Saturday, August 12, 2017

Derain and the Fear and Loathing of the Modern Figurative Artist

The figurative artist today is considered an artistic Luddite, somehow quaint, but is dismissed as outdated as a prairie poke bonnet.  Recently in a New York Times article about Andrew Wyeth, critic Ted Loos wrote "Wyeth is often dismissed as a talented realist — generally not a compliment in today’s art world." This flimsy article does not warrant further reading as the author displays a remarkable ignorance vis-a-vis figurative painting, and is only useful to illustrate the typical dismissal of the genre.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/16/arts/design/unclothed-in-andrew-wyeths-art.html On the other hand, Cindy Sherman, that dirty underwear neurotic sends a New York Times critic into to paroxysms of artspeak over her new breakthrough: the  making public her Instagram account.
Cindy Sherman "Ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille"
https://www.instagram.com/_cindysherman_/ https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/06/arts/design/cindy-sherman-instagram.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fdesign&action=click&contentCollection=design&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=sectionfront

It is difficult climate for the figurative artist, there are very few serious venues. The major galleries only show "realism" if your work is filled with snark, political messages, and irony. No sincere bathing in beauty here- are you mad!? I have been asked if my art is kitsch by gallery owners before seeing it. It may be but I assure you it is quite unintentional on my part.

I love the figurative but it is both a joy and agony to paint; is it too photographic or slick, should I try some faux  naive stylization? No not that- too dishonest but what? I find that often I try to do the best I can,and quite simply let the results lie where they fall. It is a quite humbling not to mention, painful experience when you realize that the final result in no way resembles the radiant, museum worthy, art book canonization of your original vision.

The tilt of art towards abstraction was challenged by Derain, Giacometti and Balthus. Here is a review of the show written by Jed Perl, one of the few remaining sane critics in the art world. To say this review gave me wings is an understatement. Jed Perl makes subscribing The New York Review of Books  worth it. I don't know if you are able to read the whole review without a subscription but you can read part of it. I included the insightful last paragraph,

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/08/17/derain-balthus-giacometti-modernist-return-to-reality/

An excerpt: All these artists, Derain as much as Picasso, embraced the fundamental modern discovery that the essence of the visual arts wasn’t naturalistic truth but pictorial truth. A work of art was first and foremost an arrangement of forms, which had both emotional and symbolic implications. With Picasso and Matisse, the constant rearrangement of forms became a way of generating emotions and symbols that reflected the artist’s kaleidoscopic personality. Derain, Giacometti, and Balthus were troubled by what they saw as the subjectivity of such constantly mutating forms. While they were too thoroughly modern to revert to the old idea that a painting was a mirror of the visible world, they wanted their imaginary worlds to have a logic and inevitability that transcended their own emotional appetites.
Derain "Nude in Front of a Green Curtain"
Derain  "Harlequin and Pierrot"

"To all of this skepticism the magnificent exhibition currently at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris responds with a clearheadedness and an intrepid confidence rare in the museum world. What we have here is nothing less than another side of the great modern adventure. That Derain, Balthus, and Giacometti are so absolutely insistent on rejecting irony in favor of sincerity and magic in favor of metaphysics gives this exhibition a particular urgency in our own dark times."

Further reading: Jed Perl's take on Cindy Sherman.
https://newrepublic.com/article/101646/cindy-sherman-moma-pop-culture-camp-kitsch-aura

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Chandra Battacharjee

  Every once in awhile I encounter an artist that brings me to my knees.  Bhattacharjee  is a contemporary Indian artist from Kolkata. It seems that much contemporary art is from nowhere and reflects more a loft in Brooklyn, that the artist's native home.   In the instagram age we are buried in seemingly trivial imagery. His work is profound, lyrical and elegiac. I understood it without his "artist's statement". It is timeless and yes, beautiful. These made my day and lifted my spirit.

Notwithstanding his lyrical approach, Bhattacharjee was a trained and skilled draughtsman who did not just luck out. 








Painting, especially from life, and unlike photography compels you to look at something for a longer time, uncovering hidden layers beneath surface appearances.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

We are Cowards- too many Artists have Given up on Beauty.

Beautiful paintings are not cool today, they not done- they are sneered at and we the artists, have for the most part cowered under the critics. I am not not talking about the endless simpering creations of vapid neo-victorian landscapes and other treacly greeting card images, but images that are deeply, personally challenging and heart stoppingly beautiful and human.,We have to trick out our art with onerous messages and unsightly images for no reason, desperate to show just how serious we are as an artist, the real deal the reason we are paying off our student loans .Worse we have to resort to callous indifference and mine the obscenely rich with clever, sleazy, insincere, showboating crap, anything! to get their jaded and worthless attention. Rare indeed are artists like Kathe Kollwitz who manages to combine beauty and deep humanity. Most of us in the west are poseurs at faux agony. Much of the misery we experience here is self-pity; no-one appreciates our work, can't get a gallery, can't afford to live and work, but even at our nadir we are not in Raqqa, Syria watching our children's heads being blown off. Suffering will not go away, beauty might.Why can't we make work that justifies people's faith in the basic goodness of man? Suffering morphs from one century to another, but our beautiful planet might not continue exist as it is. We are complicit in this.

