Art on the Air: It’s Your Art!

"The Sketchers" (detail), circa 1913,  John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), 58.11

The Sketchers (detail), circa 1913, John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), oil on canvas, 22 x 28 in.

Radio Art Moments by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
WCVE-FM 88.9 Richmond, VA

Join host Daphne Maxwell Reid for brief, lively art moments–pictures painted with words.

Art on the Air (AOA) is a two-minute radio spot that considers the arts of Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, linked to art, artists, and programming at VMFA. It’s your art!

Narrated by Daphne Maxwell Reid, actress, photographer, and co-founder of New Millennium Studios, Petersburg, VA. Art on the Air is written and produced by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and New Millennium Studios.

Production funding provided by the Robert E. McConnell Foundation; RBC Wealth Management, Ms. Toni A. Ritzenberg, The Ridgeway Foundation, The Davidson Fund for the Visual and Performing Arts from the Community Foundation, The Allyn Foundation, and Friends of Art on the Air.

You can listen to sample broadcasts or read sample scripts. Right click (Windows) or CTRL click (Mac) and select “Save as…” to download your favorite spots.

Art on the Air
WCVE-FM 88.9, Richmond and Affiliates
WCNV-FM 89.1, Heathsville; WMVE-FM 90.1, Chase City
Sunday, 8:18 am, during Weekend Edition
Repeats every Wednesday, 8:48 am, during Morning Edition

Two-Minute Escapes into the World of Art
2001 winner of Communicator Award for Writing and Creative Concept

Sample Episodes

Pablo Picasso—whose early 20th century art opened doors to abstraction—once said “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality [but] the idea will have left an indelible mark.”

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid, and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

You’ve seen images from Pablo Picasso’s Rose and Blue periods; his fractured, innovative Cubist painting; his return to simple, sensuous Classical figures; and his inspirations from African art.

Picasso was perhaps at his most abstract during his cubist period around 1911. In these paintings, his figures and settings disintegrate into floating planes and facets that intersect and overlap. It is difficult to determine where a body begins, ends, or blends into its setting which might include a table, wallpaper, or posters. Yet, even at that point, we can discern traces of reality. In The Accordionist, for example, we sense Picasso’s original idea—a head, body, and musical instrument—within a composition of monochromatic and transparent planes.

About reality as the basis for abstract art, Picasso once said, “It is what started the artist off, excited [the] ideas, and stirred up [the] emotions. Ideas and emotions…form an integral part of [the art], even when their presence is no longer discernible.”

© Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 2011

In the ancient Mediterranean, long before the invention of television, people went to see live performances of dramas, comedies, and mimes. Some performances were set in the great theatres of Athens, Ephesus, and Rome, while others took place on temporary stages.

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid, and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

The actors in ancient Greek plays wore special boots and tunics that helped the audience identify their roles. Most of all they wore masks.

Although no masks have survived from antiquity, we find paintings of them on Greek vases and Roman walls.

Terracotta or bronze figurines of comic actors and mimes were also popular. Today, they help us identify some of the stock characters of ancient comedy.

A reclining figure might be a banqueter. His short chiton (ki’ ton) may identify him as The Flatterer, an often poor and lazy character who tried to live off the wealthy.

A figure carrying a basket may be a cook, shown with a large mouth and puffy cheeks because cooks in ancient comedies were chatty.

Mimes are often shown as bald with large, hooked noses. They sometimes stand thoughtfully, or carry a shield as though to ride absurdly off to battle.

Though many ancient dramas were never written down, and we, of course, have no recordings of actual performances, these ancient characters in art bring us a step closer to witnessing the birth of western theater.

© 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Achilles, and its devastation….”

Thus the ancient Greek poet Homer begins his story of the Iliad and the tragic hero Achilles.

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid, and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

Tradition reveres Homer as a wandering poet whose rhythmic tales were written down centuries after he lived.

Homer is thought to have recited his epics around 750 BC, singing ancient tales of the gods and heroes who fought the Trojan War.

