Friday, February 5, 2010

Dinotopia is Dinotastic!

Picture at right: The Excursion, from Dinotopia: The World Beneath. James Gurney (born 1958). Oil on board mounted to plywood, 28 x 42 inches. Collection of the artist. © 1995 James Gurney. All rights reserved.

The drawings showed people and dinosaurs living side by side, but of course this was an impossibility…

Not so at the Delaware Art Museum’s newest exhibit, Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney, on view now through May 16.

Gurney’s drawings from his Dinotopia book series tell the tale of explorer Arthur Denison and his son, who stumble upon a world where dinos and humans dwell peacefully together: A stunning, color- and texture-rich depiction of a culturally integrated, socially responsible, incredible utopia. The concept as a whole truly spoke to me, with a powerful message easily translatable in today’s world. Gurney’s stories are equally appealing to children and adults, and feature an artistically and architecturally rich land, varying in ethnic groups (and species) and historical eras---all living in harmony.

Each piece exhibits amazing details in color and shadow; the dinos’ bodies are stippled with texture and striking hues. Gurney’s influence from both the pre-Raphaelites and artist Howard Pyle is strongly evident. Gurney uses many fascinating techniques in his work: Rembrandt’s “dark against light, light against dark”, to draw the eye’s focus and provide three-dimensional depth to his work; and a technique he calls “spokewheeling”, in which he employs the use of lines to direct the viewer’s eye to a particular area of the piece, as in the piece Stormy Sea.

Gurney intended his works to both stand alone and tell the story, and as such, the exhibit includes several intriguing additions, such as a “photograph” of Arthur Denison and his son, as well as a model of their expedition “journal”.

A few of my favorite pieces: Up High, a vivid portrayal of resident children riding on the backs of Brachiosaurs in celebration of their “hatchdays”; Waterfall City, an expansive piece showing the “great learning center” of Dinotopia; and Clean Teeth, a whimsical drawing, highlighting some “everyday activity” in the world of human and dino.

There’s no better reason to head to the Delaware Art Museum with your children, nieces, nephews, or simply solo…This exhibit will make you gasp, smile, giggle and contemplate the implausible: A peaceful coexistence between seemingly improbable worlds.

Gurney will be on hand at the museum on Sunday, February 7, with a lecture at 2pm and a book signing at 4pm. He is also slated to present demonstrations for six regional schools at the museum next week; hopefully, your child’s is on the list!

BONUS: On my way out, I ran into guest curator Judith Schwab, who is putting together the Outlooks exhibit, Women Collared for Work, which will open (hopefully) for this Friday’s Art on the Town. Back from 5 years in Florida, Schwab (who turns 75 this month) has lovingly constructed this exhibit, with folk-art flair and a broad range of media, with a very personal touch. “I wanted to create a show that puts everything in my life together through art,” Schwab noted. And what better way to do that than look to those she admires---her artist friends. “All the women in this show have work that has impacted mine,” she says. Brave the weather and see this exhibit, on view through March 21.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sneak Peak – Wilmington Community Orchestra

A cold Monday evening finds about 50 people on the stage of the Music School of Delaware rehearsing for the Wilmington Community Orchestra performance this Sunday, February 7.

Tim Schwarz, conductor, starts the rehearsal right on time and the dancing lilt of the Bach Orchestral Suite in D Major starts to warm the hall. The three trumpets and two oboes give the smaller orchestra a festive sound.

Then chairs shift as the other members join the group for the Beethoven Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Opus 21. The strings take the challenge of the exposed writing – the seconds opened the Andante cantabile and the firsts start the final movement at a very soft dynamic of challenging scale work which the other sections jump in and imitate in the Allegro molto e vivace. Schwarz illustrates a few points by borrowing concertmaster Larry Hamermesh’s violin and the string players nod. It is a luxury to have a conductor able to demonstrate the sound he wants.

But Schwarz provides a more dramatic demonstration as he plays his own violin while Sam Fuhrman does the cover conducting for the Brahms Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. Fuhrman does a fine job leading the orchestra which will be conducted by Dr. Richard Prior of Emery University in Atlanta for the Sunday performance. Lawrence Stomberg plays the cello solo part with the strongest and most resonant sounds I have ever heard in person and Schwarz has plenty of power to match that force on the violin.

The Brahms is still running through my head.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Two world premieres

Mélomanie played two new works on January 30! To think that a small local group can commission works in these hard times is nothing short of great – and they used a little inventive cooperation to do so. Elaine Funaro, harpsichordist who also heads up a non-profit organization in Durham, North Carolina, which promotes new music for harpsichord (, joined forces with Mélomanie to commission a new work by Sergio Roberto de Oliveira.

Oliveira’ s work, Angico, was a vivid descriptive piece of the acacia tree which survived a threatened felling. The story gives a vehicle for Oliveira to evoke Brazil with bird songs, angry workers, and traditional rhythms. He skillfully orchestrated his motives on cello, harpsichord, violin and flute. My favorite movement was The construction into which he snuck a few habañera rhythms.

Mark Hagerty’s piece, After Duchamp, was a provocation in keeping with the provocative pairings Mélomanie strives to achieve. He tackled the spirit of Marcel Duchamp’s statement: “I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.” Hagerty decided to go against his natural tendency to write long and serious pieces. For Duchamp, he wrote a frivolous and jocular set of vignettes for harpsichord. His program notes set up the facetious objectives: ‘bird/anger: Two totally unrelated ideas that do not interact musically’ and ‘Werk ohne Opus’ where he takes on the established music world’s pretensions. But how do you praise a composer who is working against his own taste? Do you tell him he achieved the bad taste he was seeking?

And paired with the exciting new pieces were six fugues from Bach’s Art of the Fugue played with subtle dynamics and intonations. The group also played four movements from Louis de Caix d’Hervelois’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for flute and continuo in which they allowed themselves a joyous mood of the dances. Their next performance will be March 13, 2010 at Grace United Methodist Church.