Saturday, July 04, 2015

Going To Pot

“Go to loads of openings, drink lots of cheap wine, hang out, talk about it, mix it up.
Grayson Perry

When Grayson Perry won Britain’s controversial Turner Prize in 2003 it not only gave his artistic career a boost but propelled him onto the public stage especially as he accepted the prize in drag.

As the Guardian Newspaper’s Simon Hattenstone wrote in 2014 “It was hard to say at the time what got the most attention: that a transvestite had won the Turner, or that a ceramicist had – who thought a contemporary artist would be feted for his pots?

But feted he was and Grayson has played his public role with perhaps more skill than that he employs in his art.

As The Spectator magazine’s Martin Gayford noted “He belongs to a long line of oddballs — including Blake, Lewis Carroll and William Morris — who amount to a tradition of their own. His achievement is that by putting the contradictions of his own sensibility side by side, he has made some new atlases of that elusive and much debated entity: Britishness.

Perry, himself is a little more pragmatic saying “I tick so many boxes. That’s why I get a lot of gigs – because I can do the lectures, I can do the television thing, and I dress up, and by the way, I’m an artist as well.”

Whilst working with tapestry and sculpture, Perry is best known for his vases. Utilizing classical forms he decorates them with bright colors and often depicts autobiographical subjects featuring his female alter-ego, Claire.
About his art Perry has said “I’m making art not for people who don’t like art, but for people who are interested but maybe alienated by the more esoteric pieces. I’m addressing them, and I think that’s more interesting than being yet another avant-garde try-hard.”

The machinations of the art world is a subject close to Perry’s heart and was the subject of his 2013 Reith Lectures Playing to the Gallery.

As he told London’s Time Out MagazineI think sometimes in the art world there’s an implication that you need an entry-level education to walk through the door of a gallery. But you don’t. The learning experience actually happens once you’re in the gallery. I don’t think people should be intimidated to go through the door, so I’m kind of trying to give them enough info to do just that. Like a starter pack.

To the accusation that he was he was conducting an art world expose, Perry countered stating “I think the art world can take it. Crikey, for the last 150 years it’s been punching itself in the face. It’s quite difficult now to find a bit of unbruised flesh.

Perry’s current exhibition Small Differences is on show at İstanbul’s Pera Museum until the 26th of July.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Being Big is More Interesting

“I’m always interested in what a painting can do – and then questioning those things.”
Laura Owens

The Los Angeles’ based artist Laura Owens likes to make big pictures. As she told Artforum “I think to make something that is actually big, to literalize it in that way, gives you a lot of options for meaning.”

It is a process that started in her teens and has continued ever since. As she recalls “I have been making big pictures since I was in high school. As a kid growing up in Ohio, I went to the Toledo art museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art, where I saw the big paintings – Frankenthaler, Olitski, Poons, Morris Louis and Rothko. I remember seeing my first Richard Estes paintings there. I’m a big fan of his work.”

Whilst being a fan of the photo-realist, her own work differs markedly incorporating both digital and analogue processes and are often constructed with the space they are to be exhibited in at front of mind.

As Artforum’s Susan Morgan has said “Laura Owens makes wily sensational paintings: Lines sweep into our peripheral vision, speed along as daringly as fearless school girls sliding on ice, then burst unexpectedly into shapes – tiny spiraling volcanos of color, wavering horizons or bulky clouds. If Owen’s style – a surprising blend of mid-century formalism and Pop mischievousness – evinces a cagey knowingness, it also reveals an unabashed delight in voluptuousness of paint and form.”

An aesthetic with which Owen concurs, stating, “I feel my paintings are very specifically American and have a lot to do with where I come from. I suppose it’s a straightforward, Midwestern, no-bones-about-it sensibility and a certain sense of humor. I’ve always thought that, instead of making you day fit into the painting, you should make the painting fit into your day. A painting should fit into your life…Ultimately, you really want to make the painting you want to be with. Not one that is constantly telling you everything it knows. Who wants to be with something, or someone, like that? It’s more fun to be with someone who is willing to go out on a limb, embarrass themselves a bit. I think a lot of artists use a painting to point out a reference – a quote, an anecdote, an idea – and that reference becomes more interesting than the work. I’d much rather have a reference generate a painting.

Owen’s latest exhibition is currently on show at Vienna’s Secession gallery until the 30th of August.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Reconciliation as a Fictional History

“You're always looking for ways of tricking yourself
in order to save yourself from habit."
Samira Abbassy

The life journey of the New York based artist Samira Abbassy has been one that has encompassed both geographic and cultural shifts that challenged her identity of self. Born in Iran, Abbassy grew up in the British market town of Tonbridge and from the age of 24 has made her home in Manhattan.