According to literary traditions Homer was old and blind, so centuries after his death, when Greek artists imagined what he looked like, they showed a bearded and elderly man with blank, unseeing eyes.

His lack of eyesight emphasized his poetic insight: the perfect clarity with which he saw– not the world around him–but the world of legends.

The Romans made many versions of Homer’s Greek portrait-type. One example from the 2nd century shows Homer bearded and wearing a poet’s honorary fillet, or ribbon, around his head.

He has deep-set eyes and a furrowed brow; his cheeks are sunken with age; and his lips are parted as if he is about to speak.

Just as Homer immortalized ancient gods and heroes in his poems, so an ancient artist has imagined Homer, in a portrait bust that honors the memory of the inspired bard.

 © 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Picture a frozen fountain of paint—stripes of bright reds, blues, greens, and yellows projecting skyward, forming spikes of many colors.

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

The jagged silhouette of Sol LeWitt’s colorful sculpture, called Splotch number 22, reminds some viewers of a Technicolor fountain, others of a multi-hued stalagmite.

The peaks of the polished, striped surface stand more than twelve feet tall.

Sol LeWitt, an influential late-twentieth century artist, is known for his commanding geometric work in sculpture and wall drawings.

He was a founder of the Conceptual Art movement, emphasizing the artist’s idea over the physical object—and often involving teams of assistants who helped transform that idea into art.

Throughout his career, however, LeWitt also explored the nature of irregular, non-geometric work, like Splotch number 22.

Dated 2008, this sculpture was the last one in a series that he worked on before his death.

LeWitt drew sketches—irregular “footprints”—to be converted into virtual three-dimensional designs on a computer by a fabricator.

The sculpture itself was then made of industrial foam, coated in epoxy resin and fiberglass, and then painted in bright colors.

Splotch number 22 bursts with color.

Both conceptual and non-geometric, it is borne of nature, modern technology, synthetic materials…and the gifted artist’s imagination.

Its liveliness attracts people of all ages… It is a testament to the power of art and ideas.

© 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Jun Kaneko’s (Cuh NAY co) oversized ceramics remind some viewers of giant thumbs or Easter Island’s colossal heads. They are monoliths of color and pattern, whose scale defies our expectations for clay.

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid, and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

Contemporary artist Jun Kaneko creates the largest free-standing, fired ceramics in the world. Baked in a 20-foot-high Victorian-era kiln, they stand up to thirteen feet tall and can weigh as much as three tons.

Kaneko makes huge ceramic heads, painted in black-and-white spirals or in deep, solid blue. He sculpts clay “dangos”—Japanese for “dumpling,”—larger-than-life-size oval forms.

He then glazes the pieces in complex patterns—polka dots, plaids, basket-weave, and stripes that show subtle drips.

Kaneko was born in Japan in 1942 and came to the US in 1963 to study painting—an interest that still appears in his painterly surfaces.

While he has worked in other areas, including set design for “Opera Omaha” in Nebraska—ceramic sculpture is the artist’s chosen medium.

Each of Kaneko’s colossal ceramics takes several years to make. The clay itself takes 6 month to dry, and each work is fired twice for six weeks at a time.

The finished creations are a stimulating mix of elements: serene and self-contained forms with active surface patterns; a fragile medium enlarged into huge objects that never fail to fascinate the viewer.

© 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

In 1938 a chance discovery of metal portrait heads and a statue brought the art of Ife to the world’s attention.

Laborers digging near a palace in Ife, an ancient city in what is now Nigeria, had uncovered a treasure trove some 1000 years old.

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid, and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

An exhibition of the art of Ife showcases many of the treasures discovered in 1938.

Among them, beautiful portrait heads that date from the golden age of metal-casting in the 1300s and 1400s.

These portraits are stunning studies of the human head—elegant, refined, and serene. They reflect a Yoruba tradition that holds the qualities of self-composure—inner and outer harmony—in high regard.

The portraits—probably made for royalty—are cast of copper alloy, a precious material.

One regal head in particular is modeled with a beaded crown and a spiraling top-knot. The face shows delicately incised lines—indicating scarification—that travel from forehead to chin over the brow and high cheekbones.

