“UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE” — Kevin L Miller Retrospective at Manchester University until Dec 4, 2013, about Life on Earth Imperiled by Climate Change

by Kevin L Miller

“The Flood,” 4x4 ft apocalyptic oil painting on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013

“The Flood,” 4×4 ft apocalyptic oil painting on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013

Deep in the Pennsylvania woods at the dead end of our dirt road, Robert Allen and I share a shabby old trailer house painting studio, a 150-year-old barn art gallery, and a hunting cabin slowly evolving into a cottage, on 12 wooded acres with a pond and stream. This is paradise and we love it. (http://tinyurl.com/nl6s9nm)

A few nights ago I dreamt that Robert and I were in a rowboat with our good friends Susan Finn and Jerry Lee Miller. We were all looking down through the water at the White House submerged below us. We were also congratulating ourselves on managing to procure our little boat, until we looked up and saw a mile-high wall of water racing toward us at top speed from the horizon. The End.

“Check,” lower left corner detail from “The Flood,” Kevin L Miller, 2013. I have grown impatient with subtler communications when it comes to climate change, because our window of opportunity to fix it is closing. Time’s up! So now I try to spell out exactly what my paintings mean. I hope this check does the trick.

“Check,” lower left corner detail from “The Flood,” Kevin L Miller, 2013. I have grown impatient with subtler communications when it comes to climate change, because our window of opportunity to fix it is closing. Time’s up! So now I try to spell out exactly what my paintings mean. I hope this check does the trick.

Robert and I both have one-man shows right now, across the street from each other at Manchester University, in North Manchester, Indiana. You can see my photo essay about Robert’s very popular show, “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART!” at http://tinyurl.com/mtyyrf5 .

"UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE -- Seven Decades Re-Imagined -- Kevin L Miller Retrospective at Manchester University, Gallery G, The Union, upper level, until Dec 4, 2013. Left to right: The Flood, Faucet Head, Magna Mater.

“UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE — Seven Decades Re-Imagined” — Kevin L Miller Retrospective, Manchester University, Gallery G, The Union, upper level, until Dec 4, 2013. Left to right: The Flood, Faucet Head, Magna Mater.

Over a year and a half ago we were invited to produce our tandem shows. I vacillated for a year about the theme for my exhibit. Finally I decided on Global Climate Change, when I realized that I have painted utopian visions and the great flood apocalypse throughout my life. That mile-high wall of water coming at us haunts me. Can’t we try to do something about it? There is still a little time. Isn’t there a moral imperative to save life on Earth?

“Hawaii,” 4x6 ft utopian enamel painting on clear vinyl, Kevin L Miller, c 1991

“Hawaii,” 4×6 ft utopian enamel painting on clear vinyl, Kevin L Miller, c 1991

The Earth is exquisitely beautiful, precious, special and rare. Astronomers and physicists searching the universe for other planets that might support life are telling us that worlds blessed with exactly the right narrow band of conditions for life are indeed extremely rare. Now our Earth-home is in jeopardy from human pollution, causing Global Climate Change. We live in peril of losing our habitat and our health, and endangering the lives of our children and grandchildren if we do not transition to clean energy quickly and stop four kinds of increasingly extreme removal and burning of fossil fuels:

  • Fracking for natural gas
  • Deep sea oil drilling
  • Mountaintop removal coal mining
  • Tar sands exploitation and piping
“Requiem,” 4x7 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013 -- an apocalyptic painting including three quotes from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

“Requiem,” 4×7 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013 — an apocalyptic painting including three quotes from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

Extreme extraction methods and fossil fuel burning are filling our atmosphere with CO2, now alarmingly over 400 parts per million, whereas our environment can only withstand 350 ppm without disastrous consequences, which are already upon us:

  • Earth’s polar ice caps and glaciers are melting at a catastrophic rate.
  • Greenland is melting and experiencing ominous internal seismic activity.
“Poseidon’s Prophecy,” 4x7 ft oil on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013. King Neptune brings apocalyptic news from the oceans to the utopian woodland spirits.

“Poseidon’s Prophecy,” 4×7 ft oil on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013. King Neptune brings apocalyptic news from the oceans to the utopian woodland spirits.

  • Our oceans are now 30% more acidic due to CO2 dissolving into the water. Coral reefs are dying. We are losing them as marine habitats and coastal flood control barriers.
  • 40% of Earth’s sea plankton, the base of our oceanic food chain, has already died. The food chain is fundamental.
  • Earth’s atmosphere is now holding 5% more moisture, and extreme weather and precipitation events are on the rise. We have “100-year storms and floods” every year now, like Super Storm Sandy a year ago. https://twooldliberals.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/mother-nature-sends-sandy-to-make-climate-change-a
“The R.L. Miller Farm,” watercolor, Kevin L Miller, 1966 (age 17,) depicts our family ancestral farm as it looked when I was a boy.

“The R.L. Miller Farm,” watercolor, Kevin L Miller, 1966 (age 17,) depicts our family ancestral farm as it looked when I was a boy, and when my father, uncle and aunts grew up there, just outside of North Manchester, Indiana, home of Manchester University.

