This week the Hartford Advocate published a very nice article on money and money art. Here are some excerps, but be sure to read the whole piece at the newspaper's web site. -Editor In 1936, Henry Miller published a pamphlet called "Money and How It Gets That Way." It is not one of the works for which he is best remembered, partly because it's written in an academic style that can only be dubbed "counterfeit Henry." But Miller did succeed in his goal, which was not to settle the problem of money but to "unsettle" it. At the time of the pamphlet's publication, the world was mired in the Great Depression.
The article discusses the nature of money and includes a segment about money artist J.S.G. Boggs, then focuses on another artist using a money theme. -Editor
Boggs' conceptual exercise might seem a bit esoteric to some, but the point he was making was the same one Miller made in his pamphlet: to unsettle people about their relationship to money. In short, the real world went through exactly the sort of existential dilemma that Boggs was positing in the fantasy world of his artistry. His ultimate goal was to force "collectors" to ask themselves: Is art worth bunches of little green pieces of paper, or does art have a value beyond that?
For the people who could afford Boggs' own artwork, the answer was clear: It's an investment and a status symbol. So, what is money? Or for that matter, what is art?
Closer to home we have Michael Theise, a prodigiously talented artist in Wallingford, who paints — among other things — currency, stock certificates, Wall Street Journals, and Monopoly boards. The graduate of Paier College of Art in Hamden has, at age 50, become one of America's foremost tromp l'oeil painters — his renderings of reality so precise and tantalizing they are said to "fool the eye." You really feel as if you can peel the dollar bills off of his canvases.
"Often after a showing of my work, I find little scratches on the surface of the painting where people have actually tried to peel the bills off," says Theise, whose work was until recently on display at the New Britain Museum of American Art's New/Now gallery, and is sold at the Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme and the Vose Gallery in Boston.
"I started doing the currency to make people stop in their tracks and look at the paintings. They were breezing past my other tromp l'oeil paintings, thinking they were collages, and only stopping at the pictures of money. Money is instantly recognizable and any viewer can tell if the likeness is right or wrong."
Rather than, like Boggs, making some esoteric statement about the value of art and money, Theise simply finds currency aesthetically pleasing. To him, in its way, a 5-dollar bill or a 10-pound note is a small work of art.
"Not only are the bills works of art, they are also a history lesson," says Theise. "You learn what cultures value by what they put on their bills."
Theise is also well aware of the trompe l'oeil tradition in America, dating back to 19th-century masters like William Harnett and John Haberle and including 20th-century painters like Boggs and Otis Kaye; the latter Theise considers one of the most underappreciated artists of his time.
"There's definitely an established history of painting money in America. Some artists got in trouble, some flaunted it. I'm not trying to fool anyone. I want people to realize that these are paintings of money."
To read the complete article, see: The Root of All Evil: Money and how it got that way (http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=11397)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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