Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Response RETRO from Henrimag

- Full disclosure- Henrimag and its author provocateur is a friend of mine and he has written many nice things about my work and I have written for his blog on occasion too.

Our ancestors in part came to this land looking to start life anew and create a society that didn’t suffer the ills of old Europe, mine date in part to the earliest settlers in New York, Massachusetts and Virginia in the late 17th Century. How that actually played out was a different story as it always is with too much puritanical fever and the old testament in hand and practice.

I once was walking around dumbo over twenty years ago with an English friend who asked why we Americans destroyed our best architecture, my reply was that we were the stock of peasants who in their desire to create a new world jettisoned the past and did not want to look back and had even forgotten how to look back. The American mythos of this self made man with the chance to make a new fortune lost in translation the previous shared social values and structures that class distinctions forced upon him, the end result being to some extent our current predicament of rapacious greed in the face of societal decay.

Post war America or the United States to be less chauvinistic, came to bask in its glory as the promise of democracy with all the values we were taught in school, of course without being taught about the large bag of dirty laundry that helped create our empire. Finally we began to believe our own hype and press without being critical, less you be considered an enemy of the state for disagreeing, you’re either with us or against us. And like Narcissus we became overly enamored of our own reflection.

Nostalgia is a cultural condition of this lack of proper reflection and criticality, it is a reflection and desire to enter arcadia and our arcadia appears to be the modernist era and musically the 60’s, Amy Winehouse comes to mind. Visual nostalgia takes as its locus the modern era and bad post-modern theorists use criticality in the same pastiche in which they misinterpret or appropriate the image and function of such.

What marks Miró as a great painter is not only was he visually adept at orchestrating works that act like small chamber ensembles but that he was pushing the boundaries of what painting could be and achieve, he had in short, faith in the visual experience as a visceral tangible thing. He was willing to take risks, make bad works and explore his own personal thoughts and expressions. This also takes place within the time of Surrealism, which gave license (as if it were needed) to explore the sub and un conscious inner worlds of our being. This theory provided a framework for the subject matter to be addressed.

As Gerhard Richter has said and I’ve said it before, it isn’t how to paint it is what to paint. An artist has to perform an intricate dance between subject matter or content and then the visual aspects of creating a space that isn’t about the subject but is the embodiment of this.

Our current theory du jour is the leftover grab bag of post modern theory, which originally was not about cynicism but saw the philosophic cul de sac ahead as the previous mythos and theory was imploding in the immediate post war era and came to fore in the sixties. The so called work based on this misreading and misinterpretation of Lyotard et al is in itself a pastiche of the very theory it uses as its armature.

The real irony is that we are surrounded by too much work that is tedious in its cynicism and is based in part on too much reading of words, it accepts without understanding the complexities of what the death of the author means and substitutes ironic distance, it makes obvious pastiche of other forms without understanding the true meaning. It is a knowledge that has been taught but not understood and just a bad form of the very thing it tries to be. In short, it is about but not is. It is the current academy of thought. It is a bunch of illiterates who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk and I’m sure we’ve all had the unfortunate experience of someone incredibly well read but incredibly daft as to what is really going on around them.

Any good painting, maybe great painting is a paradox. I’ve always thought that Picasso’s run in with Velazquez’s Las Meninas were post modern of sorts or De Kooning too for that matter. Picasso does make a pastiche but it is done with, I will say it, a love of what he is seeking to own, destroy, to make new, to possess and to offer anew. What makes a distinction between a great painter and an also-ran is that the great painter loves what he is trying to destroy or possess, the under riding mythos of Picasso as Minotaur was his own and not some schooled lesson. It appears in all of his work from Les Demoiselles d'Avignon onwards. More importantly great art comes from artists who wrestle with themselves and their ambitions, demons, desires and inherent failures, paradoxes, contradictions and the like.

What marks this post modern art, the current art du jour is the fact that the true feelings that the artists have are missing (if they have any to begin with) and are all wrapped up in signs of the signifiers without being significant in and of themselves. This signification is what marks this work as academic and no different that the salon works of the French academy in the 19th century.

In the end when I go to my studio and wrestle with my own ideas and feelings the art du jour doesn’t even come to mind. It is creating the same experience that the greats have done before, that gets me excited, that makes me want to engage in such a futile exercise and finally to find my own inherent contradictions and complexities and to share them because art is a form of communication about everything and nothing.


  1. Well said, thanks.

    Something I wrote in 2010 while in Greece.

  2. Thanks James.

    "Too often art today lacks the most important originality and suffers from too much mind, material and “perfection of means”. For art to be authentic and honest, an artist has to reach deep into one's original self. Only then will the "means" of material and method truly have the force of a deeper purpose."

    I think this observation is accurate but at the same time isn't necessarily new. Our situation today is very similar to the Salon of Paris where the majority of the work fit very neatly into the desired bourgeoisie taste of that time, today seems little different. I touched on this in a post from February 2011,