Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Power of the Feminine

'I paint to think'
Chantal Joffe

The Independent Newspaper’s Sue Hubbard wrote of British artist Chantal Joffe’s portraits “Her women seem caught in a perpetual struggle both to keep their own counsel while flirting with the desire to confront and seduce the viewer.”

Joffe is best known for her towering paintings, some over 10 feet (3.3 meters) high, of women and children where the power of the feminine shines through the mostly anonymous subjects. About which she told The Bloomberg Space’s Sacha CraddockI don’t want to tell a story; the paintings I like best become abstract at some level. These are much more factual, much less illusory. No narrative creeps in.

Occasionally Joffe will work directly from life or from her own photographs, which about the latter she has said "I’m a terrible photographer [...] But in a way, the more the photo is crap, the better to paint from." But mostly Joffe uses images from fashion spreads, ads, and friends’ family snapshots as her inspiration. “When you’re looking through a magazine, what makes you stop and think is when you see an image and imagine the narrative that is going on inside of it. Those are the ones I make into paintings,” she explained to the Interview Magazine.

Earlier in her career Joffe also used pornographic imagery as a source material for her work. About which his told the Guardian NewspaperI was interested in the politics surrounding pornography, but also because I wanted to paint nudes, and through pornography I had an endless supply of images of naked women.

Joffe’s later works have moved her eye closer to home painting family and friends whether on seaside holidays or self portraits with her daughter. As she says, “Since having a child, my paintings are more personal. I wanted to convey some of that physical intensity that comes with having a baby. The anxiety and emotions are so visceral.

Joffe’s current exhibition Beside the Seaside is currently on show at Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery until the 12th of April. Exhibitions are planned for New York and London later in the year.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Dreams of an Exile

"I consider myself an Iraqi artist 

and I want to contribute to this movement, 
and not to the English, French, Italian or the global movements."
Faisal Laibi Sahi 

In 1974 the 27 year old Faisal Laibi Sahi deemed it prudent to leave Iraq. Saddam Hussein was conducting an anti communist purge and with his leftist, progressive leanings Sahi elected for caution over valor and pursued his art studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Sorbonne University in France. Since then Sahi has lived in Italy, Algeria and currently lives and works in London. He may have left Iraq, but Iraq has never left him. "Baghdad, Baghdad, Baghdad," he told Newsweek in 2002. "Wherever I go, I take it with me."

Working mainly from imagination and memory this “social artist,” through his painting, drawing and mixed media work, explores the suffering of Iraqi’s political prisoners, the calamity of war, Kurdish marginalization, the oppression of women, and the ravages of child labor. As he told the Cairo Times in 2004 "I am engaged in my society and as an artist, I want to express my pain about what is happening. I want to see my society live a normal life where the citizen is respected,"

Of particular concern to Sahi is the conflation of church and state. As he has explained "The religious men support the military because their interests are the same. Together they stand against democracy and development."

But Sahi’s work isn't all doom and gloom; there is an optimistic aspect about his work. In his current exhibition at the Meem Gallery in Dubai he presents vividly colored paintings of individuals and group portraits that are ostensibly harmonious scenes of leisure.  Sahi also expresses his love of music in his work. "I should like to produce paintings like pieces of Arab poetry or Arab music on the oud or the qanun," he wrote in an exhibition brochure.

With exhibitions, over the years, in the Middle East, North Africa, the UK, Europe and the USA, Sahi’s heart still yearns for the country of his birth. As he says "Even though I have lived for years outside Iraq, I am still Iraqi, in my behavior, my culture, in what I eat, what I drink, when I talk with people-even in love," 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Transition of the Traditional

“The Indonesian-ness is already inside me, 

so I’m not worried about going somewhere and losing my identity.
 My identity is wherever I go, 
I don’t want to hold on to history.”
Entang Wiharso

As a child, Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso led a life of flux as his family moved around the Indonesian island of Java. As he told the Artling  “When I was a kid, my parents always moved us around, which was not normal for an Indonesian at all. I lived in a village where everyone stayed in the same place, then we moved to different cities. I didn’t feel like a normal kid, but it was a good experience.”

