Monday, June 28, 2010

This week marks one year since I started this blog. I began with the intent of plugging some of the gaping holes in my knowledge of art history, and I feel that while there is still so much to learn, the holes aren't quite so gaping. Tempus is fugiting as far as time to paint goes, and so in order to be able to devote more time to pushing the paint around, I've decided to wrap up this project. So this last one today will be it.

Just read a really long piece by Russian-born artist Olitski describing the incredibly long time it took for him to break into a gallery. (Of his appointment with dealer Betty Parsons years ago, he recalls the assistant saying, "Oh, she must have forgotten. She's gone for the day."

Finally, he got his foot in the door when he made up a story about a persecuted Russian artist who had painted these pictures - would the dealer (Alexander Iolas) please take a look? Iolas proclaims him a genius but insists on meeting the artist. Olitski has no choice but to tell the truth. He got his show.

Here's one I like for its rich layering, called Third Day, acrylic on canvas, 2000. Since I'm trying to create richer surfaces and experiment with color, I'm finding out how hard it is not to have some of those colors just go flat or come forward too much. Somehow there is both tension and harmony here, don't you think?

Above left at top is a print by Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil, Untitled, 1950. Included it today for its balancing theme and ghostly character.

Thank you all who've visited, commented and lurked.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tomato, tomahto. . . how about Brancusi ? If you're like me you have been pronouncing it incorrectly for years - just learned it's pronounced Brancoosh- and it's Romanian, not Italian. He left Romania early in his life to study and work in France, but evidently he never really stopped creating art that had its touchstones back in Romania.

In Writers on Art, the British novelist Paul Bailey talks about how Brancusi "revivifies the images of rural Romania - the Byzantine icons, the wayside crosses and altars, the 'death poles.' (p. 257)
(About those death poles which I'd never heard of - apparently Ceausescu bulldozed quite a few village graveyards, destroying many - but they point toward the sky and signify the soul of the deceased on the way to heaven.)

Above is The Kiss. Maybe he got the idea for the theme from Rodin because he worked in his studio for two years at the beginning of his career. There are a number of versions of this. This particular one was carved in 1907 and adorns a grave. (Many of Brancusi's early commissions were funerary monuments.)

Bailey feels that given the sculptor's Orthodox background, he probably saw death as a part of life, and did not feel it needed to be sentimentalized or glossed over. The man and woman are carved out of rough stone, and certainly do appear to be united (even codependent). Reminds me of Cycladic sculpture in its simplicity. What do you think?

So many artists are lauded for their ability to simplify. But it is so hard to do well. Look how perfect this Sleeping Muse is. Just enough detail. Just the right size (6 x 11 x 7). Amazing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I'm sure I'm racking up overdue fines, but I've been hanging on to a book, Writers on Artists, that has paired writers with artists, each writer taking a few pages to talk about an artist. Today, sitting in the 55 degree summer weather at the neighborhood pool I had plenty of time to read about Chaim Soutine. You probably already know that he did not live a very long life.*

Now that I've talked about how great this book is, I'll complain that there is a seam running right thru the painting, and all kinds of searching online proved futile in finding another version of this painting, Man Walking the Stairs.

Can you make out the painting? Here's what English poet, Tom Paulin, (who grew up in Belfast) has to say about this painting:

. . .the stairs are outside in a stormy garden where they seem as wile and as bent as the trees an Gogh or Kokoschka would've recognized which isn't to say it's at all a secondhand garden only these trees are ecstatic dionysiac deeply unsettled oil and ocher and deadened raw. . .(page 289)
(I have yet to paint a dionysiac tree; best done under the influence?) He goes on in to talk about how the trees almost resemble a mob which "turns all those swirls into street action . . .

Of course, there's much more than I can include here. We'll never know what Soutine's intentions were, but here are Paulin's thoughts in free verse about the man who is "hunched or contorted in some way" and

has he his hands behind his back like a prisoner?
so maybe he is taking a last look over his shoulder?
-it could be the Bridge of Sighs then transposed to nature?
though of course a garden is more than nature
just as the Bridge of Sighs is more than a stone opera
just as the man climbing the steps or the stairs is more than a man climbing
in the year nineteen hundered and twentytwo
-like a prisoner or a refugee this man's been told - walk!
and everything - storm trees oily shapes colors
everything in the painting is unhappy is coerced
or coercive
except within it the spirit of the painter that represents
the man
almost as though he's the Wandering Jew who has been
ordered to act the part of a felon
desperately treading a treadmill in a circus tent
that a big wind blown into rips and tatters

*Soutine was born in Lithuania in 1893, managed to study art over the objections of his family, went to Paris where struggled to paint and live, working to dig ditches. A wealthy American collector, Albert Barnes, noticed his work, bought several paintings, and helped him climb out of poverty. During the WWII he managed to hide with the help of friends, but his lover, Gerda Groth, was captured and sent to a concentration camp. They never saw each other again. He died of an illness in 1943. (Writers on Artists, foreward by A.S. Byatt, 2001)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Monday's post included a sculpture by Bernar Venet that I came upon in a magazine. He joins the long list of sculptors I knew very little about. The challenges of sculpture, of course, are the same as with painting - what to do when it's all been done?

In an essay he wrote in the seventies, Venet discussed the philosophical underpinnings of his work:

For Venet, there was an overabundance of nonfigurative and figurative imagery in the visual arts. Indeed, he thought that they had been done to death, and that the only way to rescue art from itself, from entropic redundancy, was by basing it on the mathematical graph- which for (Jacques)Bertin was the only true monosemic image. It is a completely rational model, Venet wrote, arguing that art must become "solely a place of manifestation of a code." (ArtForum, February 2003)

ArtForum's Donald Kuspit continues: Is it correct, then, to consider Venet's sculptures and drawings in this exhibition as illustrations of this code and, as such, conceptual? Are they a kind of applied mathematics? Not entirely. Each of Venet's "Arcs," 1976- (not included in this show but see image below), is a measurable segment of a circle's circumference, usually accompanied both in the title and work itself by the mathematical formula that "describes" it. But Venet also makes "Indeterminate Lines," 1983-, which he regards as "free" and "not definable mathematically"-thus wittingly subverting his own premises, as though to signal that rendering a code artistically is implicitly irrational. . . . .the graph line becomes convulsive and eccentric, seeming to lose its bearings. It becomes playful and unpredictable. . . . Indeed, it becomes a grand gesture-an eloquently dramatic expression of space. As Venet says, "randomness is one of the rules of the game," which produces at least the appearance of absurdity, "freeing sculpture from the constraints of composition."

Above intederminate line (rolled steel, 1994). Here are Arcs from the 2009 Venice Biennale:

If you go to his website, you'll see that he provides both a brief and a detailed biography. Naturally, I went for the brief version, but there were so many tantalizing tidbits that I had to go back and read the detailed version.

Here are a few: "Creates a ballet, Graduation, to be danced on a vertical plane" and later, "decides, for theoretical reasons, to cease producing art."

The bare bones are: born in France in 1941, is incredibly versatile and following the hiatus from art, works in a wide range of media: painting, sculpture, soundwork, furniture, and photography.

I'm always very wary of anything that seems gimmicky, so I was kind of surprised to like the 15- second video sound piece that pops up automatically when you click on his website. Sounds like church bells; makes you want to be part of the action. What do you think?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Over the past few weeks several people have asked me to include a little more about what I'm working on, so here goes. Above is a detail from a painting I'm still struggling with. I'm interested in playing with ideas of and obliteration and erasure. I've always loved maps and history, so I've been looking at the idea of how places can be wiped out and then papered right over, or built upon, and then others go on about their business with no idea of the destruction beneath their feet. But of course some people do know, and do remember, and so that must alter their feelings about the place.

Above is the corner of Holmes and Reva in Cerritos, California. I used to drive past it on during the late 1986 after an Aeromexico plane came down, wiping out 10 houses, damaging a lot of others, and killing a total of 83. First the debris was cleared up, then there was a big dirt lot for awhile, and finally, after I didn't seem to be driving that way anymore, big giant houses when up to replace the more modest 70s ramblers surrounding them. And now, if you go to, you can see that one is for sale for 950K. I'd be surprised if there was any mention of the history of that plot of land. And would it matter to you? Would you feel as though you were buying a house of spirits? Does what you don't know really not hurt you? (Do I sound like Carrie Bradshaw trying to be Isabel Allende?)

Anyway, with the boon of Google maps, it's possible to drop in on places we remember that have been altered, that carry some memory of fear or horror, and see what the look like now, after the events/construction/activity of a few decades or a few centuries have obliterated their appearance and rearranged the atmosphere of the place.

Do you have places you recall as especially interesting or powerful? Were they meaningful only after you read about the history of the place or did you have an instinctive response to the place before learning its past?

P.S. If you'd like to read more, there's a short LA Times article written 10 years after the crash. I found it interesting that almost no one agreed to be interviewed and those questioned told the city they did not want any commemoration of the event. Only one family of those who lost relatives stayed in the area (and that family is interviewed.) All the others left.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A friend from LA who comments often on this blog sent an article I've long since misplaced but still recall comparing Agnes Martin to Georgia O'Keeffe and coming down squarely in favor of Martin (feeling that O'Keefe was too kitschy).

Her work is always spare and often based on clean, geometric grids or simple lines across the canvas.

Here's Stars. Although it looks like a graph at first glance, I like the fact that the color is not uniform but shifts subtly throughout. The edges looking almost like fabric, and the tiny grid pattern and border are not uniform either. Looks like small stitches across the bottom near her signature. All those human touches to alter and soften an image that might have looked machine-made reveal the hand of the maker.

Trolling for information about her, I came upon a video created in 1997. Even if you only watch the first two minutes, you get a sense of her clear and simple approach to painting: get out of your own way, be still and wait for inspiration to come to you, and then paint. She shuns anything that seems to be too intellectual, preferring an emotional response. (Her hair is pretty no-nonsense as well). She died in Taos in 2004. I was surprised to learn she started her college career at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, my husband's hometown and the city where "my" gallery is. Not a ton of artists jump from Bellingham to Columbia University, and not too much later, a solo show at the Whitney.

Here's another, entitled Falling Blue (1963). Have you seen her work in person? Somehow I don't think the feeling of harmony and ability to be mesmerized can really come thru on a tiny computer screen. With Falling Blue, you get a tiny sense of the shimmer and beauty of this; like the other, it looks like fabric. (Some of hers are silk screen, but the SFMOMA website does not describe the medium for this, so I can't tell.)

In the video interview, she talks about having given up meditation once she mastered the ability to empty her mind. To me, it looks the work of an uncluttered mind. (No plastic Barbie toys underfoot on her floor.)

Finally, while reading about her I stumbled on a photo of Bernar Venet's sculpture Indeterminate Lines, rolled steel, 2003. Why do I like this so much? Seems a two-person show of Martin and Venet would be just the thing - hers so uniform and controlled, his so bent and moving and weighty.

Monday, June 7, 2010

In yesterday's NY Times Sunday magazine there was an intriguing article discussing an art theft blog - did you see it? It's run by a fellow who goes by the name Turbo Paul. As Virginia Heffernan reports, he is "a self-described former dealer in stolen antiques" but now is on the other side, digging and blogging to track down and help recover stolen art.

One of his blogs, Stolen Vermeer, is devoted exclusively to reporting on the two decades-old investigation into the recovery of works stolen in 1990 from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The other blog, Art Hostage, tracks a number of art thefts worldwide.

This passage from Heffernan's article provides a feel for the insider nature of Turbo Paul's blogging:

. . . Turbo Paul knows everything about cops and robbers -- or seems to. Sure enough, by May 22, he was proposing what the Paris heist (of May 20th) meant; who was sending signals to whom; who was humiliated by the heist and who had the last laugh. He said his blog was besieged by visitors with prestigious IP addresses, and when I asked, he passed on the routing information of his readers: Justice Department, State Department and F.B.I." (p. 20)

It dawned on me that maybe we should hire this guy to start looking for Osama Bin Laden. . .or figure out how Lance Armstrong is getting away with doping, or exactly what happened with the Gores.

Above left is one of the stolen paintings, Woman with a Fan (1919) by Modigliani. (I was not familiar with that painting; the shapes seem to work together so well, with the rectangle in the top left balancing beautifully against the shape of her ear and the tip of the fan.) I think you will find these blogs pretty entertaining. No attempt to be politic, circumspect, or balanced. Refreshing.

Just noticed that in today's NY Times (C1) there is a review of the memoir Priceless: How I went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures. The author, former FBI agent Robert K. Wittman, features prominently in Turbo Paul's blog posts, since he's the undercover agent who was hot on the trail of the works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Read the review here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Just finished reading an interesting blog post from May 31st about Sargent's Daughters of Edward Boit at this link (Alchemist's Pillow) so I've been thinking about how difficult it is to capture a likeness, especially with just a few strokes. This is Two Women by Iraqi painter Faik Hassan.

Others have pointed to Bonnard and Picasso as artistic influences (see Art, edited by Robert Benton, p. 273), and that makes sense to me, but what I am amazed by is the ability to nail down these portraits with a few tones and a few swipes of paint. I've been struggling this morning with a face for a commission, wiping it off, starting over again, and so on, and then I open this book and see these two.

Well, he did win a scholarship to go to Paris during the 30s and study at the École des Beaux Arts. (That little piece is missing from my backgound, alas.) Upon his return to Iraq, he established and led the painting and sculpture department of the Institute of Fine Art. In addition to landscapes and portraiture, Hassan also created a large mural in Tiran Square as one of a number of projects he worked on to serve his country. He died in 1992.

Here's one I like from the Dijla Gallery.

Unfortunately, the title is not posted, but it is oil on canvas. Monochromatic scheme works for me, and besides, I've always liked nun paintings. Time for a shrink?