Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Zen of Painting

“I aim at directness and simplicity.”
Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

While often referred to as an abstractionist, it is a term the Indian painter Vasudeo S. Gaitonde didn’t like. He preferred to describe his paintings as "non-objective” since they are not the abstraction of recognizable forms but rather the result of an internal dialogue prompted by his adherence to Zen Buddhism.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Gaitonde saying “I don’t work, I relax and wait, and then I apply some paint on the canvas. The most important aspect of painting is waiting, waiting, waiting, between one work and the next… A painting always exists within you, even before you actually start to paint. You just have to make yourself the perfect machine to express what is already there.”

Born in Nagpur, the third largest city of the Indian state of Maharashtra, it was whilst his family were in the neighboring state of Goa that Gaitonde first developed his interest in art and had his talent recognized.

As the regular Artforum contributor Meera Menezees noted in the book Vasudeo S. Gaitonde and the Light of the Cave, Gaitonde said “I clearly remember one of my family members who used to paint on temple walls. Perhaps that was what first attracted me to painting.”

Such was the quality of the young Gaitonde’s work that one of his elder sister’s teachers remarked “Your brother is going to be a very fine painter in the future.”

At the age of 24, a year after India gained independence from Britain, Gaitonde received his diploma from the famed Mumbai art institution the Sir JJ School of Art and became an active member of Progressive Artists Group of Bombay.
About a decade later when Gaitonde embraced the Japanese variation of the 5th Century Indian philosophy known as Zen Buddhism his work change from the figurative to the nonrepresentational that was to occupy him for the rest of his life.

This adoption of a meditative process centered round the silence of contemplation gave his work balance, depth and a quality most often described as a profound stillness.

About which Gaitonde has said “Your entire being is working together with the brush, the painting knife, the canvas to absorb that silence and create.” 

The retrospective exhibition V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life is currently on show at Venice’s Peggy Guggenheim Collection until the 10th of January next year.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Figure in an Urban Setting

“I think that every picture should tell a story
and I think if a picture doesn't tell a story then it's not a picture
Archibald Motley

Twenty eight years after determining to become an artist, Archibald Motley became the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition in New York City. The Chicago based Motley was a nine year old when he decided upon becoming a painter.

As he explained in his Smithsonian oral historyI just felt it was the only thing I could do; I couldn't do anything else.”

In 1914, as a 23 year old, Motley became one of the four black students at the Art Institute of Chicago where he embarked upon the traditional formal art education prevalent at the time with its emphasis on portraiture and the nude. But the forward thinking Motley embraced the compositional challenges of multi figure scenes.

As he said “Composition was the thing that I was more interested in than anything else because I felt that I could build up more paintings in composition and more salable things than I could with portraits and nudes… And I found composition got so intriguing, so very interesting to compose something in your mind, your imagination and build it up and make something out of it.”

And it was a premonition that proved to be true. Upon graduation Motley started out painting portraits but eventually switched to chronicling the African-American experience.

About which he told the Smithsonian’s Dennis Barrie “I first started doing portraits as I told you, you know, my grandmother there, my mother, these people that I met on the outside, strangers that I painted, and some friends. Then I found, too, that in the Negro race, or colored race as I call it, they didn't have the money to pay for commissioned portraits. Of course, the white artists had all the white clientele all tied up. They wouldn't come to me, you know, some of these big people that have money, they'd go to their friends, somebody white. So I figured I had learned a heck of a lot about composition. Why not paint compositions and pictures that people will buy regardless of race, color or creed? So it was only that drove me --well, it didn't drive me into painting compositions because I always liked composition. Then I started doing a lot of compositions. I found that they were salable and I didn't have [to employ] a model.”

The success of Motley’s New York exhibition, he sold 22 to the 26 hung works, saw him awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship the following year that allowed Motley to spend all of 1929 in France. Apart from producing 12 paintings whilst in Paris, Motley spent a lot of time at the Louvre studying the European old masters.

About which he said “Oh, I spent so much time there! That was my biggest inspiration. The biggest thing I ever wanted to do in art was to paint like the old masters… You've got to study a painting a long time to realize what the artist really is doing. Light is very, very important. I used to go to the Louvre and study, I studied all the old masters very carefully. You know, what we call "in" painting, the passages of tones.

It was study that served him well as one of the first African-American artists to portray the characters from the diverse racial backgrounds and social classes that people America’s Black urban neighborhoods.

