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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘DeGrazia’ more Ettore than Ted

    Tucson artist Ettore “”Ted”” DeGrazia (1909-1982) may be most recognized today for painting faceless Native American children Çÿ la Precious Moments, but the new exhibit, “”DeGrazia: A Modernist Perspective,”” at the Tucson Museum of Art reminds us that DeGrazia’s life and oeuvre were not limited to UNICEF holiday cards.

    “”Sibelius Finlandia Opus 26,”” circa 1940s, is an oil painting on canvas that was part of DeGrazia’s Master’s thesis – done at the UA – in which he explored the relationship between classical music and art. The piece’s dramatic colors match the dramatic sounds of “”Finlandia, Op. 26″” by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

    The painting was originally unveiled at the Arizona Daily Star building in 1945 while a Victrola phonograph played “”Finlandia, Op. 26.””

    Although dominantly abstract, “”Sibelius Finlandia Opus 26″” includes images that recall the theme of industrialization within the Mexican muralist tradition. Sharp, dark blue strokes look like skyscrapers cracking into the sky. Orange and red lines and circles suggest an antenna broadcasting. Dark browns and reds outline what appear to be drums and thunderbolts.

    The muralist influence in “”Sibelius Finlandia Opus 26″” makes sense when you notice an anonymous photograph of DeGrazia with famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. DeGrazia studied under Rivera and Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco in Mexico City in the 1940s.

    Mexican folk art and Fauvist influences come together in “”Yellow Cow”” and “”Ismas Jungle.”” DeGrazia produced both oil paintings in 1947 while on honeymoon in Mexico with his second wife, New York sculptor Marion Sheret. Perhaps the magentas, yellow, aquas, turquoise greens and blues of both paintings recall a Mexican zarape blanket the couple might have snuggled in. That said, the strong colors of both pieces undercut realistic representation in a move where color outdoes shape. When was the last time you saw a yellow cow or a magenta pig? The exuberant colors say less about cows and pigs than they do about a powerful emotional state – and maybe for DeGrazia, that state was being in love.

    In one corner is a grouping of works that bring up a Warholian concern with the relationship between art, culture and commodities. “”Our Lady,”” a 1955 pop art rendering of the Virgin of Guadalupe, hangs next to “”Cacti Fabric design (W3744),”” a 1960s ink and watercolor which transferred, at least partially, onto a skirt. An original ad for the skirt reads, “”A great Southwest artist paints a picturesque desert scene … DeGrazia, who knows the Papagayo Indians so well, tells the whole story in your SunWest skirt.”” According to the ad, the skirt was also available in “”Pow wow purple”” for just $4.98.

    “”DeGrazia: A Modernist Perspective”” opened as part of the festivities of the DeGrazia Centennial Weekend. The exhibit runs in the John K. Goodman Pavilion of the Tucson Art Museum until Oct. 25.

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