  • The U.S. Midwest experienced the most severe drought in American history in the summer of 2012, and American food prices rose steeply as a result.
“Drought and Gathering Storm," Kevin L Miller, 2013, digital re-imagining of the R.L. Miller Farm, as it might have looked in the great drought of 2012, if the full-timber black walnut barn had not been demolished.

“Drought and Gathering Storm,” Kevin L Miller, 2013, digitally re-imagined version of the R.L. Miller Farm, as it might have looked in the great American drought of 2012, if the full-timber black walnut barn had not been demolished.

  • Biologists and zoologists tell us that there are no longer any climate change doubters in their ranks, as they are witnessing virtually all animals and insects moving north and to higher elevations in search of cooler climes.
“Firebird Visit’s the Elders,” 3x4 ft acrylic on canvas, 2-artist collaborative painting by Robert F Allen and Kevin L Miller, signed “Allen Miller,” illustrating both the utopian nature of Earth and the peril from climate change.

“Firebird Visit’s the Elders,” 3×4 ft acrylic on canvas, 2-artist collaborative painting by Robert F Allen and Kevin L Miller, signed “Allen Miller,” illustrating both the utopian nature of Earth and the apocalyptic peril from climate change.

Indeed, 97% of the world’s climate scientists and all 12 national academies of science, and the World Bank (http://tinyurl.com/k397rjf), and the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, and Pope Francis I in the Vatican (http://tinyurl.com/kjwl2eo – the pope’s quote is at the end) are among a host of institutions raising the urgent alarm for action. 

“The Musician and the Tree of Life” 4x4 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013, depicts the joys and burdens of an artist (in this case the Rev Jerry Lee Miller) coping with both the ecstasy of living in utopia, and the agony of expressing prophetic statements and art about the impending apocalypse, while making every effort to save the Earth for the children of tomorrow.

“The Musician and the Tree of Life,” 4×4 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013, depicts the joys and burdens of an artist (in this case the Rev Jerry Lee Miller, musician and climate change activist) coping with both the ecstasy of living in utopia, and the agony of expressing prophetic statements and art about the impending apocalypse, while making every effort to save the Earth as a livable home for the children of tomorrow.

Time’s up! Now we really do have to transition quickly from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy and save the Earth as a livable habitat for all life forms. If we do not do so, what will we tell the children of tomorrow when they ask, “Why did you do this to us?” (lyrics from Jerry Lee Miller’s song, “Children of Tomorrow.”) What will you tell your children and grandchildren?

“Time’s Up,” marker poster on paper, Kevin L Miller 2012 -- responding to the July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article, ( http://tinyurl.com/okyz2nc ) “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” this poster was one of many created for the Lancaster, PA, brainstorming effort to form “The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” (See our FaceBook page) to take creative action and support all efforts to halt Global Climate Change.

“Time’s Up,” marker poster on paper, Kevin L Miller 2012 — responding to the July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article, “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” this poster was one of many created for the Lancaster, PA, brainstorming effort to form “The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” (See our FaceBook page) to take creative action and support all efforts to halt Global Climate Change.

Rolling Stone’s July 19, 2012 article “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” awoke people around the world to the greatest survival challenge humanity has ever faced. http://tinyurl.com/okyz2nc 

  1. The Earth can only withstand 2 degrees Celsius warming without disastrous consequences, and we are almost there when the inertial rise built into the system is factored in.
  2. We can release a maximum of 565 Gigatons of CO2 into the atmostphere by 2050, but at our current rate, we will reach that ceiling in 2028 — only 15 years from now. 
  3. Companies and countries have already committed to extracting and burning 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 locked in proven fossil fuel reserves — five times the allowed limit.
Left to right: Firebird Visits the Elders, Hawaii, and Requiem are part of Kevin L Miller's retrospective at Manchester University, "UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE."

Left to right: Firebird Visits the Elders, Hawaii, and Requiem are on exhibit in Kevin L Miller’s retrospective at Manchester University, “UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE.”

The good news is that there is still a little time to turn this planetary crisis around, and there really are things that each of us can do. None of us has to save the world all alone. If all of us do our own little part — even if we do it badly — humanity will achieve critical mass for a change in consciousness and behavior, and we can leave a livable planet for future generations.

