Larry Day: Body Language

From an exhibition at the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22:

Body Language:  The Art of of Larry Day, American, 1921-1998.

 

 

 

Larry Day, was born Lorenzo del Giorno in Philadelphia to a first-generation Italian-American family. He was baptized with the English translation of his name.  

 

His training in art was in Philadelphia. 

 

After serving in the Pacific during WW2, he began his long career training undergraduate and graduate students in Philadelphia.

 

 

 

Mrs. Myers, 1964, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

 

 

 

His focus on teaching and on creating art which he continued to make all his life made him a much admired and influential member of the Philadelphia art community. 

 

His own work began in the abstraction which was the dominant artistic mode in the 1950s.

 

In 1962, he switched to figurative and representational work: his subject was everyday life.

 

This switch was at a time when Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and others were beginning to expand the modes, goals and techniques of art.  And the eminent abstract painter, Philip Guston, quit abstraction and New York city in order to tell stories.

 

Larry Day painted in oils, pen and ink, graphite and in watercolour.  He made related drawings before and after his paintings.

 

He was also a prolific print-maker.  Interested as he was in architectural landscape, many of his paintings are grounded and framed with the precision of the architect’s eye.

 

 

 

Yard II, oil on canvas, 1972.

Larry Day, 1921-1998, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

 

 

He was a close student of medieval and classical art.  He appreciated fresco.

 

Photos and published images were often the sources and subjects of his work.

 

This is what Larry Day said about his philosophy: 

 

“I am a realist up to a point. 

“That is:  I use relative norms:  everything is recognizable but, in fact, they are not imitations of figures or places or things. 

“They are comments on, or aspects, attitudes toward, or eliminations of.

“So, the result:  I want a certain amount of distancing between the image and the thing that is being represented.”

 

 

 

 

Seated Woman, late 1950s, opaque watercolour and ink on board.  

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

 

 

Woodmere Museum notes that

‘Day believed that the ordinary in life is the source of all that is extraordinary;

 

‘and that, by questioning and reframing prevailing assumptions, he participated in the broad movement in Western thought we now call Postmodernism…

 

‘Day explored….what it meant to paint and draw the figure as a form of commentary on the ideas that govern daily life……..’

 

 

______________________

 

 

This post reproduces some of the artist’s oil paintings.

 

Most of these paintings have no central focus. 

 

Your eyes flit from place to place and face to face on the canvas again and again to determine what is going on.

 

 

In the gallery

 

 

The figures are represented as though on a stage (all the world’s a stage).

 

While in most paintings these figures do not seem to be talking to each other and very few look at each other or at the viewer,

you look and look to see how they engage with each other.

 

 

 

 

Detail of a painting below:  Conversation Piece 1, 1973-74, oil on canvas. 

 

 

 

You try to intuit the relationships of these figures by substituting your own experiences or imagination

because you have an ever-urgent need for narrative coherence. 

 

 

I found most paintings to be roiling under the surface such that I had the sensation of a possible disruption on the canvas as soon as I turned my head away. 

 

This was an unease which Larry Day’s precise architectural framing or his inclusion of common and garden objects, or the surface calm of his immobile figures, did not dispel.

 

I recognize this as the way many of us are:

roiling under the surface

alert with sub-surface apprehension and tension 

floating in private worlds sustained by  self-images captured by selfies and other social media of our own postures and impostures  

connected to each other by spider-web threads which might distend to breaking point; or might not

fearful of falling suddenly

 

 

 

 

detail of the painting below: Heidelberg Park, 1972, oil on canvas.

 

 

presenting ourselves as if on a stage or playing charades 

 

 

 

A Game of Charades (aka Charades), 1967-69, oil on canvas.

A Game of Charades (aka Charades), 1967-69, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Loan from the Larry Day Art Trust to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

 

 

with a show of self-protective confidence we may or may not feel but are encouraged to project as a sign of our poise and purposefulness

 

 

detail from the painting below: Games, 1967, oil on canvas

 

 

so as not to go down flailing.

 

 

 

 

detail of the painting below: Heidelberg Park, 1972, oil on canvas.

 

 

 

The Covid pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences have tended to increase the distance between us and turn us more and more inwards.

 

These images are thoroughly modern (again).  

As is the perennial question which they ask:

how then shall we live now?

 

 

 

The Woodmere Museum’s guidance on the title  of one of Larry Day’s paintings- Changes –

refers to the artist’s admiring discussion, some years earlier, of the work of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008, American). 

 

 

 

Changes, 1982, oil on canvas.

 

Larry Day wrote: 

“…most of the evil in the world today, the brutality and the destruction, grows out of the hatred and fear of otherness.

 

“And if there is a center around which (Rauschenberg’s) work….revolves, it is the acknowledging and embracing of the other and the awareness that we grow and are transformed by that embrace.”

