Thursday, December 13, 2012
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
However the Guardian UK, finds it of merit and has put it on the front page.
Having been a resident of New York City for over 20 years as an adult and having grown up here as a child I have found the police department to be dangerous and not to be trusted. What does it say about our society and our political system that allows such wanton disregard for basic civil rights?
And if you aren't from New York or live here, check out the outstandingly racist profiling which occurs in the Stop and Frisk program. The country is lost as long as people stay silent, more importantly, our individual freedom, myth that it is, is being buried by an increasing totalitarian state of spying on our phone and internet communications all for the sake of protecting the few who have so much. Too much in my opinion.
We are heading into a very dangerous time. And now back to our regularly scheduled arts programming.
See you at the barricades.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
In Response RETRO from Henrimag
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Monday, June 25, 2012
Saturday, June 23, 2012
From there? I don't know. But do stayed tuned as on the 26th of June the "great outing" will take place and the doppelgänger known as D Richmond will be revealed as I see little point in remaining anonymous.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
See the films and think for yourself.
I see the world as being determined in part by our language systems and games, not outside of us but as an extension of who we are or believe ourselves to be. This countries moral rot and decay is because nearly the entire population buys into a concept of capitalist reality that is morally reprehensible, both right and left from high unto low.
For over 30 years the American public at large has been fed an increasingly unhealthy diet of propaganda about capitalism and a false notion of democracy. This has led to a culture that was already adverse to self-reflection to go even deeper into mediocrity.
Both political parties represent opposite sides of the same corrupt coinage. The sheer number of people from both political spectrums who unwaveringly believe the tripe they are sold that I have met is staggering. More, the lack of inquisitiveness or desire to learn more or actually have their own experience of reality unmediated by the likes of the system, a system that desires this ignorance because it leaves the politic impotent and easily controlled is mind numbing.
Not that I believe I hold the keys to truth but I understand the complex mechanics of language, psychology, ones personal history and the life lived, that is, if one bothers to be in it.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates
But this is nothing new, it is touched on in “World on a Wire”, “The Perverts Guide to Cinema”, “The Matrix”, “They Live” a ton of other serious films, trashy movies, literature, art, poetry and philosophy and ultimately the bible, “Let the Dead Bury the Dead (Luke 9:60).”
We live in a society, not culture but a society that privileges self-centered narcissism and ones personal needs or wants over all and you can see it in action every day from the smallest way that people act towards one another to the large social sphere. The greater good, be damned, the planet, be damned, those enslaved around the world, be damned.
If you’re not pissed off about what is happening in the world, you’re not paying attention.
If you’re sitting on your chair and not trying to change it in some way, even a small way that seems insignificant then you’re part of the problem.
I hope the silicon robots win over the carbon zombies, I wonder what kind of art they might make.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
I was at my friends house, we were two weird outcasts in a large suburban high school in upstate New York, the kind of high school that was a breeding school for future Greek Fraternity hazing of the worst kind, izod shirts with upturned collars and docksider shoes. I had long hair that was an unruly mess and had, despite my small size a reputation of not to mess with, cause I was completely willing to get into it, or at least it seems in hindsight. Nothing scares a much larger opponent than staring them in the face without backing down, they’re so use to timidity that to have someone stand up breaks their paradigm, not that I knew what paradigm was back then.
My friend pulled out this album with incredible excitement, “you have to listen to this.” He drops it on the turntable and starts playing “London Calling”, the crashing guitars, the sheer aggression of the sound in comparison to the standard fare of our FM diet was…honestly, hard to grab onto. I had a difficult time with music at that time, Fleetwood Mac, Bread, Rush, Journey and a ton of real dreck that I couldn’t identify with but I could understand the music saccharine as it was but here, hear was this noise. But that noise seeped into me, that afternoon my friend laid down The Specials first album and then I understood. This was music that was addressing my alienation and then in its unfolding filled me with a sense of direction, that direction, growing up in a conservative town with kids my same age so willingly desiring to fill their parents shoes, to follow without question what was given to them, given what felt, smelled and tasted like some horrible corruption of the self, a denial of the self and in its replacement was a self full of hollow aspirations. Ideals that led to the Reagan era and hence to the shit we live in now. I spent my high school years in a town that wasn’t that much different in values than Columbine, my saving grace was that my parents gave me when I was younger access to art, music and literature that I didn’t understand at the time but it was there, it was on the bookshelf, it was there if I wanted to seek it, questions were ok, my family life was hell but that, that other access that they gave me, made up for it in the long run, even in the short, in hindsight.
I appreciate that Painters Table and other blogs sometimes link to me but art is not made in a vacuum. My approach to art, to life to everything, goes back to those days. Those days wandering around NYC with my mom and sister in tow going here and there, there in ways not unlike De Kooning’s “Gotham News” as I said earlier in this blog, growing up after leaving the city on a farm with no indoor plumbing with my Grandfather who road his motorcycle at the age of 63 out to Mexico, a Grandfather with long white hair who always held court at dinner about politics, culture, more politics, science, art and architecture on that freezing farm house while his father, a former auto and aircraft engineer scowled in rage at the injustices he experienced in his life.
I wonder where this resistance to the status quo comes from, for me it may not appear so oblique (my sister however is of the 1%), my son, now 11, my son, who is bi-racial told me over a year ago that he felt Obama was elected to make sure black people wouldn’t protest over his policies, policies that have been detrimental to our democracy. A man who made many promises of hope but then has amped up the national security state, has gone after whistle blowers with a vengeance not seen in any other administration and and and and I keep my politics to myself, his mother is very conservative despite the fact her father was one of the last socialists from the Caribbean. My son comes out with that nugget.