As he has said "They're not all the same color, they're not all black, they're not all, as they used to say years ago, high yellow, they're not all brown. I try to give each one of them character as individuals. And that's hard to do when you have so many figures to do, putting them all together and still have them have their characteristics."

New York’s Whitney Museum has the exhibition Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist on show until the 17th of January next year.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Cave Art Revisited

“With a discerning eye and a brush, I have spent much of my life
as an artist and a painter
exploring the intersection of myth, mind and society.”
Becky Soria

The South American born artist Becky Soria has had a lifelong interest in mankind’s earliest artistic endeavors; the 20 thousand year old iconography paintings of the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras of human pre-history. Using these works as inspiration Soria recreates her own versions to explore the motivations that drive the human animal.

As she explained to the Houston based art historian and writer Virginia Billeaud Anderson on The Great God Pan is Dead blog “It’s a quality in pre-Colombian art or African art, related to simplicity, distortion, a sort of reductive abstraction that reaches to the essence of something. You know it by its estranging imperfection. The primitive was all around me when I was a child in Bolivia, the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco, for instance, and my father had an important collection of pre-Colombian artifacts…

The thing that is so intriguing is that we don’t know their arts’ purpose, anthropologist can only speculate about its meaning…

[And] Along with the enigma of their meaning, I’m fascinated by their present look, that is, the plasticity they have today, altered and damaged by time. Some of the drawings and paintings incorporate uneven cave wall surfaces into their design. I take from all of that, and make “my own” contemporary expression. Most importantly I am trying to capture their mood.

About Soria’s 2014 exhibition Totems Beyond Patriarchy at Houston’s Gallery M Squared the gallery’s Max Harrison wrote “She has captured omething deep seated within each of us, something that has allowed mankind to flourish and thrive. Examing Miss Soria’s latest body of work viewers will an opportunity to explore what it means to be sentient of self or what it is, ‘to be.’ I can’t help but think of the caves at Lascaux, France and how early man used imagery over 15,000 years ago to communicate their inner thoughts to others. Pictorial communication expresses concepts and ideas to viewers even when we don’t speak the language of the creator or story teller. What stories do we tell ourselves within the cave of self, and what story do we tell our children around the home fires?”

Soria’s current exhibition Essence: A new body of paintings is on show at Houston’s Archway Gallery until the 5th of November.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Influenced by a Musical Heritage

“A painting, like an intimate relationship, reveals more and more
about the person/painting as time passes.
There is always a mystery to discover.

Andrew Hart Adler

Being the son of the famed Broadway composer Richard Adler it is unsurprising that music plays an important part in the work of the American painter Andrew Hart Adler. An added dimension to aid in his quest to interact with his audience.

From his early childhood Adler studied both the violin and piano but it was through the influence of his mother who as well as being a musician was also a painter that he was introduced to the visual arts in general and drawing in particular. And it was the visual rather than the aural that took root.

A two year stint as an assistant to Willem de Kooning in his early twenties encouraged the painter to blossom.

But Adler’s inherited genetic code, for as well as his father’s musicality his paternal grandfather was a noted concert pianist, is never far away from his painting with music having a profound effect on his work in both inspiration and studio practice.

As he explained in an interview on National Public Radio’s Judy Carmichael’s Jazz Inspired “Sometimes I will interpret the music and I will use that as the point of departure and take what I get from the music and put it into the painting and then see what someone else will take out of it as the viewer.”

Alder also uses music whilst working in the studio as a way to recapture the initial mood of a work over the six to ten weeks it takes to complete.

“Usually I use it [music] to keep this sort of emotional stability through the period of time that I’m working,” he said.

And then there’s music’s contribution to the painting itself.

About which he says “I see it in crescendos and accents and the way music flows. We don’t just look at a canvas, especially when it can be on the large side. You have to go from one side to the other on top of it. I usually structure my canvases from right to left, but there’s definitely areas where, I leave areas for people to rest in before they go on to the next place. I do sort of construct it in such a way, like a piece of music. When I listen to a symphony or jazz or whatever it maybe it works towards something and then there’s the bridge so you can collect yourself. And then there’s parts that are more repetitive, the rhythm changes, whatever. It’s all a language to get inside of you.”