  • Can we buy an electric or hybrid car and use less fossil fuel? I know… Those cars are way too expensive for most of us…
  • Well, are we willing to become vegans or vegetarians? That’s one of the most effective things we can do to shrink our individual carbon footprints. But lots of us really love meat…
  • So, can we buy local products to reduce carbon emissions from shipping? That practice helps local economies, too.
  • Are we willing to write letters to public officials and call our congressional representatives? Or, if solitary action to speak truth to power makes us a little too nervous…
  • Can we join organizations like The Sierra Club, or 350.org, or Citizens Climate Lobby and support them with our resources and participation in their events?
  • Are we qualified to plan and facilitate community discussions on climate change? (http://tinyurl.com/lf3xdqm)
  • Are we willing to start our own local organization with friends? If so, here are some notes about how 13 of us started The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity. (http://tinyurl.com/149g7lm)
  • Can we talk to institutional leaders about divesting from coal and other fossil fuels? If direct one-on-one talks with authority figures are too intimidating for some of us…
  • Are we willing to write letters to the editors of our local newspapers and urge others to do the same?
  • Can we start a climate change blog and open a larger dialogue?
  • Are we qualified to write poetry or plays, or to compose music, or dance, or paint, or make art of any kind about climate change? Art is a very powerful tool for transformation.
  • Do we know how to make a climate change quilt or bake a climate change cake, or create a T-shirt featuring “Don’t Frack Up the Earth!” as a slogan?
  • Can we urge our churches, colleges and universities and local or state governments to become involved?
  • What else are we willing to do to wake up the world and inspire everyone to take action urgently?
“The Revelations of Eve and Adam,” 16” x 20” acrylic on canvas, 2004, Kevin L Miller

“The Revelations of Eve and Adam,” 16″ x 20″, an acrylic utopian painting on canvas, 2004, Kevin L Miller

When we decide to take creative action on behalf of Mother Earth and the children of tomorrow, we find that we are not alone. Some corporations are beginning to realize, as I have been telling them for 15 years, that extinction is NOT good for profits! They are starting to take strategic action to save their bottom lines and ours. Even the Department of Defense has identified Global Climate Change as one of the greatest threats to U.S. security, and is transferring military operations to clean renewable energy sources, especially in the field. Nations like Germany and Spain and others are quickly getting off of fossil fuels and transitioning to solar, wind, geothermal and other clean energy sources. Cities, communities, and churches are taking leadership roles in creative action to save life on Earth.

“Woodland Spirit Guides,” 4x4 ft oil on canvas, 2010, Kevin L. Miller

“Woodland Spirit Guides,” 4×4 ft oil on canvas, 2010, Kevin L. Miller

There is a major benefit that comes with creative action to heal the Earth — It also heals us in the process. Fifteen years ago when I learned that the polar ice caps were melting due to climate change caused by humanity, I struggled with depression and nausea for a year. It took more years for me to discover that creative action is soul-healing medicine. Sometimes it feels like we have to choose between denial and depression. But there is a third way — creative action overcomes denial and depression and leads to fulfillment.

A display of Kevin's "Provence Style" landscapes is part of his retrospective. This style evolved out of his junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, and his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts there, as well as his interest in Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

A display of my “Provence Style” landscapes is part of the retrospective. This style evolved out of my junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, and my studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, as well as my interest in Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

Today I know that even spending a whole year making apocalyptic paintings yields nothing but increasing inner joy and peace. Rest assured that when you decide to take creative action, you will find that depression, denial, anger, fear and grief, will be transformed into fulfillment, clarity, peace, confidence and joy, and you will have the personal satisfaction of knowing that you have done the right thing, regardless of the outcome.

The Kevin L Miller Retrospective, "UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE -- Seven Decades Re-Imagined" is on exhibit in Gallery G, The Union upper level, at Manchester University, until Dec 4, 2013 (photo by Alison Stein)

The Kevin L Miller Retrospective, “UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE — Seven Decades Re-Imagined” is on exhibit in Gallery G, The Union upper level, at Manchester University, until Dec 4, 2013 (photo by Alison Stein)

Robert F Allen, Outsider Artist, Rocks Manchester University with His One-Man Show, “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART!” THROUGH NOV 19, 2013

by Kevin L Miller

Outsider Artist, Robert F Allen with two of his most recent 2013 paintings: 4x8 ft "A Winter Walk," and 4x7 ft "Escape!" Both acrylic paintings on canvas are among 44 of Robert's large works on display at Manchester University, North Manchester, Indiana, in Link Gallery, Winger Building (across the street from The Union) until Nov 19, 2013.

Outsider Artist, Robert F Allen with two of his most recent 2013 paintings: 4×8 ft “A Winter Walk,” and 4×7 ft “Escape!” Both acrylic paintings on canvas are among 44 of Robert’s large works on display at Manchester University, North Manchester, Indiana, in Link Gallery, Winger Building (across the street from The Union) until Nov 19, 2013.

Robert feels his way across a highly textured 4×7 ft canvas, “The Story,” at the artist’s reception for his very first one-man show. He tells visitors they can “see” his paintings through their fingertips as well as with their eyes. A mature woman in the group says,  “What are you DOING!?” Her husband stands behind her and rolls his eyes as if to say, “Here we go again…” Robert says, “Ma’am, you can touch the art. I give you my permission.” She asks, “Who do you think you are?” Robert says, “I am the artist.” She demands, “Do you have any identification?!” Another person in the group is holding a copy of Robert’s artist’s statement. Pointing to the photo of himself, Robert says, “See! This is me, and the show is called ‘PLEASE TOUCH THE ART!’ You can touch my art.”

"The Story," 4x7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F Allen, 2013. After studying some photos of cave paintings, Robert created this image about a hunt. He says that the upside-down golden bear escaped the arrows with the help of its protector god, left of the bear. The hunters on the right side of the canvas did not fair as well as the bear.