 

 

 

Changes, 1982, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Private collection loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

One of the artist’s narrative self-portraits, Woodmere Museum guidance notes that this image engages with the philosophical idea of ‘the other’.  It is by reference to ‘the other’ that the self is defined.

The artist is with two of his models. Behind him is a depiction of Rosso Fiorentino’s (1494-1540, Forence, Italy) Bacchanale.  On the right a part of Joachim Wtewael’s (1566-1638, Dutch) Judgment of Paris.

 

 

 

Larry Day’s work works the space in which we float and swim, sometimes submerged: 

our interior life, our human and physical environments, and our intellectual and cultural traditions

to the end of finding ways to reconcile ourselves to all our ‘others’. 

 

———————————-

 

 

 

 

Games, 1967, oil on canvas.

This Monsanto advertisement for a soap was the inspiration of Day’s painting. 

Museum guidance is that Day was amused with the proposition that all we need for a happy life of interaction with others is a chemical solution in soap form.

 

Games, 1967, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Private collection loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

 

 

 

 

Narrative:  To the Memory of Matteo Giovannetti, 1967, oil on canvas.

Narrative:  To the Memory of Matteo Giovannetti, 1967, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Loan from the Larry Day Art Trust to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

Museum guidance is this:

Matteo Giovannetti, (1322-1368, Italian) painted the large frescoes in the Palais des Papes at Avignon which appears in the upper right with the city’s famous bridge.

1967 was a year of race riots and mass protests against the war in Vietnam.  It is not clear if that is what is being referenced here with the image of a wounded young man being taken away.  While others look on or pass by, apparently unaffected.

 

 

 

 

 

Group, 1967, oil on canvas. 

Group, 1967, oil on canvas. 

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Loan from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

A portrait of the artist’s friends – all artists – in his studio. 

Monica Vitti (1931-1992, Italian) third from left, is the one exception.  The Italian actress was popular for her roles as women with interior, questioning lives in the films of Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007, Italian)

 

 

 

 

Miss Charkow and Mrs. Melnicoff, c. 1967, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

Painter and sculptor were friends and colleagues of Larry Day.

 

 

 

 

Poker Game, 1970, oil on canvas.

Poker Game, 1970, oil on canvas. 

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

This poker game, begun in 1963, continues to this day among close friends of  Larry Day whose place at the game is shown by the empty chair in the front. 

A very well known image of the interior life conducted in company in the context of a game.

 

 

 

 

 

Harry’s Class, 1972-73, oil on canvas

Harry’s Class, 1972-73, oil on canvas

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Loan from the Larry Day Art Trust to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

A class at the University of the Arts where Larry Day taught for 35 years.

A kind of holy of holies: a rare site of permitted public nudity for the purpose of the transmission of skills and the education of the eye/hand/mind.

 

 

 

 

Heidelberg Park, 1972, oil on canvas.

 

 

 

 

 

Heidelberg Park, 1972, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Private collection loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

A depiction of the life ordinary in the evocation of a city famous for its early Medieval architecture and the intellectual traditions of one of the oldest universities in Europe.

 

 

 

 

Picnic (Outing:  Homage to Le Nain), 1970-75, oil on canvas.  

Peasant Family in an Interior, c. 1642, oil on canvas. 

One of two brothers, Louis (1603-1648) or Antoine (1600-1648), Le Nain; French.  Louvre, Paris from whose website this image

 

 

Picnic (Outing:  Homage to Le Nain), 1970-75, oil on canvas.  

Larry Day, 1921-1998, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

 

As in the tableau created by the Le Nain brothers – but unlike the grouping in the photograph – one figure looks towards us, as though inviting us, passively, into the interaction of the group.

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation Piece 1, 1973-74, oil on canvas. 

Conversation Piece 1, 1973-74, oil on canvas. 

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Private collection loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

 

 

 

 

Nude, 1978-79, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Private collection loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day by Day, 1991, oil on canvas.

Day by Day, 1991, oil on canvas.

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Philadelphia Art Museum loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

The artist at 70 looking at a model who is himself as a child.  That is Day by Day. 

Larry Day was inspired by Day by Day, 1975, the last collection of poems by Robert Lowell (1917-1977, American) which is often read as his summary understanding of his work and that of the poets of his generation who died before him and in difficult circumstances: John Berryman, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, and Sylvia Plath, his student in the early 1960s. 

These are the last words of Lowell’s Epilogue:

 

Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

 

 

Dialogue, 1992, oil on canvas.  

Dialogue, 1992, oil on canvas.  

Larry Day, 1921-1998. American.  Private loan to the Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

The artist, left, in dialogue with his friend, Mervin Richard, who has served as head of conservation at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC since 1984.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Larry Day: Body Language

  1. Luisa, Thank you for your comment. I agree with you! (I always agree with you!).

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