The National Gallery of London is Having a glorious show of Dutch flower paintings. I can smell the blooms from here.https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/dutch-flowers

Glorious!





And if you are not in London, sniff, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is having two excellent shows- Matisse and Botticelli. I saw them I almost died and went to heaven.  Come to think of it, one of the last things I would like to see, other than loved ones is Botticelli's Primavera, not Jeff Koon's balloon animals or Damien Hirst's shark tank!

Botticelli "Primavera" not in the exhibition but some beauties are. Will add my pictures later.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

You may already be a winner, or don't worry about never having won a big art prize. Sic Transit Gloria

The big shakers and movers in the art world of the past, like Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Manet, Monet etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, the names that come to the tip of the tongue and mind were never as far as I could ascertain, big prize winners of anything. 

Below is a list of the hot artists of the era that coincided with the aforementioned artists up until 1960, when I believe the last prize was awarded. It is a list of the disappeared. 

http://grandemasse.org/?c=actu&p=Grand_Prix_Rome_Peinture_1864-1968 this is an absolutely hilarious link to les oeuvres des oubliées of the Prix de Rome. I was struck at how overwrought each composition was, more was more, more agony, more figures, more pomposity, more pretension. Again I was struck by a similar vein mined at the current Venice Biennale, where each country is outdoing each other in bombast and in political allusions- oh how cute, how done. Who the hell is going to know what this pretentious political crap refers to 100 years from now, if the planet is still here. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/arts/anne-imhof-fierce-young-artist-and-choreographer-wins-venices-top-prize.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fdesign&action=click&contentCollection=design&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront 


Personally, I have never won an art prize, not a single one that I can remember offhand. Oh yes, sorry, I won a Sagendorf  prize (Copley Society) for a portrait about 20 years ago. Again in the second grade I won 10 dollars for a patriotic essay for the Daughters of the American Revolution, something I would be hard put to write today. Since then it has been mostly downhill. I have been refused entry into art shows in my home state of Rhode Island, even one recent exhibition for women- ouch! I have entered enough contests whose fees undoubtedly would aid the national debt if not mine. I could paper the walls of a large house with the letters of regret. I doubt I have even gotten an honorable mention- I may have gotten a few finalist accolades. I am like most artists, depending on what the future, fashion or taste holds, either lucky or unlucky.

And I am neither fashionable nor unfashionable- I do not rise to the collective art consciousness. I am obscure.

But for those of you who are hovering with me over the abyss of anonymity I give you the tale of the not so immortal Georges Rochegrosse. 

Dancer Undressing $3,485.16

From First Dibs
  "Georges Rochegrosse was abandoned by his father as a child, and when his mother remarried he became the stepson of the great poet Théodore de Banville. In this new intellectual, artistic family environment he began receiving guidance from Alfred Dehodencq. Then, at the age of 12, he became a pupil of Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre at the Académie Julian, where he later taught draughtsmanship. While enjoying the benefits of the more liberal teaching at the Académie Julian, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, and was a finalist in the Prix de Rome competition twice. In 1883 he won the Prix du Salon, which enabled him to visit Italy. He subsequently traveled to Belgium, Holland and Germany. Around 1890 he married his great love Marie Leblond, who became the model for the heroines in his paintings for about 30 years. From 1900, Rochegrosse and Marie spent the winter months in El-Biar, in the hills above the Bay of Algiers, where the painter often found the Oriental backgrounds for his compositions. In 1920 Marie died and Rochegrosse sought solace at the Société Théosophique de France (French Theosophical Society). In 1937, a year before he died, he married Antoinette Arnau. He died in El-Biar, but he was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. Having grown up in the shadow of a literary colossus, Rochegrosse adventurously followed in the footsteps of Delacroix: in his first period he took his subjects from the Egyptian, Roman and Byzantine civilisations, for which Banville helped him to reconstitute the authentic details. The end of this period was marked by the huge success of his Death of Babylon at the Salon. Banville died in 1891. Now almost totally forgotten, in the 1880s and 1900s Rochegrosse was a fashionable painter. His fame was international, commensurate with the ambitious nature of his major historical, mythological and literary compositions. In Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle praises one of his paintings. Nowadays there is more reticence about the artificial theatricality of his great, but merely narrative, 'machines', in which gesture often takes the place of true emotion. Nevertheless, when a retrospective based around this period throws up one of his compositions, his skilful draughtsmanship, pictorial technique and the positioning of his figures are striking, as is the painstaking detail of the action and the backdrops in his complex heroic scenarios. In 2003 his work appeared in the collective exhibition The School of Algiers (L'École d'Alger) at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux."