“The Story,” 4×7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F Allen, 2013. After studying some photos of cave paintings, Robert created this image about a hunt. He says that the upside-down golden bear escaped the arrows with the help of its protector god, left of the bear. The hunters on the right side of the canvas did not fair as well as the bear.

The lady backs away mortified, but her husband approaches Robert’s painting and runs his hand from one side to the other, calling to his wife, “Sometimes you have to touch the art to know it is really there!” Later Robert tells me that he feels nothing but gratitude toward the lady, “because she was only trying to protect my art.” He admits to watching her out of the corner of his eye, however, and feeling sorry for her when she tries to touch “A Winter Walk,” but cannot bring herself to do it.

"A Winter Walk," 4x8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen. Under both the moon and the sun, in a wintry cityscape, Robert's beloved Cairn Terrier, Scrappy, takes a purposeful walk toward a fire hydrant.

“A Winter Walk,” 4×8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen. Under both the moon and the sun, in a wintry cityscape, Robert’s beloved Cairn Terrier, Scrappy, takes a purposeful walk toward a fire hydrant.

The programming that keeps us separate from art is very strong. From birth we are taught a certain reverent respect for art that requires us to keep our distance. Outsider artists do not mean to be subversive, or anti-authoritarian, but by their very nature they tend to tear down the barriers between those who make objects and anyone who sees and responds.

Robert F Allen with his 4x8 ft 2013 acrylic on canvas, "Matter of the Heart" and other paintings in his Manchester University exhibit.

Robert F Allen with his 4×7 ft 2013 acrylic on canvas, “Matter of the Heart” and other paintings in his Manchester University exhibit.

Outsider artists don’t think of the objects they make as untouchable “objets d’art,” as does the art establishment. They regard making things as being like breathing and eating — a matter of survival, and they often don’t think of their work as “art” at all – just “things.” Outsider artists have almost always been insulated from social and cultural conditioning by profound poverty or physical or mental challenges. In the absence of societal conditioning they follow only their own unique inner visions, which sometimes produce surprising aesthetic innovations and revelations.

Visitors of all ages enjoy touching Robert's art. Children especially want to place their hands on the hand prints in the design of "The Story."

Visitors of all ages enjoy touching Robert’s art. Children especially want to place their hands on the hand prints in the design of “The Story.”

Robert had all three forms of deprivation and more. When he was an infant, his older sisters mistook motor oil for mineral oil and poured it into his ears, destroying his eardrums. He hears a little now with the aid of a mechanical eardrum, but communicates mostly by reading lips. He grew up in profound poverty in the woods 50 miles north of Syracuse, surviving on government assistance and woodland foraging. His family was so dysfunctional and abusive that Robert moved out at age 12 and built his own little shelter in the woods. He lived there for years with his beloved raccoon, “Cooner,” whom he raised from infancy after Cooner’s mom was killed crossing the road. Cooner came to Robert and asked for help, so Robert adopted him.

"The Last Supper," 4x7 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen. The background was painted first. Then Robert stared into it until the images of the animals materialized out of his random marks and shapes.

“The Last Supper,” 4×7 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen. The background was painted first. Then Robert stared into it until the images of the animals materialized out of his random marks and shapes.

Robert’s skills with animals are legendary. I have personally seen wild raccoons, rabbits, frogs, and even fish, crawl or swim into his hands, looking for comfort. On a pitch black moonless night in the woods, Robert can see wild woodland animals right around the corner or over the hill. He “feels” them. Robert says he has special animal radar. It’s real. I have witnessed it.

"Neon Dream," 4x8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

“Neon Dream,” 4×8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

At age 13 Robert suffered a major traumatic brain injury when his crazy step-father dropped a big tree on his head. The doctor said Robert would not survive the night. He did live, although large portions of his brain died. Reading and writing have presented real challenges for Robert ever since. But as sometimes happens with severe brain trauma victims, Robert developed almost savant-like powers driven by the remaining areas of his brain. He has a collection of 300 Rubik’s cubes, half of which he made himself, and he can solve any of them in under two minutes. His spatial intelligence is off the charts.

Robert is displaying 16 of his 4x6 ft abstract expressionist canvases in four art pillars as part of his Manchester University show.

Robert is displaying 16 of his 4×6 ft abstract expressionist canvases in four art pillars as part of his Manchester University show.

These unusual skills came in handy during eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Japan, and the USA. Robert has always said that the USMC was a Sunday school picnic for him after his abusive childhood. He figured out how to fake the hearing tests and he never told the USMC about his severe brain trauma. Interestingly, the profile of many outsider artists often includes a significant period of time in the protective custody of an authoritarian institution. The USMC was “protective” by comparison with Robert’s family.

Robert F Allen (center) greets visitors at the Oct 5, 2013 artist's reception for his one-man show "PLEASE TOUCH THE ART." The exhibit continues until Nov 19, 2013.

Robert F Allen (center) greets visitors at the Oct 5, 2013 artist’s reception for his one-man show “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART.” The exhibit continues until Nov 19, 2013.

