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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Watercolors

Copyright, Jim Lane
Feline Fascination in White, 1981, Jim Lane
It's been years since I painted one. Back in college, some forty-five years ago, I got pretty good at it, though. A course in watercolor was require. I don't think I'd ever so much as touched them before that. However, despite their "orneriness," I came to enjoy the medium. I had two things going for me. I was already fairly adept at oils, and I've seldom had difficulty drawing. Though oils and watercolors are nothing alike, insofar as technique is concerned, paint is paint and I was not at all intimidated by either type. I came to love the demands, as well as the inherent beauty, of (almost) pure pigment on paper so much that when I picked up on acrylic painting several years later, I found myself painting transparently on canvas much as I had using watercolor. Feline Fascination in White (above) to this day, I can't recall (or tell) if it was a watercolor or an acrylic. Only the date, 1981, suggests it might have been done in transparent acrylics.
 
Once you're comfortable with the peculiarities of watercolor,
they're far more "fun" than oils or acrylics.
Why did I "give up" on watercolor in favor of acrylics? Simple, watercolors must be displayed in a frame under glass (or Lucite). At the time, I was turning out up to thirty or more paintings a year and selling them mostly at outdoor art shows. Acrylics on stretched canvas are, not only remarkably durable, but need only a lattice frame, usually costing less than a dollar. Framing a single watercolor, even when using standard size frames, could cost up to twenty times that much, with glass and frames subject to scratches and breakage...not to mention the fact they're heavy and fragile. There's nothing worse than handling any object that is subject to both of those liabilities. Add the vagaries of the weather to that mix and it quickly became evident that carting around even a few framed watercolors to art shows was a colossal pain in the posterior.
 
White Ships, 1908, John Singer Sargent. Even when the signature is
nearly a household word, watercolors seldom bring the same prices
at auction as similar work on canvas.
The other important factor in my eschewing watercolors for oils and acrylics is one bemoaned by watercolor painters since the medium first became popular in Europe during the late 1700s. Buyers simply don't respect that which is painted on paper as opposed to canvas. And adjacent to that, art buyers are seldom willing to pay the same price for such works, even though the time and skills involved on the part of the artist are often quite similar. That's especially the case when they're sold wrapped in Mylar and displayed in a browsing cradle (which I did for a while). They appear cheap (and thus they usually are).
 
Copyright, Jim Lane
Durer's hare was probably a pet.  Mine wasn't. It was a photograph.
Try your luck at sketching with
watercolors.
Watercolors have, of course been around for centuries, in effect having been the first painting medium used by man (on the walls of caves). On paper, they likely go back to the time the Egyptians or Chinese (take you pick) invented the stuff, not too many centuries after cavemen found watercolor rocks too hard to carry around to art shows. European monks found it quite appropriate for their illustrated manuscripts. However, the Ger-man artist/engraver, Albrecht Dur-er, may have been the first Euro-pean to master watercolor as an illustrative medium, as seen in his 1502, Young Hare (above, left). Not to brag, but I think my own watercolor Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow (above, right), from 1971, stands up reasonably well to his. Watercolor is great for rendering fur.

In terms of shapes, watercolor brushes differ little from those
used with oils or acrylics, though they are more often softer
and more pliable. The best are made from sable tails.
 
Watercolor pencils--my students
loved them. They seen far more
natural to use than brushes.
For those not familiar with the medium, watercolors consists of four principal ingredients--pig-ments, natural, synthetic, mineral, or organic; a binder, usually gum Arabic (acting as a "glue" to affix the pigment to the paper); ad-ditives such as glycerin or honey to add durability to the mixture; and, of course water, which acts as a solvent to thin the paint. The water evaporates as the paint hardens and dries. Transparent watercolor never contains white pigments. Such paints are sold in tiny tubes, in tiny tubs (best for on-location painting), and more recently in the form of water-soluble pencils (above).

