Friday, March 9, 2018

Bill Scott Leaf and Line

I couldn't believe the colors that happened to be nearby on my dresser...

I was honored to contribute a writing to my friend and Philadelphia painter Bill Scott's catalog for his show opening at Hollis Taggart next week.  In all honesty I was a bit terrified.  I like to write but it can be a difficult task for me, especially in the context of it being for another painter.  I hope I did justice in writing, my pictures especially don't do justice here.  But the catalog gets close, the reproductions are beautiful.  And the paintings in person are a delight.  Below is my essay and info on the exhibit...

Bill Scott: Reinventing His Rose

On my most recent visit to Bill Scott’s studio, a reproduction of Matisse’s 1942 painting, The Idol, came into view as he moved a large canvas propped against the wall onto the easel for better viewing. His paintings often strike me twice. First comes a flood of pure sensation, as Bonnard once described, “the appearance of things in the exact moment of entering a room.” Colors and air whip up a positively frenzied delight. And then as I settle back into my chair, shaking my head to clear my eyes of the unrelenting beauty of the thing, I can start to really see. Under the bounty lies something much more precarious and daring, hidden in plain sight. The beauty Scott presents rests on an infrastructure that is of our world and of the rules of painting. There is space that expertly opens and closes, foreground spilling forward only to be held up by a dainty violet line, tiny slices of open windows offering a glimpse of cascading shape gardens beyond.

As I sat there reveling in that distinct post-looking-at-good-painting glow that any painter can attest to, I thought harder about why these paintings work while others fail. I have seen previous students and contemporaries try to emulate his expression to no avail. Scott’s work is seductive and relatable and makes painters want to paint, so that is understandable. But it is inimitable; other attempts feel shallow and sugary, somehow simultaneously lacking the search and sophistication. Perhaps it was seeing the Matisse print in such close proximity that night, but I felt as if Matisse had reached into my internal conversation. In a 1953 essay he talks about how a painter must look at the world as if seeing for the first time, not jaded or bleary eyed, but full of wonder, if he ever wants to express a true and original vision. He goes on to say, “I think that nothing is more difficult for a true painter than to paint a rose, since before he can do so, he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.”

Scott seems to be constantly studying other painters’ roses, real roses blooming on Philadelphia fences, his own previous versions of those roses, thinking about them and then reinventing them. He does this not in a haphazard, casual way or in a dramatic, upending way, but by looking out at the world and absorbing its matter and then deliberately attempting to express its grace.

That first striking sensation I feel when I look at his work is this, his pure feeling, that humble, stark acknowledgment of being human and staring directly at the glory of nature, which necessitates a first-person response to be emotive. But for that sensation and invention to maintain power it must be held up by a serious and disciplined understanding of formal consideration. This is the thing that is so masterful, understood by Scott and Matisse alike. The degree of invention is sustained only by the difficult and unyielding parameters of form. Compositional decisions of shape and color are completely devoid of excess, each touch to the surface purposeful and felt. This synthesis of rigorous structure and abundant generosity allow for a world where a circle knocking at the window or a squiggle pausing to catch its breath may be a little whimsical but by no means unbelievable. The familiar is otherworldly, in a kind and forgiving way, positing a place we haven’t really been but hope to visit one day.

Bill Scott Leaf and Line at Hollis Taggart Galleries opens March 15th and continues through April 28th.  

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Postcard from the Studio

I've been working in the studio like a mad man.  I have 13 paintings heading to Volta in March and on top of finishing them I am building all the frames, you can barely see the floor most days.  But the space still manages to be the most sanctuary-like of any space in my life.  I'm so thankful for it and the fact that I have something so fulfilling to do for work.  I think after this semester I am leaving teaching for a while.  It's been good, there are things I will miss, but my plate is too full and happily I'm busy in the studio for now.  

A few of my new paintings are about making paintings and looking at paintings.   Seems like the thing I am seeing a lot and thinking about a lot so inevitably it becomes the subject.  And tulips.  There is nothing better to look at in the winter than tulips.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Museums Shows at the Met!

Favorite moment of the Hockney Show

I went up to New York for my opening and was able to get a few hours in the Met and Met Breuer before.  There are so many strong museum shows right now.  I saw Hockney, Michelangelo, Rodin and Munch.  My eyes were bleeding by the end.  The shows were very crowded which always detracts from the looking for me.  It's amazing how some visitors seem so unaware and like they are the only one in the place.  How? I wish I could be like that.  I spend half my time watching their insane behavior.  

I wanted to look at Michelangelo's copy of Massacio's expulsion, which is one of my favorite paintings ever.  But I listened to one woman blow smoke up another woman's *** about it for so long that I could no longer stand there, she literally said nothing for 10 minutes but her mouth did not close.  Anyway, I eventually just chose a few drawings that were less popular and tried to calm down and enjoy them.  

Beyond that, Hockney was great to see in person for all the little moments that are lost in reproduction.  So many of the paintings are so big that there are all these little still lives and funny side notes within.  The work is so seemingly carefree and easy, California and pools feel like such the right subject.  I preferred the beginning half of the show much more than the end.    

Munch at the Met allowed for a much calmer environment and that made sense for the work.  It is so depressing you just want to weep.  This painting detail above of his sister's deathbed was really heartbreaking, and the color was sick and beautiful at the same time. I heard one lady say she likes the look of the paintings but can't he just paint something a little happier?  haha.  He seems to be a real master of color and value. But there was something in his brushstroke I didn't always care for.  He seems so set on expressing immediately the misery and turmoil that the brushwork can be unfelt and too fast somehow?  And the bottom edges of the compositions feel odd a lot, things cut off at weird places.  I think that was okay, it was distressing but I think that made its point.  