Robert has always made beautiful objects. For decades he was a master carpenter and woodworker, making exquisite inlaid, hardwood furniture and floor medallions. He never thought of himself as an artist until we traveled to France with friends, and he saw objects at Versailles like he made at home. I was one of three friends present, in the company of the ghost of Marie Antoinette, when Robert’s eyes grew huge and he slowly turned and said with utter amazement, “I am an artist!” His inlaid hardwood art became even more ornate after that.

Close-up detail from "Neon Dream," 4x8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

Close-up detail from “Neon Dream,” 4×8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

A few years later I was laboring over a lousy, tiny painting at the kitchen table on a quiet Sunday. Bored with mindless TV, Robert picked up a blank canvas and a brush and asked me, “How do you do this?” I didn’t even look up. I said, “Oh, it’s easy. You just put some paint on the brush and wipe it on the canvas.” That was the first, last, and only formal art education Robert ever received. He took off like an art bat out of painters’ hell. I couldn’t have gotten a word of instruction in edgewise, even if I had wanted to. Robert started painting in every spare minute. To say that he has painted prolifically ever since, would be a monumental understatement. He has crammed a lifetime of painting experience into five years. He paints with the reckless abandon of a dying man, the exuberance of a drunken sailor, and the honesty of an ecstatic monk. Far from needing any instruction whatsoever, Robert has been my teacher ever since he first picked up that canvas and brush years ago. I am learning from him.

Two weeks after "PLEASE TOUCH THE ART" was installed at Manchester University, 1,600 students, K - 3rd grade, visited Link Gallery and had close encounters with art. In this photo they are touching Robert F Allen's 4x7 ft 2013 acrylic on canvas, "Escape!"  The exhibit continues until Nov 19, 2013.

Two weeks after “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART” was installed at Manchester University, 1,600 students, K – 3rd grade, visited Link Gallery and had close encounters with art. In this photo they are touching Robert F Allen’s 4×7 ft 2013 acrylic on canvas, “Escape!” The exhibit continues until Nov 19, 2013.

Robert and I have had quite a few two-man shows and even ran a big art gallery together for a year and a half, but “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART!” at Manchester University in North Manchester, Indiana, is his very first one-man show, and it is a hit. A few weeks ago 1,600 school children, K – 3rd grade, toured Robert’s exhibit in small groups. They were very excited about being able to touch the paintings. Art Professor Jena Oke asked one group, standing in front of “The Last Supper,” what the artist was trying to say. They yelled, “HE LIKES ANIMALS!” She asked, “What else is he trying to say?” They yelled, “HE LIKES PAINT!” Jo Young Switzer, Manchester University President, asked one child what it was like to touch a painting. The wide-eyed child said, “It was bumpy!”

Detail from the center of "Neon Dream," 4x8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

Detail from the center of “Neon Dream,” 4×8 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

Equally important was the response of the MU art students to Robert’s one-on-one portfolio review conversations with them. Robert kept saying, “This is amazing. These people ask me questions and listen to me as if I actually know things!” For their part, the students told their professors that Robert was one of their favorite visiting artists ever, because he treated them like “actual artists” and talked with them like “real people.”

"Matter of the Heart," 4x7 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

“Matter of the Heart,” 4×7 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

After a week of gratifying events, including the opening for his first one-man show, Robert was already feeling that he did not want to leave North Manchester. Several art students made his departure even harder a day before he left, when they came to him and asked privately if he would consider making the 1,200 mile round trip to return from South Central PA to attend their senior shows in Indiana next winter. Robert is definitely considering it… if he can get time off from his overtime job as a USPS clerk. Meanwhile, he just finished a majestic new 4×8 ft canvas of a forest — five highly textured trees on a colorful leafy background, and he has plans for at least five other huge, textured canvases burning holes through the screen of his mind.

"Escape!" 4x7 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

“Escape!” 4×7 ft acrylic on canvas, 2013, Robert F Allen

It is understandable, when we consider the life story and work of Robert F Allen, that the art world is becoming more and more fascinated by outsider artists. We all still worship Leonardo and Michelangelo. We idolize Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso, and admire the intellectual depth and innovation of Diebenkorn and Motherwell. But for sheer honesty, joy, energy and a breath of fresh air, nothing beats the sincere creations of an outsider artist like Robert.

Allen MU Sept 26 kids visit 1

“PLEASE TOUCH THE ART! – Texture Is Part of the Experience,” a one-man show of paintings on canvas by Robert F Allen will be on exhibit in Link Gallery, Winger Building (across the street from The Union,) Manchester University, North Manchester, Indiana 46962 until Nov 19, 2013. For gallery information, contact Professor Jena Oke, Coordinator of Galleries, 260-982-5334.

(My thanks to Jena Oke and Alison Stein for their essential support of our MU art exhibits and for contributing photos to this post. — Kevin)

 

NUDITY IN ART: Beauty, Eroticism, or Pornography?

by Kevin

I drew this self-portrait with a ballpoint pen in my sketchbook, in the Fall of 1969, shortly after arriving in Aix-en-Provence, France, to begin my art studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and other courses at the Institut des Etudes Francaises pour les Etudiants Etrangers.

