I don’t know about you but after I see work that gets me going, that says yes, I find I have to somehow tackle it in my studio or at the very least in sketchbooks. I have found though over the 27 years of being an ‘artist’, that my tastes are more far ranging than most of the artists I’ve come across.
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...