Friday, December 4, 2009

Cezanne's Still Life with Apples, 1890-94

Ever since seeing Milton Avery's work about 5 years ago at the Hammer in UCLA, I've long been fascinated by him. (I realize there's a Cezanne posted above - getting to that.)
I'm still trying to figure out why. His work looks so simple - but there's something not so simple going on. In Milton Avery, The Late Paintings, there's a whole lot of erudite analysis of Clement Greenberg's view of Avery's work along with a lot of speculation as to the degree to which Wallace Stevens poetry may have influenced him. . . but for my money, the best insight comes from the words of the artist himself:


To the so-called conservative art lover, a picture is beautiful if it looks just like the subject, and, of course, the subject must itself be pretty. Then again if the subject is a poetical landscape, a lively snow scene, or if, in a nude, the model is voluptuous and pretty, this viewer has gotten his thrill and is satisfied that he has seen and knows what is "great art."

With this attitude there is no argument, for it is [as] futile to argue about art as it is about religion. But I cannot help but feel that this attitude is unfortunate. The so-called modern artist (and I insist the work "modern" is as confusing and ambiguous as the word "beautiful"" looks for plastic values where the conservative seeks representation. that is, the modern looks for design of form, line, color and spatial arrangement, where the conservative looks for "soul," "beautiful expression," and so-called "realism." Personally, I can see as much if not more, spirituality and soul in a painting of apples by Cezanne as in a Madonna and Child Surrounded by Angels and All the Hosts of Heaven by Murillo for the reasons I have expressed above. If people do not agree with this conception, well and good. All I can say is that they do not get the same experiences out of life and art as I do. (p. 26, Milton Avery/The Late Paintings, Robert Hobbs)

His paintings are known for their interlocking forms, design stripped to essentials, achievement of depth through the use of color instead of linear pers
pective, and focus on seizing "the one sharp instant in Nature, to imprison it by means of ordered shapes and space relationships." (p. 53) I struggle a lot with what to leave out. He just seems to know.

Here's Breaking Sea (1952):


His daughter, March, was a frequent subject of his paintings. Here's Adolescence, (1947). The reproductions do not have the same presence as the originals. What do you think of his work?


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