If you go through a list of the Grand Prix winners of the French Salon onWikipedia, it is surprising how very few are known today. Manet never won a prize, was refused many times, but his model for Olympia, Victorine Meurent) did get in. She also thought little of his paintings. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Vive la France! Vive Macron! Vive the European Union! Vive tolerance! Vive the denial of Racism and Hate.

Delacroix  Liberty Leading the People

Hooray France- you got it right. When you are finished with Macron we will exchange him for Obama. Macron will still be younger that that fat, racist creep - Trump!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

(Oscar)Wilde also raises the question of self-contradiction. In art, he says, there is no such thing as an absolute truth: "A Truth is that whose contradictory is also true." This sentiment recalls Wilde's tremendous respect for the thoughts of Walt Whitman. In "Song of Myself," Whitman writes, "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes)." From Cliff Notes








Ivan Albright  American, 1897-1983 Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943/44
Ivan Albright painted this picture for the movie 'Dorian Gray" based on the Oscar Wilde book "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" Personally, I am not fond of Albright's work and think that it is superbly suited to art consumers that like a heavy dose of  sturm und drang in their decor. It is perfect then for hedge fund billionaires like Steven Cohen, for a foyer staged prelude to his pickled Damien Hirst Australian shark und tank- a man whose wealth, not his character is his power. I prefer the work of Aubrey Beardsley for Wilde's book "Salome" and his work for "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves". There is more grace, beauty and power in a few strokes of Beardsley than in most overwrought painted oeuvres past and present. I can happily sit with the contradictions of Goya's Los Caprichos and Botticelli's Primavera, both have power, one uses beauty the other profound compassion. People often underestimate the power of beauty, Botticelli was alleged to have burned his more "pagan" paintings in the Bonfire of the Vanities directed by an acetic monk, Savonarola, http://www.historyofpainters.com/bonfire_vanities.htm





Salome 


 Goya Los Caprichos

Botticelli Primavera

Monday, April 24, 2017

Shouting Above the Waves







Chris Polson, who makes my excellent canvas stretchers- http://twinbrooksstretchers.com/ has been telling me to try Instagram. The New York Times says that Instagram is de rigueur for artists- in a previous editorial however, they had said too much social media is bad and a waste of time. You can get lost in the weeds as it were. Eh!
My 20 something model says blogs are out, Instagram is in -young people don't read blogs anymore, so in total terror of being even more obscure than I am I took the plunge.

I know the internet is saturated with artists but after opening the Pandora's box of Instagram I feel bludgeoned by "art": rich artists, starving artists, bold artists, figurative artists, animal artists. landscape artists, abstract artists, post everything artists and artists who do things with doilies that would never have occurred to me. Much of the work I see, at first bite looks inviting, though after some consideration becomes as tasteless and artificial as a Twinkie. Instagram is like digging through a landfill, now and again you find treasures and reconnect with artists you admire and share an affinity,

People have been urging me to put more stuff , more 'drama" into my painting. More bits flying about.I see succesful young artists painting mountains of flowers and butterflies surrounding their figures, compositions so complex they rival the historical paintings of the French Academy. I am not that clever. I do feel drowned, submerged, but the thought of attempting one of these "masterpieces" fills me with - oh well- boredom. I do not like painting acres of flowers, plastered on butterflies ( the pictorial glop du jour). I can get through maybe a posey or two, maybe a bouquet but you have to strap the brushes to my hands. I love faces, I love figures , I love hands and feet. I know I have to occasionally put something between those extremities and around them. I love color. I like good design and simplicity.

It our fractious times it seems to me so many artist find the need to shout, louder and louder, to try more and more extreme measures to get attention. This does not condone timidity, the willingness to try something that is not stale, to go out on the limb of failure. I have always in retrospect found that there is power in the seemingly effortless and simple. Both John and Twachtman share a delicious delicacy of design and color. Delicacy, oh delicacy!

Gwen John are John Twachtman are two examples. Gwen John was overshadowed in her lifetime by her bombastic and famous brother Augustus John. Today she is more highly regarded- even though she died in obscurity. I could live with either painter's work on my wall.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwen_John






https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Twachtman






This is actually Carl Fabritius' wonderful painting of a yellow finch, what power in a tiny painting.