I drew this self-portrait with a ballpoint pen in my sketchbook, in the Fall of 1969, shortly after arriving in Aix-en-Provence, France, to begin my art studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and other courses at the Institut des Etudes Francaises pour les Etudiants Etrangers.

In central Kansas an English teacher at my high school was fired in 1967 and run out of town for inviting me to bring one of my paintings of stylized nudes into his class to initiate a conversation about creativity. I wish I could show you the painting, but I don’t have it any longer. It was a pretty tame surrealistic adolescent composition – nothing too shocking. But a student complained to his mother. The painting was confiscated by the school board, and the poor teacher lost his job. He and his wife had to find a new job and a new place to live. I learned the hard way early in my career that nudity in art CAN hurt you. 

In 1972 I finished this pen and ink drawing, "Fallen World," for an anthology of readings entitled "Man and Mystery," published by Manchester College.

In 1972 I finished this pen and ink drawing, “Fallen World,” for an anthology of readings entitled “Man and Mystery,” published by Manchester College.

Nevertheless, America was generally more tolerant about nudity in art during that time than now. When I was about to graduate from college in 1971, the Humanities Department asked me to produce three pen and ink book covers for three anthologies of readings entitled “Man and Mystery,” and “Life and Death,” and “Beauty and Ugliness.” For the first two book covers I produced compositions including nudes. The covers were accepted and published without question by ManchesterCollege, boasting 1,400 students, all of whom carried these books around campus. Today I am quite certain that almost no college in America would publish such covers. Times have changed. Attitudes about nudity in art and everything else have moved significantly to the right.

 

In 1971 I produced this pen and ink cover, "Magna Mater," for an anthology of readings entitled, "Life and Death," published by Manchester College.

In 1971 I produced this pen and ink cover, “Magna Mater,” for an anthology of readings entitled, “Life and Death,” published by Manchester College.

 About a year ago before Robert and I closed our big art gallery downtown, a woman visited and commented on my 6 ft x 8 ft canvas of cubistically stylized nudes entitled “Fallen Angels.” She said, “Thank you for covering up the private parts.” I asked her if full nudity in such a painting would have offended her and she admitted that it would, because then it would be pornography. To her credit the woman stayed for a 10-minute discussion with me about nudity in art. I explained that we artists rarely ever see nudity in art as being pornographic, partly because it is so very difficult to do well. A perfectly painted hand or face or foot represents the greatest artistic challenge any artist can undertake. It is such a daunting task to paint or sculpt the entire nude form in an accurate and harmoniously balanced manner that many artists would not feel adequate to attempt it, even if nudity in art were embraced by today’s public.

This photo of me participating in a seminar this year called "Healing Earth Pain through the Arts," shows my 6 x 8 ft acrylic painting, "Fallen Angels," which has been "in progress" for 30 years. I may continue developing it until I can no longer do so. There is something comforting about having a very long term project.

This photo of me participating in a seminar this year called “Healing Earth Pain through the Arts,” shows my 6 x 8 ft acrylic painting, “Fallen Angels,” which has been “in progress” for 30 years. I may continue developing it until I can no longer do so. There is something comforting about having a very long term project.

After many months of arduous scientistic research and aesthetic effort, the last thing on an artist’s mind is any form of prurient thought generally. So, even if the work is deemed to be pornography, I assured my visitor, it is also very hard work. She thanked me for our discussion, but I could tell she was still glad for the lack of visible “private parts” on my big painting. What I did not tell her was that I have painted this canvas over a period of 30 years. In fact, it isn’t finished yet, and I may continue working on it forever. It has been in development through many changes in social attitudes toward nudity in art, and it has morphed accordingly. Two of the life-size figures have undergone sex change operations, and several sets of genitalia and nipples have been hidden by changing the positions of limbs and configurations of hair. I hope the painting has not lost its power because of this evolving modesty over the decades in response to the increasingly conservative values of the U.S.

In 1987 Lyle Stuart Inc, published Arlyn Hackett's cookbook, "The Slim Chef," with one of my illustrations on virtually every page. We were told later that the Book of the Month Club seriously considered making our cookbook one of their selections for that year, but decided against it because of my illustration for the chapter entitled "Sweetheart Supper for Two."

In 1987 Lyle Stuart Inc, published Arlyn Hackett’s cookbook, “The Slim Chef,” with one of my illustrations on virtually every page. We were told later that the Book of the Month Club seriously considered making our cookbook one of their selections for that year, but decided against it because of my illustration for the chapter entitled “Sweetheart Supper for Two.”

 Some people say they can easily tell the difference between pornography and art. I can’t. They say that pornography is sexually charged and titillating whereas art is not. I simply cannot agree. What about all of the very fine erotic art that has been produced throughout human history? Some of it is certainly beautiful and artful. And quite frankly most of the pornography I have seen is neither sexually charged nor titillating. It is mostly just boring. Then there are some very exciting works of art by very accomplished and talented fine artists who have taken on the thankless task of making fine art in the manner of pornography, but with an ironic, removed, humorous, or expanded sensibility. Of course, they usually get both praised and condemned for it, but always accused of doing it just for publicity or notoriety.