Adler’s current exhibition Emergence is on show at Cape Town’s 99 Loop Gallery until the 31st of October.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

A Modernist Cut in the Linoleum

All Ways,
Any Way,
Every Way,
Only Try,
To find

Sybil Andrews

The British/Canadian artist Sybil Andrews’ first job after leaving school was as an apprentice welder in an aircraft factory building the first metal airplanes during World War I. During the Second World War she returned to the trade in the shipyard of the British Power Boat Company. During the period between the wars Andrews’ pursued her childhood dream of becoming an artist.

As reported by Michael Parkin in the Independent newspaper “We had a paint-box from the cradle,” Andrews said, “not with the idea of being wonderful artists, but as a way of keeping us quiet and amused.”

But art was more than an amusement for Andrews and in the final years of her welding apprenticeship she took John Hassall's Art Correspondence Course. Such was her ability that upon its completion Andrews became an art teacher at the Portland House School in the British market town of Bury St Edmunds.

In 1922 at the age of 24 Andrews moved to London to attend the Heatherley's School of Fine Art. This was followed by her attendance at The Grosvenor School of Modern Art where she worked as a secretary to fund her tution.

It was at The Grosvenor that Andrews’ found her artistic voice through the medium of the linocut and the inspiration of the Modernists. Often collaborating with fellow artist Cyril Power, Andrews’ produced a body of work that concentrated upon sport, urban life, manual work and religion as subject matter.

Andrews created pared-down images that used color to express, rather than depict, the detail in her images. A process she likened to a madrigal with a Soprano, a Treble, a Tenor and a Bass.
And about which she has said “The linocut print is not simple or easy. First the carving of the blocks – each in itself can be exciting, a low-relief carving in its own right. The long careful printing, which is hard work, several times each block, all take energy and time.”

In 1947 Andrews along with her husband Walter Morgan immigrated to Canada to escape the “poor British economy after World War II and the rigid British class system.” They settled in an ocean front cottage in the remote British Columbia town of Campbell River.

For the next 45 years Andrews would continue to make her linocuts and augment their meager income by teaching. An endeavored in which she tried to bring out an individual way of seeing for each of her pupils.

And about which she has said “My teaching grew just as a plant or tree grows, leaf by leaf, branch by branch, and a tree takes a lifetime in its growing.”

London’s Osborne Samuel Modern and Contemporary Art has a selection of Andrews’ works on show until the 10th of October to coincide with the publication of Sybil Andrews A Complete Catalogue.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Whisper of Ambiguity

"I believe whispers carry farther than shouts."
Maud Gatewood

Although widely traveled from Austria, on a Fulbright Scholarship in her late twenty’s, to India, Africa and China with her longtime friend the Charlotte gallerist Dot Hodges, the American painter Maud Gatewood produced the majority of her work in the town of her birth Yanceyville, the county seat of Caswell County, one of North Carolina’s poorest county’s.

As a child in the 1940’s, Gatewood would often accompany her county sheriff father on his rounds including moonshine still busts. About which she says in the documentary Gatewood: Facing the White Canvas, "I had a more than average knowledge of the many foibles of human existence."

And as the county transformed its self from Bible-Belt to Sun-Belt through the urbanization and industrialization of its rural beginnings in the latter half of the 20th Century, Gatewood observed and depicted the inherent ambiguity within the process.

As the art historian Robert Hobbs notes the artist saying in his 1994 essay Maud Gatewood: Re-Visions "I think it's in the nature of the species to be a little evasive and covered. Ambiguity might be the heart of life as well as art… Creating a good painting is like walking a tightrope. You've got to make the thing work, but almost not work, to get that teetering sensation… What I'm trying to paint is relationships, formal relationships: light and color and forms. There might be messages, but I think a lot of times painters know less about what their painting says than anybody else.”

Gatewood is reported to have begun her artistic journey in the thrall of Abstract Expressionism but like the changing fortunes of Caswell County her work evolved to express this threshold of differing realities. As urban and rural sensibilities interacted so too did abstraction and realism within her work.  

“The important thing is to follow your own muse, but skeptically and carefully. If you don't question what you're doing, you're an absolute fool," Gatewood told the Independent Weekly.

And ultimately Gatewood trusted her work to suggest rather than proclaim "With a shout, it's boom, splash and it's gone. A whisper just drifts on and on," she claimed.

The exhibition Maud Gatewood: Selections is currently on show at Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Museum until the 29th of November.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From Calligraphy to Abstract Expressionism

“The search for the form in one’s art is the ultimate mission statement for an artist.”
Chuang Che

The Chinese/American painter Chuang Che’s life has been a 5 decade journey to merge the traditional techniques of his Chinese heritage with his fascination of abstract expressionism gained from his visits to the West.