Many other portraits show traces of paint and may have been draped with veils or attached to bases or effigies.

These royal portrait heads represent Ife’s rich artistic patrimony—treasures now owned by the Nigerian government and its national museums.

© 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Art in the city if Ife, now in Nigeria, flourished during the 1300s and 1400s.

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

A walled urban center, Ife connected trade routes in West Africa.

It is known for its metal sculpture of kings and queens, its terra cotta figures and vessels, and its glass beads.

Ife’s rich artistic tradition was revealed in 1938, when a cache of metal portraits heads from Ife’s golden age was discovered.

In 1943, Nigeria established the Antiquities Service to preserve the treasures for national museums. Many of the objects have been exhibited in the U.S.

One mask on exhibition depicts the ruler Obalufon II from the 1300s. Obalufon advanced the quality of life in his city and promoted the art of metal-casting.

This mask is made of copper—also called “red gold” in Africa. It is the only metal mask to have been found in Ife to date, but its smooth surface and carefully modeled features resemble those of Ife’s stunning portrait heads.

Those who wore the mask could see through slits below the eyes, breathe through holes in the nostrils, and speak through a gap between the lips.

A series of punctures around the mask indicate that a costume would have been attached to it, to complete the ensemble for royal ceremonies and rituals, perhaps for Obalufon himself.

© 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Pablo Picasso is one of history’s greatest artistic geniuses.

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid, and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

Through his inventions and experiments in abstraction, cubism, and classicism, Picasso developed new ways of seeing and responding to our visual world. His fractured planes and multiple viewpoints propelled modern art into a multitude of directions.

Picasso’s life and liaisons are legendary. His circle in Paris included some of the greatest writers and artists of the day—including Henri Rousseau.

Picasso and Rousseau were opposites in sensibilities.

Picasso, the younger artist, was famous for pushing boundaries and taking ambitious risks in art and love.

Rousseau, his elder, had been a family-man and civil servant who began painting in his 40s. His contemporaries regarded his art as “primitive and naïve.”

Still, Picasso showed an interest in Rousseau’s work, fueling Rousseau’s bold remark that he and Picasso were the two greatest artists in the world.

Rousseau made his claim following a banquet that Picasso had thrown in his honor. Some say it was a mock celebration of the elder artist; others, an occasion to embrace the unpredictable in art.

The infamous event was one of many bohemian banquets, soirees, and dinner parties that characterized the era.

Scholar Roger Shattuck later coined the phrase “The Banquet Years” for his book, which describes the heady, festive, and intellectually charged atmosphere of Picasso’s Paris.

Next time: Picasso’s Banquet and Rousseau’s Art.

© 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 

When photographer Sally Mann was growing up in rural Virginia, her father gave her a book called Art is Everywhere and an old camera. Ever since, she says, she “has been taking the everyday slice of life and making art out it.”

Hello, I’m Daphne Maxwell Reid and you’re listening to Art on the Air.

Known for portraits of her immediate family, Sally Mann began exhibiting photographs of the southern landscape in the late 1990s—brooding images of moss-covered trees, still rivers, and decaying buildings.

Mann created the photographs through the collodion technique, the same 19th century wet-plate method used by Mathew Brady for his Civil War images.

MANN: (:20)
I love the collodion process for this kind of imagery. It’s a thruway to the past… the south is redolent with the past…southern artists are always dealing with the past.

Her series of landscapes from Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana are large—up to four feet across—and their warm sepia tones evoke a past age—timeless, eternal cycles of growth, decay, and loss.

Some say her pictures are nostalgic. Sally Mann says her subjects reflect the varied and seductive paths of the heart. Her ghostly landscapes can stir deep emotions, but specific interpretations are left open to the viewer.

MANN: (:15)
I’ve learned not to hope or expect what the viewer’s going to take away from it. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do…to allow you to participate in an experience that is uniquely your own.

© 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


Image: The Sketchers (detail), circa 1913, John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), oil on canvas, 22 x 28 in.