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.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Installation at Nancy Margolis and Gorky's Granddaughter


Above are installation images from my show at Nancy Margolis Gallery this past month.  There is a digital catalog here which has all 15 paintings, two are not documented here.

You can also see the show in video format on Gorky's Granddaughter below.  

Zach and Chris generously came to the show and we discussed the work on camera.  You can watch me repeatedly refuse to make any revelatory insights or sweeping statements.  I think it makes the work seem a little more simplistic than I hope it is, but I would rather that than the alternative. 

The alternative manifests itself in this 6 minute 'Jim Carrey, I Needed Color' film which is simultaneously my biggest fear and my favorite art documentary ever.  Please do yourself a favor and watch here.  I hope everyday that he comes out and declares it a mediocre comedic riff on us painters,  but so far no such luck.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Must See: Nathalie du Pasquier @ ICA

What a thrill!  Nathalie du Pasquier, a painter I have admired for a long time (wrote about her here in March 2015) has a retrospective right here in Philly at the Institute of Contemporary Art.  It is so so good.  She worked with curators to organize the space to encompass her career as a textile designer and painter so that rugs are hanging on the wall, paintings are on shelves, objects are hung like paintings.  It is such a perfect installation, and gets at interesting ideas about art making.  I like that her previous career wasn't hidden away, seems difficult to bridge those worlds and be taken seriously in both.  Its insightful to see how her work and emphasis shifts through a long career.  And it is joyful.  A much needed antidote.


(Clyde enjoyed the trip too)

The show runs through December 23.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Painters on Paintings

Another semester is beginning, and in teaching intermediate and advanced painting students, some of which I have had in other classes, I am gathering new resources they might find interesting and applicable to their work.

This summer I finally invested in an 'old lady cart', one of those wire boxes on wheels, so I can drag the 20+ books from the library to my office.   But besides showing students painters in books, I like to give them painters to look at who might not be well known enough for a book, or too contemporary.  So I show them Beer with a Painter Interviews, Art21, Painter's Table, all the good stuff.

But I forgot about Painters on Painting, until a student wanted to make a painting of a body laying horizontally, which reminded me of Manet's Toreador, which reminded me of this essay by Camilla Fallon, which reminded me of Painters on Painting. (if you give a mouse a cookie...)

Basically each essay is by a living painter on any painting they admire and why, what they see.  I think it is so good as a painter, and useful in teaching because its written like a love letter in language that is accessible and relevant to my students. And they also see that work that initially appears different in process and style and time period is actually linked.  So it makes the case to stop looking only digitally and at work being made this second and into bizarre wings of the museum if they really want to see something radical.  Making subtle and specific links like this seems really crucial in pulling student work away from something too overt and 'contemporary looking' without any legs.  I feel an assignment coming on...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Upcoming Show @ Nancy Margolis

Florida Cheerios, 2017, oil on panel, 24 x 30 

I'm having a solo show, my first with Nancy Margolis, opening in two weeks.  Here are three of the 15 paintings.  The show runs from September 7 through October 14th, the opening is Thursday September 7th 6-8pm.  Here is a link for more info.

Pregnant Woes, 2017, oil on panel, 24 x 30 

Banana Shopping, 2017, oil on panel, 48 x 48