It is an experience he continues to live with studios & residences in Yogyakarta & Rhode Island producing his expressionistic, surreal works all interwoven with traditional storytelling. Covering a range of mediums from relief sculptures to painting from installation to video, Wiharso’s works encompass Indonesian and Western folklore and literature, contemporary culture, and current events.

As he said in conversation with ArtAsiaPacific’s, Ashley Bickerton “The Dutch colonizers were very aware of how to claim ownership of the land. They photographed and painted the Indonesian landscape and sent the images around the world: “This is ours, we own this.” When I saw such images – exotic depictions of harmonious, idealized tropical landscape, dotted with villages and fauna – I wanted to take it back and make it Indonesian again.”

It is a desire Wiharso has actualized remarkably well, representing Indonesia in two Biennales (Venice and Prague) and exhibitions in Singapore, Japan, Rome and now New York. In regard to his 2015 New York exhibition at the Marc Straus Gallery, the New York Times art critic Ken Johnson said about the installation, Inheritance (see below) “It’s a very postmodern tableau, but it has the mystery, too, of an old folk tale.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Both Sides of the Lens & Both Sides of the Pond

“I discovered the portrait because I had this one lens.”
Micky Hoogendijk

Many years working in front of the camera has given Dutch/American photographer Micky Hoogendijk the empathy necessary to get the emotional content from her models that her portraits demand. As she told The Austin American Statesman’s Michael Barnes “I coax trust, contact and vulnerability from my subjects in order to produce an image from which the viewer can then create his own world.”

Growing up in an artistic environment, her father was photographer/painter and her mother was an interior designer, Hoogendijk married the Dutch artist Rob Scholte in her 20’s and ran the business side of his practice. After they separated she took up modeling and acting. A role in the prime time Dutch soap opera Good times, bad times brought her local fame. About which she has said “I played a bitchy character, five days a week for two years.”

After moving to Hollywood she played a make-up trailer model in Garry Marshall’s 2004 romantic comedy Raising Helen. In 2008 the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival gave Hoogendijk the Best Actress award for her role in the independent drama Blindspot.

Hoogendijk’s switch to the other side of the camera happened the following year. Her mother gave her a professional quality camera and Hoogendijk took to the streets of Austin, Texas. As she has said “I took pictures out on the street. Took pictures of architecture, lines, homeless people. I was able to walk around and be the voyeur. I had been so famous in Holland. This changed my life. Made me a better person.”
After initial encouragement from a local collector which combined with the limitation of only one lens for her camera, Hoogendijk began to utilize her knowledge from in front of the camera to take studio based portraits. “I allow my model’s instinct and personality to melt together with my camera and drive my creative inspiration,” she says. Working with actors “interesting people who don’t mind getting naked,” she elaborates, Hoogendijk explores themes based upon religion, society and mythology.

And as’s Karin Barnhoorn wrote in 2013, “(it’s) A dynamic and inspiring realm where visual arts, technology and theater melt together into photography. We’re talking Dutch artistic roots here.

Hoogendijk’s exhibition The Other Side of Fear is Freedom is currently on show at Amsterdam’s Eduard Planting Gallery until the 7th of March.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Jack With No Master

I am a desperate man who demands to connect...
who denounces the dullness of money and status...
who will not bow down to acolayed or success -
 'i am the strange hero of hunger'
Billy Childish

Billy Childish (Stephen John Hamper) has a large collection of hats which is very befitting for this man who wears so many, although one suspects you would be hard pressed to find a silk top hat in his collection; it’s just not his thing.

An Enfant terrible who has never grown up, Childish revels in the contradictions life has to offer making a career of not having a career. He has a laundry list of activities to his credit that includes but is not limited to; poet, novelist, publisher, musician, producer, painter, photographer, film maker and activist. And he is as prolific as he is varied; to which 127 music albums, over 40 publications of collected poetry and the 600 drawings he produced in six months whilst working as an apprentice stone mason all attest.