Is it genetic and culture? I think so. In reading Paul Corio’s blog tonight after having dinner with him and Mr. Stone from HenriMag and with my background in animal behavior and science come to this conclusion, most human endeavors are based on a human need to be accepted, social recognition and sexual recognition from the opposite sex are of so much importance, more importance than we even acknowledge. The Industrial Arts Complex doesn’t know where to turn but they want something “real” because they know they live in a world of navel gazing lies. And then, then they have to have the nerve to say, you need to be an “outsider” to succeed, succeed at what? They wouldn’t recognize an outsider if it were to slap them in the face because the complexity of the dialogue is beyond them. Duchamp might have said the artist in the future will be underground, he or she would have to be as this artworld doesn’t have the nerve or gumption to look out beyond their narrow world view, it is not surprising, they’ve received everything from books and not from both books (I don’t want to devalue books and learning for truthiness) and the real world lived, they’ve never looked into the mirror and saw fear, the feelings of being a fraud, death and meaninglessness. Only on that reflection of the true nature of ones meaning and being can there ever be a gasp and perhaps, perhaps if ones ego is strong enough to say No, does one struggle and say, I will make meaning.
And Jesus said, the meek shall inherit the earth, he failed to mention, that it would be six feet under.
And mea culpa for this nostalgia and rant, the year 50 beckons shortly, 50 that I wasn’t sure many years ago that I would make, 50 that makes me wonder for the future of my son, 50 that makes me wonder where are we going, 50 that makes me wonder, who the hell am I and have I done any good works worthy of my ambitions, hopes and aspirations.
Coming soon, Welt am Draht et al. Perverts of the world unite.
Monday, May 7, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
During the day, thoughts about recent conversations with a colleague about art and work, work in this case being on our art, not labor to earn a living, came to my mind. Why the distinction between labor and work? The confluence of several themes, not related to my art practice but dominant within the greater industrial arts complex came towards one another and when I ‘bounced’ out of bed this morning, they had met. Even without the first cup of coffee the confluence of these micro events was being built into an edifice and a structure, which I needed to get down on digital paper.
Now the occasional reader may ask, why do I bother to acknowledge this minutia, why not get to the heart of the matter? Well I write this more as a conversation with myself somewhat; conversational is of interest, not lecturing or brow beating. The minutia is a way of marking thought and place and the background is the soil of life lived practical experience, which has helped form and sometimes focus my thoughts.
This is in contrast to what will follow.
I’ve mentioned previously that I studied zoology with an interest in animal behavior, besides that though I minored in Philosophy and received a somewhat practical liberal arts degree. I’ve kept only a few text books from those college years: “Food Production and Its Consequences” by Philip E. L. Smith, “Population, Evolution and Birth Control” assembled by Garrett Hardin, “Invertebrate Zoology” by Robert D. Barnes, “Earth” by Frank Press and Raymond Siever and finally the one book that I still bring up in conversation and will do so now, “The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” by Karl Marx.
One of the hallmarks of today’s successful artist is that they actually don’t make anything, save for the occasional old fart like Terry Winters. I say old fart, as I am one too although not quite as “old”. It is common knowledge that Damien, Jeff and a litany of others never get their hands dirty. Hey neither did Donald Judd and even in the days of long old, works were fabricated by assistants and the master would come in to touch it up. But the level of involvement by artists in the conception, fabrication and production of their work has gotten to an all time high or low depending on your preferred nomenclature, it is as if, to actually physically interact with your ideas made material is retardataire.
I know for a fact of an artist who had a late mid career retrospective in France who exhibited more than a small handful of working drawings for sculptures and the actual sculptures, these sculptures along with the drawings were conceived, fabricated from low unto high by the assistant and the artist came in to later sign and back date the working drawings. This artist never chose materials, colors, size, anything! Wow, must be good to be the king, or queen in this case.
What does this have to do with good old Karl, well relax, I’m not going to go into some long winded theoretical monologue about capital, just a few quotes as food for thought.
From Estranged Labor
It is just in his work upon the objective world, therefore, that man really proves himself to be a species-being. This production is his active species-life. Through this production, nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species-life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he sees himself in a world that he has created. In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real objectivity as a member of the species and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him.
(3) Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him, into a means of his individual existence. It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.
(4) An immediate consequence of the fact that man is estranged from the product of his labor, from his life activity, from his species-being, is the estrangement of man from man. When man confronts himself, he confronts the other man. What applies to a man’s relation to his work, to the product of his labor and to himself, also holds of a man’s relation to the other man, and to the other man’s labor and object of labor.
In fact, the proposition that man’s species-nature is estranged from him means that one man is estranged from the other, as each of them is from man’s essential nature.
The estrangement of man, and in fact every relationship in which man [stands] to himself, is realized and expressed only in the relationship in which a man stands to other men.
Hence within the relationship of estranged labor each man views the other in accordance with the standard and the relationship in which he finds himself as a worker.
||XXV| We took our departure from a fact of political economy – the estrangement of the worker and his production. We have formulated this fact in conceptual terms as estranged, alienated labor. We have analyzed this concept – hence analyzing merely a fact of political economy.
Let us now see, further, how the concept of estranged, alienated labor must express and present itself in real life.
If the product of labor is alien to me, if it confronts me as an alien power, to whom, then, does it belong?
To a being other than myself.
Who is this being?
All italics are in the original and the bold mine.
I knew an artist, a now well known artist, Hugo Boss winner and the like, before he became a hot tomato. We worked together, work as in labor, and I also worked with him on a few of his projects, I appeared in a video of his and performed in several of his performance works. He was complaining one day about how he felt constrained by his gallerists and was tired of making his “thing”, his brand. My thought upon hearing that was that he was estranged from his own practice, I knew he did not have a studio and was working only through ideas. Hey ideas are great, they are necessary and a lot of work suffers because it is thin on ideas. We have two extremes, work that is idea less and the other, all ideas and no praxis.
The studio practice for me has been an invaluable laboratory to conduct R & D. I get an idea into my head and make it in the studio into a tangible physical structure but along the way, as I work, as I struggle, as I play, other ideas form on seemingly their own accord, almost independent of me. I see how a material operates with another, a color against another, a form or picture in struggle and the work hints at me, sometimes yells at me, do this, do this!
In this dance and in the learning over the years about the physical nature and limits of my materials I have been transported to a place I could never have imagined being. That trip has been of utmost importance, it has allowed me to become aware of my potential. Only in the working within this physical realm could I have gotten there. Ideas lead to other ideas but if they just are of the mind they tend in my opinion to wither in potency. We do not live just in our heads but inhabit a body, in fact the head is just a part and extension of the body.
The body knows itself and comes into being by its interaction with the physical world, not just human to human contact but actually knowing and understanding the materials. A great chef knows the freshness of their food, if it isn’t fresh they know how to dress it the best way possible. A lot of great recipes and sauces were invented to mask the severe lack of freshness, more like rot and how did they arrive at this? By taking the time to interact with it, to play with it and with the accumulative life experience of the kitchen they know which spice or other thing will punch it up.
Food isn’t theoretical, it is real. We share food, we share our meals and we converse, sometimes over a good bottle of wine about the food and life. Food is a necessary staple but also a gift that we share as SOCIAL ANIMALS. And I dare say, art is a similar thing but now we are inundated with recipes for art and not the actual meal itself.
Another river that came into confluence was regarding young internet artists or artists who use the web and social networking as their meme. Upon reading some of what I would say are amateurish manifestos, more of the same cynicism and recipe art with the real goal being getting attention and being taken seriously was the constant theme of “Branding”.
The problem with Branding is that it circles the wagons and says this is it, this is our stand, this is mine. In fact there was this kind of generational ax to grind, as this is ours and you can’t touch or have it. No community meal there, no desire to share, no desire to give. Branding means coming up with a commodity and a tagline, branding is death incarnate, it is the death in the guise of individual expression that denies the social aspect of sharing and the ability, one would hope of personal evolution and hopefully larger social political engagement with the great ills we face. This is the great irony of the social network, the individual branding has shown a lot of the same unquestioning mindset, visual lack of appeal and more banal SAMENESS. Branding in their terms was said in complete seriousness and lack of irony. I’ve had it up to here with irony but branding in today’s culture needs a good solid whack down.
There is much to be thought about in regards to how the internet is changing our way of communicating to one another, it is as shattering as the printing press, but this was/is not it, just old conceptual ideas in new window dressing.
It was and is to my mind the continued infantilization of culture, more so here in the United States. Where else can the 40’s be the new 30’s? If that is so, the the 20’s are the new teens and interesting as adolescents are in their rebellion, most want to be loved.
Maybe more later, now it is time to go to the lab.
Friday, April 6, 2012
With the Dutch Republic came the artist out marketing his talents. If you were Vermeer you were a minor painter; Hals, Rembrandt and others painted the Burghers, the New Wealthy middle class and you had a beginning to what we now call genre painting, landscape, still life et al.
Come the French and the Industrial revolutions and traditional patronage is shattered. You have Courbet and Manet setting up their own exhibitions outside of the official salon (the original DIY?) and others, the Salons of the Impressionists, the Independents, etc. etc., all vying for attention and all hoping to sell their wares and make a living. Reading the accounts, letters and various journals, correspondence and fictional accounts from that time illustrates that it was not an easy time for artists if you were not officially sanctioned and deemed of import.
I touched briefly on this in current obsessions.
What distinguishes today’s market versus those of the not so distant past, is that there seems to be no valid cultural ambitions or artistic motivations that, at least for me, address the concerns of art as a vehicle of personal or cultural import.
We no longer have the shadow of movements, for better or worse. Me, I am ambivalent about movements, maybe even hostile. Ab Ex, Pop, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Body Politic, Earth Art, blah blah blah. Each one of those “movements” has some wonderful and amazing stuff and more than a fair amount of dreck.
Arts importance is gone, if it was really ever there to begin with, as far as the general public is concerned. Before the time of absolute visual gluttony, artists worked on a variety of levels. Painting of course but also doing what we now call design work for festivals, coronations, engineering, what ever was needed in regards to visual production.
The advent of the printing press and cheap forms of photographic reproduction with offset printing and then the growth through technology of film, television and now video cameras and cheap gear galore has completely “democratized” production.
But this democratization hasn’t raised standards, the ‘standards’ that were, dropped dramatically. Look at the amount of tumblr’s, youtube videos and the incredible variety of blogs (perhaps mine included) and then add to that the array of illiterate comments, especially in political blogs and you can see for yourself that we live with a lot of trite shit that looks, smells and voices the same. If I had a nickel for every young person I’ve met over the last ten years who was in marketing or branding, well I would be living on the coast of southern France.
But back to the Market…
When the last gasp of Post-Modern societal critique was exhausted in the 90’s so was the death of ‘movements.’ And with the death of movements, which for the most part are or were attempts to codify or “Brand” a certain way of thinking or visual style, the art world at large, the galleries, the museums and sadly to say a lot of artists were free to address what their prime concern was, MONEY.
Is it any wonder that we have so much tired, lame, poorly conceived and for the most part visual literature or illustration, if one can be so bold to call it “literature” more like some trashy beach read, bad visuals for poor uninformed thinking, exists?
The last bastion of this is the repeated ad nauseam “Institutional Critique”, because that is all they have left in their arsenal to prove their cultural worth, when at the end of the day, the art fairs, the biennials, the triennials, the documentas, etc. all they provide is the circus, just like the official salons of 19th century France.
As an artist, who, partial disclosure, was briefly active in that circus I say BOLLOCKS. Is it depressing at times? Certainly. Does it affect my studio practice? NO.
The point of art is to be art and what we have passing officially as art is nothing but window dressing, hence Meissonier, one of the most celebrated and financially successful artists of the 19th century, whither him now?