Being ethnic Arabs in the predominately Persian Iran predicated her family’s move to Britain. Where, as she told the Financial Times “I think we were the only other non-white family apart from the owners of the Chinese restaurant.” Her move with her then husband to create the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York was less traumatic. As she has said “Today, with Skype or phone or email, there isn’t that huge gulf between my family in England and me. My parent’s transition was much harder. I was instantly plugged in with a reason to be in New York, unlike, for example, my mother.”

Although the inherent cultural clashes fueled by the current political animosity that exists between the West and the Middle East in general and Iran in particular are somewhat harder to reconcile.
As she told Dowling Collage Library’s Omnibus podcast “I suppose it  goes back to a family who, you know, Muslims, who grew up in a Christian society, so called, and my early interest in what Christianity and Islam were and were and how they met, which they do. I think what started to intrigue me was the fact that Islam, the Muslim, the Koran is the third book of a trilogy, as I see it, the Old Testament, the New Testament. Because the Koran also cites Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Abraham and Moses, it’s grounded in the Old Testament.”

Abbassy attempts this reconciliation predominately through self-portraiture. As she says “That’s what I try to do. My figures are self-portraits, but they are more to do with the journey of the self, the universal self, rather than me…I see my job as addressing specifically a place where I came from. I want to make new connections to that place, I want to create a contemporary art that is specific to my own cultural heritage and experience which involves being from that place but not living there now.”

Abbassy’s current exhibition Love & Ammunition is on show at London’s Rossi & Rossi Gallery until the 23rd of July.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Portraits from a Gilded Age

“You might tell her that I am a man of prodigious talent.
John Singer Sargent

The expatriate American artist John Singer Sargent has the dubious honor of scandalizing both French and American audiences with works that book end his career as an illustrious portraitist.

At the beginning of his career, as an advertisement of his talents, he hung his now recognized masterpiece The portrait of Madame X in the 1884 Paris Salon. A portrait of the American expatriate Paris socialite Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau it was too sexy for the French. In the city that invented the Can Can, the populace were “shocked and scandalized” and Sargent prudently moved to London to establish his career as the one percent’s favored portrait painter.

Thirty five years later Sargent found himself entangled in another furor, this time for his depiction of Judaism in a mural he painted for the Boston Library. Depicted as an old hag in contrast to the beautiful Christian maiden it attracted fierce criticism from the Jewish community. As Jenna Weissman Joselit wrote in her essay Restoring the ‘American Sistine Chapel,’ “It simmered for five long years, embroiling politicians, journalists, art critics and poets as it ran its course.”

Between these events Sargent became the renowned portrait painter of his day on both sides of the Atlantic with client’s paying up to $5,000 per portrait, or about $130,000 in current dollars.

Whilst Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism developed and expanded out from avant-garde art circles Sargent maintained a realist style that caused the French sculptor Auguste Rodin to describe him as “the Van Dyck of our times.”

But Sargent was not unmindful of the modernist styles. As the novelist Henry James, a close confident of the artist, remarked about Sargent’s work “the quality in light of which the artist sees deep into his subject, undergoes it, absorbs it, becomes patient with it, and almost reverent, and, in short, enlarges and humanizes the technical problem.”

As well as his portraiture, Sargent was a gifted watercolorist painting a wide variety of subjects ranging from the English countryside to the canals of Venice. As his friend and biographer Evan Charteris wrote in 1927 “To live with Sargent's watercolors is to live with sunshine captured and held, with the luster of a bright and legible world, 'the refluent shade' and 'the ambient ardors of the noon.

Sargent was also commissioned by the British Ministry of Information as a war artist during the First World War. His painting Gassed which he completed in March of 1919 was voted best picture of the year by the Royal Academy of Arts. A work that Britain’s WWII Prime Minister, an amateur painter himself, praised for its "brilliant genius and painful significance."

Although lauded for his portraits by the rich and famous of his day in artistic terms he was consider a relic of a gilded age. As the French artist Camille Pissarro wrote "he is not an enthusiast but rather an adroit performer."

That has changed in recent years with the re-awakening of interest in things Victorian in general and Sargent’s almost impressionist paintings in particular. With New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art hosting the exhibition Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends until the 4th of October.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Painting with Light

A photogram is like a painting:
you have a blank sheet of paper and you create a picture on it.”
Floris Neusüss

The German photogram artist Floris Neusüss considers photography to be the direct opposite of what he does. As he explained to the Telegraph Newspaper’s Lucy DaviesThe only thing the two have in common is the use of light sensitive materials and the prefix ‘photo.’ Photography records an image projected through a lens: all that is captured is reflected light. A photogram is a kind of drawing with light, in which, as Moholy-Nagy put it, the light can play as central a role as the pigments do in a painting.