An individualist with an anti-establishment streak, Childish has lived and worked all his life in the South East English town of Chatham which has seen him labeled as a provincial outsider, a categorization he rejects. As he told the Guardian newspaper "I never needed to validate myself by moving to London. In my mind, it's actually a very provincial place because it's full of people from the provinces trying not to seem provincial. I always found it very limiting."

Whilst his paintings are often shown in museums, Childish doesn’t have a very high opinion of them. As he told The White Review “A library or a gallery should be empty to a degree. It should have elbow room. It should have calmness. It should be a statement about who we are, not a statement about populist culture. Real culture isn’t very popular. Real art isn’t that popular. These would be my arguments with places like the Tate when they say they are bringing challenging work to ordinary people. If it was challenging the place would be empty. If you challenge people they get the hump and clear off. The Tate is populist: it’s a day out. That’s not necessarily bad, but we’ve already got places for a day out. You don’t have to make everything into a fucking knees-up.”

From his expulsion from the Saint Martin's School of Art in 1982 for obscenity and other assorted crimes to his being awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from the University of Kent in 2014, Childish just goes about his business. As he says “I've got things to be getting on with."

A selection of his work can be seen in the exhibition The Islanders which he shares with Tom Anholt, Ryan Mosley and Rose Wylie at Copenhagen’s Galerie Mikael Andersen until the 21st of February.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Painter as Diplomat

My talent is such that no undertaking, 
however vast in size...
has ever surpassed my courage.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a man of sensual appetites with a discerning eye for detail. A painter and a diplomat, who excelled at both, Rubens, traversed the European stage from Holland to Italy, from England to Spain, during the turbulent first half of the 17th Century.

The most celebrated artist of his day, Rubens was the confidant of Kings and Queens; he not only painted their portraits but conducted clandestine affairs of state on their behalf. And what better cover for the covert diplomat than a commission to depict the grandeur of one endowed by God to rule.

Flattery was the order of the day and Rubens obliged. But amongst the extravagant drama of the luscious color, the interplay of light and dark, the lively brush strokes, all hallmarks of the Baroque style of the time, are details that go unnoticed by a superficial glance. Such as in The Entombment (see above) the parentheses formed by the bleeding wound and mouth of lifeless Christ, around which painting pivots, encapsulates a meditation on the idea that underpins the Eucharist; a central tenant of Rubens' Catholic faith. 

The skill of the diplomat in paint, as it is the detail in the agreement that cements its applicability, so it is the pathos in the painting that holds the interest. In 1629, the 52 year old Rubens was at Philip IV Spanish court when England’s Charles I commissioned Rubens to decorate the ceiling of a new banquet hall in his Whitehall palace. Whilst executing the commission Rubens secretly negotiated a peace agreement between the two countries. So pleased were the kings that each bestowed a knighthood upon him.

And then of course there are Rubens’ nudes, his rubenesque ladies. About which he is reported to have said “I paint a woman's big rounded buttocks so that I want to reach out and stroke the dimpled flesh.” But not all his ladies were BBW, like Marie de Medici, the wife of France's Henry IV, who Rubens painted 24 times; she was never more than a size 10. As Rubens said about his models “Painting a young maiden is similar to cavorting with great abandon. It is the finest refreshment.

 Rubens died from heart failure at the age of 63, said to be brought on by his chronic gout, “the rich man’s disease” caused by the overindulgence of food and wine. Interestingly Ruben’s youngest child was born eight months after his death.

A selection of Rubens’ works along with artists he has influenced is currently on show at London’s Royal Academy of Arts until the 10th of April.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pondering Art in a Sci Fi Future

"The development of full artificial intelligence
 could spell the end of the human race.”
Stephen Hawkins

On Thursday the 23rd of January the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced that they had moved their iconic Doomsday Clock to three minutes to Midnight. Citing the modernization of nuclear arsenals and unchecked climate change this is the closest the clock has been to midnight since the height of the Cold War in 1984.