Same as it ever was.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
I was fortunate to see Picasso’s Guernica as a child at MoMA and remember vividly the impression it left upon me with the horse in agony, the mother holding child, the lamp and the Minotaur. But at that age I never gave a thought to becoming an artist, no, an archaeologist was what I wanted to be.
My route to becoming an artist was circuitous. I studied science intensively with an aim to becoming a zoologist specializing in animal behavior but this was the Reagan era with funding for research being dropped and I found myself disillusioned due to the rigid world view that my teachers had and my future prospects.
I dropped out of college and eventually decided to go back to school to study art. At the time I thought it would be a way to get an easy degree (slacker?) however, something funny happened along the way. I found much to my amazement that I could look at paintings, even the most abstract ones that artists made and by the brushwork tell who made them. Within two months of being in the program I absorbed into my memory a large quantity of information that amazed my fellow students.
More importantly I found my calling. As much as I loved science and still do, art gave my life something that hitherto had been missing, a sense of purpose and belonging that was missing and another family, the family of artists and art. In that way, art became a way for me to integrate into the world that I was alienated from and this is the work that led me to it.
In 1985 I was visiting NY after my first semester in art school.
Enamel and oil on canvas
42 5/8 by 56 1/8
I remember walking into the gallery and seeing this work, which was a sloppy mess (can you tell that I like sloppiness) with the streaks of enamel, the congealed surface in areas, the choc a bloc overlapping of form that hinted at so many possibilities.
As I looked at it a strange feeling overcame me that I had never experienced before. The best way to describe it was like a humming sound, of course there was no hum except in my head and body. I found myself absorbed into this thing, as if looking at it completed a circuit with the power suddenly now ON within me. But what was this me? I realized that the painting and I were one. I needed the painting and the painting needed me, that reality was not me isolated from the world or floating in this gallery amongst strangers, that reality was the moment of my conscious connection to the world and the world to myself. The concept of self magically evaporated as a fiction, self in the western way I had learned to believe in. My sense of self became this living circuit between my body interfacing with the world and my sensory experience of it operating as a looping system, both interfaces propositional and transitional.
It was at that moment that I realized now having been an “art student” for one semester that I had found meaning. The work was whispering and shouting and telling me Yes, Yes, Yes. The only thing that made any sense to do was to commit myself to being an artist, that I had to listen to this voice as it were and that I had to paint, that I had to wrestle with this strange new feeling, that was intoxicating, visceral and earth shaking, as far as I was concerned, it was the most important thing I could do with my life.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
In my analysis of the works presented I hope to answer to myself why motif is of vital concern and the approach the artist takes in applying paint to canvas (or as we will shortly find some other substance) leads to creating a work that I find important.
The criteria for this and future essays will be that the painting gives me a Wow moment. A moment of excitation that goes back to my post Conceit with the Paul Valéry quote, “A pleasure which sometimes goes so deep…..”
In short, paintings that say “yes”, that puzzle me, that trouble me, that have a place in my memory as to the first time I saw them, that echo in my studio or at least my minds eye and have left a lasting impression on me. So without further ado and hot air…
Negative Value II, Mizar 1982
Oil, pigment of violets and red lead underpainting on canvas
260 by 200 cm, 102.36 by 78.74 inches
I first saw this painting at the Brooklyn Museum at the Sigmar Polke retrospective in 1992. This is part of a triptych and I would include all three but this is the only image I could find online….
Polke’s play between illusionism and reality in this painting is of interest. First there is no recognizable imagery and the color in itself is ambiguous. What gesture that exists, if one could call it that, is not in the traditional painterly terms that one or at least myself thinks about in creating space. The space that exists in this does not make the canvas plane, the proto-typical concern of a Greenbergian formalism in late 20th century the primary focus. In fact this surface plane is of no import, hence the illusionism. Polke has created a spatial infinite not unlike a Pollock classic drip.
What I remember being “Wowed” by was the fact that there was no traditional approach to design, motif, application, formal concerns or painterliness. It was like a giant mess wrought real.
The bands of violet do somewhat affirm the surface plane but are askew and haphazard and overlaying this are moments of drips, stains, blotches of material that physically sit atop the surface and in their presence on the plane as raw materiality are just that, material and real.
What Polke started in this painting for me was another way of thinking of color. Oil paint carries a historical weight and this despite the oil materials operates outside of that realm. I cannot say with certainty but from what I know of Polke’s oeuvre this might be the beginning or the door to his large scale paintings that used resin, varnishes and other materials not traditionally associated with painting. This material fracture forced me at least to rethink materials and color.
The imagery, if one can call it that and Polke certainly mined this particular non-image as image, breaks out of the conventions of abstraction. In this work, Stella doesn’t matter, nor does Johns or De Kooning; this works operates as if it exists in an alternate universe of the late 20th century painting dialectic.
It is weird, hallucinatory (as much of Polke’s work was) and of the fantastic, fantastic in the sense of being a phantasm. Polke showed me a door to getting out of the box of my painterly and artistic concerns, out of the Greenberg knot of formalism I had been steeped in thinking. Polke’s work is not one dimensional but multi-dimensional, his later works using imagery following the rabbit down the hole to another way of thinking, a way of thinking that allows mystery, confusion, dislocation and then affirmation into the world and the viewer. Polke allowed painting to breath again.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
From arthistoryunstuffed please find Theodore Adorno and "Negative Dialectics."
Perhaps I'll add to this with some of my own thoughts on THE THING but Carol's comments on "Now" and "The Thing" were spot on, IMHO.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
When I mentioned in one of my De Kooning posts about being part of the soup that voice helps. I remember as a younger lad, someone telling Baudelaire, if memory serves me, in a moment of crisis he wondered why should he write. The response was, someone out in the provinces who is all alone reads you and feels no longer alone.
I have a ton of graphic design magazines that I look over and I ran across a comment in an old, 1960ish design thing about an artist. Art is about commune, about the communal. We don’t live in a literal cave but sometimes a metaphorical one and we seek to say something that makes and allows us to connect, connect to a deeper feeling about our lives and our world as humans in a very basic and sometimes banal way. But that banality if I can call it that is very important.