Inspired by the early 20th Century avant-garde artists Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, Neusüss has dedicated his artistic life to extending the practice, study and teaching of the photogram.

Along the way he has increased the size of the works produced from the small works traditionally associated with the medium enhancing its appeal for the modern audience. 

As he had said “The size of photograms is one of the sources of their particular power: they always portray their subjects to scale, unlike photography, in which the size of the image is arbitrary, and most usually depends on the size of the print, rather than the object that has been photographed. In 1960 I captured the image of a female nude as a photogram, on a two meter length of paper. I discovered that in one sense the fact that the woman in the photogram is life sized communicates intimacy, but in another sense it creates detachment: the picture has no surface detail, so you can’t identify distinctive features. The figure appears to be floating in space. It eludes realistic capture. You could say that a photogram removes and idealizes its subject at the same time."

Neusüss has also incorporated the developments in photography into his work to underscore the photogram’s uniqueness in a world that is awash in photographs. As he says “One attraction of photograms is the continual freshness of the aesthetics they can create, another is the colorful effects they can feature today – for a long time, photograms could only be black and white.”

As Beeline’s Lisa Jennings states “Removing the camera feels like it allows artists to get closer to the source of what interests them - often elemental forces such as light, time, energy or the ephemeral. Rather than documents, they appear more like dreams, memories, fragments or signs, exploring an inner rather than an outer world."

Los Angeles Von Lintel Gallery is currently showing Floris Neusüss Dreams + Photograms 2015 until the 15th of August.

Monday, June 29, 2015

About Painting, Collecting and Legacy

“I imagine that the very great artists attach you even more to life.”
Gustave Caillebotte

Until recently Gustave Caillebotte’s art has been over shadowed by the support he provided to impressionist artists like Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. 

Independently wealthy from a parental inheritance, Caillebotte was able to indulge his interests that during his twenties and early thirties included painting and which later in life switched to gardening, an interest he shared with Monet, and the building and racing of yachts.

His main support for the impressionists was as a patron buying their works when they were being ridiculed by Paris art establishment. At his death he left some 70 works to the French government stating in his will “I give to the  French State the paintings which I have; nevertheless, since I want this donation be accepted and in such a manner that the paintings go neither in an attic nor in a province museum, but well in the Luxembourg Musem and later in the Louvre Museum, it is necessary that a certain time passes before execution of this clause until the public, I do not say understand, but admit this new painting. This time may be twenty years at the maximum. Until then, my borther Martial, and at his defect another of my heirs, will preserve them. I request Renoir to be my executor.”

The French Government reluctantly accepted 38 of these “drifts of an unhealthy art” upon the death of his brother of which two were by Caillebotte. The majority of the unaccepted works were purchased by Albert C. Barnes and now grace the walls of Pennsylvania’s Barnes Foundation.

About Caillebotte’s paintings the New York Times’ art critic Holland Cotter wrote in 2009 “Gustave Caillebotte is an artist who was an Impressionist by association rather than by style or temperament. His three best-known pictures, "The Floor Scrapers," "Le Pont de l'Europe" and "Paris Street; Rainy Day," all urban scenes from the mid to late 1870s, have more to do with academic realism than with the scintillations of Monet… He fits into no pantheon, matches no ready profile, art historical or otherwise. Or maybe just one, that of the brilliant enthusiast, the prodigious amateur, the obsessed imperfectionist.”

Cotter’s critique almost mirrors that written 130 years earlier by the eminent French writer and critic Emile Zola “Mr. Caillebotte is a very conscientious artist, whose style is a little dry, but who has the courage of great efforts and who seeks with the most virile resolution.”

The National Gallery of Art in Washington is leading a resurgence of interest in Caillebotte’s work with the exhibition Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye which is on show until the 4th of October.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Beauty in Mathematics

“I consider myself more of a mathematician than an artist.”
M. C. Escher

The Dutch graphic artist M. C. (Maurits Cornelis) Escher was recently described by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s senior curator Patrick Elliot as a "one-man art movement." And with reproductions of his works adorning adolescent bedroom walls too numerous to count Escher’s works have found favor with an audience that ranges from hippies to mathematicians.

Apart from posters, Escher’s impossible depictions have graced record album covers, biscuit tins and tea-towels with precise, illusionary, patterned and graphic works executed by a draftsman second to none. Whilst not a surrealist, Escher has managed to successfully portray a whimsically unique world of existential abnormalities.

