horn-rimmed glasses and had a wise-ass answer for every question. He was probably the smartest and best -informed kid around. I never let on but I deeply cherished his presence in class or bumping into him in the hallways. His after school time inthose days was spent hanging out (and, apparently,learning) at Berkeley's now-famous lefty radio station, KPFA, where he is now associate editor of Pacifica News.


Edward Hopper (born Nyack, NY, 1882-1967), Chop Suey, 1929.

American Realist painter He made his first sale at the Armory Show in NYC, 1913 and is probably best known for his exterior scenes with intricate lighting and shadow. He did moody interiors (restaurants, apartments, offices) but also sun-washed houses, train stations and business areas, often without people.
Max Weber (born Poland, 1881-1961) Chinese Restaurant, 1915

Henry Alexander (born San Francisco, 1860-1894) Chinese Interior (Restaurant), ca 1893.
Recognized and exhibited but not overly successful, Alexander was fond of Asian subjects.

Max Weber (born Byalistok Poland, 1881-1961), Chinese Restaurant, 1915. This work hangs in the Whitney Museum, New York. Weber was a sometimes Cubist painter and print maker who worked in Paris before settling in New York around 1912. This abstract piece shows a typical restaurant tile floor, lavish decorations in red, and an atmosphere of frenetic activity.

Evalina Chao (born in Chicago), Gates of Grace. 1985. Her first novel described Chinese immigrants' struggles in New York City after their arrival from communist China in 1949. With poignant scenes from the city's Chinatown, the aromas and activity in its restaurants are strong currents. Her second novel, Yeh Yeh's House, was published in 2004. Chao is the principal viola in the St. Paul (Minnesota) Chamber Orchestra.

John Sloan (born 1871, Lock Haven, PA -1951), Chinese Restaurant, 1909. On eof the most skilled and observant painter sof New York scenes, Sloan was drawn to saloons (McSorley's) and cafes. This restaurant shows the usual red panels (red is a lucky color in Chinese culture), tile floor and rather relaxed customer behavior. The cat likes egg rolls.

Robert Colescott (born Oakland, CA, 1925-2009) Egg Foo Yung To Go
Often surrealist and always ironic, Colescott was a constantly appropriated
subjects from other artists and history. Early in his career he was drafted for service in World War II and visited Paris, a city that warmly welcomed African Americans to its arts community. He later took his M.A in Berkeley and eventually became a full professor at the University of Arizona (Tucso) until his recent death.

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