This Suncho woodcut print, circa 1790, is undeniably erotic, but also a beautiful example of classical Japanese fine wood block prints.

This Suncho woodcut print, circa 1790, is undeniably erotic, but also a beautiful example of classical Japanese fine wood block prints.

Jeff Koons undertook a pornographic fine art project, in the late 1980s. “Made in Heaven” is a series of very large oil-ink silk-screens on canvas, life-size ceramic sculptures, and a Murano Glassworks sculpture of Jeff Koons and his bride-to-be (now ex-wife) Italian porn star Ilona Staller, aka “La Cicciolina,” entangled in very explicit and literally graphic sexual activity. http://www.theworldsbestever.com/2010/10/14/installation-view-jeff-koons-made-in-heaven-series-major-paintings/ . There has been a raging debate ever since the series debut in 1990 at the Venice Biennale about whether these huge works are art or porn. Is a funny dirty joke, well-told by a world-class comedian, humor or smut? Is a steamy nude love scene in a great movie or book cinematic art or literature… or just pornography?

Pablo Picasso's revolutionary 1907 canvas, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" was a paradigm-buster of the highest magnitude. It is still shaking and shaping the art world today.

Pablo Picasso’s revolutionary 1907 canvas, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” was a paradigm-buster of the highest magnitude. It is still shaking and shaping the art world today.

These kinds of questions and controversies were raised by Picasso’s revolutionary cubist canvas “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” when it was shown in 1907. Both the cubist style and the subject of his painting were shocking to society at that time. It was inconceivable in 1907 that any reputable artist would make fine art depicting a group of prostitutes whom he knew personally from his experiences at a local Barcelona brothel. Stylistically, Picasso’s canvas was so radically ahead of its time that most of the world still has not caught up to it 106 years later. Nevertheless, the revolutionary canvas is considered by art connoisseurs, teachers, critics, and artists everywhere to be one of the greatest single accomplishments by any artist in the history of art.

The nudity in Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" so offended the religious authorities of his time that shortly after his death a "fig leaf campaign" was carried out to paint modesty drapes  in strategic locations throughout the master's fresco. Half of that damage was recently restored.

The nudity in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” so offended the religious authorities of his time that shortly after his death a “fig leaf campaign” was carried out to paint modesty drapes in strategic locations throughout the master’s fresco. Half of that damage was recently restored.

Michelangelo was no less a topic of controversy 500 years ago for his “Last Judgment” wall completed behind the Sistine Chapel alter in 1541, 20 years after the great master painted his magnificent frescos in the vault above. After Michelangelo died, the genitalia in “The Last Judgment” were painted over with drapery by the Mannerist artist Daniele da Volterra, when the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art. The Pope’s own Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena said of The Last Judgment, “It is mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all these nude figures exposing themselves so shamefully.” From 1980 to 1994 about half of the “Fig Leaf Campaign” censorship was removed and Michelangelo’s great wall was partly restored by Frabrizio Mancinelli. Apparently half of it was still considered to be shameful.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 - 1905) was a highly successful artist in his time, even though the impressionists made fun of him and despised his style. "Nymphs and Satyr," painted in 1873, is a prime example of the French academic painter's fondness for mythological themes and classical subjects, painted with polished neo-classical expertise.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905) was a highly successful artist in his time, even though the impressionists made fun of him and despised his style. “Nymphs and Satyr,” painted in 1873, is a prime example of the French academic painter’s fondness for mythological themes and classical subjects, painted with polished neo-classical expertise.

 Some artists like William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905) and Maxfield Parrish (1870 – 1966) lived during permissive enough times and worked in socially acceptable enough neo-classical styles that they were able to produce many beautiful nudes without much complaint or condemnation, and in fact managed to earn very respectable incomes and public acclaim during their lifetimes.

"Daybreak" by Maxfield Parrish (1870 - 1966) is one of the American painter and illustrator's most famous neo-classical images. During his lifetime nudes in art were even used in advertisements for mainstream products.

“Daybreak” by Maxfield Parrish (1870 – 1966) is one of the American painter and illustrator’s most famous neo-classical images. During his lifetime nudes in art were even used in advertisements for mainstream products.

So then… what IS the difference between art and pornography? Like so many other questions about art, the answers have a great deal to do with the intentions of the artist, although the final judgments are made by the public. If the artist approaches an erotic or pornographic subject or certainly just nudity with the intention of making an object that is more than simply sexual, then in my book it is art. If the vision of the artist peers through a lens of irony, humor, idealism, heightened or altered reality, social commentary, formal abstraction or other clearly artistic sensibilities, then the art cannot be merely pornographic. It must be more. It is art.

The German-born British painter Lucian Freud (1922 - 2011) painted a series of very powerful nude portraits of the notoriously shocking performance artist Leigh Bowery (1961 - 1994,) of which this is perhaps the most benign.

