Father Daughter Dialog


Oscar de la Renta

PEG: Notes from 2016/03/30 talk at the Alameda Free Library.

Oscar de la Renta was born and lived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, until the age of 18.  He was the youngest of seven children; with six older sisters, many aunts, and a very strong-willed grandmother as well as his socially very well-connected mother, he grew up surrounded by women.  As a teenager he went to art school in the afternoons where he studied with the Spanish exiles.  At 18 (in 1950), he went to Madrid to study art.  He became obsessed with flamenco starting with Pilar Lopez.

Balenciaga hired him to sketch dress designs which gave him access to the production side of the garment industry (though he never personally learned garment construction).  He moved to Paris in 1961 and became an Assistant Designer at Lanvin, which at the time was headed by Antonio del Castillo, a fellow Spanish speaker.  His first dress in a collection was the Blue Angel dress in 1962.  In 1963 he moved to New York where he had the choice of working for Dior (where he almost worked in Paris) or Elizabeth Arden.  He wanted to follow the money and shift from haute couture to ready to wear.  Diana Vreeland advised him to go with Arden since there he wouldn’t be competing with other designers for lead billing.  Arden had a chain of Red Door Spas at which wealthy women could see live models wearing clothes that the buyers could then have tailored to fit – mass custom.  He brought seamstresses with him from Balmain.

Ben Shaw and de la Renta went into business on ready to wear in the late ’60s [1965?] with flashy, hippy styling.  Their first line appeared in 1967 [1965?] with Jane Derby on the label; Derby died a year later [in August 1965 per Wikipedia] and her name was dropped from the label [in 1966].  [In 1974 he took control of the whole business.]

He married Francoise de Langlade in 1967.  She was editor-in-chief of French Vogue and was very well connected.  She died of breast cancer in 1983.  In 1989 [1990?] he married Annette Engelhard, who had been the best friend of de Langlade.  He remained married to her until his passing of cancer in 2014.  Annette still lives on their estate in Kent, Connecticut.

In 1973 the Battle at Versailles pitted five French against five American designers (including Anne Klein, Halston, and Bill Blass).  The French went first and took over two hours to present their designs.  The Americans, using mostly African American models (including Pat Cleveland) and moving R&B music, did a brisk 35 minute show closing with de la Renta’s designs which stole the show.  (Josephine Baker performed during the intermission; de la Renta arranged for the American models to have a dinner with Baker the night before the show.)

In the ’70s he redesigned the Boy Scout uniforms (including those for female den mothers).

1994 – 2004 [1993 – 2002?] he produced two collections a year, 50 pieces each for the House of Balmain in addition to his ready to wear collections; this was a tremendous level of output.

Design notes: gilded feathers on the Minerva dress.  Spanish influences: flamenco ruffles and polka dots; matador capes, and suits of lights.  “Eastern” influences included North African, Indian, and Chinese reflected in tunics, caftans, and hostess PJs.  Russian (his uncle’s mistress was Russian) influences: sable trims and silver thread embroidery.  He was an avid gardener (starting with vegetables that he raised and sold to his mother for pocket change and culminating in acres of formal gardens at his Kent, CT estate) and that was reflected in floral touches such as a red carnation (his favorite flower) bedecked dress.

In 2006 Kristen Dunst wore de la Renta designed gowns in a movie about Marie Antoinette.

His son-in-law joined the business in 2000.  Recognizing the lack of an archive, he started one.  De la Renta said that he had the memory of a mosquito; he himself didn’t save his dresses.  The exhibit doesn’t include his design sketches; the docent didn’t know if any of those have been archived.


California Artists: From Figure To Funk

PEG: Notes from 2014/06/18 talk at the Alameda Free Library.

Bay Area Figurative Movement

David Park‘s career arc went from abstract to figurative painting.  One of his later (1958) works is Two Bathers.

Richard Diebenkorn was the most lush colorist of the group.  He used more pastels in contrast to David Park’s much darker palette.  He also moved from abstract to figurative.  Lines (structure) were just as important to him as color.  His final work – the Ocean Park series – went back to a more abstract style but the color palette was still pastel (though in tones more in keeping with the quality of light in Santa Monica vs. Berkeley’s more blue-green light).