Anyway, a lot to see and worth the visit.  But maybe go with earplugs...

Monday, January 8, 2018

Couple Paintings at NMG Jan 2018

Fruit with Toaster Reflection, 2017, 24 x 24 inches, Oil on Panel

I've been working like crazy in the studio recently.  There is no heat except my space heater, and the water was just shut off this week so the pipes don't freeze.  I feel like the sacrifice in no ways makes my work better,  but I like being able to complain here about the things painters go through for their work haha.

These five paintings are in a group show opening Thursday Jan 11th at Nancy Margolis Gallery.  I will also have my work at Volta in march.  So hopefully the big paintings I'm fighting come to some resolution this winter...

Bouquet Among Pines, 2017, 24 x 19.5 inches, Oil on Panel

Cereal on Snowy Sill, 2017, 24 x 18 inches, Oil on Panel

Dog Park Pile Up(Snow), 2017, 32 x 24.5 inches, Oil on Panel

Woman with Flurries, 2017, 10.5 x 13.5 inches, Oil on Panel

Friday, December 8, 2017

Herculaneum Frescoes, Anonymity and Ego

I've been enamored with Italian frescoes since studying abroad in Florence over 10 years ago.  Visiting what seemed like every tiny cathedral and town within a couple hours and seeing Masaccio and Giotto and Piero pretty much floored me to the ground for a long time.  It was so revelatory for me, I barely made anything for the year after, but then when I did start working again, I worked with an understanding that was honestly just much better.  The scale, the surface, the history of eyes that had come to study these things...being in their presence is as close as I have come to a spiritual experience in a religious space in my life. 

I look at those images a lot.  The image can never do justice to the physical experience, of course, but I think it can remind, if experienced in person at some point.  Early Renaissance has had me for a long time for its organization of space, the strength in shapes and value that compose the picture plane, the flat color.  And while I appreciate the later high Renaissance fresco work, it never had the same resonance for me.

Only recently I started looking to fresco that pre-dates these heroes, as so many of the books and research concentrate on this high time.  But these images above, from Herculaneum, around 50-80A.D. bring up much that I love about the early Renaissance work.  And they are of such simple subjects.  I would really like the see these in person, without that experience it is hard to fully appreciate.  But I can imagine the surfaces must have that same power.  

I think I respond too to the pure randomness and anonymity of their survival.  These are preserved only thanks to the volcanic activity that froze bits of time.  It is unknown who painted them (as far as I am aware?) and that is actually refreshing.  

So much of painting is wrapped up in the ego of the painter.  This has always been true I guess, the personality and persona of the maker figures its way into the work.  As years go by, those particulars are less of a factor, but still the maker is central to the work, at least in much of western art history.  As a painter I know there is something about trying to outlive your mortality that making exquisite work promises.  But somehow I think the relationship of maker and work is in danger of being reversed in contemporary painting.   

Right now so much mediocre work gets attention for the maker's digital presence.  So little time spent on the actual object made, but so much time spent on shopping it around and the virtual aura surrounding that person.  The simple repetition of seeing the same thing on multiple social media outlets makes it seem like it is important and worthwhile and therefore of value.  But really much of the time it is vacuous and boring and makes me want to live in a treehouse without wi-fi.  And I have felt the trappings of this myself, but I try to stay on high alert, committed to what is visually meaningful to me, my own judgement.  

These frescoes serve as a reminder that obscurity is a relief and maybe allows for truer looking.  As a recent friend wrote to me there is such a necessity for the 'quiet dignity of simple things' today.  So maybe it is even more beautiful and startling to future lookers and makers if a painting can live on completely unmoored from its maker.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Subtle, Still Life

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1960
My show is down, my baby is crawling (and therefore finally taking good naps) and I can get a half hour of thinking time to myself.  I remember everyone saying having a baby is so hard, or, your life will never be the same.  And while I believed them and knew that would be the case, I pictured it more as a physical change of running around, changing diapers, cleaning bottles.  This is true and difficult.  But the hardest part as a painter is the mental space it occupies.  It's so important outside of the studio to be able to walk around and daydream, observe things, in a sort of free association.  But having Clyde makes for worrying and planning in every minute, where even if I am out in the world I'm not seeing spontaneously, because of the to do list etched in my mind's eye.  It's depleting in that way.  But fulfilling in other ways I've never had.

I've actually seen a ton of shows recently, going to NY for my show and catching them here and there, and needing destinations for our walks in Philly, I have seen a lot of painting in person recently.  And the more I see the more I keep retreating back to a few paintings and ideas etched even deeper in my mind's eye than my to-do list. 

E.M. Saniga, Beets, n.d.

Sanyu, Five Pears, n.d.

Andre Brasilier

Andre Brasilier

Sydney Licht, Still Life with Sardine Can, 2015

I didn't realize it then but my revisiting of these paintings and ideas of subtlety
 started on the residency in Ireland in May.  Not only did I have the whirlwind in my personal life but changing physical spaces and studios is very uprooting.  

The first week or two that we got there I kept feeling the need to try to paint what I was seeing, these vast, majestic, deep spaces.  The studio building is filled with great plein air work from previous residents.  But these paintings are not paintings I make or have interest in making.  On our daily walks I started gathering flowers along the road and little objects from our cottage and brought them into the studio.  Along with a little mirror, I was able to make paintings that were much more interesting to me and felt like mine, small self portraits and still lives.  

Part of me felt very out of place in this landscape making these paintings.  They had nothing to do with the direct observation of the surroundings, aside from the color.  But the paintings are in direct opposite reaction to the chaotic and dramatic personal experience I had.  Again I felt the power and conviction in making the subtlest, quietest paintings.