State legislator, 1995, Yong Chen
Landscapes lead the list of watercolor artists' favorite subjects, followed closely by animals and still-lifes. Watercolor portraits are fairly rare in that the discipline needed in attaining and maintaining a good likeness during the painting process is quite difficult to master. Also the near-instantaneous dry-ing times create a similar challenge. Any reasonably smooth flesh tones take some degree of speed in painting. Moreover, it's far more difficult to practice painting portraits in watercolor than rendering plants, flowers, and animals. Try printing this page and us-ing it as the basis of a watercolor exercise, sketching in the various items only if you feel you must. Remember, practice makes perfect...and a lot of wet paper.




The more detailed the item (such as flowers) the more you may want to sketch in the item first.

Obviously, wild animals are seldom painted from life...
especially bears.















































A poor photo of a 1971 floral
watercolor not much better. Is it any
wonder I gave up watercolors?































































 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Painting Babies

Ahh, she looks just like her dad...unfortunately.
Acrylic portrait by Ian Bodnaryk.
Beautiful Eyes, Frances Hook,
baby artist for Northern Tissues
during the 1950s and 1960s.
There's probably not a single portrait artist working today that hasn't been called upon, at least once, to paint a portrait of a baby. By that I mean a child younger than twelve months. And what artist-mother of a newborn can resist the urge to at least sketch her nine-month labor of love. I know, labor doesn't last nine months, it just seems that way at the time. In any case, each artist, male or female, who undertakes such an effort quickly discovers that painting babies is unlike any other subject in the world. Drawing them from life is largely out of the question. They don't hold still unless they're asleep; which is why you see so many portraits of the little darlings with their big, beautiful, dark eyes closed. What a waste! Even with the aid of a competent photographer, the whole experience, while perhaps fun, can also be exasperating and nearly as time-consuming as drawing the infant from life. And if all that weren't enough, the proportional instincts the portrait artist commonly employs become simply irrelevant when the subject still wears diapers.
 
Watching Paint Dry (left), Sandra Busby, and the likely results of
doing so (right).
Whether working from one or more photos, or from life, asleep or otherwise, an artist has little or no chance of rendering an attractive baby portrait without learning to draw one first (preferably several). For the proverbial "baby-face," the artist must learn to think in circles. That is to say, whether drawing in profile, three-quarter, or straight-on front views, the predominant shape is the circle. If you're in the habit of starting a face by drawing the features, even then, when wide open, a baby's eyes are often quite circular, as is, of course the whole head. As for the proportions and alignment of the facial features, think in terms of halves, as seen in the charts below.
 
As if infant proportions weren't challenging enough, keep in mind
they change slightly virtually every month as the child grows older.
The lower drawings would apply to a baby six months or older.
It's likely that no other artist who ever lived knew as much about painting babies as did the great Raphael di Sanzio. Today, some thirty-four Madonna and Child paintings from Raphael's all-too-brief career have survived, mostly painted between 1500 and 1514 (he died in 1520). One might refer to them as his "bread and butter" work; and to push the analogy to the breaking point, he seems to have certainly known "which side his bread was buttered on." Also, as you might note in looking down over the details of each Christ-child below, it seems he learned to paint babies the hard way--by painting a lot of them. I've included approximate dates for each example. You can almost chart the course of his progress down through the years.
 
One has to admire a painter of babies who lacks the option of
working from photos. Note, the first two at the top are almost comical
as the artist struggles to learn the "rules" of painting babies. Compare
the to the ones toward the bottom from about ten years later.
Baby-face, Georgia
Just as babies come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and styles, the same can be said for the paintings and portraits resulting from their cute, cuddly little faces. Some artists paint babies life-size or smaller. Others paint them so large, many a young mother might wince and say "ouch" in seeing them. The style in which babies are rendered depends some-what on two factors, the preexisting style of the artist and that artist's gender. Just as mothers gently em-brace their young, usually their painting style reflects such instinctive nurturing. Fathers, on the other hand, like to play and "rough-house" with their progeny, thus their "hand-ling" of babies with paint on canvas often seems quite similar. Compare the pristinely delicate handling of Georgia (above-right, whom I assume is a woman) with that of Derek Russell (below). The difference is like that of silk and sandpaper.

Babies by Derek Russell.
"Aw, come on, Dad, a little more red on my nose."
Personally, I would advise anyone painting babies, from whatever source, to use oils, even though I customarily paint in acrylics. Very often, when painting portraits, regardless of the age of my subjects, I paint all but the flesh tones in acrylics, then switch back to oils (my original painting medium) for the flesh tone, allowing me to take days rather minutes in trying to get them just right. I was somewhat dismayed at the fluid ease with which Janusz Migasiuk handles his paints in the time-lapse video below. I was even more dismayed at the results of the highly experienced Crystal Cook in painting a baby in acrylic (bottom). Beyond that, I was nearly dumbfounded at the though of painting a baby in watercolor as seen in the work of Candice Bohannon Reyes (below that). I've painted a few baby portraits in my time, but the only one I could find at the moment was my The Stripper (clear down at the bottom) dating from around 1972.


Just click the triangle above to play.

Baby Mia, 2006, Candice Bohannon Reyes




















Sadie, Crystal Cook
















Copyright, Jim Lane
The Stripper, 1972, Jim Lane

















































 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Henri Alphonse Barnoin

Market in Day in Front of the Closed City, Henri Barnoin
I love looking at old photos, whether those from the archives of social history or my own family's considerable contribution to that vast "picture" window into the past. Of course, photos do have their limitations. First, in terms of history, they simply don't exist before about 1840, and for the first couple decades after that they were so few and stiffly formal they might just as well have not existed. The American Civil War in the early 1860s changed that. Photography, though still not without its awkward difficulties, became portable, as wartime photographers of death and destruction perfected the "darkroom on wheels." George Eastman brought Kodak photography to the vast middle-classes and much later added color to this art and science. I don't know who, specifically, invented digital photography, but that too was groundbreaking. However, before all this, before photographs became "photos," which soon became "pictures," which later became "pix," there was the painter. Their pictures were highly developed, in color, highly detailed, quite archival, extremely diverse, and fortunately, quite plentiful. And before photography freed them from the abject bondage of realism, they were an even broader, more important (and much more beautiful) "picture" window into the past. The French painter, Henri Alphonse Barnoin was one of the human cameras who maintained their clarity and focus, but with an interesting twist (noted at the end).

Breton women at the Sainte-Barbe fountain in Le Faouët,
Henri Barnoin
Nothing can replace a good painting in bringing the past to life (at whatever level of society). Historian can record the facts with some degree of human detail, but seldom the ambience. A few outstanding novels have come close to filling in the blanks of the ongoing eras from the past, but both literary efforts have much the same limitations of antique photos--they're stiff, dry, and have relatively little color. Moreover, at they're best, they offer only a brief "snapshot" of the life and times of their protagonists and antagonists. Their greatest asset is also their greatest limitation--they use words. Worse still, they rely on the profit motive of publishers to be read by the masses. Painters are, in effect, self-published, except in rare instances when a printer sees a few bucks to be made in a broader distribution of their most popular images. Henri Alphonse Barnoin was quite prolific in painting his marine, harbor, and market scenes. He was one of the self-published best.

Henri Barnoin seems to have had an affinity for market days.
Born in Paris in 1882, Henri Barnoin's father was an artist as were two of his uncles. Henri studied at the École des Beaux Arts under the academicians, Luc-Olivier Merson, and Émile Dameron, the latter becoming the most significant influence on his style. He introduced Barnoin to Impressionism. The young artist began to paint professionally around 1909 at the age of twenty-seven. Some ten years later he set up his studio in the far northwestern port city of Concarneau where he'd often been summertime visitor. His studio on the "Quai Pénéroff" became a favorite meeting place for fellow artists inspired by the light and lively scenes of fishing boats, village markets, and the sea. In 1926, Barnoin became official Artist to the French Navy (in lieu of an official photographer one might assume).


