Sunday, June 28, 2015

Horace Pippin at Brandywine River Museum


I saw the survey of Horace Pippin at Brandywine River Museum today.  It was so good to see.  There were a lot of paintings and his work is well deserving of a deeper examination.  Being able to look at so many works at once I felt better able to figure out why I always gravitate to his paintings.  He is so subtle in breaking rules.  

In school you are told never to put anything dead center of the composition or make it symmetrical or make the top of a composition too heavy.  But if you do break those rules you should do it in an overt way, so its not a question of whether it was purposeful.  

But in Pippin's paintings, he does all those things and does them quietly.  Things are too symmetrical or a little out of proportion or a bit warped in perspective.  That slight skew makes for a really heightened engagement with the painting and the narrative, it isn't easy to breeze over.  

And then the color is the other thing, he really uses it in a personal way.  The value is always completely full spectrum from bright white to rich blacks.  These tonal shapes make up large majorities of most paintings but then saturated reds, greens, and yellows sit in harmony.  They don't read as sugary or easy among the bigger tonal areas painted into such deliberate shapes.  Seeing a few pieces (one pictured above) of unfinished paintings made me think about this, how drawing and value play such a big role in the paintings and help establish mood through scale and contrast almost immediately.

Pippin remains a favorite of mine for his personal interpretation of the things around him and in his thoughts.  The show is up through July 12th, here is a link.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wisdom from Anne Tabachnick

Anne Tabachnick, “Cambridge with Tulips and View” (late 1960s), acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 38 x 48 inches

There is this thing that happens very occasionally.  I think everyone has felt it happen to them.  It's where the world conspires to get you to notice one thing in a heightened way, so when you see it, it feels nearly predestined.  (Maybe some call that fate but I don't believe in that) 

Here's what happened:  I spent about 1.5 hours this morning trying to respond to an email that I had been putting off for about 2 weeks.  I was trying to describe essentially what I think is important in painting, what I paint.  That thing no painter wants to or can define.  So I fumbled through this email and sent it off.  It was cobbled sentence fragments.  Then I stared at 8 different paintings on my easel for the next 2 hours.  I was too hyper aware of what I was doing and so everything was shitty.  I gave up and decided I needed to reorganize myself.  I needed to look at paintings, do some reading and figure out some jumping off points that I was excited to paint from.

I grabbed 9 books to start that process and the first one I open, first page I open to is this.  An Anne Tabachnick catalog that I have looked at many times but never taken the extra time to read.  This is literally the first thing I read:

"My basic preoccupation as an artist has been an apparently formal concern with painting as painting, per se.  Yet, I am simultaneously guided by the notion of mystical presence of art that made me fall in love with painting in the first place.  I could be called a Second Generation New York School painter, an identity which places me in an artistic, ideological and temporal milieu but does not begin to characterize my work.  I have called my work 'lyrical expressionism' hinting at its evocative nature.  My pictures are figurative - always insisting on some reference to natural visual phenomena - but are expressive through abstract means."

I feel like she reached through time and space to give me those words at this moment.  I LITERALLY KNEW BEFORE I googled her name that she died 20 years ago to this day.  I was positive that the world would answer back to affirm its awareness.   I was one day off.  She died June 20, 1995.  I honor you today Anne.  A great painter and thinker, your work sustains that mystical presence that guided you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Second Look: Irving Penn

Irving Penn, Still Life with Watermelon, 1947

Some of Irving Penn's still life photographs feel the smallest bit dated.  The color and objects pulling from too specific a time, so that their once timely and daring components now reference the past too much, taking away from their form.  But not this image above.  This image seems to defy time.  It strikes such a deep chord of art history, with references to 17th century feast paintings, and contrasting with that modern, simple shape and color of the watermelon and white background.  It is the perfect composition.