One of the things I remember reading many years ago in one of my Richter’s writings and I believe I mentioned it in one of my earlier blog postings was, it isn’t how to paint but what to paint.
A few of my fellows meet once every few months to argue and discuss art, a kind of informal salon. The most recent one involved a heated argument over the Renaissance and the concept of self. I was lucky enough to see the Caravaggio show in London some years ago and I wished I could paint with that kind of fervor and belief in a subject.
We don’t have that subject.
I recently finished Joseph Leo Koerner’s “The Reformation of the Image” and am now finishing Leo Steinberg’s “The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion”. These are two very important books in my opinion.
Art and the images they portray or don’t portray are important, in fact are of utmost importance in my opinion.
To make a painting means something. Watching the Richter film was akin to that. I was happy to hear that how he feels about his work, in process, is similar if not exactly like how I feel. Painting is a visual language that is independent but somewhat subscribed to verbal language. I am lucky in that I have a few artists who I can have the most seemingly hermetic conversations one could imagine having about the most arcane minutia one could imagine.
I made a conscious decision given when I was more active in the “art world” to make a kind of gestural abstraction, I still do. This was in the early 90’s. Not one that was related to David Reed or Stephen Ellis but one that was even more raw, disgusting and primeval. Arthur Danto remarked once upon seeing two of my works that they were like the paintings a cave man would make if he made abstract art. He said this in the pejorative and with David Reed by his side.
Mark making means something, the marks that we make add up to something and the image that these marks make are the first and primary form of access. These marks and the image they make are questioned by the viewers as to what is being said, what is being propositioned.
Trying to paint a figure in a perspective space knowing what I know about the history of images and the fact that perspective in itself is a cultural condition is about as relevant as painting a Barnett Newman or Agnes Martin. They are both non-starters.
I can and do appreciate, love and admire those works but the door is closed and I have to figure out as an image maker what is important to me. Not something that answers to the long or recent past, but something that answers to my own anxieties about making images and the necessity despite my usual desires to do so, to find a way that answers to my experience, that at the very least makes it the proposition to a door that I seek. To another way of thinking and seeing, one that maintains the mystery and Wow moment that says, well Wow frankly. One that surprises even me.
As for the great painting…. Well I am a sucker in trying to always make the great painting. For me, at the very least, what is the point?
With that said and trying to maintain a semblance of anonymity, here is one of my more recent works that I am happy with being naked.
By the way it is 6 feet by 5 feet for those who might want to know.
One thing I appreciated was how he talked about his process, albeit briefly with the director. How it, the paintings weren’t working and how creating is a private practice. I understand that. Once someone asked me if they could film me in my studio working and I turned them down. It isn’t like it is some sacred thing but it is a naked thing. Richter made a comment about how it was easier to expose oneself in the exhibition versus be raw in front of the camera.
The major thing I walked away from with a new appreciation was how he thinks about his making and the process. In many of these he starts out using old motifs or styles from his 70’s and 80’s abstractions and then slowly subsumes then under a density of the smear. It is the burying and destruction that is partially important but the process gives him the freedom to abandon motif into the act of making. In the process to discover something one could not plan for and the sudden accidental apparition beyond ones conscious control is an exciting moment, an intricate dance between artist and canvas.
He makes one comment early on in the film about how the paintings have their own demands. This I know all too well.
What it has made me struggle with is the concept of motif, my own motif’s that are belaboring me. I think that if I had the time and money it wouldn’t be so hard as I could work in the studio fulltime and not have to desperately seek income. I too, could make work after work with a freedom and abandon to explore and not worry about material costs or rent and where might that lead me? I try to do this anyway but too often the idea of making a “great painting” gets in the way.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Our upbringings could not be more different. I grew up in a family that was supportive of art, going to art museums as a young child with many art books and abstract paintings around the house, not to mention the fact that nearly all of our family friends were European designers and artists who constantly talked about politics, art and culture. Kelley grew up in a far more traditional American setting, one where art was not even an afterthought.
The handcrafted elements of Kelley’s work was completely foreign to me as a device for art making, the elements of kitsch in his work would be kitsch in my childhood home and was not allowed in. So I didn’t understand the blankets and stuffed toys by any stretch. How could this stuff be art?
By the time of Kelley’s mid-career retrospective at the Whitney I started to get it, his retrospective left a profound impression on me and I dragged many friends to see and discuss it. Because our backgrounds were so divergent I never felt the compulsion to use his material means to make my own work but what I got from Kelley was the questioning aspect of what art could be, to ask the difficult questions, to not be afraid and look into ones past or psychology whether culturally or personally and to not be afraid to be garish, bad and unlikable. Kelley’s work forced me to question my tasteful ideas about art and painting, tasteful ideas that were in my way and impeding my own development and that was the best education money cannot buy.
A little over ten years later my work was showcased with Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Bas Jan Ader, Gilbert & George along with Christian Boltanski in a show in Europe. For me at the time it was vindication that what I was doing was important and to be included with people whose work I admired and respected, especially as a relative unknown, gave me a confidence that is in this art world of ours hard to get.
Kelley’s death has left me with the same sadness that I felt when Martin Kippenberger died, the sadness of time passing before it should.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
I made my way to the top and walked down and this feeling of amusement disappeared, replaced by nothing. Usually when one comes across contemporary work a feeling of either interest and joy or disgust and contempt occurs but literally I felt nothing.
So suffice to say, I will not write a screed against this exhibition as that would be validating it or giving it import that it has not earned.
