Sunday, November 29, 2009

I love what Michael Kimmelman, art critic for the NY Times, has to say about Wayne Thiebaud's work. In his book on the consolations of art he talks about why they appeal to us, and I think he nails it. What do they possess that other deceptively simple works lack? Above is Pies, Pies, Pies from 1961.

Kimmelman says:

After a while Thiebaud's pictures prompt something more complicated than plain joy -- as with Chardin, closer to the nature of memory, which is always a tricky affair. This reaction slowly registers in our minds as the gap between what actually was -- between those cloying Boston cream pies that we really ate nad the gum-ball machines that ate our pennies - and the world as we wished it to be. Thiebaud gave us not real cheese but Platonic cheese, as the writer Adam Gopnik once put it. And this gap between reality and desire ushers in, in Thiebaud's art, even more than in Chardin's a sadness after the first leaping rush of pleasure. Thiebaud's art is not about the perfect world. It is about the fact that the world never was and still isn't perfect, except perhaps the little imaginary part of it to which we can briefly retreat in these paintings and thereby glimpse the way all things ought to be. (p. 222-3, The Accidental Masterpiece)

I think he may be right. He goes on to consider the artist's depictions of people and explains his view that Thiebaud's people are more like Vermeer's than Hopper's lonely figures. They may be minutely described, but we can read just about anything into those faces. We cannot ever really know more about them than we can about strangers we pass in the store or on the street. Here's Vermeer's Girl with a Pe
arl Earring along with Thiebaud's Two Kneeling Figures.

What do you think? Do you agree? Are they ciphers?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Charis Wilson died November 20th at 95. The LA Times carries the obituary of this free spirited woman who met Edward Weston when she was 20 and he was 48. She became his wife and muse for many years, and used her writing talent to edit many of his books and write several of her own.

This photography still seems compelling after so many years. Why is it so intriguing? Is it better not to see her face?

I would love to hear a few comments. . . .are you out there? Bill M.? Pamela? Julie?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A short post so you can start peeling those potatoes. . .

In On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, Michael Kimmelman says:

Most artists, like most people, have one good idea or maybe two in life, and that sustains them. In the best circumstances, that's plenty for a career. George Morandi, the great Italian still life painter, quietly toiled away in Bologna, in the home he shared with his mother and three unmarried sisters, in a bedroom that doubled as a studio, seemingly oblivious and immune to shifting tastes, painting little bunches of bottles, bowls, and biscuit tins. His message - look slowly and hard at something subtle and small = was simple but turned out to be plenty. It sustained him.

What do you think? Are you in the middle of exploring an idea that will sustain you?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"If art isn't playful, it's nothing." David Hockney

It seems that I am still struggling to understand the problems of perspective and how they relate to Cubism when David Hockney comes along and explains it so well I can finally get it through my thick, many-sided head. Above is Picasso's Portrait of Emilie-Marguerite Walter, 1939, alongside her photo.

Hockney asserts that the "major problem with traditional perspective, as it was developed in fifteenth-century European painting and persists to this day in the approach of most standard photography, is that it stops time. For perspective to be fixed, time has stopped and hence space has become frozen, petrified. Perspective takes away the body of the viewer. You have a fixed point, you have no movement; in short you are not there, really. That is the problem. Photography hankers after the the condition of the neutral observer. But here can be no such thing as a neutral observer. For something to be seen, it has to be looked at by somebody, and any true and real depiction should be an account of the experience of that looking." (from David Hockney, A Retrospective by Tuchman and Barron.

As he explains in much more detail, there's really no going back once you understand that the viewer is part of the view, or as Juan Gris said that "Cubism wasn't a style, it's a way of life." He also points to the words of Pierre Daix who explained that this revolution in the understanding of pictorial space was "in all probability linked to the simultaneous fact that physics was simultaneously destroying our three-dimensional space time perception." (from Neuchatel: Ides et Calendes, 1979, 184; translation: "Vogue par David Hockney," Vogue, Paris, Dec. 1985-Jan. 1986. 256.

Endless inventive, Hockney has been finding new ways to break up space, eliminate borders and include the viewer for decades now. And in all this, he sees a way to be free and play, without the constrictions of one-point perspective. Not sure if I'm encouraged or discouraged by all this ability and originality. What do you think?

Here's his current website where you can view the photocollage, Prehistoric Museum Near Palm Springs, 1982, as well as one of his more recent works painted in England, Garrowby Hill (1997).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Above is Mulholland Drive.

David Hockney continues to amaze me with his endless inventiveness. He seems to be interested in understanding everything from physics to optics - and all his studies spill over into his work.

One of his prints, Nichols Canyon, hangs over our piano, so I was interested to come across his thoughts on another work from that time period. Remember seeing Mulholland Drive at a retrospective years ago at LACMA - it's the giant one, 7 feet by 22 feet. What I didn't know then how he was exploring the way time and space are dealt with by the artist. He had been browsing through a book called Principles of Chinese Painting by George Rowley.

He got so excited he sped over to Metropolitan in New York to see Chinese scrolls. What captivated him was not brush work or subjects, but the way the Chinese dealt with depth and perspective. Here's the explanation he gave in a lecture at the time:

When the Chinese were faced with the same problem of spatial depth in the T'ang period, they reworked the early principles of time and suggested a space through which one might wander and a space which implied more space beyond the picture frame. We restricted space to a single vista as though seen through an open door; they suggested the unlimited space of nature as though they had stepped through that open door and had known the sudden breathtaking experience of space extending in every drection and infinitely into the sky. (David Hockney Retrospective, Tuchman and Barron, LACMA)

He was fascinated by the way the viewer takes in the images on the scroll a little at a time as it is unrolled. (These unroll horizontally, not vertically, and come out of a box you hold in your hands. You cannot just glance at them.)

Hockney explained how the experience of viewing a work on the scroll, watching the landscape literally unfold, scene by scene, and tree by tree, without and borders or breaks, is quite a dramatically different experience from viewing a Western landscape while you're standing completely still and looking at one place.

Being Hockney, he has a lot more light to shed on this, all pretty interesting, I think. Do you like his work as much as I do? A quick look at his work is always fun, but for me, understanding what he was up to adds a whole other dimension to my appreciation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Of course if you want to paint you have to look at everything. . ." Franz Kline

Would you have guessed this is a Franz Kline?

He is so f
irmly associated now with his black and white abstractions that it came as a surprise to me to learn about his earlier years, scraping together enough money for materials and expenses, painting murals for restaurants. After studying art in Boston and England, he came to New York in 1938, and took a job at a women's clothing store. According to biographer Harry F. Gaugh, he was fired as a display designer after falling through a bridal window display.

The mural above was painted for the Bleeker Street Tavern in 194

Here's a later work, Chatham Square, 1948, with figures becoming
ess important -seems to be all about the rectangles, the repeated shapes.

Always tricky to try to trace a line from an artist back to his influences, but Gaugh sees connections between Kline and Velasquez, Manet, Whistler, Mondrian, and others. Kline said:

You could say Manet and Velasquez
- you see the coral world of Velasquez, his organization of the past - but their paintings don't 'influence' mine. It would take a top kind of egotist to say, 'Velasquez is related to what I'm doing.' So it's not a matter of rejecting the past, but if you fall more in love with it, your own painting escapes you. And of course if you want to paint you have to look at everything; you can't help seeing the past. (p. 128, Franz Kline by HF Gaugh)

Despite this warning, Gaugh suggests th
ere's a link between Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (Whistler's Mother) and Kline's Painting No. 7:

Link? No link? What's your view?

When you're struggling every day to make decisions about color, composition, etc., I think it's interesting to hear an artist say he/she doesn't always feel completely in control of artistic choices. Kline did produce some paintings that included color, and apparently always had color on his palette. But here's this recollection of Leo Steinberg about Kline's 1956 show:

I remember his words to me - almost apologetic about having produced yet another show of mostly black paintings. 'I'm always trying t
o bring color into my paintings, but it keeps slipping away and so here I am with another black show.' What struck me about that statement was the passivity of the formulation; as though blackness were happening to him by force-majeur - something he had no control over. (p.132.)

Here's a detail from Andrus, 1961. You see Kline clones often enough, but I don't know - I think there's something that's just right about his work, something physical and bold, that sets his apart.

Friday, November 13, 2009

So much of where you wind up has to do with small twists and accidental meetings. There have been scores of jokes about Whistler's mother, but apparently she was a rather formidable person who had high expectations of her children. James went to West Point, but was not exactly a top student. When examined in chemistry about the nature of silicon, "he stood up and said: 'I am required to discuss the subject of silicon. Silicon is a gas.'

Having accumulated scores of demerits, this marked the end of his career there. Many years later he is said to have remarked, "If silicon had
been a gas, I would have been a major general."

This set-back did not seem to dampen his resolve to find some work with the army. Besides, mother was not pleased. Through a West Point friend, he managed to get hired by the Drawing Division (I suppose that's long gone) and wound up learning etching which served him well and provided some income during one of his numerous bleak financial periods.
Above is Annie Seated.

Here's the earliest painting that gained him some notoriety, At the Piano (1858-59). I think if the girl's face had been rendered more realistically, if would have been too balanced and less interesting. What do you think? Also like the curve of the piano against the straighter lines of the framed pictures. It's said he struggled to paint hands, was almost never happy with the results, and found clever ways to avoid painting them.

I'm still struggling with faces and often turn them away. Years ago at a class at UCLA the instructor suggested I just give up on the portrait and throw the face into shadow. It was about 15 years before I tried painting again. It would have helped to have a bit of the kind of resolve Whistler had. He was constantly derided by the critics, but went his own way with his moody, increasingly abstract pieces.

Here's Noturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Maybe you already know about Belle Baranceanu and her work. You probably do if you live in La Jolla where her mural might make waiting in line more bearable - Scenic View of the Village, 1935-36), at left. Better in color, I'm sure.

She was born in Minneapolis but was sent to CA in 1921 to live with an uncle after her father became concerned that she was becoming romantically involved with her art teacher, Anthony Angarola. (Skip to end for more about this sad story.)

At school with Angarola she absorbed the influences of Cezanne and the cubists, but she eventually turned away from entirely abstract images.

Her choice of subjects at times
revealed a feeeling for the dignity of every person. In 1926 she wrote, "Commonplace people are at every moment the chief and essential linksin the chain of human affairs; if we leave them out, we lose all semblance of truth." Here's Virginia, 1926. I like those large Picasso-style hands.

The WPA came along at just the right time for her. She embarked on a series of murals, some which have been moved to preserve them, and two that survive in situ. Her favorite, the Seven Arts, was destroyed when La Jolla High School's auditorium was declared seismically unstable - she used to "scamper along the scaffolding while the sc
hool orchestra practiced below" according to the account on the account on the San Diego Historical Society website.

Two murals survive in San Diego - besides the one at the post office, there's one at the Balboa Park Club.

Here's another I like, Riverview Section of Chicago, 1926. There is so much to draw the eye with the variety of shapes, curving lines, interesting disrega
rd for perspective to bring some objects forward - she usually leaves empty space for the eye to rest, as well. I like that nothing fights too hard for your attention in this piece. What do you think?

Footnote: About that sad story, there are conflicting accounts about how seriously she was involved with Angarola. The San Diego Historical Society site takes an entirely different view than the account in the American Art Review (October 2006). The former posits that he was more of a mentor and that perhaps she was not interested in men at all, but planned to marry him as a dear friend and mentor; the latter says she was planning on marrying him and devastated when he died from an aneurysm caused by a car accident in Paris some days before. In any case, she was a strong person who carried on with her work, forging her own style and finding work to support herself, teaching, and becoming involved with local arts organizations.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Katherine Chang Liu

Really like the work of Katherine Chang Liu. Here's Qualia: texture, line, areas of smoky color, areas of layered complexity, tension between the shapes on the left and the shapes on the right, and that meandering yellow line leading down and away.

Must confess I had to go to the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy online to look up the title's meaning - philosophers refer to qualia as the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of our mental lives. Clear, no?

Actually, this helps: Feelings and experiences vary widely. For example, I run my fingers over sandpaper, smell a skunk, feel a sharp pain in my finger, seem to see bright purple, become extremely angry. In each of these cases, I am the subject of a mental state with a very distinctive subjective character. There is something it is like for me to undergo each state, some phenomenology that it has. Philosophers often use the term ‘qualia’ (singular ‘quale’) to refer to the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of our mental lives. For more, click here.
For less, read on.

I recall reading an interview she gave to VIVA (Valley Institute for Visual Arts) in Los Angeles sometime ago. She said something along the lines of "don't look too carefully at the work of artists whose works yours closely resembles - you don't want to become a clone."

Here's another of Katherine Chang Liu's that I will try not to look at too much:
On Different Mornings.

Took a terrific workshop Saturday with Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch.
Trying to follow Liu's suggestion to figure out your strengths and work to build on them. Felt awkward and new, but here's what I came up with trying encaustic.
Can always melt it and rework it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." Michelangelo

Still remember going to see the David at the Galleria dell'Accademia with a Canadian student I'd met on the train to Florence. "Wow, it's amazing" she said as we made our way toward the David. She glanced at the infiniti (unfinished slaves) that stood along the side of the hall. "Some of these others aren't so good." Someone overheard her and set her straight: the four slaves had been commissioned for the tomb of Pope Julius, but they never were completed. And many think it's just as well.

Above is Atlas.
I think it's my favorite - so much power and movement.

The weight of the world is so clearly upon him even if you can only tell roughly where Atlas' head would be.

Apparently Michelangelo usually began work on the torso and
proceeded to chisel from the center of the piece to the extremities. Of course he famously spoke of his work as merely freeing the figure from the stone, but it seems there's something more to it than that. He had to be able to see it first in his mind's eye before he could free it. It's incredible to think that one could create so flawlessly with no do-overs.

Some scholars think the statue known as the Bearde
d Slave was finished by someone else. Don't the legs look too short and rather awkward?

As a point of comparison, here's the Dying Slave. It's at the Louvre and he's very much finished, dreamy, beautiful, highly polished and looking very near giving up the ghost.

Do you spend much time deciding what degree of finish you want with your work, be it artwork or writing? Is there a rawness that is appealing? Or do you struggle with whether the rawness will just seem . . .not dealt with sufficiently? Unedited?

Some years ago during a class at Otis I was encouraged not to finish a piece, just to stop. While the painting has other short-comings, the thing I now like best about it is the unfinished lower edge.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"You come to nature with all your theories, and she knocks them all flat." Renoir

The internet is such an entertaining medium. When looking for info about Renoir's The Large Bathers, I couldn't help but notice the ads in the side bar. Large bikinis offered by a place called managed to catch my eye and I couldn't help but wonder at the click-through rate. Does this placement work? Maybe something in the Louvre gift shop would be worth a try. . .

Here's the painting, without the bikinis, but with the soft-edge style and subject matter he focused on after turning away from impressionism and pursuing classicism.

Thinking about artists who worked while ill since I've got a child on my hands with 105.3 temp. She's usually working with her paper and scissors, but is totally down for the count. Made me think about those who persist when they don't feel well. Renoir started to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis as early as 1907 and had some difficulty clutching a brush, but he continued nonetheless to produce scores of paintings. Matisse's struggles with illness are well known, as are is ingenious ways around it such as working from his bed with a long pole.

Maybe it's more a question of "how can I stop?" rather than "how can I continue?" Art as a compulsive pursuit - an OCD of sorts.