Students of the 1st Group

(Mary Joan) Jay DeFeo studied at Cal and then taught at several local institutions including SFMOMA.  She was a Beat artist.  She is best known for her massively layered work The Rose – sort of a sculpture in paint.  X

O’Keeffe & Lake George

PEG: Notes from 2014/03/12 talk at the Alameda Free Library.

Exhibit will be at the de Young Feb 15 – May 11.  Precisionist work.  Integration of Alfred Stieglitz‘s (stig-glist) & Georgia O’Keeffe‘s work.  She was never dominated by society; rather she was dominated by the natural world.  She often painted fragments of the whole.  She was born in 1887 and grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin, the oldest of three sisters – she was “The Queen”.  At the age of 11 she started learning the “genteel arts” appropriate for young women of the age: drawing, painting, and music.  At the age of 12 she announced that she was going to be an artist.  Late during her high school years she was introduced to drawing from nature.  Her ambition in 1908 was to be a teacher of art to girls – since nice young American women in that era didn’t have careers as artists.  During respite years in Columbia, SC and then in Texas she worked on developing a new style that would be uniquely hers.  She mostly concentrated on form in black and white.  1915 – 16 her abstract works were exhibited by Stieglitz in his NYC gallery at the end of the art season.  She hated… [people trying to interpret her work?].  In 1917 (in Texas) she started using colors in watercolor paintings; her work in NY was oil on canvas.  She reworked themes that she developed in Texas such as starlit night and crows in canyon in her NY paintings.  Arthur Wesley Dow and his book Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers was a big influence.

She met Stieglitz when she was 30 (in 1917).  From 1918 to 1934 she spent every summer at Lake George in upstate NY at the Stieglitz family compound.  These years were pivotal to her life and work and she established her motifs and artistic style.  They decamped from NYC for Lake George in May (at the end of the NYC art season?) and spent the summer months with the family taking long walks and recovering from the NYC season.  Stieglitz’s family was very gregarious while O’Keeffe was very taciturn.  From September through early November after most of the rest of the family had departed they concentrated on seriously painting.  She often completed paintings after returning to NYC.

In 1919 she started composing her paintings with a big central form with natural shapes wrapped around it.  She progressively reduced down her compositions and added a vertical line with a mirror image.  She divided her landscapes horizontally.

At that time Freud’s book [The Interpretation of Dreams?] greatly changed how people [at least the NY intelligentsia] viewed art; it sexualized people’s interpretation of her paintings.  Stieglitz’s photograph’s celebrating her body compounded the effect of Freud’s book – particularly because most of the photos presented fragments, body parts that were much easier to objectify.  It’s not clear if Stieglitz showed the photographs for the sake of art or marketing (or, most likely, both).  She was dismayed by [a sexual] interpretation of her art; she wanted her work interpreted on the basis of color, form, and line… not psychological connections.  The association of flowers with body parts is very much a 20th century interpretation; flower still lifes were considered an appropriate subject for women artists in the 19th century – though admittedly she zoomed in on the flowers and cropped them differently (in order to differentiate her work in the NYC scene).

She created her Apple Family series in 1920.  In the early 1920s she started to make larger canvases.  In 1924 she planted petunias at Lake George – she preferred blacks and purples and liked the petunias’ velvety texture.  Luther Burbank and his work on tweaking bloom size and color palettes were an influence as were Paul Strand’s photographs with their original perspective of otherwise ordinary objects such as a chili pepper and a car wheel.  She used color nuances, cropping, different vantage points, texture, and the removal of contextual information.  For example, though the first painting in her 1930 ‘Jack-in-the-Pulpit’ series is photo-realistic and small in scale, by progressively applying these techniques, the last and sixth in the series is zoomed in view of just the ‘Jack’ portion of the flower on a large canvas – a shift from Representation to Abstraction.  She planned her work.  Autumn (in NY) was her favorite season.  Frontal [?] with no extraneous information.  She was one of the first Western artists to present leaves.