I received in the post the other day “Other Criteria -Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art” by Leo Steinberg. The first essay “Contemporary Art and the Plight of its Public” dates from 1962 and is pertinent to my thoughts. To summarize, the essay addresses the shock of discomfort that one feels when confronted with an unfamiliar style and from there using his own, Steinberg's awakening to the value of Jasper Johns work, from discomfort to a more profound understanding of it he makes a case for new work. I highly recommend that you get this book, outstanding writing and essays that are still pertinent.
But what I find with Cattelan’s work is a feeling or lack, in direct contradiction with the essay mentioned.
The press release for Cattelan informs us, “Hailed simultaneously as a provcateur, prankster, and tragic poet of our times, Maurizio Cattelan has created some of the most unforgettable images in recent contemporary art.” oh if that were true.
So without further ado- my thoughts or questions
Do a series of jokes told en mass become a work of art?
Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?
Does the conglomeration make the new entity a whole?
Would these works stand up individually in situ?
Museum as circus- Barnum and Bailey
Art Povera or poverty art?
If this work were to go up in flames like Courbet’s Stonecutters in Dresden would it be missed?
Museum as reflection of petite bourgeoisie?
Art as funhouse, museum funhouse.
Cattelan, art spectacle as death?
Looking up from the floor it looks great but then wouldn’t anything hung in such a way?
I kept waiting for the sound of a snare drum after each punchline.
To view these in a traditional way of sculpture would be a mistake for there is no weight to them, the traditional thinking of mass and volume do not apply. The tableaus, as that is what they really are, are nothing more than physical representations of visual ideas that one could easily imagine seeing in a magazine, in fact I suspect the reproduction aspect is more important than the actual work itself.
This is an art made for the art industry and Cattelan plays his part perfectly to the crowd, the errant bad boy and despite the so called making fun of the art world, I don’t think you can have your cake and eat it too.
The Roberto Benigni of contemporary Italian Art.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Most artists "likes" I have found stick to the particulars of their own stylistic inclinations, if you paint in abstract gestural way then the tendency is to like that kind of work, if you like minimalistic work the same and if you like figural work, the tendency is to like only figural work, the figurists tend in my observations to be very conservative and orthodox in their tastes. This is not a hard and fast rule by any means, as I said, just an observation. Another oddity I’ve noticed over the years is that figural artists tend to be morning people and abstractionists, night people.
For myself however I can look at something very reductive like Ad Reinhardt and then jump to something opposite as Sigmar Polke, which is just what I did back in 92 when both shows were held concurrently, the first at MoMA and the later in Brooklyn. I went at least five times to both shows.
With Reinhardt I could look at the black paintings and actually see the subtleties between them, the slight variation of color, believe it or not would come through if you spent the necessary time to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness of the works. Also of interest was that some, despite the reductive motif worked better than others. This was really fascinating to me, that motif didn’t matter as it were, they were all the same damn painting upon initial contact but in taking the time to look the variations were different. How and why was this ‘thing’ working and not this one?
With Polke I was floored, having come out of my own reductive strategies in trying to figure out painting shortly after leaving school I had become a kind of post-minimalist but seeing the gregarious riffing on art and content that Polke did opened my eyes and allowed me to acknowledge my own voracious needs to eat more than was given on the table.
To this date I can look at Mondrian or Malevich and the artists I consider their descendants like Imi Knobel or other reducitivists like Reinhardt, Newman, Kelly, Palermo et al and feel really satisfied and satiated. At the very same time I can absorb De Kooning, Guston, or Polke, Richter, Oehlen, the occasional Schnabel or Salle and a host of others and feel the same. I can then look at Ingres or Bruegel, Giotto, Roman wall painting, Egyptian, etc and then walk away excited with anticipation to get into the studio. Alice Neel, Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz do it and Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns, Rauschenberg and Rosenquist too. Duchamp’s “Étant donnés” in Philly always gets me.
This leaves me with the question, why does the motif seem inconsequential to me in these cases? Why is abstraction my preferred form of practice? Where do I go from here?
One thing I realized in writing these thoughts down was that, I’ll never find all the words, phrases, sentences, conceptualizations to incorporate it all into a unified theory, fun as it is to try. When I look at an artwork that works, that lives up to its claim to be Art the question is answered and rephrased as another question and that is what excites me to get into the studio.
to be continued...
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
As a painter I find my greatest reassurance looking at art, good art doesn’t make me want to drop my brushes, it makes me want to get into the studio as fast as possible. It’s the most pleasant infectious disease that says "Yes, do it, go for it!"
But then the real world as you leave the gallery or museum or the street where you see something by happenstance that moves you, kicks in and brings you back with a thundering crash to the ground. That is where other artists support, comments or sayings can be a touchstone back to that ineffable thing that you wrestle with trying to make present in the studio.
In my conversation with my friend who I am letting share a wall in my studio, we talked about this thing. Too much art that I see and it has always been the case, is about the thing they want to be but don’t become or be the thing.
What I found of particular interest in Tom Ferrara’s commentary about De Kooning was “more than anything he wanted to be surprised.”
I had a studio visit with an important museum director from Europe in the mid-90’s who waxed poetic about one half of the paintings I was making, calling me a genius but the other half he went ballistic over, saying “You cannot do this.” I tried to calmly tell him that I had to do both in the studio and that the paintings he loved I could do in my sleep and the ones he hated were challenging and exciting for me.
I might have blown it career wise at that time because a lot of artists responded favorably to that more accessible work and one even said it was suicide to pursue the other. But I couldn’t. I need to be surprised, intrigued and bewildered. If I were to make what I could make in my sleep and have a ‘career’ (maybe and only maybe) I would be nothing than a pricey cobbler filling orders and I need the freedom to make and explore what I find difficult and interesting, otherwise what’s the point?
Sometimes it is easier to look at really old masters and keep it in check although it sure would be something to paint with the conviction of Carravaggio and I mean in the sense of having a belief in his subject matter, which for the most part was the Christian narrative.
When I wander in to the studio and am confronted with a blank canvas or more recent work of my own, the first thought usually is what the (insert your favorite expletive here)!
