• additional view of artwork by Denise Marts
  • additional view of artwork by Denise Marts
  • additional view of artwork by Denise Marts
  • additional view of artwork by Denise Marts
  • additional view of artwork by Denise Marts

"Howlin' Wolf"


United States

Painting
Size: 30 H x 24 W x 2 in

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Art Description

Painting: Acrylic, Latex, Paper, Ink and pencil on Canvas.

This is an abstract portrait of the American blues musician, Howlin' Wolf. It was inspired by a wonderful black and white photograph taken by American photographer, Baron Wolman, the first chief photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine famous for his iconic photographs of the revolutionary 1960's music scene in America. The photograph of Howlin' Wolf is included here with Baron Wolman's kind permission along with some of his notes about him.

"It was Howlin' Wolf who wrote and made this song popular: "Oh-oh, smokestack lightning Shinin' just like gold. Why don't ya hear me cryin'? Ah-hoo-hoo, oh..." Hey, when you're blue, you're blue, nothin' much to do about it but sing. Chester Arthur Burnett, known as Howlin' Wolf, is remembered as a Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player. There is something I quite like about this 1968 portrait I made of him - for me, musicians don't always have to be playing for their own distinct humanity to be evident. Originally from Mississippi, with his booming voice and looming physical presence (6'3", 275 pounds), he is one of the best known Chicago blues artists. As usual, I direct you to Wikipedia for a fascinating rundown of Burnett's life and career. In 1952, when Chess Records secured his contract, Howlin' Wolf relocated from Arkansas to Chicago. There he formed a new band, recruiting Jody Williams from Memphis Slim's band as his first guitarist. Within a year he enticed guitarist Hubert Sumlin to leave Memphis and join him in Chicago; Sumlin's understated solos perfectly complemented Burnett's huge voice. In the early 1960s, Howlin' Wolf recorded several songs that became his most famous, including "Wang Dang Doodle," "Back Door Man," "The Red Rooster (later known as 'The Little Red Rooster'), and others. Several became part of the repertoires of British and American rock groups who further popularized them. In the end, Wolf was so financially successful that he was able to offer band members not only a decent salary, but benefits such as health insurance; this in turn enabled him to hire his pick of available musicians and keep his band one of the best. Howlin' Wolf passed away in 1976; on his gravestone are etched both a guitar and a harmonica..." - Baron Wolman

An interesting and unexpected thing happened with the Howlin' Wolf portrait. I started out with the clear intention of inserting a human male figure to the right of the wolf to represent the human aspect of the subject. After having completely failed at that in such a way that I thought I had ruined the piece, the thought occurred to me that there is always a solution and that there is no painting that cannot be redeemed. I surrendered and then this wonderful bird-man figure on the right began to emerge. Notice how the lower jaw of the wolf simultaneously forms the bird's head and beak pointing down. This was unintentional, at least on a conscious level. The bird-man has both a decidedly African and Native American feel. It is particularly reminiscent of an African Senufo sculpture from my personal collection. Yet the symbology of the wolf is Native American, not African. In all my years as a collector of African sculpture I do not ever recall coming across a representation of a wolf. To me this is all information about the broader dimensions of this individual which transcend a single lifetime or culture. Another interesting aspect about this portrait is that the first thing I saw in my mind's eye before starting it was the soft, beautiful rose tones. This may seem a surprising color palette for a big, burly man like Howlin' Wolf. What it means though is that he was a very loving, heart-centered individual and this is very consistent with "the blues"...

Keywords: portrait, rose, black, blues, wolf, Picasso, kandinsky, wolman, tamayo, cubism, abstract, musician

Subjects: People

Styles: Abstract, Cubism, Figurative, Portraiture, Fine Art

Mediums: Acrylic, Latex, Paper, Ink, pencil

Artist Recognition

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4 months ago