Rhett Gérard Poché

A blog devoted to the study of art, art history, and visual literacy.


Time for more “visual-aural literacy”…and I have a question for you:

What do Kehinde Wiley and Handsome Boy Modeling School have in common?—SAMPLING!

I’ll explain…Let’s start with a track from Handsome Boy Modeling School’s album, White People.  Listen to the following track.  What do you hear?  Listen very carefully.  Do you hear any samples?

Handsome Boy Modeling School—Rock & Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This) (from White People, 2004)

If you listened carefully, you likely heard the following:

Luigi Boccherini—String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5 (1775)

Antonio Vivaldi—Concerto No. 1 in E Major, Op. 8, RV 269, “La Primavera” (Spring) (1723)

Fatboy Slim—The Rockafeller Skank (1998)

What are the implications of mixing contemporary hip hop with eighteenth-century compositions by Boccherini, Vivaldi, AND a track by Norman Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim?  Do these samples have racial implications within the context of hip hop?  Did you hear a commentary on world history, music history, race relations, and the notion of power?

Try this—play Rock & Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This) while viewing the following paintings:

Left: Jacques-Louis David. Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard. oil on canvas. 1800-1. Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison
Right: Kehinde Wiley. Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps. oil on canvas. 2005. Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Suzi and Andrew B. Cohen. © Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Did you “hear” Kehinde Wiley’s Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps?

In essence, Wiley’s painting investigates contemporary race relations by appropriating/sampling Jacques-Louis David and eighteenth-century motifs of power, much like Handsome Boy Modeling School’s White People samples Boccherini, Vivaldi, Mozart, and Brahms.  Also, you may want to note that White People was released in 2004.  Wiley’s painting was completed in 2005.  Coincidence?

If you listened critically, you likely see exactly what the Brooklyn Museum says about Wiley’s painting:

Historically, the role of portraiture has been not only to create a likeness but also to communicate ideas about the subject’s status, wealth, and power. During the eighteenth century, for example, major patrons from the church and the aristocracy commissioned portraits in part to signify their importance in society. This portrait imitates the posture of the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte in Jacques-Louis David’s painting Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard. Wiley transforms the traditional equestrian portrait by substituting an anonymous young Black man dressed in contemporary clothing for the figure of Napoleon. The artist thereby confronts and critiques historical traditions  that do not acknowledge Black cultural experience. Wiley presents a new brand of portraiture that redefines and affirms Black identity and simultaneously questions of the history of Western painting.

Filed under: Visual Literacy

Drip, Drip, Drip

Everyone’s a critic, especially my Visual Literacy students.  In fact, their critical and creative thinking skills are put to the test every single class.  As discussed in previous posts, we are currently examining Marcel Duchamp’s readymades as part of a lecture series titled “What is Art?/Is it Art?”.  Our mission has been to qualify Duchamp’s “junk” (his readymades) as works of genius—artful objects that question the nature of authorship and viewership.

We will eventually turn our attention to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings which, like Duchamp’s readymades, are often met with derision and suspicion.  Detractors label readymades and drip paintings as hoaxes—ordinary objects or mad scribblings audaciously passed off as legitimate art.

Those who see Pollock’s drip paintings as illegitimate suffer from a myopic insistence that all images should follow the paradigms of objective imagery and traditional craftsmanship.  Yet, I would argue that such resistance is forgivable and even understandable.  After all, as I mentioned earlier, everyone’s a critic and, to quote Cursive, “We all know art is hard.”  However, I believe that such responses to the drip paintings are further complicated when casual viewers encounter theorists and art historians who (rightfully) use big words and even BIGGER ideas (Jungian archetypes, Primitivism, automatism, subjectivity, etc.) when analyzing Pollock’s work.

Therefore, I’m going to encourage my Visual Literacy students, especially those who see the drip paintings with suspicion, to consider one very simple, accessible framework from which they may come to understand and appreciate Pollock’s images—MODERN JAZZ.

Left: Charlie Parker; Right: Hans Namuth, Jackson Pollock painting Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950. © Hans Namuth Ltd.

Modern jazz is spontaneous, improvisational, intuitive, primal, rhythmic, chaotic, and “dripping” with American cool.  The same can be said about Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.  I see an obvious connection here.  Yet, I’m not going to write about my theories as to why Pollock’s drip paintings look like visual representations of Gillespie, Monk, or Davis.  I’m saving that discussion for class.  For now, I suppose I’m more interested in simply encouraging my readers and students to appreciate the emotive and lyrical qualities of Pollock’s paintings and to do so with Charlie Parker in mind.

Listen—Charlie Parker, Dizzy Atmosphere, 1945

View—Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), enamel on canvas, 1950

© 2011 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society, New York

Filed under: Visual Literacy

Duchamp Reciprocated

Just for fun…

An excerpt from Duchamp’s Apropos of “Readymades”

Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 19, 1961.
Published in: Art and Artists, 1, 4 (July, 1966).

One important characteristic was the short sentence which I occasionally inscribed on the “readymade.”

That sentence instead of describing the object like a title was meant to carry the mind of the spectator towards other regions more verbal.

Sometimes I would add a graphic detail of presentation which in order to satisfy my craving for alliterations, would be called “readymade aided.”

At another time wanting to expose the basic antinomy between art and readymades I imagined a “reciprocal readymade”: use a Rembrandt as an ironing board!

Even though I have read Apropos of “Readymades” about 50 times, I still wonder what a Rembrandt would look like if actually used as an ironing board.

My reimagined Rembrandt. The original is in the Indianapolis Museum of Art—Yes, there is a Rembrandt in the great state of Indiana!
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, oil on wood, 1629.

Filed under: Visual Literacy

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