Modern, Figurative Art Reflected in Ronosaurus Rex’s Photographs

The camera freed the artist from the responsibility of representing the world realistically in art. If someone wanted an accurate portrait or landscape, he would hire a photographer, rather than a painter. Consequently, since the 1860s, painters have tried to represent things that the camera cannot easily capture, such as an impression, an experience, a feeling, movement, light, even the passage of time.

instagram-anglesIronically, some photographers, like me, an Instagramaddict, trespass upon the painterly realm in an attempt to capture these elements that seem exclusive to painting. In this post, I will pay homage to some of the modern, figurative artists from the romanticists onward who have influenced my photos, and in a separate post I will honor the abstract artists who have influenced my photography.

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21 Most Unusual, Most Beautiful, and Most Romantic Places to Explore Along the San Francisco Bay Trail and Beyond

I saw many beautiful and fascinating places on my 350-500 mile walk around the San Francisco Bay Trail (and beyond) at every accessible point, including islands, bridges, and docks. Here are my twenty-one favorites in a long overdue post. (All photos are my own unless otherwise noted. Check out more pics at #ronosaurusbaywalk on Instagram. I am now walking around the bay again on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, so check out #ronosaurusbayridge too. See also my guest post on Save the Bay Blog.)

#21 Garbage Mountain

“You bring me to the most romantic places,” Omar Rodriguez-Rodriguez told me when I took him to Garbage Mountain to walk the 2.8 mile Wildcat Marsh and the charmingly named Landfill Loop Trail. More of a squarish hill (158 feet high), the mountain was opened as a dump in 1953 and sealed in 2010. Framed on either side by Wildcat and San Pablo creeks, cutting through vegetation-rich tidal marshes popular with water birds and mammals, the dump is returning to nature. The brochure from Republic Services, which now owns the site, explains that poisonous water leached from the site is treated and used in the park, the nearby Chevron refinery, and the Richmond Country Club. Siphoned methane is converted to electricity and sold to PG&E, enough for 1,500 homes. In short, Garbage Mountain is transforming human waste into a natural preserve and a source of water and energy. A great place for a date (if a little stinky on the downwind side).

Garbage Mountain, as seen from Wildcat Marsh

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Little Gardens: Life in a Hard Place

People talk about nature as if it were outside the city: “This weekend let’s get out into nature. Let’s go for a hike.” However, such statements create a division between humans and nature, as if we were somehow separate from the biological processes of the earth, an idea that stems from Judeo-Christian beliefs that the world was created for human beings: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This dangerous notion leads us to treat nature like a park that can be visited, a product that can be marketed, a commodity that can be exploited.

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Guest Post on Save the Bay Blog: Biodiversity and Ronosaurus Rex’s Walk Around the San Francisco Bay

Save the Bay, the organization that did actually save the bay from plans to fill it in 60 percent to become a narrow shipping channel, invited me to write a guest post for their blog. I wrote about the biodiversity I saw–and didn’t see–on my walk around the San Francisco Bay. Check it out!

Crissy Field and the Presidio: A Favorite Place on Ronosaurus Rex’s Bay Walk

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(Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line, Photo by Ronosaurus Rex)

Walking through the forested Presidio, it’s easy to imagine that San Francisco was once covered with trees. Not so! Its sandy, shifting soil supported mostly low, ground-hugging plants, such as dune strawberry and lupine. One of the best places to see what San Francisco looked like before its transformation is the tidal marshes of Crissy Field, the first of my favorite places in my walk around the San Francisco Bay.

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Ronosaurus Rex’s Walk Around the San Francisco Bay

The End of a 350-Mile Journey

I have walked all around the San Francisco Bay at every accessible point, including islands, bridges, piers, and docks. You can see me below, jumping over the yellow line, marking the spot the walkway on the Golden Gate Bridge reaches land, the end of what was at least a 350 mile journey. Do you think I look pleased?

(Photo by Omar Rodriguez Rodriguez. To my left, Deb Garfinkel, Gary Boren and Katie Fox)

Today, June 20, 2015, a group of friends–Omar Rodriguez Rodriguez, Gary Boren, Katie Fox, Deb Garfinkel, Erik Kessell–and I walked the last leg. We took a ferry to the Sausalito Ferry Landing, then walked along the beautiful waterfront to Fort Baker, on the north side of the bridge, where we had drinks at The Presidio Yacht Club Bar, sometimes known as Mike’s place. (“No,” the bartender said to one of my friends, “we don’t have iced tea. This is a bar.”) After beers and shots of tequila (and a diet coke), we climbed to the bridge and crossed the Golden Gate, and my walk was completed!

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Protomysteries: Precursors of Detective Fiction

This post contains extracts from proto-mysteries, predating Edgar Alan Poe’s Auguste Dupin stories, which popularized the genre. For an analysis of some of these sources (“The Three Princes of Serendip” and Zadig), tied into a history of story-telling and reading, see my essay “The Reading of Mystery and the Mystery of Reading.”

Susanna and the Elders

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Giovan Battista Tiepolo

The Book of Daniel, Chapter 13

As the story goes, a fair Hebrew wife named Susanna was falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs. As she bathes in her garden, having sent her attendants away, two lustful elders secretly observe the lovely Susanna. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.