In 1926 she painted Old Maple which she saw as a representation of Stieglitz.  He demanded more devotion and adoration than she had to give so in 1928 he found another woman.  [She had two serious surgeries in the late 1920s to combat possible breast cancer. Fortunately the tumors removed turned out to be benign. This health scare and the exigencies of her recuperation adversely impacted her productivity and her marriage with Alfred Stieglitz and thus was a trigger for her shift from New York to New Mexico.]

Her Red Barns series was different with right angles and more solid blocks of color.

PEG: Notes from Portrait of an Artist by Laurie Lisle copyright 1980

p. 206 February 1, 1933 Georgia was admitted to Doctors Hospital (NYC) for the treatment of “psychoneurosis”.  She was discharged on March 25, 1933.  “In the afterglow of her first summer in Taos, Georgia had falsely imagined that she was beyond succumbing to any king of deep hurt.  Now a complex mix of problems had plummeted her into a severe depression.  For one thing, she was in her midforties, a time of climacteric change for many women.  Numerous needs and desires were warring within her, all of them intensified by her tension and conflict with Stieglitz.  Like other people who had been in the shadow of Stieglitz’s dominating personality, Georgia needed to go beyond his tight little clique.  But, in spite of his age, Stieglitz was tenacious and tough.  ‘Body tottering but determined, pursuing, crusading, charged with some high explosive which seems about to shake the structure to bits,’ observed Peggy Bacon of him at the time.  After he had blocked her path in several directions, Georgia slid into a kind of passivity, a form of resistance that suggested she would just as soon stop living as knuckle under.”  She had a relapse in April 1939 but was much better after bed rest for the month of May 1939.

In 1940 in Taos she had several untamed Siamese kittens as pets.

Her New York paintings were constrained in a way not present in her Western work.

PEG: Notes from Georgia O’Keeffe : A Life by Roxanna Robinson, copyright 1989

Home (in Williamsburg, VA) on summer vacation from her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1906 Georgia came down with a severe case of typhoid fever.  At that time typhoid fever was fatal in 10 – 20% of cases with a recovery time of three months.  (With modern treatments 1% of cases are fatal and the recovery time is closer to the four-week cycle of the fever.)  “The worst year [for typhoid deaths in Chicago] was 1891, when the typhoid death rate was 174 per 100,000 persons.”  Typhoid Mary was identified in New York City in 1907, public water chlorination started in the US in 1908 (in Jersey City), and the first large scale vaccination effort in the US was the US Army’s in 1911.

Page 383: Her second stay in Chicago ended with a case of measles which threatened her eyesight and kept her from her work.

In January 1918 while teaching in Canyon, Texas she came down with influenza compounded by a lingering depression (which in turn was exacerbated by her recovery from her mother’s passing in early 1917).  The Spanish Flu pandemic ran from January 1918 to December 1920, infected about a third and killed 3 – 5% of the world’s population at the time.  (The resurgence of the culprit H1N1 virus in 2009 was labeled the Swing Flu pandemic and killed an estimated 284,500 people.)  The first documented case in the US was in Kansas in January 1918.  In May of 1918 Georgia was still recuperating (with her friend Leah Harris near San Antonio).  In June of 1918 she moved to New York where Alfred Stieglitz took charge of her convalescence.

She became ill again in the spring of 1920 continuing into the summer (which she spent with friends on the coast of Maine).

The summer of 1925 under doctor’s orders she was confined to bed with her legs bound to treat painful swelling in both legs due to an allergic reaction to a vaccine.  Her recovery took nine weeks (not all of which, presumably, were spend bound in bed).

Early in the summer of 1927 Georgia had an attack of rheumatism which kept her from painting.  In August 1927 a lump was discovered in her breast which was subsequently removed (at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan) and found to be benign (p. 300).  Recovery took several months.  This exacerbated her difficulties in coping with the Stieglitz clan during her subsequent recuperation at the Hill (in Lake George) – after the family’s departure in October she almost chose to stay on alone instead of returning to New York City with Stieglitz.  Dorothy Norman came into Stieglitz’s orbit in November of that year.  On 1927 December 30 O’Keeffe had another breast tumor removed – which again turned out to be benign; her hospital stay was at least ten days (p. 304).  p. 306 “That spring, O’Keeffe was overtired and on edge.  The surgery had left her weakened and exhausted.  Moreover, the nonsensical publicity irritated her, as did the continuing presence of Dorothy Norman at the Room.”