As he told New York’s Metropolitan Mathematician’s Journal in 1948 “I first started doing graphic work in 1913, when I was 15 years old, but then I did simple black and white wood cuts. I gained recognition and was encouraged by my parents. I had gained a lot of fame and popularity for my complex lithographs (a complex system of printing) depicting worlds merging together by the time I began experimenting with regular divisions of the plane. I can date this back to around 1936. My first tessellations were based on old Arabic decorations, but I soon began to develop my own style. But it wasn’t until the mid 1940's that my technique had been perfected. It was a very gradual process, developed mostly by experimentation, because the complex mathematics of it escape me. I first mastered this technique with squares and rectangles, later moving on to triangles and finally hexagons and parallelograms. I am currently experimenting with irregular shapes (shapes with both positive and negative angles) that tessellate.”

Like the honeycomb in nature or the repetition in Islamic art that inspired Escher’s development of his art, tessellation has been a major ingredient in the themes that inform his art.

As he has explained “There are four [themes/styles] that are my most popular. Firstly, I have always been interested in portraying the illusion of three dimensionality onto a two dimensional surface, in other words, making something on a sheet of paper look round. Secondly, I am very famous for another kind of illusion. I make images (again using the illusion of three dimensionality) that cannot really exist. They can only be drawn on a flat surface, this is because a flat surface is not really three dimensional and does not have to follow the laws of reality. Thirdly, I express transformations in reality. I often do this by having a mirror in my picture reflect a scene that does not fit at all. Sometimes I make subtle changes to my picture that by the other side makes it completely different, a flock of birds changes into a city scape. In this style I often use tessellating figures gradually shifted to become something else. This brings me to my fourth and by far favorite style, regular divisions of the plane or tessellations. This is when a plane (or a section) of one represented by a sheet of paper is divided over its entire area by a regularly recurring series of lines. These must divide the plane into discernable shapes that repeat throughout its entirety. Or to put it in simple terms, a giant jigsaw puzzle in which all of the pieces are the same. Ever since I began experimenting with regular divisions of the plane, it has been my favorite thing to draw.

And underpinning Escher work is the creation of beautiful pictures. As he has said “I do my art because I think it is beautiful. That is what I believe art should be, a thing of beauty.”

The beauty in his work can be seen at The Amazing World of M. C. Escher currently on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art until the 27th of September.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rock’n’Roll Bands in the Abstract

“That’s the job of art: to undo the logic of the world.”
Sean Scully

For the Irish born abstract painter Sean Scully the world outside the studio is a major influence in his work.

As he told Blouin Artinfo’s Scott Indriek “My abstraction has never been, let’s say, theory based. It’s always been rather experiential. I’ve always used metaphors that relate to things outside painting… I’m not one of these painters who just refers to the history of abstract painting. I’ve always tried to have windows to the world. It’s often associative.

And one of those associations is music. A musician himself, Scully owned a Blues club and played in a band in London in the 1960’s before coming under the spell of visual artists Mark Rothko and Bridgette Riley and taking up painting.

It is an influence, he told The Irish Times that can be seen in his work. “I think that I make chords when I paint, so I think you would be listening to the cello. It’s deep and it’s resonant. A lot of people have compared me to Brahms – that slightly melancholic sensuality that’s highly structured. Well, that describes my work right there.”

Although being born in Ireland, Scully grew up in London and now, as a US citizen, lives in New York, but is seriously considering opening a studio in Berlin. As he explains “the city is kind of shut, though it sells itself as the opposite. Welcome to the Big Apple! But it’s already eaten. The problem for Manhattan in particular is that the rental value of the space is so compressed that it squeezes out that sort of risk taking and now you’ve got just powerhouse galleries that I wouldn’t want to show in, you know Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth. They are monster galleries and they seem to feed on artists. It reminds me of Goya’s painting of the Colossus eating his own children. I wouldn’t want to be eaten by one of those galleries. I show with Cheim & Read, it’s a nice little family affair.

Such a move would be easy for the nomadically inclined artist. As he explains “I’m essentially a European who has migrated, so in a sense my work is like a fusion of American and European influences: the American scale and compositional aggression or frankness, but with a lot of European knowledge in it. And in that sense my position is unique, because I’m bringing the information back and forth. When I’m in Germany for example, I am seen as quite American. There’s a guy who’s going to open the newly reformed Sprengel Museum in Hannover. And he’s hanging a big painting of mine with Don Judd and Agnes Martin. So he sees me as American. But in New York, the city of Jeff Koons, Ellsworth Kelly, and Wade Guyton, I would be seen as quite European. I’m a fusion.