As New York’s David Findlay Jr’s gallery reports him as saying ““No art can mature by itself; it has to absorb nutrition from the rest of the world’s art. I’ve always had this ideal; to see a fusion of Chinese and Western painting.”

Born in Peking [Beijing] and growing up in Taiwan Che’s father was responsible for the safe keeping of the art treasures from the collections of Peking Palace Museum during the troubled times of the Sino/Japanese war and the Chinese civil war. He was also a noted calligrapher.

It was an early influence for Che about which he wrote in his essay Mountains and Rivers in My Heart “My father, a master of many calligraphic styles, always favored the running cursive style. I have watched him practicing his art since my childhood; the twisting and turning of his wrist, the changing spacing and cornering of his strokes, the varied spatial arrangements in sizes and angular relations of the his characters … all of these had become a kind of foundation training for my visual perception.”

In his early twenties Che attended the Department of Fine Arts at National Taiwan Normal University and upon graduation he joined with fellow Taiwanese artists interested in modernizing Chinese art in the Fifth Moon Group.

A 1966 grant from John D. Rockefeller III Fund enable him to study contemporary international art in the United States at the time when abstract expressionism was at its peak.

Seven years later Che moved permanently to the United States and everything started to fall into place.

About which Che wrote in the summer of 1973 “Suddenly all the things that I have ever wanted to express before be­came possible… In one of the bedrooms I began to paint furiously. In the autumn of that same year, I had an exhibition in town… Where did all the paintings come from? I think they were the beneficial result of past failures, ev­idence that all the energy and time spent were well worthwhile.”

In 2005 Che reminisced further writing “Although the road leading from calligraphy into the realm of painting has been there for a long, long time, it took me over thirty years to hammer out a way to draw from their various elements, synthesize them and infuse them into a brand new art form. In painting, one’s ideas need to be fleshed out with his sensibility about time and space, just as pure reason, guiding one’s behavior, needs to be accompanied by human emotions, lest the person becomes a stiff and lifeless being.”

Currently the Taipei Fine Arts Museum is showing Effusive Vitality: CHUANG CHE Retrospective Exhibition until the 3rd of January next year.

Monday, September 28, 2015

An Old Technique for a Modern Picture

“So as long as it keeps evolving,
and you really feel like you’re growing through the work,
then it’s worth doing."
Robyn Stacey

With her earlier works, the Australian photographer Robyn Stacey produced intimate still life’s from the collections of historic houses with the feeling that their inhabitants would soon return to pick up where they had left off along with the modern aesthetic reproduction of rare specimens from botanical garden collections.

This interest in the historical has influenced her current body of work that juxtaposes exterior city scenes with the interiors of modern life through the application of the centuries old technique of the camera obscura.

Pioneered by the Chinese and the ancient Greeks more than a thousand years ago and extensively used by Renaissance artists, Stacey has used this pinhole technique to make hotel rooms of the 21st Century her darkroom.

The idea came to Stacey whilst she was artist in residence at Melbourne’s Sofitel on Collins hotel.
As she told the Sydney Morning Herald’s Katrina Lobley “''There was a fantastic sunrise over Melbourne. I jumped out of bed and thought, 'I should photograph this - it's just like a postcard'. Later, I realized I should make a camera obscura to bring the view into the room.”

Intrigued by the surreal vision of city traffic crawling across the walls and ceiling of the room, albeit upside down, Stacey soon realized that as ''Hotels only exist to service people” she needed to add people into the mix.

The result is a body of work in which the city almost becomes a thought bubble above the subjects head, an examination of the relationship of the individual to world in which they reside.

Not unlike her earlier historical still lifes about which the critic and curator Peter Timms wrote in his essay Playing a Double Game “As in the cinema (and these photographs are nothing if not cinematic) we are being invited to suspend our disbelief and imagine ourselves in another time, not for nostalgia’s sake, but for the opposite – to strip away sentiment and to see ourselves more clearly.”

Stacey’s current exhibition Cloudland is on show at the Museum of Brisbane until the 3rd of April next year.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Exploring Change through the Zeitgeist of the High Street

“I see lots of parallels between fashion and religious sects.”
Anj Smith

In a manner reminiscent of the gothic fantasy genre most associated with the work of the American film director Tim Burton, London based painter Anj Smith explores in her highly detailed small paintings the dark side of life in general and fashion in particular.