The summer of 1928, angry and depressed, she spent a scant two weeks at Lake George sandwiched between refuge (without Stieglitz) in Maine followed by several weeks with her family in Madison.  She returned to Stieglitz and an otherwise empty Lake George house in mid-August for a peaceful month until Stieglitz had a heart attack.

In 1932 Georgia accepted a commission for murals at Radio City Music Hall over the vehement objections of Stieglitz.  She worked in peace at Lake George until Stieglitz’s arrival in late June with his “disciples” – whom he tasked with badgering her into giving up the commission and making nice with Dorothy Norman.  In August she decamped for Canada.  In November she balked on the Radio City job on the pretext of shoddy work on the plaster.  The aftermath shortly resulted in a breakdown and, on February 1, 1933, admission to Doctors Hospital in New York where she was diagnosed with psychoneurosis – a term no longer officially used by psychiatrists.  (Note that the malaise was not menopause (p. 382).)  As a further blow to her confidence, her younger sister, Catherine, who had no formal art training beyond Georgia’s mentoring had a well-received show of her (Catherine’s) flower paintings.  She recuperated in Bermuda with friends late March through May 1933 and then in Lake George through that winter.  By January 1934 she had resumed painting but seeking warmer climes she left for Bermuda in late February.

Her last major bout was in 1939 after a less than successful commission for Dole in Hawaii.  Consequently in June of 1939 her doctor ordered six weeks of bed rest which kept her from painting until November and contributed to her forgoing her summer visit to New Mexico (and to Lake George).

Page 383 – 4: “Illness was an important element in O’Keeffe’s life, the physical state reflecting and paralleling the psychological one.”  “For the first ten years of her life with Stieglitz, O’Keeffe was plagued by recurring illnesses”…  “Alfred’s extreme hypochondria, the propitiatory bottles of disinfectant he carried, his fear of other people’s germs and bacteria, both mirrored and encouraged O’Keeffe’s sicknesses.”

Stieglitz disliked cats but O’Keeffe liked them, adopting two in Lake George during her 1933 recuperation.


PEG: Notes from 2013/11/13 talk at the Alameda Free Library.

The exhibit is a retrospective of David Hockney’s work since 2000 (rather than a lifetime retrospective).  He was born in Bradford, Yorkshire.  After graduation from the Royal Academy of Arts in London, he left England for the sun and “dishy boys” in Los Angeles.  (Though he never seemed troubled by the hardships of being gay and out in England in the ’60s, LA had a much friendlier social climate.)  In the mid to late ’60s he painted a lot of pool and upscale mansion scenes.  He also did portraits – but usually only of good friends.  Relationship tensions were fully captured.  There are over 800 photographs in his “Pearblossom Highway” photo collage.  He did some angles from a stepladder such that there was no one vanishing point (divergent vanishing points).  In 1998 he painted a 24′ wide painting of the Grand Canyon.  His mother died in 1999.  A recurring image in his paintings is the upside down (reverse) ‘V’.  He started creating art on an iPad in 2010 shortly after its release.  He uses an application called ‘Brushes’.  Brushes has a deconstruct and construct drawing feature; he really likes this feature since it’s the first time that he’s really been able to see (and replay) his painting process.

In 2012 he had a small stoke; he lost speech for a time but he could still draw.  During his recovery he mostly used charcoal to create portraits.  In March 2013 a young assistant died in Hockney’s home in Yorkshire (an incident which Hockney had nothing to do with other than being in residence at the time); the incident’s aftermath – including British tabloid sensationalism – has pushed him to spend more time in his LA studio.  In the mid-2000s (2004 and 2007) he painted oil and watercolor landscapes.  A continuing subject in 2008 was the so-called ‘Totem Tree’ near his home in Yorkshire.  Unfortunately the Totem Tree was vandalized with graffiti and then later further vandalized by being cut down.  He created more fantasy landscapes on his iPad in 2011 which he then expanded on to canvas and added paint.  He draws on the iPhone with his thumbs.  He especially likes to use the iPhone for capturing the fast, fragile English sunrises.  (He can grab his iPhone and start ‘painting’ without having to turn on a light and get setup.)  He creates “digital originals”.  In 2011, not only did he go full-bore with drawing on the iPad, but he also created a series of 9-camera videos.  The cameras typically are mounted in a grid pattern on the side of his car.  Each focal point is slightly different, and in editing the speed of the camera feeds to the sides is accelerated relative to the center feeds.  Many of his films are of the same Yorkshire back roads as his paintings.