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Modern Art Reflected in Ronosaurus Rex’s Photos

The camera freed the artist from the responsibility of representing the world realistically in art. If someone wanted an accurate portrait or landscape, he would hire a photographer, rather than a painter. Consequently, since the 1860s, painters have tried to represent things that the camera cannot easily capture, such as an impression, an experience, a feeling, movement, light, even the passage of time.

instagram-anglesIronically, some photographers, like me, an Instagramaddict, trespass upon the painterly realm in an attempt to capture these elements that seem exclusive to painting.

In this post, I will pay homage to some of the modern artists from the romanticists onward who have influenced my photos.

Modern art arose in part as a reaction against romanticism (end of the 18th century to approximately 1850), an artistic movement whose dark passions are represented here by Caspar David Friedrich‘s Abbey in the Oakwood (1909-1910). I had his sublime painting in mind when I took my photo of the Werner Chapel Overshadowing the Rhine (2013) in Bacharach, Germany.

One romanticist, J. M. W. Turner, rose from the lower classes to the Royal Academy, because of his epic, mythological paintings and wild, evocative seascapes, but as he grew older his paintings became moodier and his images more indistinct. John Beaumont, fellow in the Royal Academy, scornfully called them “blots.” He did not understand that Turner was turning from away from figurative art to sublime impressions of nature, emotion, and light.

 

Not surprisingly, Turner’s paintings, like Sunrise with Sea Monsters (1845), influenced impressionists. He also influenced me. You may not see the sea monsters, but you can feel a similar mood in the sinister clouds and shining seascape in my photo Turner Sunrise in a Frying Pan (2017)

The first modernist art movement, Impressionism (1860s – 1890s), attempted to capture an artist’s impression of a scene, its mood, and its changing light. The art critic Louis Leroy gave the movement its name in a satirical critique, after a painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926) called Impression, Sunrise (1872). I sometimes achieve similar effects to the Impressionists by taking pictures through warped or wet glass, as in my photo Ship Through Wet Window (2016). Lines are softened and colors are blurred, creating a moody impression of the scene, rather than a sharp and realistic representation.

Post-Impressionism (1886-1905), championed by such artists as Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh, took the innovations of the Impressionists further, exaggerating color and line. Cézanne broke up images into patches of color, into shapes, as in this self portrait (1895). Ron and Omar Reflected in the Shower Door (2017) owes a great deal to Cézanne in its patches of color, light, and shadow.

 

 

Cubists (1907-1914) went further yet, building upon the innovations of their predecessors, especially Cézanne. Splotches of color became shards of images. A major innovation was the simultaneous presentation of multiple perspectives, as in the painting by Pablo Picasso Portrait of Ambrose Vollard (1910), a famous art dealer. I fragmented my self-portrait and included multiple perspectives by taking a Selfie in a Mirror Mosaic (2013).

Futurism (1910-193), which orginated in Italy with artists like Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carrà, captured movement in painting. Michel Duchamp was generally associated with Dadaism and conceptual art; his famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) was not exactly a Futurist painting, but the the painting was influenced by Futurism. He not only captured his subject from different perspectives, he also showed the figure moving through space and time.

My photo Momi Toby’s through Ridged Glass (2013) does not show passage through time, but it does fragment and blend space in a vertical rhythm similar to Duchamp’s painting. The framed picture to the right, for example, appears as only a slice of a picture with the righthand frame. The next piece has the frame and the full picture, but not the lefthand frame. The next slice includes the full picture, and so on.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) continued the modernist trend toward abstraction. Klee is harder to categorize, but was influenced by the Expressionists, Cubists, Surrealists, and Orientalists. In his painting Bust of a Child (1922), we can see the child-like simplification of the human form. Compare his painting to my photo Pilgrim Woman (20130). As I was walking one day, I recognized a naive portrait of a pilgrim, which was akin to Klee’s paintings. In other words, Klee taught me how to recognize and appreciate this simple portrait.

Jasper Johns, Jr. is often called  a Neo-Dadaist rather than a pop-artists. Although he incorporated figures from pop culture, including flags, numbers, letters, and targets, his canvases were more painterly than those of the pop artist, who prefer more flat colors. Compare his Figure 8 (1959) with my Number 6 with Barnacles (2014), which was a number on the side of buoy at the San Pablo Yacht Club.  Johns taught me to appreciate the shape of numbers and the joyous play of colors.

Modern artists have taught me to see the world more richly, and I have tried to translate some of their visions into photography.

(Follow Ronosaurus Rex on Instagram. Check out his abstract photos in the book #abstract.)

#abstract: A Book of Ronosaurus Rex’s Abstract Photographs

Photography freed the painter from the need to represent the world realistically, so images melted off the campus as modern art developed. These days most painters have returned to more naturalistic painting. Ironically, some photographers, myself included, have turned the lens to abstract subjects. Omar Rodriguez-Rodriguez put together a book of some of my abstract photographs, called #abstract. Now you can get your own copy at Blurb!
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Here is the description: #abstract is a colorful compilation of urban details too small, too quiet, too understated to be noticed by most people. Miniature urban gardens, spray painted letters, colorful leaves, spilled paint, reflections, gravel, grass, metal and rock, an abstract rendition of the invisible to render it visible. These photos are the nooks and crannies of our civilization, where natural meets artificial, where plants grow in human-made environments, where life interacts with the lifeless. Ronald B. Richardson, aka Ronosaurus Rex, travels the cities of the world, compiling for us undiscovered sights in a whimsical safari.

(See and read more about my photos in my posts Photo versus Metaphoto: Ronosaurus and Omarrr on Instagram and Reading the City as Text: San Francisco’s Urban Landscape. Read more about abstraction in Abstract Paintings are Meta-Paintings.)