But wherever he is located the urge to work is a constant along with the need to re-examine what has gone before. As he says “Recycling material. Intellectual and physical. I am recycling these bands in my paintings, I’ve been doing it forever, once I stopped painting figuratively. I started recycling, and rejigging, shape-shifting bands and blocks and bars. Some people call them stripes, but I like the term bands because I like rock ’n’ roll so much.

A selection of Scully’s Landline series of works is current on show at Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery until the 29th of August.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Of Monsters and Maidens

“Monsters are just as beautiful as maidens.
George Condo

“Rembrandt on crack” is how the Financial Times Julie Belcove described the paintings of American figurative artist George Condo.

The artist himself is a little more circumspect stating “There not the kind of people you want to spend a lot of time staring at – they’re not on the covers of magazines. When you see a crowd of people coming out of a subway and one crabby old lady is elbowing some guy to get out of her way and some strange bickering starts to take place, those kind of expressions are far more interesting to me.”

Condo is renowned for his portraits of mostly very odd looking imaginary people. As he told Bomb MagazineWhen you add them all up, it’s quite a crew: Indian chiefs, cavemen, office bosses, the nun, two-bit hustlers, low-life criminals, people with one tooth, one eye, protruding chins, enlarged facial features…Listen, if you grow up in New England, you see an old fisherman on the pier very differently from Norman Rockwell, who sees him as a stereotype, which is patronizing and condescending. There’s no sympathetic equality involved. I absolutely feel there’s no intrinsic difference between people. Somebody might say, “George, you’re completely full of shit. Fishermen and bums don’t live in apartments on Madison Avenue or in expensive hotels.” But I say this . . . “Yes, they do . . .”

For over 30 years Condo has been producing his Looney Tunes inspired renderings of Europe’s old masters. As he says “My painting is all about this interchangeability of languages in art, where one second you might feel the background has the shading and tonalities you would see in a Rembrandt portrait, but the subject is completely different and painted like some low-culture, transgressive mutation of a comic strip.”

Dissatisfied with New York art scene Condo spent a decade in Paris during the 1980’s and 90’s where he refined his art and met his wife. About which he tells the story “I stayed for a month at the Hotel Lotti and every day, when I came back to the room after lunch, the curtains would be drawn. I finally asked the maid, in my high-school French, why she did that. She pointed to my drawings and said, ‘Monsieur, le soleil nest pas bon pour vos tableaux!’ (Sir, the sun is not good for your pictures) And I thought, this is the only place in the world where that could happen.”

His return to New York saw Condo continue to develop what he calls his “psychological cubism” which he described to London’s Time Out Magazine as being art that “wear[s] an expression that ‘goes between a scream and a smile; that reflects simultaneous emotions or conversations with the conflicting voices in your head.”

For as he told the Interview Magazine "The topographical aspects of the human face are frightening and when they resemble the average person, rather than a magazine cover, viewers recognize themselves..."

His latest exhibition George Condo: Works on Paper is on show at BrusselsXavier Hufkens gallery until the 11th of July.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Paper Back Portraits

“I love what designers do with books—they get your attention.
Richard Baker

The American still life painter Richard Barker likes books, so much so that for over a decade he has been painting their portraits, literally.

As he told the Poets & Writers Magazine "Books have always been important to me—from the first set of World Book Encyclopedia in my childhood home, through my first jobs in bookstores, to my readings in college and beyond. They always contained promise, optimism, and desire. They empower, ennoble, entertain."

But in this age of Nook and Kindle it is the dog eared, well traveled paper back that attracts Baker’s attention. As he has said "As our personalities are changed (or not) by them, so too do they absorb impressions of our lives. Each book becomes its own unique individual, most especially true of the lowly paperback…They come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love. Along the way they accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses—they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our own skin."

Baker elaborates, stating "As physical objects they are powerful fetishes, icons, containers of every conceivable thought and/or emotion. We cart them from home to work on our commutes and they accompany us on vacations. We move them carefully packed in boxes from one domicile to another, from one phase of life to another."

An important element of Baker’s book portraiture is the adventure of finding the appropriate sitter, “fishing the used bookstores in search of the right thing,” he says: “no precious first editions, no rare things—just your common companions.”

With each sitting taking up to three weeks to complete Baker’s relationship with a subject grows along with the memories of past associations. As he says "As my involvement with this act of 'portraiture' has continued, the reasons for choosing which titles and editions have evolved and become more various, though it remains of paramount importance that they be familiar and of no special pedigree. In the end, these paintings stand against loss and for reverie, memory, optimism, desire, and love."

Baker’s latest exhibition The Doctor is Out, depictions of vintage book covers related to psychotherapy, is on show at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery until the 31st of July.