Should these apocalyptic scenarios come together silicon may replace carbon as the dominate life form assuming of course that silicon could survive the ravages of a nuclear winter and/or an overheated world. In this hypothetical situation the question that arises is how would art be appreciated, as a graphical representation or would the language/code of its production dominate?

Indirectly, the work of minimalist British artist, David Riley nods towards these imaginings. Whilst his real world exhibitions present his work in a conventional manner that can be hung upon a wall his internet exhibitions whilst having a graphical representation on a monitor depend upon their underlying codes for that reality.

Traveling the internet under the pseudonym of Revad, Riley uses social media pages for his internet exhibitions. His word circle numbers tumbler exhibition can be seen here and his colourscape exhibition on instagram can be seen here.

When he talks about his work Riley refers to himself as a black box and his work as outputs. As he explains on his website “when I chose the black box metaphor I was thinking like an engineer. In science and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed solely in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics; and without any knowledge of its internal working. Using this well understood concept, I think I am (in) the black box. That is, I receive stimuli to make work; I apply my interest, experience and passion to making the work; I produce output and share the output I find satisfying.”

Prior to becoming an artist, Riley was a senior systems engineer for a telecommunications company who played with photography. It was this photographic interest that caused him to take up art. As he explained via email “The digital camera was the catalyst. I had dabbled in photography for many years, but hated the wait for film processing and printing. The digital camera streamlined the process and gave me instant access to the material. I then realized I could do much more than take photographs. Having made this personal breakthrough, I started to explore other materials.”

Amongst those other materials of interest was language or as he prefers to call it code and its graphical representation. And should the unthinkable happen and silicon does indeed triumph over carbon, Riley’s work, be it graphic or code, may well become the equivalent of Lascaux in that new epoch.

Should you like to see more of Riley’s work click here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Painting as Performance

"That fucking Picasso,
He's done everything."
Jackson Pollock

A not unfounded compliant for the young American painter Jackson Pollock to shout into the night air about the colossus of 20th Century art as he staggered home, drunk again. To which he would add "I'll show them someday," which he ultimately did do. For Picasso had covered and excelled at many forms of artistic expression, even inventing his own. But the Spanish master left one area untouched – action painting.

In the early years after the Second World War, Pollock was living in New York and making a name for himself in the New York art scene. He was also undergoing Jungian psychotherapy for alcoholism and depression, a treatment predicated on self discovery. In 1946, along with his wife Lee Krasner, Pollock moved from the city to a homestead in a rural hamlet near East Hampton. On the property was a barn that Pollock converted into a studio which saw him produce the majority of his formidable works.

Pollock would circumnavigate a canvas he had affixed to the floor upon which he would fling, drip and squirt paint. The traditional easel and brushes of his trade were left aside as he went on these journeys of self discovery. About which Pollock wrote “When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. 

It was a performance, often with more than one act, which left a permanent record. As photographer Hans Namuth explained “A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor … There was complete silence … Pollock looked at the painting. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white, and rust colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there; he did not seem to hear the click of the camera shutter … My photography session lasted as long as he kept painting, perhaps half an hour. In all that time, Pollock did not stop. How could one keep up this level of activity? Finally, he said 'This is it.'

Whilst Time Magazine famously called Pollock “Jack the Dripper,” his contemporary Willem de Kooning said "Every so often a painter has to destroy painting. Cézanne did it. Picasso did it with Cubism. Then Pollock did it. He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again."