Fishing Harbor, Concarneau, Brittany, Henri Barnoin

Portrait of the Artist's Brother,
Henri Barnoin

Although Barnoin painted an excellent full-length portrait of his brother (right), he left behind no portrait of himself. There's not even a single, solitary, blurry photo of the man to be found. Among Barnoin's favored subjects were marine, harbor, and coastal scenes, mostly painted in the rich settings of Brittany. This is exem-plified in his painting Fishing Harbor, Concarneau, Brittany (above). As a win-dow into the past, Barnoin's work is especially valuable in that he seems, himself, to have been peering into the past. He died in Paris in 1940; thus Barnoin painted well into the 20th-century, yet not once, in any of his paintings, do we see any evidence of the modern-day world. As seen in his The Market in Quimperlé (below), dating from 1928, and in his Fishing Harbor, Con-carneau (above), there's nothing but sailing ships, no cars, no contemporary dress, not even so much as a utility pole. Henri Alphonse Barnoin was an artist from the past painting his past.

The Market in Quimperlé, ca. 1928, Henri Barnoin
Woodland River at Dusk, Henri Barnoin.
Getting away from it all in the countryside.













































 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sign Design

Eye-catching, simple image, memorable message.
It's no accident that some universities in the U.S. (and quite a few more elsewhere) offer a degree they call the Bachelor of Arts and Science (BAS). It's basically a double major but a single degree. This course of studies recognizes the fact that in many professional endeavors there is often quite a fine line between that which could be termed an "art" and what we usually recognize as a "science." Frequently that which at one time was considered an "art" has now been studied to such a degree that many of its aspects have been boiled down to a science. One such area is that of sign design. Where once the client and artist painting the sign put their heads together and instinctively decided what would be both attractive and effective (two major criteria) with one usually taking precedence over the other.
 
The warning sign (center) says way too much.
The exclamation mark (upper-right), far too little.
Road signs are an example. As art goes, they're seldom very attractive, though sometimes quite creative (even humorous, as above). Their main aim is to impart critical information as to what lies ahead. They must do so quickly and unambiguously. History and common practices have turned this type of sign into a science that saves people's lives. Art has little to do with that. However, along the same highway, we find giant billboards in which, as my wife sometimes notes, "Someone got paid a lot of money to come up with that stupid idea." She's right of course, the fact that the theme of the sign appears rather "stupid" or at least unconventional, is, in reality, what make the sign eye-catching in the first place, and even more important, memorable (below). A sign noting a curve in the road need only be memorable for a few seconds before having served its purpose. However a massive billboard depicting the birth of a baby with the giant words, "ABORTION KILLS" first stuns the viewer, perhaps even offends, but in any case grabs attention and, finally, may be memorable for years to come.
 
Someone got paid a lot of money...
Speaking of years, road signs have been around about as long as roads, if for no other reason than to identify the name of the road and perhaps as mile markers so travelers could mark their progress. Advertising signs, if there were any, were largely haphazard and incidental. It was hardly worth the bother in that so few people did much traveling, and in any case had little need for information on roadside products and services. Of course the automobile changed all that. Roads multiplied and improved. They grew longer, wider, smoother, and straighter. Speeds increased. Signs of all kinds proliferated as did, eventually, the science of size, placement, images, and messages. Not only that, but often they were vitally important economically as whole towns lived (and sometimes died) in relying on a well-traveled highway passing through. U.S. Rt. 66, as it beat a paved path across the west, is a near-perfect example.
 
Signs such as the five-cent Coca-Cola sign (above-right) seem
quaint to us today; but actually, the bottled carbonated
beverage sold for five cents for some seventy years.
While sign painting and messaging were once strictly the domain of artists and advertisers, today, thanks to the ubiquitous portable signboards seen along streets and highways everywhere, virtually anyone can say about anything their freedom of speech allows. Very often there's more than a grain of truth in the wit and wisdom which such lighted signage proclaims. Our church once posted with their ever-changing letters the question: "What on earth are you doing for heaven's sake?"
 
Democracy at work--tweeting for the masses.
Road signs of the future.















