Friday, October 2, 2015

Figuration @ Nancy Margolis Gallery

I'm part of an upcoming group show at Nancy Margolis Gallery in Chelsea.  It is titled Figuration Inside/Out and features the work of four women who paint the figure.  Figures have been inching their way into my work a lot in the last year so I am happy to have a chance to show them in this context.  It opens Thursday November 5th 6-8pm. 

As a side note: Fall has been totally chaotic for me.  Like work all weekend busy.  I am teaching three courses and decided to apply to a residency, curate a show, possibly two, write a review, reference letters for my students, the list goes on.  I'm not only getting work ready for this but I have a solo show upcoming in January at Gross McCleaf in Philly.  Even though I have made a ton of paintings (that I think are pretty good actually), when shows draw near the only way to quell my anxiety is to paint more and more.  Which means I put off all the things at the beginning of this paragraph.  And besides that I have a ton of cradling and framing to do.  Not trying to make excuses may be a little while before I get around to posting quality, non self-involved items here.  In the meantime, here are a few new paintings of mine that will be in the show...(there's the self-involved posting I was just  referring to...)

Bed's Edge, 2015, Oil on Panel 24 x 24

Bitchy Brunch, 2015, Oil on Panel, 40 x 40

The Thinker, 2015, Oil on Panel, 24 x 24

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jean Cooke and La Beauté

Jean Cooke, Jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris, ca. 1972
This self-portrait by Jean Cooke is one of my all time favorite paintings, I think.  I can't be sure because I have not seen it in person.  But someday I hope I can confirm that.  She captures such a specific type of day and light and season.  That light and space, in a sweater, coupled with her piercing gaze makes me feel like I am looking back at myself.  Like the painting has become a mirror.  I look at this image and feel like I know what the rest of the world she lives in looks like, I know the rest of the room and the adjoining den and the warm kitchen and the quaint neighborhood and I have taken a walk down that street on a blustery day.  Her outstretched arm references the canvas beyond which she is painting this painting on.  And everything folds in on itself.  

She titled it "Jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris (I never cry and I never laugh) after a line from a Baudelaire poem La Beauté.  I took french in school but can not get the subtle meaning that poems possess so I looked for translations.  Adding to my thoughts on translating literature re: Murakami post below, translations of a poem are even more complex.  There are many english versions but at the bottom is the one I like best.  The way the painting simultaneously succeeds and fails at capturing a fleeting moment in time seems just like Baudelaire's expression.  On the one hand that gaze painted more than 40 years ago feels like it is in the present, like it is my own gaze.  On the other, the simple existence of the painting which references its own making in her outstretched hand means the moment has passed, fleeting.

La Beauté

Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.

Je trône dans l'azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J'unis un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.

Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j'ai l'air d'emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consumeront leurs jours en d'austères études;

Car j'ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartés éternelles!

Charles Baudelaire


I am fair, O mortals! like a dream carved in stone,
And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
As eternal and silent as matter.

On a throne in the sky, a mysterious sphinx,
I join a heart of snow to the whiteness of swans;
I hate movement for it displaces lines,
And never do I weep and never do I laugh.

Poets, before my grandiose poses,
Which I seem to assume from the proudest statues,
Will consume their lives in austere study;

For I have, to enchant those submissive lovers,
Pure mirrors that make all things more beautiful:
My eyes, my large, wide eyes of eternal brightness!

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Nicholas Vasilieff

 I found a little book on this obscure Russian painter, Vasilieff, at the library this week.  Although he moved to the US in his 30s in 1923 and spent decades here, exhibiting quite a bit, his work does not seem to be around or known much anymore.  

The book shows about half the work as portraits which I don't find to be very good (although I like the way he paints people holding their pets, see last image), the still lives are really bizarre and solid.  A lot of them are reproduced in black and white so I'm not sure how they really look but I like the shapes and contrast.  Although almost none are dated it seems like they were mostly painted in the 50s and 60s.  The book is from the William Benton Museum of Art which had an exhibition of his work in 1977.  Almost 40 years later it would be nice to see his work pulled together again.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kerry James Marshall Drawing

Study for Blue Water, Silver Moon, 1991, Conte Crayon and Watercolor on Paper, 49 3/4 x 38 1/8 inches, MoMA collection

I love this drawing by Kerry James Marshall -- it has a masterful play with value, solidity, liquidity, flatness and space all in a narrative context. As I get images ready for a new semester, this stopped me in my tracks as it has many times before.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Maximilian Vanka

Still life tabletop with vegetables and vessels
I ran across a few paintings by the painter Maximilian Vanka(1890-1963) recently.  They were really nice compositions and odd takes on color and perspective.  I can't find much on him online but this painting above is a nice example.  It's echo of the teapot in the painting pinned to the wall behind the painted teapot references dimensionality in such a 2015 meta, ironic sort of playfulness.  I think he has some work in Pittsburgh, I'd really like to see more.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Murakami and Language


I've gotten around to reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami finally.  It has been on my to-read book list for years now.  I think it is really exceptional so far (still have about 1/3 left).  

I keep finding myself thinking about the fact that it was originally written in Japanese.  So many of the passages are exacting to experiences or thoughts I have had.  Like someone finally put words to it in just the right way.  Like this one:

“I decided to make spaghetti for lunch again. Not that I was the least bit hungry. But I couldn't just go on sitting on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring. I had to move my body, to begin working toward some goal. I put water in a pot, turned on the gas, and until it boiled I would make tomato sauce while listening to an FM broadcast. The radio was playing an unaccompanied violin sonata by Bach. The performance itself was excellent, but there was something annoying about it. I didn't know whether this was the fault of the violinist or of my own present state of mind, but I turned off the music and went on cooking in silence. I heated the olive oil, put garlic in the pan, and added minced onions. When these began to brown, I added the tomatoes that I had chopped and strained. It was good to be cutting things and frying things like this. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I could feel in my hands. I liked the sounds and the smells.” 

The way he switches from the empty act of cooking to his semi-conscious thoughts about the music to a reflection at the end is so true to actually living in that moment. 

I wish I could read the book in Japanese because I keep wondering how two languages that have different structures and words could relay the same feeling to a reader.  But maybe its even better in Japanese?  But that seems hard to imagine, the words seem so well picked.  I guess what I keep turning over in my mind is how universal the human experience is even when miles and languages should make it seem more distant.  

Which ultimately brings me back to painting and a particular painting I keep looking at recently.  Its a Fairfield Porter and it conjures up a feeling in me that has no english equivalent I'm aware of.  I guess nostalgia is the word closest, but its nostalgia without the sickening, sweetness. It's the way looking at a summer night sky, something supposedly ordinary strikes a sublime chord and makes it feel like a lightbulb is in your stomach.  

Someone sent me this link to words with no english equivalent a while back.  And the Japanese word "aware" stood out to me, the article says it means "the bittersweetness of a brief and grading moment of transcendent beauty."  Maybe english is just too dry to contain all that in a single word, or maybe it exists and my vocabulary isn't good enough.  But either way I am thankful that paintings and visual experiences need no translation.  Nothing is lost or mitigated when looking.

But even if something gets lost in translating The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle there is enough power in it to overcome the gap and express that universal transcendent beauty.  Highly recommend it.