A current exhibition of his work Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots is on show at Tate Liverpool until the 18th of October. After its British showing, the exhibition will move to the Dallas Museum of Art where it will be on show from the 15th of November to the 20th of March next year. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Memories, Real or Imagined

“When a subject is no longer clearly outlined,
spaces for imagination and memory open up.”
Philippe Cognée

Since its invention in the middle of the 19th Century the photograph has become a competitor to and a collaborator with painting. For in essence they are the two sides of the same coin: the visual expression of an idea and other places of interest. And whilst the relatively new kid on the block has yet to reach the gravitas of its older sister in the eyes of some, increasingly artists have incorporated both into their work.

One such artist is Frenchman Philippe Cognée who uses photographs, video stills, and found images from the internet in general and the satellite images from Google’s street views in particular as the basis for his paintings. He renders these views using charcoal, graphite and encaustic (paint mixed with Bee’s wax) which he then heats and crushes with a domestic iron. The result, as the charcoal explodes, the line breaks up and the paint melts is a semi abstract depiction of the scene.

Utilizing subject matter that covers the whole gamut of traditional painting genres from still life’s to landscapes, both urban and rural, from portraiture to copy’s of old maters Cognée explores the role of painting in the 21st Century. 

The transitory nature of the digital world, best encapsulated in the 24 hour news cycle or the five to ten minute life of the average twitter message, is investigated in Cognée’s work through his vague renderings that demand the viewer’s input from their memories, real or imagined. The right or wrong of accuracy is abandoned for the momentary now that each member of the audience, prejudices intact, brings to the encounter.

Cognée’s current exhibition Territoires is on show at Brussels’ Galerie Daniel Templon until the 21st of February.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Of Birds And The East Village

In 1995 three researchers from Keio University, Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto and Masumi Wakita won the Ig Nobel Prize for Psychology for teaching pigeons to discriminate between impressionist and cubist paintings using the works of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. Interestingly, when the paintings were shown to the birds upside down they could only identify the cubist works.

The Dutch/American artist Anton van Dalen is a pigeon fancier. Each day, weather permitting, he goes to the roof of the building he has called home for the last 47 years and releases his birds from their loft to fly in the sky over Manhattan’s East Village. What was once a common sight has become increasingly rare as this Manhattan enclave has suffered from the advance of gentrification. 

The change wrought over the last four decades to his beloved East Village along with his fascination with animal intelligence of both the winged kind as well as the human kind has long informed his work. Presented in a graphic reportage style it betrays the influence of the New Yorker’s cartoonist and illustrator Saul Steinberg for whom van Dalen was his main assistant for 30 years.

From the seedy streets with their drug-shooting galleries to the upscale bars, fast food restaurants, and well-heeled women van Dalen’s work is infused with the pessimism of the realist but soften with a dry wit as he explores his character’s ability to survive in an environment of restricted behavior. Over time van Dalen’s palette has shift from the monochromatic style of his earlier works to what he calls “the colors of our time,” a mimicking of the light from flat screens, cell phones and computers.

An exhibition of van Dalen’s latest works will open at New York’s PPOW Gallery on the 13 of February and be on show until the 14th of March.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Art of Many Parts

“This is what I have tried to do in my collages: 
To bring the African American experience into art 
and give it a universal dimension.”
Romare Bearden

African American artist Romare Bearden was a man of many parts. He was a social worker, a student of philosophy, a jazz musician and composer, a writer, and an artist. In the latter years of his life he was awarded honorary doctorates by seven American universities in the fields of Fine Art and Literature.

His first forays into art were as a cartoonist for satirical student publications on the campuses where he was studying for a degree in Education. After graduation, whilst studying at New York’s Arts Students league his political cartoons were published in African/American newspapers.

He enjoyed early success with his painting but as abstract expressionism took hold this dwindled and a disillusioned Bearden decamped to Paris to study art history and philosophy at the Sorbonne. Whilst there he met and became friends with Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger and Constantin Brancusi.

His return to America saw him concentrate more on his music that his art although he experimented with abstraction. It was in the early 1960's that Bearden truly found his artistic voice.