Solar signage.








































Friday, August 26, 2016

Giovanni (Guercino) Barbieri

St. Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin, 1652-53, Guercino
One of the interesting, and very valuable research assets with which art historians have been blessed is the Guild of St. Luke. To the layman, this may seem a rather strange reference as they ponder what connection one of the followers of Jesus Christ has to do with painting. On the theory that a painting is worth a thousand words, take a look at the one above. It's titled, St Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin, painted around 1652-53, by an artist named Guercino (pronounced gwer-tee-no). Translated from Italian, the name means "the squinter." It was a nickname the artist picked up as a child in an age (he was born in 1591) when eyeglasses were an uncommon luxury, and highly unlikely in the case of a young child. His real name was Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, all of which may be somewhat interesting, but says nothing about the original question regarding the biblical physician, St. Luke.
 
Guercino was one of the most prolific painters of his time, turning out
during his lifetime some 106 altarpieces alone, plus another 144 other
paintings, not to mention a huge portfolio of pen and ink drawing's.
First of all, from medieval times on, all the major trades had their own guild, which was part fraternal organization, and in larger part, something akin to a labor union as we know them today. Insofar as art historians are concerned, their records provide a highly reliable chronicle of all the professional artists (and their students) working in a given city at a given time. For those researching the art and artists of the past, that's almost like owning a time machine. Now, inasmuch as Luke was a physician, all physicians in every major city belonged to the Guild of St. Luke. Artists, being the social climbers we all are, reasoned that since Luke was also a painter, they should be permitted to rub shoulders with members of what was undoubtedly the most elite guild of their time. It's more than a little doubtful just how artistic Luke may have been (if at all), though a church we once visited on the Island of Malta, in the medieval city of Medina, proudly displays a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus supposedly by St. Luke. I've seen it from a fair distance, though it wasn't much to see, so coated with centuries of filth as to be nearly black overall. The attribution is probably about as reliable as that of the guild's physicians, who claimed that Luke was Mary's obstetrician (which, if true, would likely have made him in his seventies by the time he traveled the high seas with Paul).
 
Though the church likely kept him too busy to paint portraits,
Guercino's self-portraits indicate he could have. The one on
the left suggests that he appears to have eaten quite well
from his painting efforts.
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri was born in the small Italian village of Cento, located about halfway between Bologna and Ferrara. There he seems to have pretty much taught himself to paint while also acquiring his nickname. (He was cross-eyed.) Records of the local Guild of St. Luke indicate that by the time Guercino was sixteen (about 1607) he was working as apprentice in the shop of Benedetto Gennari, a painter of the Bolognese School. By the time he was twenty-four, Guercino had, himself, moved to Bologna, while gathering the praise of no less a painting master than Ludovico Carracci. His paintings from this period have a stark naturalism characteristic of Caravaggio, though it's unlikely that Guercino saw any of the Roman artist's work first-hand. His style seem to vacillate between the typical Mannerist renderings of his day and the highly popular Baroque which was starting to gain favor about this time.

Guercino's secular subjects were as popular as his religious works.
Most large-scale paintings brought him around 300 gold ducats each
(roughly $25-thousand).
About 1618, Guercino painted one of his most famous works, The Arcadian Shepherds also called Et in Arcadia ego (below). Its dramatic composition is typical of Guercino's early works. He often claimed that his early style was influenced by Ludovico Carracci whose work he saw in the Capuchin church in Cento. His later works are closer to the style of his contemporary Guido Reni, and are painted with more lightness and clarity. The Latin title, Et in Arcadia ego, translates: "And I am in Arcadia" which doesn't help much. Some scholars add the word "even" in the middle as being understood but omitted. It helps some to know that Arcadia was the ancient Greek equivalent to paradise. The skull was, of course, the symbol of death, so in "reading" the painting next to its title, the context would suggest that there is death, "even" in the heavenly realm. Actually the title discourse goes much further than that, but my eyes glazed over before I ingested much more.

Et in Arcadia ego, 1618-22, Guercino (Giovanni Barbieri).
The title derives from the words carved beneath the skull.