The German-born British painter Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011) painted a series of very powerful nude portraits of the notoriously shocking performance artist Leigh Bowery (1961 – 1994,) of which this is perhaps the most benign.

Let us consider the rather extreme example of transvestite performance artist Leigh Bowery who used his own body as the medium for his shocking performance art about radical change. Sometimes he was entirely covered from head to toe in very elaborate and fascinating vestments with masks, stilts and props. At other times he was almost completely nude except for some bindings, clothespins, ropes and boots. His work was always jarring and disturbing. In one performance piece he was hung upside-down wearing only some boots and bindings on his genitalia. He was swung back and forth until he crashed through a plate glass window. The very great artist Lucian Freud painted many spectacular portraits of Leigh Bowery, completely nude and without any adornment of any kind. The canvases of Bowery’s large, corpulent, soft body are very powerful and revolutionary in their own right. No one could call them pornography. They are aesthetic explorations of profound sensitivity, insight and undeniable beauty. 
 
On the other hand, When the darling of American kitsch, entrepreneurial art phenom Thomas Kinkade (1958 – 2012,) may he rest in peace, mass produced prints of his cloyingly saccharine paintings of cottages with heart-shaped windows in floral woodlands and told the world it was “art,” I personally found his contribution to art history to be much more pornographic than those of Jeff Koons, Michelangelo, Bowery, or Freud. Kinkade was so successful at mass marketing his printed reproductions and other licensed products through The Thomas Kinkade Company, that it is estimated that one in 20 American households owns a Kinkade product.

My apologies to 5% of the American public, including well-meaning, dear friends who adore Thomas Kinkade and collect his work, but I shall now have to confess that I think they are displaying pornography on their tidy livingroom walls. It is pornographic because it commercially monetizes the world’s prurient addiction to the lowest forms of materialism for pure financial gain, in the same way that pornography commercially monetizes the lowest forms of sex for the purpose of making mountains of money. Both strategies succeed wildly because both appeal to the lowest common denominator in human consciousness and culture and can be mass marketed. I do not wish to eradicate bad art or pornography. They have their places and uses in the world. I only ask that those who enjoy these lower forms stop censoring and vilifying fine art.

"The Flood," is a 52" x 52" oil on canvas about impending apocalypse due to global climate change. The hours of research and daily concentration on this image filled me with joy for six weeks this past winter. The only way I can combat profound depression about climate change is to paint and write and speak about it.

“The Flood,” is a 52″ x 52″ oil on canvas about impending apocalypse due to global climate change. The hours of research and daily concentration on this image filled me with joy for six weeks this past winter. The only way I can combat profound depression about climate change is to paint and write and speak about it.

 How does one develop the discrimination to recognize the distinctions among the definitions for art, eroticism and pornography? Education. Look at lots and lots of different kinds of art, erotic art, and pornography if you wish, with an open mind and an increasing understanding of the differences, no matter how subtle. Read about it. Watch documentaries. Talk with artists. Take seminars and courses. Art is just as rigorous and disciplined a field of endeavor as mathematics, agriculture, or music theory. It would be entirely presumptuous and impossible for most of us to comment upon a complicated new mathematical theory. Yet we often behave as if we were all born with advanced degrees in art and the God-given right to pass judgment on every object made by artists, without having the slightest idea of the intentions, research, and techniques involved, let alone the historic antecedents and cultural references represented in the work. Understanding of the complexities and motivations of any field of human endeavor begins with the humility to admit ignorance, and the willingness to suspend disbelief and revulsion until we know a great deal more. In fact, I have found that if the work of a particular artist really bothers me, it is a good idea to pay extra attention to understanding that body of work, because I usually discover eventually that there is something important there for my own personal growth. That’s why it bothered me. I guess I’d better take another look at Kinkade…

This is a detail of the lower left quadrant of my 52" x 52" oil painting "The Flood," completed in March of 2013. Nudity can be used to express everything from pure power to vulnerability in any given composition. In this case, because of the apocalyptic theme of the canvas, I felt that the figures really had to be nude in order to emphasize how fragile humanity is, and how easily swept away.

This is a detail of the lower left quadrant of my 52″ x 52″ oil painting “The Flood,” completed in March of 2013. Nudity can be used to express everything from pure power to vulnerability in any given composition. In this case, because of the apocalyptic theme of the canvas, I felt that the figures really had to be nude in order to emphasize how fragile humanity is, and how easily swept away.

When it comes to questions about nudity, eroticism and pornography in art, I will have to defer to one of the greatest masters who ever lived. Michelangelo wrote, “What spirit is so empty and blind that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?” The answer to Michelangelo’s question is unfortunately that there are, in fact, too many spirits who are so empty these days that they cannot recognize the pure beauty of the human form in its original nakedness. Now might be a good time to focus on the honest truth of our nakedness — our ultimate vulnerability and dependency on a narrow band of survivable life sustaining conditions. It fundamentally behooves all of us to broaden our perspectives and learn to appreciate the exquisitely glorious beauty of the human life form as God created it, whether that form is young, perfect and desirable, or old fat and bald. Spirit is not pleased to be criticized and condemned when it dons any of its forms.