Impressionists on the Water

PEG: Notes related to the Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland.  Julien Tanguy via his Parisian art supply shop supplied paints and brushes to many of the great Impressionists painters including Renoir, Seurat, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.  Vincent Van Gogh painted him in Le Pere Tanguy or Portrait of Pere Tanguy.

PEG: Notes from 2013/05/29 talk at the Alameda Free Library on the Impressionists on the Water exhibit closing at the Legion of Honor on 2013 October 15.  The exhibit of 80 works is tied to the America’s Cup.  Boat blueprints, models, and Emile Zola’s gig (a two-person rowed pleasure craft) are included along with paintings and prints.  The maritime details in the art are accurate but not necessarily truthful – a “tailored reality”.

The main setting in the art is suburbs such as Argenteuil on the Seine river as it snakes its way northwest from Paris to Honfleur and Le Havre in Normandy; and towns such as Pontoise on the Oise, a Seine tributary flowing from the north into the Seine northwest of Paris.  In the 1870s Argenteuil was known for sailing and Chatou, the more bucolic of the two, for rowing.  Argenteuil is about 8 miles and Pontoise about 20 miles northwest of the center of Paris; Chatou is around 6 miles southwest on the Seine from Argenteuil.  (Though 20 miles is no great distance today, the 45-minute travel time in the 1870s was considered quite a distance.)  The arrival of passenger rail service to these towns enabled the leading edge of the middle class to make weekend trips during the Summer to these suburbs.  In addition to the river-crossing bridges of the railroad and highways, the newly constructed smoke-belching factories appeared were depicted the Impressionists’ landscapes as symbols of industrial progress.  (The bridges were freshly rebuilt after having been destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War which ended in 1871.)  Straw hat “boaters” became the unisex headgear at this time.  Japanese woodblock prints were popular and their influence is reflected in the Impressionists’ wave caricatures.

Daubigny was “aggressively ordinary”… but was actually taking radical steps that inspired the Impressionists who followed.  Pissarro and Daubigny both painted from Pontoise.  Pissarro painted socialist settings – in the case of his seaside works, he depicted one factory far removed from Paris.

Sisley painted modest landscapes around the water; most painted a bit further downriver.

Caillebotte as a kid spent summers in Yerres, on the river 13 miles southeast of Paris.  He was an engineer and lawyer by training so his art included a lot of structure – he was known for his use of perspective.  The exhibit includes many of Caillebotte’s yacht designs and models which showcase his talents as an engineer and sportsman in addition to his skills as a painter.  He retired to be a yachtsman and horticulturalist at his estate just downriver from Argenteuil.  One of the paintings in the exhibit depicts Caillebotte steering a boat that he designed with one finger on the tiller.

Seurat painted south of Paris and in Brittany (in a density of foggy weather).  He was known for pointillism – “artistic smallpox”.  He initiated Neo-impressionism.

Signac painted with dashes of color (instead of Seurat’s dots) creating a 2D effect.  He sailed to St. Tropez and owned about 30 boats in his lifetime.

Toulouse-Lautrec was an avid boater and competed in regattas including at Arcachon on the southwest coast of France (near Bordeaux).  (His short stature was all in his legs – a result of fractures of both thigh bones in his early teens; he had a full-sized torso and arms and was thus fully able to compete as a yachtsman.

Pierre Bonnard is known for an absence of applied color to suggest light on the water.

Richard Diebenkorn

PEG: Notes from 2013/09/18 talk at the Alameda Free Library on the Diebenkorn (dee-ben-corn) at Berkeley exhibit closing at the de Young Museum on 2013 September 29.

