BLOB #10 – “RAMBLING THROUGH TIME WITH ‘MODERN©MAN’”
The seminal use of our silhouetted “MODERN©MAN” figure, which is frequently found in our sculpture, painting & drawings, goes back to my 2nd year as a student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I needed to create a “scale figure” to use alongside my sculpture maquettes and with interior and exterior architectural elevation drawings. I was inspired by Corbusier’s solution for the same requirements. However, I wanted my scale figure to appear androgynous and be completely drawn only by using a single continuous line without lifting the pencil off the paper – Voila! “MODERN©MAN”!
Drawing of Modern©Man & Corbusier’s scale figure, side by side ©Karen & Tony Barone
After the calendar changed centuries and 911 changed everything, we traded the sand at Muscle Beach for the sands of the Palm Springs Desert. Morning coastal gloom was exchanged for over 348 days of sunshine a year. We switched from our massive and monumental Canal-side minimalist 3 story studio-residence on the Pacific Coast in the Los Angeles community of Venice (Beach) for a low slung Mid-Century Modern ranch style house with 360 degrees of desert landscaping in the Palm Springs California Desert community of Rancho Mirage.
California Homes (Magazine) cover of Barone studio/residence on the Venice canals
We traded the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) for the Palm Springs Art Museum (PSAM). Our local architectural influences changed from Frank Gehry and Googie to the likes of Krisel, Cody and Kaptur – – – “We got out of Dodge” – and set up shop in what is now “our desert paradise” – “Paradiso Secco”.
“LAST ONE OUT OF LA … TURN OFF THE LIGHTS”, a 10 foot wide forced perspective triptych ©Karen & Tony Barone
Our painting, “LAST ONE OUT OF LA … TURN OFF THE LIGHTS”, a 10 foot wide forced perspective triptych, reflects on some of what we and others were feeling in the new millennium. The portrait of Karen, which dominates the large rectangle shaped center canvas, was based on a color-pencil drawing I sketched of Karen while on one of many trips to the neon-sign-cluttered colonial port city of Hong Kong. I reimagined Karen as a neon sign. The triptych, which was executed by the two of us, followed the original drawing by almost two decades. We abandoned the ordinary rectilinear construction of the canvas stretcher bars on the outside canvases for mirror-image trapezoids. This resulted in a single point forced perspective. The forced perspective make the left and right canvases appear to project off the wall in a somewhat Cinemascope effect. They make the painting more sculptural and categorically place the artwork somewhere between painting and sculpture. They make the canvas an integral part of the painting, not just a substrate for the oil paints.
Moving to “The Desert” did not force us out of being in the proximity of water; however, this time the water was in a large amoeba shaped swimming pool with a waterfall enhanced spa. Actually, the water in the Venice Canals was closer to our patio in LA than the water in our pool is to our patio in the desert.
Barone Pool ©Karen & Tony Barone
Architects like Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) and their architecture (Think: Gateway Arch, St. Louis; TWA Terminal @ JFK) have always influenced us and our work. In Chicago, we were solidly grounded on the rich history of the “Prairie School”: Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. We worked in the long shadows of the towering sky-rise architecture of Mies Van der Rohe and Skidmore. The Art Institute introduced me to Le Corbusier and also Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus. However, Frank Lloyd Wright theory dominated the classroom, perhaps because my principal instructor was a protege’ of “Mr. Wright”. Chicago, the city itself, was a museum in real time. Sullivan, Wright and Mies were everywhere, not just on pages in books and screens in the lecture hall.
Portraits of Sullivan & Wright
As art gypsies, Karen and I had taken a sequitous journey to the Desert. Starting in Chicago, where we met, fell in love and married; to SOHO in New York where we collected more art chevrons. A horse farm in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee followed – then Venice Beach – and finally Palm Springs. As artists, we have always been convinced we could live anywhere. Our work went with us – our art went with us. Art was in our heads and at our fingertips.
SOHO Loft ©Karen & Tony Barone
Tennessee House ©Karen & Tony Barone
Chicago Loft ©Karen & Tony Barone
Back then, just a little over a decade ago, no one had heard of the “Coachella Valley”, let-alone know where it was geographically. And, although we were going to be living in Rancho Mirage, a community in the middle of the Coachella Valley, we would describe our new home and studio as being in “Palm Springs” or “in the Palm Springs Valley” – it saved explanation.
“MODERN©MAN” survived the cross-country relocation and was reinvented as a protagonist in our paintings and sculpture. At the Art Institute of Chicago, “MODERN©MAN” would help me communicate the scale/size of my art. In the desert it became the art. Now it helps Karen and me to communicate to others what is in our hearts.
Day-time photo of “Joined At The Heart” at Desert Arc ©Karen & Tony Barone
Recently “MODERN©MAN” reached its pinnacle in stature and purpose when we clustered 5 brightly colored shimmering aluminum life-size “MODERN©MAN” concave and convex silhouetted figures into a 9 foot wide ensemble sculpture on an enormous concrete truncated elliptical pad. We titled it “Joined At The Heart”. We created, built and, moved by passion, donated this artwork to DESERT ARC, one of the Coachella Valley’s most purposeful organizations in the service of humanity.
Night-time photo of “Joined At The Heart” at Desert Arc ©Karen & Tony Barone
We were concerned far too many people were not aware where this special organization, which offers services to those adults in our community with special needs, is located. We wanted to draw attention to the Desert Arc campus. Its buildings are set back behind its street-side parking lot and mostly removed from the eye of the public. Signage wouldn’t do what art could do to draw eyes. We wanted to establish a high level of “street presence” for those passing on Country Club Drive. We wanted the community to pause – take notice – and think about “this place” and its 700 clients and the 250 staff plus volunteers who serve, care for, teach and train Desert Arc’s physically and mentally disabled adult clients.
We must thank Desert Arc’s Richard Balocco and Mitch Blumberg for allowing us to express our feelings and contribute to their mission. Our sculpture celebrates the love in Desert Arc’s mission to “Enhance the quality of life and create opportunities for people with disabilities”.
As we tap away at this latest BLOB, “MODERN©MAN” achieves new heights. We are cutting, bending, welding and painting two very tall “MODERN©MAN” figures. They reach to the sky while each holds a 6 foot long metal fork above its head. Each of these two figurative works is over 8 feet in height and represent the human element in a sprawling sculpture reaching approximately 30 feet in height and 50 feet in width.
The Desert’s dynamic and extraordinarily philanthropic couple, Barbara & Jerry Keller, whose generosity reaches all of us, have engaged and challenged Karen and me to create an iconic artwork for their NEW restaurant currently under construction at “The River” in Rancho Mirage. The new restaurant is called ACQUA CALIFORNIA BISTRO.
ACQUA is being designed by Jeff Jurasky and, true to his reputation in the wake of having created the Keller’s Lulu in Palm Springs, promises to be a spectacular place to meet and eat, a “Centro” to the Coachella Valley. It will be more than “a well lit place”, it will dazzle!