The years 1621–23 found Guercino in Rome, where he was extremely productive. From this period come his frescoes Aurora at the casino of the Villa Ludovisi, the ceiling in San Crisogono (1622) of San Chrysogonus in Glory, the portrait of Pope Gregory XV, and The Burial of Saint Petronilla (sometimes called the St. Petronilla Altarpiece) for the Vatican. Following the death of Pope Gregory XV, Guercino returned to his hometown where he began his frescoes in the Duomo of Piacenza. Guercino's career after 1629 is well documented in an account book that Guercino and his brother, Paolo Antonio Barbieri, kept updated, and which has been preserved. In 1642, after the death of Guido Reni, Guercino moved his workshop to Bologna where he became the city's principal painter. The prices he received for his work would seem astounding, even today. In 1655, the Franciscan Order of Reggio paid him 300 gold ducats (about $25,000) for the altarpiece of Saint Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin and Child (top). In 1657 the Corsini family also paid him 300 ducats for the Flagellation of Christ(pictured above among the Life of Christ paintings).

Guercino also specialized in figures from the Old Testament
as well as those from the parables of Christ.
Although Guercino was remarkable for the extreme rapidity of his executions, he was also an excellent draftsman. His many drawings, usually in ink, washed ink, or red chalk, naturally include preparatory studies for his paintings, but also landscapes, genre subjects, and caricatures, apparently done simply for his own enjoyment (bottom). Guercino's drawings are best known for the fluency of his style in which rapid, calligraphic pen strokes combine with dots, dashes, and parallel hatching to shape his forms. Guercino continued to paint and teach until his death in 1666; and in the process amassed a considerable fortune. Since he never married, his estate went to his nephews (also his pupils), Benedetto Gennari II and Cesare Gennari. Both came to be outstanding Baroque artists.

Notice that only Guercino's early works, from around 1615, suggest the  influence of Caravaggio, while his later "mature" work, though definitely Baroque, tend toward a style all his own.

One of Guercino's more amusing
caricatures.






































 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Millennium Park, Chicago

Millennium Park, Chicago. Michigan Avenue is to the right,
Columbus Drive to the left. The Art Institute is seen in the
top center of the photo on the left side of Michigan Ave.
In the spring of 2014 my wife and I spent three days in Chicago seeing the sights and sites I had read about and written about over the past few years. We saw the Art Institute, the Willis (Sears) tower, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, ate at the top of the John Hancock Tower while staying in one of the city's oldest and grandest hotels, the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Since then, I could kick myself for not doing a more thorough canvas of all there was to see and do in the city. We missed Chicago's two most popular attractions, the Navy Pier (not entirely by accident); and one of the most outstanding urban parks, not just in Chicago, or even the U.S., but the entire world--Millennium Park.
 
A map of the lakefront area (top) featuring the Art Institute, Grant Park, Maggie Daley Park, and Millennium Park. The lower map indicates the
layout of Millennium Park. (Both maps are oriented the same direction.)
What makes this omission all the more aggravating is that the Art Institute of Chicago is practically in Millennium Park--just across East Monroe Street. The aerial image (top) is oriented toward the south, just the opposite of the map, but still gives some idea as to how close I was to this community treasure without realizing it. Our hotel was a couple blocks south of the Art Institute. The aerial photo of the park (top) depicts mostly the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Great Lawn (center), the Serpentine Bridge (left) and Cloud Gate (right).
 
The architectural and cultural centerpiece of Millennium Park
Located near the center of the park, built over the Illinois Central rail yards (as is the entire park almost), is the architectural and cultural centerpiece of the park, the Pritzker Pavilion (above). The pavilion is an outdoor concert shell which stands some 120-feet high, with a billowing headdress of brushed stainless steel ribbons that frames the stage opening, while also connecting to an overhead trellis of crisscrossing steel pipes. The trellis supports the sound system, which spans the 4,000 fixed seats as well as the Great Lawn, which accommodates an additional 7,000 people. The state-of-the-art sound system, the first of its kind, was designed to mimic the acoustics of an indoor concert hall by distributing enhanced sound equally over both the fixed seats and the lawn. Jay Pritzker Pavilion was designed by the famed architect, Frank Gehry, and is classified as a work of art to avoid legal restrictions as to its height. All concerts are free.
 
The bridge is closed in winter due to the difficulty
in removing ice from its wooden floor.
Also designed by Gehry is likely the most unique bridge in the world (some might also say the most beautiful). Called the BP Pedestrian Bridge (the park was largely finance by corporate sponsors, everything from chewing gum to jet aircraft) it is clad in brushed stainless steel panels, intended to complement the Pritzker Pavilion in function as well as design by creating an acoustic barrier from the traffic noise below. It connects Millennium Park to the old Daley Bicentennial Plaza (now Maggie Daley Park), to the east. The 925-foot-long winding bridge, provides incomparable views of the Chicago skyline, Grant Park, and Lake Michigan while also providing access to a subsurface parking garage.
 
Cloud Gate, 2006, Anish Kapoor. How do they keep it so shiny?
Flanking the Pritzker Pavilion and the Great Lawn to the west, just off Michigan Avenue, is the park's most famous attraction, British artist Anish Kapoor's 110-ton elliptical sculpture he called Cloud Gate. The shiny sculpture (financed by AT&T)is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above. A twelve-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see themselves reflected back from a variety of perspectives. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high. I regret missing this more than anything else.

Crown Fountain, 2006, Jaume Plensa.
Just south of Cloud Gate, bordering Michigan Avenue, is another major addition to Millennium Park, further augmenting what amounts to a massive outdoor art museum. The Crown Fountain (above) was designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video of the faces of a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out. Plensa uses the faces of Chicago citizens projected on LED screens, having water flowing through an outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths. Plensa's fountain references the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths spouting water. His images were taken from a cross-section of a thousand Chicago residents.

The Boeing Galleries feature the work of living artists.
When I referred to Millennium Park as a massive outdoor art museum, I wasn't kidding. The Boeing Corporation has sponsored two sculpture galleries (above) while the three Chase (Bank) Promenades are used as outdoor (and waterproof) fine arts displays featuring flat works, both aimed at promoting the work of living artists (below). If you've ever had the urge to visit an art gallery while under an umbrella, Millennium Park has you...uncovered.

Since Chicago is known as the "Windy City," I wonder how
such displays stand up to a stif breeze off Lake Michigan.
In addition to these truly unique features of the 25-acre park, Chicago's urban landscaping masterpiece also contains those delights which have traditionally made such community rest and recreation areas so attractive. The Lurie Gardens (below) supplies the flowers. Designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel, this five-acre garden pays homage to the City's motto, "Urbs in Horto" (City in a Garden), which refers to Chicago's transformation from its flat and marshy origins to a bold and powerful city. Highlights include dramatically lighting, and a fifteen-foot-high “shoulder” hedge, a visual representation of Carl Sandburg’s famous description of the “City of Big Shoulders,” which encloses the garden on two sides and protects the delicate perennial plants. A graceful hardwood footbridge over shallow water divides the garden diagonally between “light” and “dark” floral areas.

Millennium Park's Lurie Gardens, a refuge among the city's
soaring towers keeping Chicago's skies "well-scraped."
Along with the ubiquitous flowers, fountains, and footbridges, Millennium park also boasts a theater (indoors), a monumental peristyle of columns dedicated to the park's many founders and sponsors (Wrigley Square), a bicycle rental center (McDonald's),and four welcome centers (one at each corner of the park). It's far from the largest urban park in the world, nor is it, by any stretch, the oldest (actually, probably the youngest). It was first proposed in 1997 with construction starting the following year. Cost overruns brought the city's total investment to $270-million with private donations approximating a similar figure. Millennial park was officially opened in 2004, though some might argue that it's been "under construction" ever since.

The Harris Theater, located on Randolph Street behind
and adjacent to the Pritzker Pavilion.
In memory of all those who died supporting the park.