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.   

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Pick: Munakata and Colaizzo

Shiko Munakata, Six Women - Embodiments of the Main Buddhist Sutras, 1953, Woodcut

Shiko Munakata, Bluegrass Plains, 1956, Woodcut

Shiko Munakata, Herons Over the Ricefield Path, 1960, Woodcut

I've been a small part of a project that has been so unexpectedly rewarding to me over the last two months.  My friend and former grad school classmate Matt Colaizzo is having a solo exhibition at Napoleon Gallery in June.  At Napoleon for each show they pair the artist with someone to write about the show.  It can be any format; an interview, poems, an essay etc. and so when I was asked to write for his, I hesitantly agreed.  Hesitantly because I really admire Matt's work and while I find writing about art to be something of a 'necessary evil' to accompany my studio practice, I am always wary as to whether my words can convey in a professional and real way, what I think when I really like something.  It's a bit easier to write about things I find troubling or questionable.

Anyways, that brought me to the decision to visit Matt's studio and discuss his practice and see the progress of the woodcuts firsthand to gather my thoughts.  In the course of our two visits he introduced me to a lot of new things of interest; authors, co-op chocolate and some really amazing woodcut printmakers.  The one printmaker that has stuck with me is Shiko Munakata, some examples can be seen above.  Matt showed me a picture of him where he is so close to the board you couldn't fit a pencil between his eye and the wood, he is nearly blind and still making work up until his death in 1975 (below).  He is a printmaker that Matt identifies with and so that is where my essay begins.  (I am attaching the essay to the bottom of this post...)

But first I want to stress how important it is to go see Matt's show at Napoleon if you are interested in printmaking or just good visual objects and pictures in general.  His work is positively mystical in person.  The image of the postcard below gives a hint at the work and also dates.  I don't have any other pictures but trust me, (and its better than I don't have pictures anyway) -- It's a must see in person.  Opening is June 5th 6-10pm. 

Here is my accompanying gallery essay:

"“…spread India ink on an uncarved board, lay paper on top of it and print it…Whatever I carve I compare with an uncarved print and ask myself, ‘Which has more beauty, more strength, more depth, more magnitude, more movement, and more tranquility?’ If there is anything here that is inferior to an uncarved block, then I have not created my print.  I have lost to the board.” Matt looks up from the monograph on master printer Shiko Munakata he just read from and sighs, “Isn’t that great?”  We are sitting in his studio surrounded by blocks of wood, antique tools, and well worn, handsome furniture drinking coffee made in his grandmother’s original Pyrex on the stove.  His reverence for Munakata’s sentiment explains much of how he moves through the world and makes his work.  Respect for the materials and their origin, respect for technical ability, respect for printmakers gone before, respect for imagery with strength, depth, magnitude and tranquility.

Like influential Japanese masters Munakata, Hokusai or Matsubara, Colaizzo also looks to the natural world for source material.  However, unlike his predecessors, Matt lives in our contemporary world rife with environmental degradation, development and apathetic attitudes.  Rather than harp on the destruction and tension between man-made and natural worlds, a cliché well worn out in 2015, he takes a subtler approach.  Armed with a sketchbook and camera Colaizzo simply looks to what is out in the world, nearby, without judgment or political agenda.  For this body of new work at NAPOLEON, what’s out in the world happens to be rubble piles from construction of a new I-95 on-ramp.

He returns to the studio and makes a number of detailed drawings from these sources, looking for clarity and balance in composition.  Then through a long process involving carving into multiple boards, mixing and layering multiple inks, and scrutinizing multiple proofs, he arrives at a print that satisfies that original parameter.  The investment of time and labor elevates the knotty pine from which it came.

The actual printing of a piece like Untitled(Locality 1) takes all day, from 9am to 8pm, a slow, meditative burn during which the carefully planned and executed cuts into panel meet unexpected marks in the paper, ink or wood grain.  This entwining of high technical skill and order with fortuitous chance instills the print with a balance of yin and yang, wabi-sabi, that echoes the marvel of nature. 

And in fact, the work’s deepest power pulls from the very modest place of its origin too.  Rendering slag, a rejected, often dismayed material with such care and poetics as Hokusai renders Mt. Fuji states more eloquently what it means to uproot nature than any more forthright attempt.  Colaizzo lets us first see nature as the powerful, unmovable mountain so frequently depicted in eras gone by.  But then, the subject matter shifts into focus.  Like the sad beauty of a giant beast rolled over in its last breath, and then, just a carcass, this second wave of understanding hits in the gut; beauty, strength, depth and magnitude expanding through your stomach. 

The installation of the work adds to this sensation, with four panels facing inward, one must fully turn their body in the space to take in the panorama.  It is simultaneously sacred, the way four walls envelope the viewer, and expansive, as the space in the work seems to be vast and limitless.  The viewer is in the center and as Colaizzo explains, they are not the center in much the way humans think they are at the epicenter of everything, but they are in the center due to of the roundness of the earth which dictates that there is no center, there is no beginning and there is no end."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NYC Gallery Trip

Marjolijn de Wit @ Asya Geisberg

Joan Brown @ George Adams

Chantal Joffe @ Cheim & Read

June Leaf @ Edward Thorp

Hope Gangloff @ Susan Inglett

Giordanne Salley @ SHFAP

Charles Burchfield @ DC Moore

Andrew Lord @ Gladstone Gallery

Jessica Dickinson @ James Fuentes

I went for a day of gallery hopping last week.  I always seem to do a really intense survey of Chelsea and LES right after the teaching semester ends.  Its sort of like my send off from being enclosed in this mental space of other people's art and issues (read: students) to my own studio time and schedule in the summer.  I like to go up and get a read on what I keep referring to (to myself) as 'the good, the bad and the ugly'.  

This visit I felt like most things were as expected.  In a mostly good way -- there were a lot of things I wanted to see and while they didn't bowl me over, they stood up to in person looking.  Most of those are pictured above.  

The surprises of the day were Jessica Dickinson and Andrew Lord.  Both were artists I knew little of and was really excited by.  Dickinson's surfaces were so contradicting -- solid and heavy in object form but airy and atmospheric from a distance -- they were beautiful.  Andrew Lord's work was raw and playful and well considered.  The ugly of the day for me was for sure Lisa Yuskavage.  I don't understand -- her color and compositional choices are as banal as the subject matter.  I'm sorry, these suck.  

Another thing I noticed was a lot of mixed media.  The places I thought it worked best were in Hope Gangloff's work, she uses elements of paper collage which added to the painted surfaces and de Wit's smaller pieces that hung on the wall at Asya Geisberg.  They were like relief sculpture paintings and I thought they were pretty nice.  

I probably saw 30-40 shows and the weather was beautiful and I was in a great mood looking forward to the studio days stretching ahead.  All in all a good day.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Privacy Made Public at NHAC

I am thrilled to be included in this upcoming survey put together by a very talented painter himself, Alex Cohen.  I feel like he reached into my brain and picked out so many of my favorite painters working today.  

The theme of privacy, too, is one that is right-on for me, as a painter who is constantly mining my own life for subject matter.  I grapple a lot with the idea of what to share every time I write a post here or upload a painting.  There is a certain power in a painting that comes from a private space but also an added vulnerability in it -- when it hits a viewer right, it can blow your hair back, but if it misses it feels like seeing a puppy being kissed by a baby on a soft blanket.

Take a look at painters who do intimate painting right at links below and then see their work in person at New Hope Arts Center May 30th from 6-9pm through June 21st.

Mariel Capanna
Miriam Carpenter
Peter Haarz
 Marissa Halderman