Inspired by Picasso’s earlier work with collage and Matisse’s later cut outs, Bearden found the perfect way to express his ideas. Through the use of collage he was able to articulate the Negro experience from both the rural south and the urban north that he had lived. As he said ''I believe that it was because I had something unique to say about the life that I knew best. I took an art form that was different. What I had to say took a little different form than most of the paintings around; I used the collage. Especially in some of the earlier collages that I did, I chose some of the photographic materials for a certain reason. I wanted to give an immediacy, like a documentary movie.''

Bearden’s use of collage underscored his belief that when things are taken out of their usual context, reworked and reconfigured in a new context they develop new meanings. “When some things are taken out of the usual context and put in the new, they are given an entirely new character." He once explained.

Bearden today is regarded as America’s master of collage, a discipline that, like his life, is made of many parts. “The artist has to be something like the whale,” he once said “swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he needs.” 

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta currently has A Painter's Profile: The High Celebrates Romare Bearden on show until the 31st of May. And New York’s Columbia University Wallach Art Gallery is showing Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey until 14th of March.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Rubik Cube in Chinese Art

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you.
If you are determined, you will solve them.”
Erno Rubik

In the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness Will Smith’s character Chris Gardner secures an interview for the job that will change his life by solving a Rubik’s Cube for the potential employer’s recruiter during a shared taxi ride. In 1974 the “cube”, the solving of which is often equated with intelligence, was invented by a Hungarian Professor of architecture, Erno Rubik, primarily to explain to his students spatial relationships. Six years later it was on its way to becoming the most popular toy in history.

About his cube, Rubik told CNN “probably the most characteristic part of the cube is the contradiction between simplicity and complexity. I think probably that's part of the key to the success of the cube -- you are able to have a connection with this order and chaos.”

It is a situation that is not dissimilar to what is happening in Chinese art according to Arne Glimcher, the number three art dealer in Forbes Magazine’s top ten. As he told the Phaidon Press website in 2012 “The Cultural Revolution destroyed the entire history of China for a generation. So you’re dealing with the oldest country in the world and the newest country in the world and that schism between who they were and who they are and that is happening in China.”

Enter to this milieu Chinese conceptional artist Zhao Yao. Using painting rather than installation to express his ideas, Zhao is no longer concerned with making something that is simply interesting in itself.” As he says about his paintings They are informed by observations of what others are looking at, and how they are looking.”

As Zhao explained to Time Out, Beijing “These pictures are imaginative. At the same time they are ready-made, taken from a series used to train kids to think logically; things like color patterns and exercises to teach them to move shapes around and form a new design. By integrating these lessons with the mass-produced cloth, these appear as abstract works of art.

To which he added “‘I like it more when the audience doesn’t trust the artist’s perspective, when the artist doesn’t trust himself and when the audience doesn’t even trust itself.” With a final proviso “Don’t trust me; don’t trust anything.

His current exhibition Zhao Yao: Painting of Thought is on show at Hong Kong’s Pace Gallery from the 15 of January to the 26th of February.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Easy Come, Easy Go

“Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world” 

Whether as the quantifier for time or as the commodity that keeps the earth spinning, money has a major effect on our quality of life. This is particularly true in the visual arts where an artist’s success/importance is increasingly measured by the number of marks, yen or dollars they can command for their work, especially at public auctions. It is equally true that a lack of money is one of the modern world’s great motivators.

Such was the case for the German/American engineer Otis Kaye. He was financially wiped out when the Great Depression of 1929 crashed over him. Kaye’s response to this calamity was to take up painting and the subject he most often chose to paint was money. The precision inherent in his early calling was such that his depictions of dollars and cents are so accurate and realistic that even today viewers of his work are often tempted to try and pocket them from his canvas.

Little is known about the man mainly because he never exhibited his work. To have done so would have brought the wrath of the US government down upon his head. For in 1909 it became illegal to paint US currency. Consequently Kaye gave his paintings to friends and relatives and whilst he did depict other subjects he is believed to have sold only two paintings during his life time.

