Monday, November 30, 2015

Philadelphia's Winter Light

Wolf Kahn, Silver Foliage, 1997
I saw it today -- that silvery, gray light I know only to be winter in this city.  I woke up and instead of that little bit of warmth, that orangey yellow of fall and leaves reflecting back into the atmosphere, it was the cool light that pierces through empty branches.  Bittersweet feeling.  It's the best painting light to me but the reminder of a long season ahead. 

Nicolas de Stael, details unknown

 I have a feeling soon the nights will be looking like this:

Paul Metrinko, details unknown

Monday, November 9, 2015

Aesthetics with Time as a Constant Variable

Raoul Middleman, 2004, Nancy

 I've had this thought ruminating in my brain in the last few weeks about how the perceived beauty or ugliness of a piece of work is its power and how that perception changes over time and as a result changes that power. 
It started when I had students in my expressive drawing class read this interview:  Beer with a Painter: Raoul Middleman.  I don't particularly respond to his work and I knew my students (mainly graphic design majors) would really struggle with it.  But we are working on portraiture and the figure and they need to stop being so preconceived and clean with their drawings.  I like what he has to say throughout the interview, here is an excerpt:

"I try to keep the primitive quality of a painting. I paint fast, because if I spend too much time on a painting, I might bring it back to a place where it becomes a palliative condiment to assuage the nerve endings of a jaded public. I would rather keep it at that point where it is a frontal assault on our central nervous system."

He goes on to discuss how many of the great masters Rembrandt and Titian and De Kooning were using ugliness and vulgarity to "attack a closed moral system", to get people to see again when looking at a painting.

Marcel Duchamp, 1917, Fountain

A week later I found myself at the Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life exhibition standing in front of Duchamp's Fountain.  I have looked at it many, many times, always thinking about what art historians say about how appalling and shocking it was --sometimes going with friends or family and passing on the story to them.

But as I stood there last week by myself and looked at it, I thought, its actually kind of beautiful.  In 1917 the urinals were glazed porcelain with tiny imperfections.  The shape of it is something you might find in a Guston painting.  Any hipster scrolling through Etsy would find this object delightful.  Maybe that's being a bit facetious but it was truly a different statement then than now.  Now our toilets and readymade industrial world has gotten to be so much more standardized, disposable and pedestrian that this object looks interesting to me in a way Duchamp did not intend.

Philip Guston, 1977, Black Sea

As I look at work from the past, how much should context actually be considered?  I think I got more from it by genuinely engaging my 2015 eyes and thoughts than I ever did by thinking about its importance in art history and its time.  Of course I needed to know its past to think about it this way but maybe the best work can evolve in why it is powerful, as I think Rembrandt and Titian have.  And work that is only important for its shock at the time and has no way to transform forward should no longer be part of the canon (you know who you are)...  And I guess that eventually will happen.

Which brought me back around to Middleman's idea that many times artists are noticed, in their real time, for making work that is shocking to the aesthetic of the day.  For so much of western, relatively recent, art history that has meant doing things that seem vulgar or ugly or unconsidered.  But does it get to a point where what is shocking to our central nervous system is work that takes on an aesthetic of exquisite beauty and overtly considered design?  I think that would be work that would be hard for me to look at and believe to be genuine and good.  Which is why I had students read the Middleman interview in the first place -- because the illustrative, preconceived designs aren't strong and won't be taken that way by the contemporary art world we live in.

But simultaneously I think the art world is tending towards work that is more thoughtful and subtle and beautiful.  Which is different than being illustrative or preconceived.  More interest in the evidence of the hand and the handmade.  Hmmm.  Not many answers in this post but that's never really what good art and thinking ends with anyway, right? 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Philadelphia Exhibitions Seen and To See

Christopher Knowles, Institute of Contemporary Art
So many good shows to behold here in Philadelphia!  I have seen some and I have some on my list of must-see to share.  First, those that I have seen.  

The Institute of Contemporary Art has some killer painting shows right now.  Christopher Knowles is downstairs in the biggest space.  His work spans a range of years and materials.  I gravitated most to paintings like that above and the typewriter word poems.  It is a chance to look inside a really unique process, Knowles is an autistic artist who has been making this work and performances since the early 70s.  I recently heard an interview with him and his wife, stumbled upon completely coincidentally, on KCRW's The Organist, podcast.  I wish it had more from him and less from her, when he talks you can hear the way memory is ever-present in his mind and it gives the work context.  The show feels equally visual and audio, as you read the words in your mind, the rhythm on the page and the rhythm of the words work together in beautiful ways.

Christopher Knowles, Institute of Contempory Art (photo courtesy of ICA)

Becky Suss, Institute of Contemporary Art

Upstairs is a show of really good painting by Philadelphia artist Becky Suss.  I have liked her work for a while and remain a fan.  Here is a nice review of the show by Samantha Mitchell on Title Magazine.

Jan Baltzell, Schmidt Dean Gallery

A lyrical show about color and line is at Schmidt Dean gallery.  Jan Baltzell, a former graduate critic of mine, is showing new work.  Ranging from charcoal drawings to paintings on mylar to large scale canvas paintings (above) those formal concerns are engaged in masterful ways.  I could almost not bear to put up this photo as it is such a bad representation of such a good show but it is the only one I got in such a crowded opening and a show that needs to be shared and seen in person.  Here is a link to an online catalog with much better images but see in person!

Yvonne Jacquette, Seraphin Gallery
A show that doesn't seem to be getting much notice but is worth seeing is at Seraphin.  Some interesting paintings by Yvonne Jacquette there.  Again the image does no justice here to the rich, dense build up of black night sky in this drawing.

There was a very good show at Gross McCleaf of paintings by Ying Li which unfortunately closed yesterday.  Where are the months going?  You can still see it digitally on their website though.

Now for the things I want to see but haven't yet...

Jennifer Bartlett, Untitled(Hospital), 2012 (Image courtesy of Locks Gallery)
I have been making paintings that are much darker and so I was interested in Jacquette's show and am also curious to see this series of paintings by Jennifer Bartlett on view at Locks Gallery through November 13.  They are all done from the viewpoint of a hospital window or hallway. 

Neysa Grassi's show has one more week at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art.  I don't see how I will make it but I really hope time stops and I find myself there, her work is always so good in person.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art just opened its Still life show Audubon to Warhol.  Still life is the best.  It is an under appreciated genre that I think has so much material for curators to look at.  Glad this show is up, hoping to take students to it but I will certainly be there a few times before it closes January 10.

Pagus Gallery in Norristown has a show with some really good abstract painters.  The website is pretty bad but the line up is good: Mark Brosseau, Clint Jukkala, Lucy Mink, Brooke Moyse, and Enrico Riley.  I'm going to try to get up there this week, the show closes November 13th.  Below is a photo I was able to find via facebook.
Clint Jukkala, Mark Brosseau and Enrico Riley, Pagus Gallery show Walk the Line

There is a show of three good painters that just opened at Cerulean Arts too.  Laura Adams, Claire Kincade and Joyce Werwie Perry.  They are giving a talk Sunday November 8th at 2pm.  

Finally, there is a good Review Panel hosted by PAFA.  Discussion by artists and critics of shows in the area.  So much cross-over!...The Philadelphia art world is a good place to be a painter right now...

"On Wednesday, November 18 at 6 p.m., David Cohen will be joined by guest panelists Sharon Butler, Edward Epstein, and Clint Jukkala to discuss the following exhibitions: