Original Art – Mid-Century Paintings

An original acrylic painting signed on the reverse Clement 68'
An original acrylic painting signed on the reverse Clement 68′

I LOVE art. In fact I painted for years and it gave me a deep appreciation for just how difficult producing good work can be, regardless of how “simple” certain paintings can appear.  I would love to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on original artwork and paintings for my home, but until that lottery winning day arrives I will have to settle for finding beautiful works by unknown artists and known but undervalued or yet undiscovered (by the art market) artists.  With patience and constant searching you can have great original art for your home without spending thousands of dollars.

This post I’m going to show two examples of original works I was able to find in the past year by scouring antique and vintage stores.  I have other original paintings and works I will post about later, but in those cases I have more detailed artist information so I put those in a separate category for the purposes of this blog.

This painting is an original work done in acrylic and signed on the reverse Clement (or Clements) 68.  The technical expertise and exacting attention to dimensions leads me to believe this painting was done by a trained artist, perhaps a graphic artist or even a trained draftsman.  The piece is large, measuring about 3×4 feet on canvas and is a fantastic piece with bold design balanced by subtle colors.

The painting reminds me a bit of the works on fabric (and canvas) of designer and color theorist Verner Panton. I’ve always admired Panton’s work but admit a few of his more common, mass produced fabric designs remind me too much of typical late 1970’s office decor. (Like the Mira X curve fabric in the thumbnail displayed)  I called it late 1970’s office decor, but admit looks ten times better than any typical office decor today.  I was thrilled to find an original painting with the elements of aesthetic balance, bold geometry and stylized coloring that I so admire in Panton’s better work.  (Also when just considered as part of interior decor as opposed to art I think most all of Panton’s fabric displays work exceeding well.)

An common Verner Panton fabric design
An common Verner Panton fabric design

However, as a general rule I don’t believe your selections in art should have much to do with your decor, or god forbid matching the furniture, but this painting is the best of both worlds (art and interior design) it is a stand out piece on its own but it also happens to go marvelously with the style of my home.

The next painting I discovered a few years ago in packed to the rafters antique store/flea market space that took up the entire back room of a warehouse.  It is an original oil painting and it’s big, approximately 5 x 2.5 feet, entitled “Where is the Witch.”  I must admit a soft spot for big pieces of art, there’s something so great about a big bold painting in a room.  (If I win the lottery I would go out and buy one of Warhol’s wall size silk screens.)

A rarity, this painting has wonderful provenance in the form of numerous show and exhibit tags on the back that detail the title, artist name, artist address, date, various museums and art shows it was displayed in, the price and eventually a tag indicating the estate/ collection the painting finally ended up in. Never had I have so much clear information on a painting and still been able to find out so little, because the artist’s name was John Calhoun.

"Where's the Witch" Oil painting by John Calhoun 1967
“Where’s the Witch” Oil painting by John Calhoun 1967

John Calhoun is a popular and common name but it also happens to be a historically famous name of a Senator and the 7th Vice-President of the United States.  It makes trying to do online research on the mid-20th century Indiana artist named John Calhoun virtually impossible. I haven’t given up hope but the usual methods will not suffice if I ever want to get any more information on this artist.

Original art and paintings differs greatly from furniture and other objects of industrial design I collect or admire.  Furniture and many examples of mid century decor were produced on a large or industrial scale, there were production records, catalogs, import records, blueprints, advertisements, production took a team of designers and manufacturers/artisans. etc.. In other words there is a lot of documentation of these pieces.  However, original art and especially works on paper or canvas are a different animal entirely.

There were many good artists all over the world producing wonderful work with little notice or acclaim outside of their region or lifetime.  While turning up a piece of art and discovering it was from some “famous” artist is great, it’s never something I count or or factor into the equation when buying original art via second hand venues.  In that respect it has a distinct advantage over the art world and the art market because you simply buy a piece of art based on it’s value and beauty to you – not a name, not a reputation, not fame, not an investment.  Unknown original work must stand on its own merits,  appreciated entirely on what is before you.  In that respect it meets a higher standard that many pieces in the art world.  I know quite a few people who own unremarkable looking paintings but simply bought them because of the artists name signed in the corner, not because this particular was great or even good, but simply because other works by this artist were great, famous or sold for obscene sums (usually all three) and now just the artist name alone makes the painting valuable or sought after, regardless of the particular works merits.
Irregardless of the artist or price involved good art is a vital part of a beautiful home and I think a good life.  Great original art is even more special because you have been entrusted with the only known example of this art – and this makes you appreciate it all the more.  Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have a great lithograph or print (& I have quite a few) than bad original art – and there is plenty of bad original art out there.  But this is why finding an original work of merit and beauty makes it all the more special and can add an important element to your home like nothing else can.

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2 Comments

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  1. I’m wondering if you’re still looking for info on John

    Calhoun. “Where’s the Witch” looks like the work of the John Calhoun that graduated from DePauw University. I believe he was, at one point, teaching at a university in Indiana. Also I own one of his paintings.

    • Yes, I believe I actually found him last year listed as a studio electrician. The age was right and he had listed a Master of Fine Arts degree from DePauw in his CV so I’m pretty sure it must have been the same man. Unfortunately the webpage that listed him was very out of date and so was the contact info. so I was unable to reach him. Send a photo of your painting, I’d be curious to see it.

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