As she told the Independent on Sunday about her 2004 work Opus Dei Lite (see above) “Opus Dei Lite came about when I saw that the Weight Watchers breakfast was identical to the Opus Dei cult breakfast – dry rusks. I really like dark stuff like that.”

Nine years later, Smith, talking to the Huffington Post about her New York exhibition The Flowering of Phantoms explained the continuing motivation for her work stating “Very loosely speaking, the flowering 'phantoms' of the show's title relate to the way that language operates in a relentless process of evolution, with new meanings constantly springing from the death throes of their predecessors. The art historical context of painting now is dragged into this as much as any other language (a skull in a Dutch Golden age still-life now seems to signify McQueen rather than mortality. Not even that, thanks to the market rip-offs, perhaps the old sign for death has now just emptied out to solely indicate genericism). To me this process appears as a perfect reflection a current metaphysical state, where the ground underfoot feels marshy, with no stable structures are around to help us define our identity, or to quantify things.

About her choice of medium, the Goldsmiths’ trained artist said “In terms of making an image, the process of painting is an odd choice in the context of our sleek technology -- it's clumsy, awkward and it compromises the image, and takes months! But for me, that's where its profundity lies. There is something gratuitous about it, pointless even, and yet painting's seductive power remains unabated -- which explains its survival. For these reasons, I think it brilliantly reflects a contemporary headspace now, and how it feels to negotiate basic aspects of existence now.

With influences that range from Persian miniature painting via the Dutch Golden Age to high fashion Smith’s work integrates a high art aesthetic into the fashion of the high street.

As she told Forbes Magazine’s Grace Banks “When I look at the zeitgeist now I see that people are looking for authenticity. Fashion is not a frivolous or trivial thing, but actually, we are wearing the values of our time and they say a lot about how we construct our identity and a lot about our time. There’s a lot of really vacuous comment about fashion that doesn’t interest me but I will always be interested in the concept of change and transformation that it offers.

Smith’s current exhibition Phosphor on the Palms is currently on show at London’s Hauser & Wirth gallery until the 21st of November.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Abstracting the English Countryside

I like to think that my paintings have meaning
and that meaning goes beyond being just pictures of things.” 
Lewis Noble

The London born artist Lewis Noble has been indulging himself in the very British pastime of capturing the English countryside, although it is the experience of it rather than its depiction that informs his landscapes.

As he told the Ainscough Contemporary Art gallery “Painting near my home and studio in the Peak District I have continuous exposure to the landscape that surrounds me. A great deal of my recent work has been spent outside painting directly from the landscape. I want to make paintings that are in immediate response to the sky, the land, and importantly, the transitions between them.

Unavoidably influenced by John Constable and JMW Turner, Noble’s works concentrate on the inherent drama therein ignoring the narrative.

An approach to his work that he explained in an interview about his yearlong residency at Derbyshire’s Chatsworth House “As a landscape painter I am always trying to find ways to include the human element in my work. The landscape around us is all a product of human intervention. English landscape is managed by people and therefore has a human quality. I tend not to include people in my work as I like the idea of the person standing in front of the painting being the only person in the landscape. If there is someone else there they intrude on the private experience. I want the paintings to stand in for the experience of being in the actual landscape. Once there is someone there, there is a narrative whether it’s intended or not. I think it’s a little the same with buildings. Once you start being really specific about an object especially one as well-known as Chatsworth House you start telling stories which isn’t where I want to be.

And with work that borders on abstract expressionism, Noble’s concern is about the viewer’s relationship with his landscapes.

As he says “I think that there are different relationships that paintings go through. I have a very personal relationship with them while they are in the studio. This is all about change and motion. The painting is never the same to look at from one day to next. It’s like going on a journey where you know the general direction but you never know the final destination until you get there. Sometimes it can be struggle and other times an easy path, but there’s no way of knowing which it will be at the outset. When a painting is finished it usually goes off to the gallery so I don’t tend to spend a lot of time with it in a completed state. It’s only when I next see it hanging in the gallery that I can be more objective about it and start to think about it as a finished painting. I think the relationship that a painting’s eventual owner has with it is very different to my own as they get to live with it for years. I like to think they have a positive effect on the lives of the people that own them.”

Noble’s current exhibition of New Paintings is on show at Derby’s Tarpey Gallery until the 31st of October.