What does it mean to put brush to canvas? Why this thing called paint? What is this image or motif? Does this have any meaning? Should I have listened to my parents and gotten a real career? What the hell am I doing?
The first inclination is to wrestle with the thought of tackling what is on ones mind. I personally find that I have to destroy things; that I have to push it to ugly. This is my personal thing, not a prescription at all for anyone else. I have a very good artist friend who has his shit down before he goes to work. He works on it, adjusts it, wipes them out, destroys them and starts again but he doesn’t struggle with motif as I do because he has it down. I admire the ability to work like that, to think like that. Me? I just can’t although I have tried. For me when I start working with his kind of mindset I have to stop and get messy, wipe it out, stain it, defile it and then some because I just don’t have the faith and belief in images like that. But that said, he admires that I tackle my things without a safety net, we're like polar opposites who envy each others commitment and approach, not to mention each others final results.
That might sound like a strange thing. De Kooning was possibly the last of the “old fashioned painters.” Figure, ground, people, landscape. For visually voracious people like myself and my generation that might not be so easy, especially if your mind and brush somehow wander into abstraction or non-objectivity as your theme. And what exactly is this thing called a theme to begin with?
In a little over ten years from the beginnings of analytic cubism the various forms of visual vocabulary were defined for 20th century Modernism. You had Mondrian and de stijl, Malevich, Rodchenko, Kandinsky…. But a monochrome by Rodenchko is different than one by Blinky Palermo, not only in paint application and behind each one is the history of previous painting and what art means for that particular time and place, in short the cultural conditions are there to be discovered in the context of time and place.
At least that is how I see it and it makes it hard sometimes. Because what I am trying to do is somehow recognize these voices and work through them. Influence is such a dirty word now but it’s a necessary part of ones education and then trying to unify what seem like contradictory impulses, for De Kooning it was to paint like Ingres and Soutine. Ouch.
Anyway, found myself deciding to take a ‘failed’ canvas today, one that was buried in the rack and work on it. I was in a very sour mood, not wanting to talk or see anyone. A friend was working in my studio today, letting him work on his things in my space; I’m like that for some reason. Wasn’t too happy to see him but squeezed out a large clump of white, mixed it up and started to wipe out and then redraw this damn ugly mess. No intention, no idea, just rambling mess. Took out a few small primed canvases and started to paint on them, ugly paintings based on Styrofoam blocks from computers and tech gear lying around that I’ve kept for just this purpose. To play and let loose. I ended up making four of these small ones and then going back into the 5 foot by roughly 5 foot monstrosity relaxed. The small ones look like they could have been shown in Berlin about 25 years ago, garish and harsh, and the large one? Like some ugly African cubist mask but based on this Styrofoam packing bit floating in the middle field and the residue of the past incarnations of the painting providing my ambivalent ground.
By that time I was happy my friend was there and we started to talk our art lingo, laugh about silly ideas we had for work that despite how ‘silly’ they are we'll explore. Because that is what the studio is for me in a way, a research and development laboratory for deadly serious play and the final irony, if you can call it that is these things that I call ugly are what my friends call beautiful.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
De Kooning’s work in some way mimics this function or one can think of it as a metaphor in this regard. De Kooning’s brush floats around the figures space and presence, implying the figures presence through the manipulation of paint effects much like I try to with words to describe this thing, this thing that makes me have little choice but to wrestle with it in the studio or here on the digital page.
I think this is the kind of feeling that only artists feel, a love and fascination of this thing that drives us to great lengths and sometimes profound depression or economic failure in an attempt to consume this thing or be part of it. It is to outsiders a strange and peculiar condition or profession.
I found myself getting depressed when I was looking at the 70’s paintings that really left a profound impression upon me. Works like Untitled XI owned by the Art Institute of Chicago from 1975 or Untitled from 1977 that is in my post De Kooning three cont, Untitled VIII from that same year owned by Bettina and Donald L. Bryant, Jr. and Untitled I from 77 too. But then I realized that De Kooning was in his early 70’s and I am not quite 50. I went back to the room to see where De Kooning was at my age and I felt more reassured. It perhaps is a mark of great ego to compare oneself to such a master but I do. I wrestle with Picasso, Matisse, De Kooning, Polke and a long list of artists and I firmly believe De Kooning’s statement that art is a big bowl of soup, you get to take some of it and if you are lucky you get to put something back in.
What is the point otherwise? Why do this activity without dealing with ones ancestors who move you? Why not attempt to live up to their commitment and dedication? Why not try at least to pick up the banner and carry it forth for future generations? I’ve been lucky to have some good and wise friends who have been supportive and understand my perverse dedication, who have mentioned names like Matisse and Picasso in written words about my own works. It is an achievement and recognition that helps me make it through the financial difficulties.
The past year was a financial disaster as many artists of my age who haven’t made it are finding a difficult time to find even occasional work. But seeing De Kooning and knowing his personal history of financial difficulties and personal problems and yet still forging ahead with a determination to do whatever he wanted to do despite the commercial pressures to maintain a certain style and not giving a damn about various artists or critics disgust with the Women paintings, etc was fortifying.
The stylelessness of De Kooning has often been mentioned; the same goes for Picasso, Matisse, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. I think it is necessary to always ask the question, to push the envelope and to see where one can go and most importantly allow oneself the freedom to investigate these ideas and personal visions that drive us. Damn the marketplace.
I decided this year to focus on the good parts of what it is to create art, to be an artist. I’m heading this year to my first half century and I could bemoan the professional frustrations with and of the art world. I most certainly will on this blog still bitch but more I want to spend my remaining years making art because I need to, because it is the one thing I am really good at and I really love.