Best known for his technical virtuosity, Kaye’s compositions are as intriguing as they are inventive and he was not adverse to the visual pun, although his humor is often black and barely conceals the anger he felt towards the hand fate had dealt him.

Last Saturday Connecticut’s New Britain Museum of American Art opened an exhibition of his work, Otis Kaye: Money, Mystery, and Mastery which will remain on show until the 10 of May.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Realism and Optimism: It's the Real Beal

“It’s very much a matter of fact realism, sort of warts and all”
Les Reker

Three days after the horrific experience of seeing airplanes flying into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center a life affirming mural The Return of Spring was unveiled at the Times Square subway station. It is a modern day depiction of the Greek myth of Persephone whose return to earth from Hades each year heralds the end of winter; a metaphorical victory of life over death. The 7 by 20 foot (2.1 by 6 meter) glass mosaic work was created by the American social realist artist Jack Beal.

After three years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Beal entered a world where abstract expressionism was all the rage. It was a style that Beal was neither comfortable with nor exceptional at and after flirting with figurative art he settled into the social realist genre. It was a courageous move, for as the New York Times art critic, Hilton Kramer wrote “Given the generally low esteem — a disfavor bordering at times on contempt — that the Social Realist impulse has suffered in recent decades, this is not a position likely to be a cause of envy.”

The Columbus Museum’s curator, Les Reker has said Beal, ”borrowed the bold lines and the sharp colors of abstract expressionism and slathered them into the figures and objects of traditional realism.”

Ever the optimist, Beal painted his still life’s, landscapes and figurative studies from an everyday point of view. As he said in a 1979 interview “I think that what we have to try to do is to make beautiful paintings about life as we live it.”

Author Eric Shanes in a monograph about Beal wrote, his “pushing of representational forms to their interface with abstraction has been responsible for the creation of the most striking and unusual images of the period.”

The exhibition Jack Beal: Hard Edge Paintings, 1968 -1972 is currently on show at New York’s George Adams Gallery until the 28th of February.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Expression of faith

“I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before”
Robert Mapplethorpe

Freedom of Speech is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which has been central to numerous debates, often in the vanguard, about the social conditions under which we conduct our affairs.

Twenty five years ago Robert Mapplethorpe’s exhibition The Perfect Moment created a cultural convulsion that saw the first American museum to be charged with obscenity, another museum’s director resign, a serve backlash directed at the American government’s arts funding agency the National Endowment for the Arts and a tripling in the prices for Mapplethorpe’s photographic prints. Of the over 150 photographs in the exhibition 7 were considered offensive, 5 explicit homoerotic S&M images and 2 images of naked juveniles.

What had been a major success at New York’s Whitney Museum was considered beyond the pale for showing at the Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center. Whilst Cincinnati is not New York, it took the Cincinnati jury just 2 hours of discussion to decide there was no case to answer.

A lifelong catholic, Mapplethorpe’s rigorously formalized portraits and figure studies, floral still life’s and photographs of gay eroticism were an expression of his faith. As his lover, the academic and cultural writer Jack Fritscher says in his essay What Happened When: Censorship, Gay History, & Mapplethorpe, “Though Mapplethorpe was for a long-time non-practicing, he was a life-long Catholic as was his intimate peer, Andy Warhol. Both were very much influenced by western culture's Catholic-identified sculpture and painting. Mapplethorpe died a Catholic, and his photographs which he designed, he said, as "little altars" fall distinctly in matter and form within Catholic traditions of incarnation (his faces), transubstantiation (his flowers), martyrdom (his figures), mysticism (his fetishes), and ritual (his formalism).”

In 2011 the Sean Kelly Gallery hosted a posthumous exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, 50 Americans. Fifty people, one from each American state, were invited to select a single artwork from over 2,000 images in Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre.

About this exhibition Vanity Fair contributing editor, Ingrid Sischy said “I was fascinated by how few of the graphically sexual images were ultimately chosen. It speaks to the beauty of Robert’s other images; it shows this is not a one-note-Johnny photographer, and that his camera certainly traveled in a number of subjects. Many of these other images, like his flowers or images of Patti Smith, or his classical nudes or his portraits of black and white men together, actually have an undercurrent of the sexual component that made him famous.” 

Whilst photographer, Bruce Weber saidIsn’t it a wonderful miracle that photography can express what was in Robert Mapplethorpe’s head, and be accepted today as an American point of view.”

Friday, January 16, 2015

Visions of Empire

"Mistah Kurtz—he dead."
Joseph Conrad – The Heart of Darkness

The announcement of the demise of this particular European imperialist demigod in Conrad’s 1899 novella could also be considered a prescient announcement of the upheavals that would engulf the world as people struggled out from under the yoke of European colonialism be they African, Arab or Asian.

It is an influence that informs the work of American artist, Kehinde Wiley to a degree, for he is equally interested in the craft of painting and how that effects a viewer’s perception. As he told Bad at Sports in 2010, “Certainly it’s a question about colonialism, empire, race, and all of that. But let’s bring it back a couple steps. Let’s talk about the artist’s desire to go beyond the pictorial or the representational and the desire to create the abstract—the idea that painting can go beyond what is seen. 
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles his mother was insistent the he attend art school. About which Wiley has said “I was fortunate because my mother was very much focused on getting me, my twin brother, and other siblings out of the hood. On weekends I would go to art classes at a conservatory. After school, we were on lockdown. It was something I hated, obviously, but in the end it was a lifesaver.

Described as a “brilliant renaissance technician with hip-hop subject matter,” Wiley came to the attention of the art world in his mid 20’s with a series of paintings depicting people from his New York neighborhood. They are dressed in the uniform of the streets in poses they selected from classic European portraiture which Wiley place on a decorative background. As he told the Interview website, “When Ice-T came by, he wanted to be this really great painting of Napoleon by Ingres.”

In his latest series of works, The World Stage, Wiley has broadened his outlook to include people from a wider diaspora than New York.  About which he says, “Many of the reasons why I choose certain sites have to do with a level of curiosity, but it also has to do with their broader, global, political importance- strategically for America, and the world community at large. One of the reasons I chose Brazil, Nigeria, India and China is that these are all the points of anxiety and curiosity and production that are going on in the world that are changing the way we see empire.

The Brooklyn Museum has scheduled to show Wiley’s exhibition A New Republic from the 20th of February to the 24th of May.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tomorrow Belongs to Me

“Our technology-driven culture's relationship to the natural 
is the dominant theme in my work.”
Micah Ganske 

The Hawaiian born painter and sculptor Micah Ganske makes paintings that look like digital prints and creates sculptures using a 3D printer, which given his subject matter is entirely appropriate.

About his painting the Deitch Projects website says “Ganske has spent his career developing a method of stain painting that is unlike anything being done in the art world today. Somewhere between Morris Lewis and batik fabric painting, the method of paint application can be so invisible that his brush-applied, acrylic on muslin paintings, are often initially mistaken as ink-jet prints.

“My sculptures are designed digitally and produced using a MakerBot 3D printer,” he says. Ganske has also released a selection of his sculptural designs on the Thingiverse website for DIYers with a 3D printer to print their own versions under a Creative Commons licence.

Ganske’s works look to the future albeit with a realist rational of what has been before but rendered in a manicured optimistic aesthetic. As he says about his work “I want to make work which inspires and engages the viewer in what I truly believe is important and what drives me. I believe in space exploration and the pursuit of technology as the vehicle to the future. There will be bumps along the way, because we are flawed. Some advanced technology will be used irresponsibly or simply for evil. However, the progression of science and technology also represents the evolution of our species. We are the first species just smart enough to evolve ourselves outside of natural selection and Darwinian evolution.

A selection of his latest work will have its first West Coast showing at Los Angeles’ 101/EXHIBIT gallery. The Future is Always Tomorrow opens on the 17 of January and will remain on display until the 7th of March.