Tuesday, August 18, 2009



The Apple with Issues:

Apples appear in various art forms and contexts, all with varying interpretations.
From far back in time, oral traditions - legends and myth - have provided astounding dramatic opportunities for apples to take front stage.

Golden apples as quests and in mythic competitions, poison apples from India to the Grimms' Germany, apples scenting the lovers' byre, apples enchanting and aphrodisiacal. The sensual and evocative aroma of antonovkas, the apples once grown on the Russian steppe in the warmth of Indian Summer.

But no more.

Gone with revolution, hunger and change, but still available in Ivan Alekseevich Bunin's tale, "The Scent of Apples" (1900, available in The Elagin Affair and Other Stories, Ivan R. Dee, 2005).

And, it would appear, that as
they acquired species variety from Europe's thorny crab apples to Somerset's luscious beauties, apples grew from the verbal arts into the visual arts, accumulating meaningful aesthetic symbolic weight.

Discord seems to be one of the primary allusions, though
malum discordiae as apple was used for any kind of fruit in the 17th century.

In his poem, John Milton likens Eve to 'the fairest goddess feigned / Of three that in Mount Ida naked strove' (v 381-2). This refers to the beauty contest in which Juno, Minerva and Venus strove naked for the apple of discord. Paris awarded Venus the apple and so precipitated Troy's fall. Eve too will win an apple and bring about a fall. The simile is ominous.

So by the time in which the Bible became available in the King James translation and its contents taught to broad, largely Protestant audiences, apple assumed the powers of temptation or sin.

Sin or knowledge and perhaps individuality.

Before the 17th century version, the biblical Adam's very independent first wife, Lilith (Hebew: Ada
hma or soil, and possibly derived from the Sumero-Babylonian goddess Lillake) departed Eden and is often depicted in tales and on the artist's canvas as the serpent (with breasts). Those biblical text editors consigned all this to feminist history so it is well worthy reading.

Michelangelo Buonaroti (near Tuscany, Italy,1475-1564) The great Renaissance painter's version from the Sistine chapel, The Fall (1509-1512). Note the female characteristics of the serpent on the tree. The apple is right there, too.

Tintoretto (born Jacopo Robusti, Venice, Italy, 1518-1594) Original Sin, circa 1550. This young man's father was a dyer of cloth and the boy took his name from that trade (as in the English verb, tint) in order to flaunt his common roots. From early on, his drawings showed spirit, vigor, and exceptional courage with color. He took as models the sketches of Michelangelo and Titan. A sign on his studio read, "Michelangelo's design and Titan's color." This is his only Old Testament scene.

Gabriel Metsu (Leiden, 1629-1667) The Apple Peeler, circa 1660.
Less than one hundred years later, this very secular painting appeared. Think Reformation.
Metsu was considered highly among the great Dutch genre painters, turning out domestic scenes, often kitchen or food-preparation tasks.

He combined drawing skills with rich color to create also many classical mythic figures and biblical scenes. Original sin is the most basic symbolic meaning of apples in this period of art and ever after, and they are frequently assigned to women. This is true even in this secular genre scene, in which the allusion remains for viewers of that time.

Four hundred years later, the issue lingers as American regional painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) creates his painting, Apple of Discord (1948). While the scene suggests Adam and Eve, the confusing title is from the Greek myth. It could be Benton's fondness for women's figures and his love of landscape in his own style.

The painting has a certain crudeness, a Mid-Western country atmosphere, hardly religious and more obviously profane. Critics say that this work reflects his uneasiness with mid-twentieth iconography via movies, pulp calenders, magazines and other forms of popular media.

Another view, more contemporary interpretation here, is that the apple = independence and knowledge = discord between male and a less-than-obedient woman.

Thomas Hart Benton, The Apple of Discord, 1948

And finally, Frank Feeley's Forbidden Fruit, 2007
A contemporary painter lends his own interpretation of the apple's ancient symbolic import, as described in Silvia Malaguzzi, Food and Feasting in Art (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2006, translated 2008). Apples have a five-page chapter to themselves and they are associated in paintings with "The fall of man, the fruit of knowledge, redemption and feminine beauty." The biblical serpent shares space with more modern signs and expressions, like "OK" and a cartoon-style thought bubble with a question mark: Is this really true? And, Where's the apple?