Last week I was driving into New York City with my son, twenty minutes before as we stopped on the expressway I remarked at the colors of the sky as the sun was setting. The clouds were a beautiful creamy butter yellow against the blue sky and then as the minutes passed turned into a beautiful peach color in contrast to the darkening sky. As we drove over the Pulaski towards the Holland Tunnel the twilight was now fast upon us, the city skyline with the gray buildings just barely visible against the evening and the twinkling of the cities lights made the city look like the most wonderful jewel and I mean it was fantastic, it was so beautiful.
There is too much art made without love or feeling, made with a cultural cynicism and lack of humanity and there is a great market for it because today it is more advantageous to be hip with irony instead of being simply human.
Because at the end of the day, that is all there is, our humanity. I don’t believe in god or an afterlife. This is it. The universe will die and all of our achievements and grunts will be dust. I don’t find this to be depressing knowing this, knowing the futility. I find it invigorating that somehow we’ve managed to be self aware and can take pleasure in life, in having a need for beauty and to share through words or music or in my case painting, this wonder of life. That we exist is a marvel. So I will try to add to the soup and if I’m lucky I'll be allowed to.
What’s great about the 70’s paintings at MoMA is that by this time the audience has been weeded out and you can actually see some work.
I have to revisit Two Figures in a Landscape owned by the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. This work is a damn ugly sloppy mess and I love it. The ground once again has these ghostly vestiges of images that are scrapped and sanded and the paint that remains or has been added is this goopy mess literally sliding down the canvas. The fleshy colored paint is puckered and sagging like a road smear of skin and the overall coloration is garish in local areas with sky blue against orange, a smudgy yellow white green, scumbled brown, olive green, bright yellow and then this flesh outlined in areas with orange. It probably was a seated woman splayed out on a lawn chair but that’s a guess or a couple in coitus. I found myself staring at this painting trying to take it all in simultaneously and then scanning over it, my eyes darting back and forth; repeat, wash and rinse. These works are carnal, paint as flesh.
I felt this way also looking at the following works, oh never mind they’re all Untitled with a number after it. It was all too easy to get sucked into looking at these pictures and looking and looking, they are inexhaustible.
It is hard to categorize this decade (maybe the entire oeuvre) save for the move away from the gooey safflower texture, possibly because a conservator told De Kooning about the inherent instability of his mixture (see Willem De Kooning The Artists Materials by Susan F. Lake) incidentally coinciding with a serious binge, not surprising. If I found out that 5 years of exceptional painting was potentially unstable I myself would become unstable.
Untitled V from 1980 is the beginning of drawing with the tapers knife, gone are the puckering and explosive brushwork, now bands of green close to a thalo mixed with what looks like paynes gray along with subtle shades of white, pale greens and somewhat hidden underpainting reveal a different spatial configuration. This is no longer the body rendered through paint as flesh but neither is it non-objective. This particular work for me is reminiscent of Gorky whose memory comes through in works that post-date this and for me seems to have a feeling of landscape and not because of the green but the spatial feel.
As we move to the final room we are confronted with Pirate from 1981. I remember vividly the first time I saw this painting and was thunderstruck. Again this density of effect pervades the painting, the red at the left having been sanded and scarred so that the yellow comes through and then overpainted with a wash of white, wow and then the thin blues lines again reminiscent of Gorky and then a smallish yellow patch of moving brushwork to the right of the billowing white and WOW once again.
With Pirate and Untitled III from 1981, the one to the left of Pirate if you managed to see the exhibit now have a frontality of shallow surface space that was hinted at by Untitled V from 1980.
By 1982 the works, Untitled V, XIII (all 1982) are shifting from this frontality to a more cubist space reminiscent of the black and white works from the late 40’s and even shadows of the biomorphic images of the mid 40’s such as Pink Angels only in these later works it is the space around these biomorphic shapes that are hinted at, implied not explicit. De Kooning at this time was 77 and alcoholism had taken a huge toll from the artist, along with the onset of mental deterioration. My great grandfather use to recycle the same stories when he sat at the dinner table, something I’ve noticed with elderly people, life is reflected on and relived, De Kooning it seems is doing the same.
Untitled II from 1983 has white shapes floating in a sea of an older underpainting of primaries, this particular one opens up a visual field in my eyes of Pollock and definitely runs over territory of the black and white paintings. We see more slippage as the year progresses, slippage in the painterly sense not age, the work Untitled V from 83 has a broad expanse of yellow surrounded by ribbons of primary colors. Untitled XIX evokes Gorky again with yellow forming the runs in the top third of the canvas.
1984 brings us to the rather sparse work of No Title to the left in the above photo. A painting which to my eye creates a space akin to a dancer moving slowly across the surface, not unlike the wispiness of what I imagine Duchamp’s bride wafting across the top of the large glass as she is stripped bare.
1985 gives us another No Title work with a really stripped down palette of blue and black, along with works like Rider, which is a very bizarre painting with hints of Gorky ruminating in the dutchman’s mind.
1986 and 87 bring us the final works which are cartoonie, to my eye it is obvious that old drawings of figures are the source for these works but the spatial qualities of each are unique and not unified. This is problematic for many in the art cognoscenti but it doesn’t bother me. Perhaps it is the influence of dementia but to my mind the idea floats that subconsciously as the knowledge comes of impending mental death become imminent, I would want to touch on several key ideas of importance that are varied and not hammer one point repeatedly, a sort of greatest visual ideas being touched upon. Pure conjecture on my part but these last works still confuse me and in a good way, they pervade my mental landscape and need to be dealt with. At the end of the day not many painters alive today despite their youth paint such oddities with this kind of import.
I spent up to a half hour on many paintings staring at them and letting them sink in, eyes locked to them and afterwards walked through the show again, doing the same and ended up with a headache from eyestrain. Not that I minded though.
So where do we go from here? More in the Final Postscript and thoughts on what De Kooning means to me, back to art and the purpose and function it has personally and to the larger cultural contexts along with a greatest hits of works that have meaning to me akin to Mr. Paul Corio’s Paintings I Like via his blog, No Hassle at the Castle and kudos to him for highlighting my thoughts.