1946 to 1954        1955-1966            1967 – ~1993

Abstraction            Representation /      Abstraction


SF, NM, IL             Berkeley               Ocean Park (Santa Monica)

Between 1953 and 1967(?) he bridged Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s (ex. W. DeKooning, Jackson Pollack, and Robert Motherwell) and Pop and Op Art of the 1960s (ex. Andy Warhol) with figurative painting.

He grew up in Ingleside Terraces, San Francisco, shortly after the development was first constructed in the 1920s.  He was a cartographer in the US Marines during WWII.  His job included doing aerial surveys.

Artistic influences included Henri Matisse (“Bay of Nice” 1918), Edward Hopper (“Night Shadows” 1921), and Paul Cezanne (especially his work on the Mediterranean Coast from 1882 to 1886).

“Berkeley #23” was painted in Berkeley, not necessarily of Berkeley; and it was not necessarily the 23rd in the series.  In 1955 he started more clearly representing city locations.  In the early 1960s he moved to abstracted landscapes.  His Cityscape series recalls the Ingleside Terraces of his childhood.  Hallmarks are: shapes, colors, light, and shade; vertical demarcations; and an overlooking perspective.  Much of his work was in oil which he layered on and then scraped off – which in some cases resulted in a watercolor look.  In parallel he painted scenes with a human in the foreground in the Figurative style.  He also did some watercolors, (disjointed) nudes, still lifes (some of which he painted in gouache), and, in the mid-60s, some collages.  Modernist turned to Abstraction.

Be sure to see the Modeled Bodies exhibit in the Anderson Gallery.


PEG: Opera-loving teen gains renown for his tweets and blog on opera.

PEG: “Being happy in a minor key” makes an interesting observation about pop music – like classical music in the 1800s – has matured by “nontraditional tempo/key pairings”.  (In pop music this usually means songs with an upbeat tempo in a minor key.)

PEG: “You may have heard of the “five dads from Utah,” also known as The Piano Guys, for their classical/pop music video mash-ups. “What Makes You Beautiful” went viral on YouTube with more than 11 million views. Now they’ve come out with their first album on Sony Masterworks, “The Piano Guys.” Listening isn’t nearly as fun as watching their effusive and sometimes humorous videos set against stunning landscapes. But if you like athletic arpeggios, modern takes on classical works, and pop hits morphed into classical interpretations, you’ll like their sound. Check them out at http://bit.ly/thepianoguys.”

PEG: Ethan Bortnick progresses from piano prodigy to piano, composer, singer, actor, and producer phenom.  His 2012 highlight reel is narrated by Oprah.

PEG: Ethan Bordick’s 1st appearance on the Jay Leno Show at age 6


PEG: K-Pop and Gangnam Style.


PEG: An article in the 2012 November 12 print edition of the Christian Science Monitor on Belgium’s attempts to reinvigorate their comics put me in mind of our visit to the comic museum in Brussels.

Dad 2012 Nov 25: A nice piece on Prague brought back memories.


Dad 2012 Nov 25:

Dear Daughter,
Thanks for taking me to the exhibit [‘1968’ at the Oakland Museum of CA] today.  I checked to see when Smother’s Brothers show was on, and found it ran from Feb. 67 to April 69 when it was cancelled for being too controversial (speaking out against the Vietnam war).
Laugh-in ran from Jan. 68 to Mar. 73.  Both Rowan and Martin are gone now, but the Smothers Brothers are still around!


PEG: Commentary from the 2012 November 5 print edition of the Christian Science Monitor on the many men behind Malala Yousafzai (the young teen in Pakistan shot by the Taliban (males) for her activism for girls’ education).  I was heartened to read about her father, an educator, and that “he was her champion for schooling”.  After reading the Wikipedia article on Malala, I understand why she was targeted by the Taliban: though only 15 she had attracted international attention to the problems faced by those under Taliban control – starting with a speech at the local press club at the age of 11.  She blogged anonymously for the BBC in early 2009 and in mid-2009 she was featured in the documentary “Class Dismissed“.  She was not the only family member targeted.  Per the Wikipedia article on Malala, in May 2009 “after criticizing militants at a press conference, Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin, received a death threat over the radio by a Taliban commander”.  I think that he deserves a Wikipedia article of his own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *