Saturday, December 31, 2011

De Kooning- three

The 60’s Clam Diggers
Man, this is where Bill gets his groove on. Ok, maybe it is the wine from earlier New Years celebrations. This is where the paint and figure and space combine into an erotic whole. These woman or figures are in real space and real time and the space and the sensuousness of it all is fantastic. Paint defining space, caress, defining paint. It is an entire sensuous cornucopia.

And Happy New Year. The world is dropping into shit but this show, good art, good painting makes all of it seem so, of the moment and I do love and believe that art from all era’s and all of human history is accessible, available and important. This comes from a man who has a bent crooked right hand little pinkie. See Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and you’ll understand the reference.

De Kooning -part two

The Woman Series
I’ve never been a big fan of these iconic paintings, too unresolved in my opinion. I don’t mind the figuration, in that way I am not a hard abstractionist in thinking that is all you can paint. I’d love to see someone paint the figure in a meaningful way, Alice Neel did it but not Lucian Freud, but this is all a horse of a different color.

Speaking of “Freud”, it is interesting that the space around the figure in Woman One is painted with one and two inch brushes, maybe stabbed is more appropriate. The brushwork has a violence about it in the application particularly on the right side of the painting. There is no eros here but only some stone age goddess or Medusa. What is of interest is the right foot of the woman, this motif appears later in so many paintings of the 70’s, which I will get to. The drawings of woman in this time period though are amazing.
It is all too easy to see why the label of “Abstract Expressionist” arrives on the scene.

Urban Landscapes
Boy do I love this work from this time. Gotham News along with January 1st and others is a kick ass painting, the scraping and erasure with juicy paint sliding across the surface in a hodge podge melee of lines and color blocks, no delicate swoops or brushwork, the beginnings of the scraper pulling paint across the surface, the brush in swaths pulling quickly across the surface and this interplay between all these elements, the physicality of the paint against the dryness and remnants of what was, just a tour de force.

Having grown up in New York in the 60’s it captures for me the jostling of the street with people, noise, cars, dust, heat, sweat and tension. I remember as a child walking with my mother in mid-town when I was around 5 years old being pushed by the crowd, being dragged along by my mother, passing by a construction site for a large building hidden behind a wooden façade, the sound of the jack hammers, the hound whistle of the workers wearing the old fashioned dough boy helmets carrying black lunchboxes, the screech of the subway below and the hot air coming up through the grates, the woman all wearing dresses with flowers and Jackie O sunglasses, that is what the painting does for me.

This may not “refer to what can be seen” in a literal manner but sure does catch the visceral glimpse abstractly.

Parkway Landscapes
Franz Kline wished he could paint like this. Despite the drips, splatters and “aggressive brushwork” these works are pastoral.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thoughts on De Kooning -part one

Seated Woman from the early 40’s
The first thing I noticed was the density of the painted surface; these are not thin washs but layer after layer build-ups. These buildups of paint though create a density of, for lack of a better word, presence.

What is interesting is that the book “William De Kooning The Artist’s Materials” by Susan F. Lake has found that these works from this time such as Queen of Hearts is that the background colors have been adjusted and changed over a period of time, sometimes years and not just in subtle change of hue or value but absolute radical turns. Afterwards the figure would be addressed when a final background was decided and the underdrawing in charcoal would be sometimes retouched or added in the final stages of the painting. The surfaces are polished without obvious hint of brushwork that we associate with later works.

It is obvious and has been commented many times that these works are related to Picasso, the Pompei murals that the Met owns and Ingres. The relationship between de Kooning and Gorky’s figural works is well known along with the artist John Graham. To some extent these works are decidedly not modern for their time. There is too much an air of antiquity that sufuses the work despite the disarticulation of the figure. This isn’t surprising because De Kooning claimed and felt that the entire material history of art was vital and living.

A close examination of the work shows the passage of time in subtle detail that a photograph or image in a catalog would miss. There is so much physicality in the scraping, sanding and articulation of the paint that the work in total is the body and the entire surface has an activation more like the high period of Braque and Picasso’s anayltic cubist period but unlike their works where the figure was the focus in de koonings works the entire canvas vibrates, the density of the background creates what I call multi-valent time and passage. This density of effect reaffirms the paintings totality and tautology and denies the significance of the figure.

If the figure existed without this background density the primacy of the figure would prevail, this hints at the future for de kooning, it isn’t the figure that is important but the space around the figure.

Pink Angels 1945
Briefly, in this abstraction you can see one of the first incarnations of brushwork where the paint denotes speed and passage of time or the glimpse. This speed continues through the abstractions of the early post war years.

The white abstractions Excavation and Attic
I won’t go into detail here as there is so much literature about these works over the years but will make some observations. De Kooning’s reworking and erasures are equivalent to Pollock’s drip. These shadow images of what formerly were existent create a field similar to Pollock but whereas Pollock’s drip is paint as paint, non-desciptive nor figurative, De Kooning’s erasure and absence creates the field. It seems logical to me that Rauschenberg would ask for a drawing to erase and De Kooning oblige since erasure was such a strong aspect of De Koonings oeuvre. It goes without saying but I will say it nonetheless, that there is this elision created between the figuration and the negative space and in later works this theme of the space around objects or figures takes precedence. Paint never becomes just paint as it does in Pollock creating space and atmosphere, in this case Pollock’s high period of the drip opens the door to field painting, De Kooning takes advantage of Pollock’s field in the black works and uses it to create a different space that never becomes pure painting ala Reinhardt (see Pure Paints A Painting by Elaine De Kooning) or Newman but is still tied to man within his space.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Words of Ad Reinhardt

In response to the often heard quip, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." Ad Reinhardt has been quoted as saying sarcastically "Isn't it nice that the obligation to be intelligent doesn't extend to the field of art."

Say no more know what I mean....

obit commentary

The recent deaths of John Chamberlain and Helen Frankenthaler raise some sad thoughts. I am not a fan of either ones work, there is the occasional piece that is pretty good but overall their work does not move me, too much second tier stuff by my reckoning for what it is worth.

However what I find partially distressing is the hostility in the comments section of Frankenthaler's obit in the New York Times.

DaveW from Tempe, AZ writes
I don't see talent or art in the example painting. Instead, I see a perversion of art and a misrepresentation of man and man's relationship to nature. I don't have insight into the effort Ms. Frankenthaler put into her work, but I do know that many abstract artists spend little time on their creations.

and Joe Dokes from the Midwest posts
She seems like a nice lady but like all this "abstract" art, it is nothing but a big fraud. The fact that the NY Times buys into it just shows how clueless the NY Times is.

Why don't they present both sides - someone who says the truth - that like all modern art, it is supported by our corrupt ruling class to buy off artists to prevent them from showing the truth - that the US is a decadent, corrupt country with a parasite upper class that feeds off of the working people? No, that might make people think dangerous thoughts - like back in the 1930s - and allow people challenge the system that is about to collapse from rot. Better to show meaningless images and call it art. You people disgust me with your lies.

B. Mused from Victoria, BC, Canada "muses"
One of the last lines in your obituary says it all;
"As the years passed, her paintings seemed to make more direct references to the visible world."
Well, gosh! To what else should a painting refer but what can be seen? Whatever did the work of the NY abstract expressionists refer to if not to the visual world? It referred to a set of ideas, advertising copy I should call them, concocted by Clement Greenberg and his ilk - Post World War 2 US ascendancy gave him and others what looked like a golden opportunity to get away with saying anything at all with no reference to what could be seen by anyone with eyes. Of course accidental effects can have beautiful aspects and potential for incorporation into art work, but there is a long distance between accident and art. One cannot make a worthy career out of having unintended accidents, neither on canvas nor in chemistry labs, racetracks, or building construction. Only in the rarified atmosphere of NY's art world can the essential omphalism of such an approach pass unchallenged. Nice to see Frankenthaler as the years passed took notice that whatever convoluted notions filled her head (and supported her economic life), they could not be seen and valued unless there was at least some detectable reference to the world we all live in and can see.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion... opinions are like .... everyone's got one.

What I find distressing, annoying, words fail me regarding this feeling. I won't lose a lick of sleep over it or think of it after lunch so it isn't distressing, maybe annoying like a fly in the room or a mosquito is the willful ignorance and self satisfaction and surety of their opinion. Hey this isn't new and I lived out west in Colorado for 8 years and I'll never go back regardless of how beautiful the mountains are. The average person there and you can find them here in NYC too in certain parts of the five boroughs just love to be uninformed and 9 times out of 10 wrap themselves in the flag with the bible in the other hand.

I don't have insight into subatomic physics or string theory (not true I actually studied hard science in college) but I can't see atoms so they must not exist is akin to this rationale. I could make comment on the comments but will let them lie as it were.

Upcoming my thoughts on the De Koonings in the current and soon to close show at MoMA. After three visits with the most recent lasting over three hours I have a series of jumbled thoughts that I will try to unify in a coherent essay regarding one of the most important painters of the 20th century, IMHO.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A must read

Glenn Greenwald's remarks on The We-Are-At-War-Mentality certainly not about art but bodes ill for our country and the worlds various cultures at large.