The Apple Alone:

Still life paintings were "invented" and became popular in the 16-17th century and the genre's popularity among the European Impressionists of the 19th century is abundant. A cluster of apples allowed the artist to work primarily with surface light, color, texture and depth. Form was simple, not dominant; light was everything. And this is eminently true for Paul Cezanne.

Paul Cezanne (1829/39-1906). Below: Still Life with Apples, 1894 (18 1/2 x 21 5/8 oil on canvas Private Collection).

Cezanne once said, "With an apple I will astonish Paris!" And, indeed, he painted many apples! Hundreds! And sometimes his apples "interacted colorfully" with other fruits.

Cezanne, Apples and Oranges, 1899.

William Mason Brown's Apples with Grapes, 1870, below, shows that even American artists were thinking along the same lines, but not with Cezanne's

From the brush strokes (above), obviously Vincent Van Gogh, Apples, 1887.

Ann Elizabeth Schlegel, Granny I, 2006 (no bio information)
Artist and graphic designer, her blog is titled "Painting Each Day" and lives in Bethlehem, PA. Where, by the way, my son did his residency in Ob-Gyn.
She recently covered a trip to Schwaebisch Gmuend, a town in southern Germany. Where, by the way, I spent a delightful 17 months back in 1957-58.
Lots of excellent food photos on her blog and it's a close thing between her and my daughter, at

Anouska Vaskebova (Russia), Green Apples (Glazed acrylic high quality poster print)

Simplicity continues.

Until Pop Art:

Andy Warhol,
Apple, 1983Roy Lichtenstin (1923-1997) above: Red Apple and Yellow Apple, 1983;
Below: Collage for Yellow Apple, 1980

And Installations: This set up, 1968, is by Argentinian artist Juan Stoppani (born Argentina, 1935), one of the four big Pop art stars in that country.

The Three-Dimensional Apple:

George Segal ( New York, 1924-2000) Five Apples on Blue Drapery (sculpture and relief). This early giant in contemporary art after World War II is best known for his white cast figures at diners and ticket counters, among the first examples of installation art.

Gustav and Ulla Kraitz, Crisp Apple (stoneware on granite base). The couple collaborate and live in the village of Forslov, in the south of Sweden. There is a lovely essay about them on karineriksson.se, a Swedish-based designer. Installed at Waldemarsudde, Sweden, we can refer to this as site-specific art, one of the parts of post-conceptual art.

Apple Design:

With modern painter Georgia O'Keeffe we have an apple with more design elements than color play. Clear and beyond the"fog of impressionism" as
Edward Weston once put it. In fact, that it appears as a popular commercial poster is significant. The image draws us away from three-dimensional still life to a pure space/color relationship.
On the internet I found a contemporary young designer with a code-like name Rambak.
She produced this photo of a half-apple.

So we gradually come to the question: what is the apple? And French analytical Post-Modernist thought deconstructed the notion of an apple into what was picked, what was advertised and sold, what was posed for the artist and the artist's production. And what we are reminded of by that image.

Endless layers of meaning and repetition.

Renee Francois Ghislain Magritte (Belgium, 1898-1967). C'est ne pas une pomme, n.d. ("This is not an apple")

Concerned with "the treachery of images," he painted in realism but no matter how close, he insists that his image is never the real thing. It is Surreal. It can only be surreal.

In photography, we have contemporary artists who appropriate the work of other artists, claiming that there is no such thing as an original. Our entire world consists of copies, duplicates.

Others claim that there is no such thing as a unique image, only a series of endless repetitions, called Minimalism

Below: Apple Crate Label, Hills Brothers Orchards, Middletown, NY.

This image is designed for a different function.

And here is a simple photo of a colander of apples, freshly-picked this August in Oakland, California, where "urban foraging" is all the rage.

My daughter Jennifer Moore posts a blog (monalunadesign.com) on which she shares her fabric designs as well as DIY culinary skills and adventures. She made the photo to attract us to her kitchen craft.

Her apples are headed for the oven.

So, because we interact and follow our own curiosity, I asked, is this ART?
Isn't this akin to "kitchen porn," that glossy alure that sells cookbooks, magazines, kitchen gadgets, recipes and more? Or, worse, kitsch?

Apple motif in kitchen clock (www.aspencountry.com), The best in kitsch!

No comments: