Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Judgment of Character

“Just look at me now.”
Alma Thomas

On the 28th of August 1963 African American artist Alma Thomas was amongst the quarter of a million people in front of the Lincoln Memorial who heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his immortal words "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

It is a sentiment that no doubt struck a chord with Thomas who was reported as saying by Ann Gibson in her essay Putting Alma Thomas in Place, “When I was a little girl in Columbus there were things we could do and things we couldn’t. One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there.”

At the age of 71 and nine years after the King speech, Thomas became the first African American female artist to have a solo exhibition at The Whitney Museum of American Art, an occasion that caused her to remark, “My how things have changed.”

Although not overtly political Thomas was mindful of the times in which she lived. As a teacher for most of her life, Thomas was in her early 60’s when she took up painting full time, she was acutely aware of the importance of education. As she has said “If you are ignorant you are helpless…But what do you expect when whites closed up all the schools and libraries on us for so long? They know that schooling would give us salvation.”

But being an abstractionist with an interest in color field painting and minimalism Thomas was disinclined to mix politics with her art. As she said at the time of her Whitney exhibition “Negros have now made their political statement about their problems in the art world. Now it’s time they get down to work and produce an art they can be really proud of.”

And about her work she has said “The use of color in my paintings is of paramount importance to me. Through color I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”

It was the study of Matisse’s work, in particular his later cut outs, that inspired Thomas’ abstractionist quest, for as she has been reported as saying “If an old crippled-up man can do that, I can do it.” And do it she did in both a social and aesthetic manner that still resonates today almost 50 years after her death.

The exhibition Alma Thomas: Moving Heaven & Earth, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1958 - 1978 is currently on show at New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery until the 16th of May.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

French Farm as Mountain Top

“Being an artist is a heavy responsibility 
because all artistic activity plays with people's minds.”
Martial Raysse

The French artist Martial Raysse has been labeled as being French Pop, European Neo Avant Garde and the School of Nice all of which he regards with ambivalence. As told Art in America’s Aimee Walleston last year "I do not think my work belongs absolutely inside any of these boxes."

It is only recently that Raysse has re-entered the public gaze. From 1980 he has lived in a self imposed exile on a remote farm near the town of Bergerac in South West France. As he told the Wall Street Journal I live with my wife, who is also an artist, near Bergerac, in the Dordogne. It's an old farm—very rustic, very beautiful. We have no neighbors and don't receive guests, not even our good friends. My studio is in a stone barn. For a long time, we had cows. I used to sell them instead of my paintings.”

"I felt the sudden weight of commercialism on my art and I thought I was going to lose my soul,” Raysse says was his reason to seek solitude. And during this time of self reflection his work changed from the examination of the obsession and worship of advertising and commodities using fashion images, found objects and neon illuminated sculptures to allegorical works that mine the history of art with an interpretation that expresses the values of today.

For Raysse many of these values he found though the written word. In his youth Raysse had dreams of being a writer and it was whilst studying literature that the 19 year old started making sculptures from found objects. But the love of books stayed with him even though he pursued a career in the visual art and in his library there is a well worn copy of Robert Pirsig’s 1970’s bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

One of the take a ways from Pirsig's journey of self discovery is ”The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there” which could equally well describe Raysse’s journey. For as he is quoted as saying in the publicity for his current exhibition “I’ve always thought that the purpose of art is to change lives. But the important thing today, it seems to me, is to change what surrounds us on all levels of human relationship. Some people think that life is copying. Others know it is inventing. You don’t quote Rimbaud, you live him.”

Raysse’s latest exhibition is a self titled retrospective which is currently showing at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi until the 30th of November.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

From Journalist to Artist

“You need to have a trademark that makes you look different to be successful.”
Michael Wolf

At the age of 39 the German born, American raised photographer Michael Wolf came to the realization that the industry that had sustained him for the last 20 years was contract, contracting severely. At the turn of the century magazines that featured high end photography were being pushed to the brink and he was a photo-journalist. As he told Seconds 2 Real Street Photography “For me the alternative was to work on my own projects. But then the question is how to earn money with your own projects. The only way I found for myself is through the art world.”

But this raised the further question of what his own work would look like? As he explained to Conscientious’ Joerg Colberg “I had come to the realization that through working for Stern magazine for so many years, I had internalized the magazine’s style of photography - the images had to be conceived as double pages, be easy to read, and usually visualize a cliche. I felt that my own way of seeing had been corrupted. Every time I looked through the viewfinder, I was framing the photos in the Stern way. I had serious doubts if I would ever be able to free myself from this way of looking.”

A change of camera and a shift in subject emphasis created the required spark. As he has said “I switched camera format, instead of 35 mm, I used a 6x7 cm Makina Plaubel, later a 4x5 view camera. Instead of photographing the 7 million people in Hong Kong, I decided to create a portrait of the city with no people in it at all.” And so was born Wolf’s critically acclaimed study of Hong Kong, The Architecture of Density.

His depictions of urban life and the architecture of its landscape have become the hallmark of his work from his beloved Hong Kong to Tokyo, Chicago and most recently Paris which includes many of his controversial Google street view series.

Wolf’s current exhibition Paris Rooftops is on show at Hong Kong’s M97 Project Space until the 31st of May.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Learning To Let Go

“Texture comes from losing the fear to apply paint on the canvas.”
Ryan Hewett

A chance encounter with the illustrations of the American born, London based artist Phil Hale was the catalyst that moved South African artist Ryan Hewett from a high school student who could draw to the abstract portraitist he is today. As he told arrested motion “It all started when I was exposed to the illustrations in Phil Hale’s book The Fantasy Art Masters, which brought me closer to abstract painting and further away from pencil drawing. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am today; I’ve gone through different periods experimenting with different styles. It didn’t necessarily start with portrait painting. In the beginning, all I wanted was to be able to paint well. It’s such a unique feeling when you start spreading oil on canvas and the mess accumulates around you. I realized that there was more to painting than simply trying to copy a picture.”

As part of this process Hewett took time off from paid employment to teach himself how to paint. As he has said “I took about six months off between jobs to give myself time to learn how to move paint across the canvas, which was still very much based on my pencil drawings. I started with oil and my first painting - the first one that I looked at and thought, “this is it” - was a profile of an elephant.”

Over time Hewett learned how to create layers in his paintings which saw them become increasing more abstract and complex as his control of form and texture advanced. And as Hewett says today “A portrait without texture can look pretty, but there is still something missing. Texture anchors my paintings - its become an essential element of my work.”

As he explained to 1883 magazine “It’s a process of morphing realism with abstraction: within this process, the face will take many forms – certain features are enhanced while others fade.

This is certainly the case with his latest body of work. Inspired by Pope Francis’ remark “Who am I to judge,” Hewett presents his depictions of 22 world leaders both past and present, heroes and villains. As he says about the works “I struggled with the concept for this show for a good few months because I had never created anything with such a potent theme before, and I’m not a politically driven person either. But, as an artist, I was compelled with this topic, and I felt that is was my duty to assemble all of these characters together in one room. In that sense, they’re humanized because in decontextualising them, they’re all on a level playing field.”

As the British writer and art critic Edward Lucie-Smith told Wall Street International “Hewett’s pictures appear on the painted surface in the form of extraordinary apparitions, present yet not present…It is not going too far, to say that these are participatory pictures – we become part of them, engaged by the act of looking.”

That all 22 works in the exhibition sold before the exhibition had opened indicates that this engagement is definitely appreciated.

Hewett’s portraits are currently on show at The Unit London until the 24th of May.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Positive Spin

“I’m very particular about what I participate in.
Najee Dorsey

It is a valid truism that an artist’s sales early in their career will be to friends and relatives. And so it was for African American artist Najee Dorsey. He claims his first sale, at the age of five, was to his mother and be blew all the proceeds on candy. Now with an annual income, according to the Black Enterprise Magazine, of $100,000, Dorsey is a little more circumspect about his expenditure. You have to be strategic and smart with money decisions,” he told the Magazine.

Over the past decade this mixed media artist has built a successful career through the depiction of his Southern heritage that includes not only those who went in search of a better life but those who stayed and resisted the oppression of the powers that be; the heroes of the civil rights movement through to the activists of today.

Many of which he presents dressed in their Sunday best. As he told Art Voices Shantrelle P. Lewis, “I’m typically searching for either dandies or vintage photographs from the 40s and 50s. The reason why I choose dandies is because I’m creating a body of work on how I want us to be seen and also how I want us to see ourselves. Like peacocks, dandies stand out in a crowd because they’re not with the status quo.

This positive depiction Dorsey extended online in 2010 with the creation of Black Art in America (B.A.I.A.). About which he says “B.A.I.A. exists because I’m a successful artist, first and foremost. But I would say B.A.I.A. is probably my largest obligation as it relates to my time and energy because, in order to move things forward, it needs to be more of a collective effort. If we’re talking Black artists in general, then we’re talking about me too. I take advantage of what we’re building with B.A.I.A. I think I’ve got a legacy that I’m building with my art, but I think Black Art in America and what we’re doing is more important because it affects more people.

With a reported quarter of a million visitors annually B.A.I.A. has seen the successful self taught figurative artist become a successful self made arts entrepreneur who seems to juggle both hats with ease. As he says ““I don’t have set hours necessarily. My day is like a quilt. I mix in art and business all day.”

Dorsey’s current exhibition Leaving Mississippi: Reflections on Heroes and Folklore is on show at the Houston Museum of African American Culture until the 12th of July.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Contemplated Photograph

“For me, photography is a way to mine ideas that are things.” 
Edward Burtynsky

For most of its history, photography has identified with Henri Cartier-Bresson’sDecisive Moment” about which the French photographer said “photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

It is a definition that Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky rejects in favor of “The Contemplated Moment.” Burtynsky presents a more nuanced view of the world than that of the snapshot no matter how significant. As he says in Exploring the Residual LandscapeThese images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success.

A point Burtynsky underscores when talking about his Water Project. As he told Wired Magazine’s Doug Birend “Rather than kind of chasing the bad actors and celebrating the saints, I just thought why not just put water as the central issue and make it the subject. In the whole environmental debate there’s been a lot of brick throwing and condemnation from one group to another, and I’m not sure how much it has helped.”

It is a similar breadth of contemplation that led to Burtynsky’s arguable best known, four part, Oil Project; Extraction and Refinement, Transportation and Motor Culture, Detroit and The End of Oil. As he wrote in the project’s statement “The car that I drove cross-country began to represent not only freedom, but also something much more conflicted. I began to think about oil itself: as both the source of energy that makes everything possible, and as a source of dread, for its ongoing endangerment of our habitat.”

Burtynsky was 11 when along with his sister and father, he learned the intricacies of photography. After a stint at Ryerson University where he gained a BA in photography Burtynsky realized that the world of his hero, Ansell Adams was long gone and as he has said “I recognized that this was not the landscape of my time anymore, that the landscapes of my time were the ones where we change what was nature in terms of the things we use. That, to me, was a quantum shift. It was all of a sudden not looking at landscape.”

Often using a high point of view, Burtynsky makes strangely beautiful photographs of the tragically scarred landscape we leave behind. As reported in an Artsy editorial about his Ted wish, Burtynsky has said of his images “It gets people to look at these things, it gets people to enter.” And in line with his Ted wish of sustainability, “We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it.” 

Exhibitions of Burtynsky’s photographs are currently on show at Innsbruck’s FO.KU.S Gallery until the 9th of May, Chaumont-sur-Loire’s Domaine Régional until the 1st of November, Massachusetts Fruitlands Museum until the 21st of June and Los Angeles Von Lintel Gallery until the 20th of June.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Surfs Up

“The search for a perfect wave is not unlike 

the struggle to make a perfect work of art.

Alex Weinstein

In his Morton Fine Art’s review of Australian artist William Mackinnon’s The Speed of Light exhibition the California based artist Alex Weinstein concluded “And as all surfers know, once you are out there anything, anything at all, can happen.” For Mackinnon’s journeys in paint, not surprising for landscapes of an island nation, often have the ocean as their final destination. And for painter/sculptor Weinstein the ocean is his subject matter, not as an observer but as an inhabitant.

With a double major from Brown University in Fine Art and Creative Writing (Hons), writing about art is a good fit for Weinstein. As he told the Southbay Magazine “The walls around what defines art have lowered exponentially for me through the years. So while I might not like a piece of art, I can accept and appreciate its value.”

But as good a fit as writing maybe, the lure of paint and salt water was greater with the latter taking precedence, for if longevity has any say in the matter, Weinstein is a surfer who paints. He was 12 when he started riding the waves of the coast of Rhode Island whilst his rendering of cows in the countryside came over a decade later.

A year in New York’s editorial world was enough and the chance to remodel his parents’ newly acquired house in France’s coastal region of Brittany was accepted with alacrity. As he wrote in The Surfer’s Journal “That parlayed into opening a gallery in Pont Aven called Swell. I stopped worrying about the editorial component of art making - it wasn’t going to be about other people’s words or ideas; it was going to be, like, straight-up learning how to paint…So that’s what I did. I painted the landscape, and I opened the gallery.”

It was through the gallery the Weinstein met fellow surfer and artist David Lloyd who convinced him to try the Southern Californian lifestyle. It was a move that Weinstein found cathartic in more ways than one. As he told the Brown Alumni Magazine "No matter how good my accent became, or how well people knew me, I was always 'The American.' In Venice [California], you could walk outside with your clothes on fire and nobody would notice."

Weinstein also met the Pacific Ocean for the first time and as he has written “Coming from the Atlantic, I’d never seen an ocean that was that volatile and “on” all the time. Where I came from the sea goes totally dormant for days on end. Soon after, I started the first series of paintings called “Westward.” They were all loose abstractions, but with a palette that keyed into the colors I was seeing daily; greens, blues and nocturnal tones.”

Since then the sea and the sky have become Weinstein’s dominant subject matter for both his sculptures and his paintings; all informed from the vantage point of a surfboard.

Weinstein’s current exhibition Westward Paintings is on show at Santa Monica’s Leslie Sacks Contemporary from the 25th of April until the 6th of June.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Conceptual Eye Candy

“I want to make paintings that are surprising 

and that have something new to add to the history of painting.

Fiona Rae

Abstract Critical’s John Holland wrote in his 2013 review of British abstract artist Fiona Rae’s paintings “She makes eye candy for the conceptually wear.” It’s a proposition Rae had addressed a couple of decades earlier in a Bomb Magazine interview when she stated “People have a lot of preconceptions about what paint language means: pink paint isn’t serious, but black and grey is, and I don’t understand that.

And if her current exhibition is anything to go by a re-think of the commonly held concept of “eye candy” maybe required, for as the publicity states “These are abstract compositions teetering on the edge of figuration, expressively rendered in black, white and tones of grey.

Coming out of the milieu of the 1980’s Young British Artists (YBAs), Rae has the distinction of being the lone dedicated painter of the group. As she told the Guardian newspaper in 2009 “What I love about painting is that it embodies a series of thought and feeling processes. It's all there on the canvas as a record. I can put something on the canvas, consider it, adjust it, remove it, replace it, add to it, conceal it, reveal it, destroy it and repair it. I can be in a good mood, a bad mood, a cheerful mood or a destructive mood - it's all useful.

Whilst using acrylic and gouache paint, oil paint holds a special place in her esteem. As she states “Oil paint is the most fantastically malleable substance: once you've figured out how not to turn everything into a sludgy grey, oil paint remains wet long enough for endless changes of mind, and because of the way the pigment is held in the oil, it is beautifully luminescent.

Like her Goldsmith College contemporaries the conceptual aspects of today’s art are part of her makeup. For as she has said “I suppose I think my attitude to painting is fairly conceptual.” To which she has added “My paintings have a fictive space, an invented abstract space that holds all the contents together - but I think that anything can go into that space, from heartfelt expressive marks to deliberately fashioned self-conscious brushstrokes to graphic signs and symbols to images of skulls and bambis.”

As The Brooklyn Rail’s William Corwin wrote in his 2012 review of her exhibition Fiona Rae: Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century Rae’s paintings are very much objects to be admired; windows into worlds in which she is mistress, giving the viewer over to a semi-recognizable, occasionally comforting, but mostly alien dreamscape.

Rae’s current self titled exhibition is on show at London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery until the 30th of May.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It’s All Been Said

“If I like a picture, I paint it.”
Ulrich Lamsfuss

The German artist Ulrich Lamsfuss appropriates the images he paints from a wide variety of sources. From luxury brand advertisements to documentary images, from nature photography to fashion spreads, all are grist for his mill. And it’s a mill that grinds exceeding slow and fine, as he reproduces the found image in oil paint, taking weeks if not months to complete that which was made in the blink of an eye.

As he says “The zeitgeist is defined by attention deficit disorder and that really makes me want to move slowly and with exactitude. So I slow it down to a maximum of ten images a year - in the end, my dream would be to keep on painting one image over and over again.”

A dream he partially realized in 2005 with his exhibition Pet Sounds. Lamsfuss painted multiples of each image in the exhibition and held simultaneous exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles. Named after the Beach Boys 1966 concept album which has been likened to the expression of lost innocence, Lamsfuss mused to The Fader in relation to the exhibition's name choice “Maybe I am a little uneasy about being an artist.”

Growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s with radical parents, Lamsfuss is definitely uneasy with the spoken word. As he said in a Lombard Fried Gallery interview “My parents are teachers and active 68ers which made pretty clear to me that words are just words and that the power of pictures is more relevant to understand[ing].”

With his found pictures, Lamsfuss works in a studio setting “I need a steady private place for perfect contemplation” he says.  To which he added, “My painting-technique is basically none. It’s just about putting directly the right colour on the canvas exactly where I find it on the original. It is more about plotting. I wanted to have a straight, non-artistic, just dry, honest and evident surface (and work). You can follow every brushstroke; you can see and understand how it is done.”

About his choice of subject matter Lamsfuss says “Wherever I go somebody has been there before; everything is said just not by everybody. The only way of being authentic is by admitting that you can’t (really be differrent).

And as he told Claudia Seidel, not completely tongue in cheek, “Perhaps I’m quite classically an angry young man who gets angry that there’s nothing to get angry about any more.”

Lamsfuss’ current exhibition Nitidezza is on show at Paris’ Galerie Templon until the 30th of May.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Living the Reality

“If you’re dancing in a disco all night your feet get dirty,
 even if you have the most expensive shoes on.”

Marilyn Minter

When American artist Marilyn Minter was a student at Syracuse University she took a series of photographs of her mother into class. Visiting lecturer Diane Arbus was impressed, her fellow students horrified. The photographs depicted her pill-addicted mother wearing a wig, dressed in a negligee applying makeup, smoking and lounging in bed.

As Artforum’s Bruce Hainley is reported to have written 27 years later the esthetic of wig governs everything, suggesting that beauty, like existence, is artificial, askew, and concealing.”  But at the time, for the 21 year old wannabe artist such future pronouncements were unthinkable, she had grown up drawing glamour girls in the margins of her textbooks. And as she told Newsweek’s Isabel Wilkinson “All of a sudden I got the picture: this is not what other people’s mothers look like.”

It took Minter almost three decades of a drug addled life in New York to overcome this peer pressure and exhibit the photographs. And in so doing Minter expanded upon Hainley’s observations to explore the feminine role in contemporary society in general and the fashion and porn industries in particular with a focus on the internet and advertising.

As she told W MagazineI work with things that are considered debased and shallow, but the reality is that there'd be no Internet without porn and that fashion and beauty are multi-billion dollar industries…I was, and still am, a second wave feminist, and I believe that no one has politically correct fantasies…The fashion world tells me how much they love my work, but they don't hire me very often. Tom Ford did, and he hated it. Naturally, he wanted to Photoshop away the imperfections, which is perfectly understandable. They want their vision.”

Minter’s vision is the obscured reality of these industries; she concentrates on the imperfections that make us human, the freckles, the sweat, the under arm stubble that the glossy’s airbrush out. As the publicity for her latest exhibition states, “Minter progresses from a curious youth looking critically at the domestic landscape before her to the media-savvy cultural producer whose images simultaneously define and critique our times.

Or as she would put it, “If you really have something to say, sooner or later it will be heard. And if you're lucky you'll still be alive.”

Her latest exhibition : Pretty/Dirty is currently on show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston until the 2nd of August.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hello, I’m Jewish

“When I know your soul, I will paint your eyes” 
Amedeo Modigliani

Jeanne Hebuterne’s devout catholic parents disapproved of their daughters liaison with the handsome Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani who was in their eyes “a debauched derelict, and Jewish besides.” In their three years together Hebuterne was Modigliani’s lover, mother of his daughter, Jeanne, and muse. Modigliani painted her numerous times, sometimes with detailed eyes, sometimes with opaque eyes.

Perhaps even more so than the other great tragic of French art, Vincent Van Gogh, Modigliani’s life gave birth to the romantic cliché of the tormented artist whose life is cut short by an early death.
A sickly child (pleurisy, typhoid fever and when he was 16, tuberculosis) Modigliani was able to manipulate his mother into supporting him to become an artist. Whilst studying in Venice he started to self medicate with alcohol and hashish and adopt a bohemian lifestyle.

An avid fan of both Nietzsche and Baudelaire which coupled with his ill heath caused Modigliani became primarily a studio painter concentrating of nudes and portraits. As he is famously reported to have said   “What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the subconscious, the mystery in the human race.”

At 25 Modigliani moved to Paris where his dependence on his self medicating drugs became an addiction whose debilitating effects rivaled their cause but still enabled him to mix in society, where he is reported to have often introduced himself with, “Hello, I’m Jewish” to strangers in cafes, especially if pretty. For in Paris in the early years of the 20th Century as The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl notes “Drunks were tolerated; carriers of infectious diseases were not.


Eleven years later and Modigliani’s tuberculosis won the day and that Hebuterne, pregnant with their second child committed suicide within 24 hours the father’s death is the stuff of legend. For during his life Modigliani sold very little and had only one solo exhibition. His fame came posthumously with the public whilst critics are still less than impressed.


Ranging from Schjeldahl’s faint praise “I recall my thrilled first exposure, as a teen-ager, to one of his long-necked women, with their piquantly tipped heads and mask-like faces. The rakish stylization and the succulent color were easy to enjoy, and the payoff was sanguinely erotic in a way that endorsed my personal wishes to be bold and tender and noble, overcoming the wimp that I was. In that moment, I used up Modigliani’s value for my life. But in museums ever since I have been happy to salute his pictures with residually grateful, quick looks.” To the Guardian’s Laura Cumming’s “Modigliani has been going nowhere for years - one seated woman, hands winsomely clasped, after another, with not much more than a hankie or hair colour to distinguish them.” They are far from flattering.


Perhaps the fairest critique comes from the Oxford University PressGiven Modigliani’s limited subject-matter in painting and sculpture, he achieved an extraordinary range of psychological interpretations of the human face, maintaining his individuality through his distinctive elongations of face or form.


The exhibition Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice is currently on show at London’s Estorick Collection until the 28th of June.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Just a Painter

“I never considered myself an artist; I just liked to make pictures.”
McCauley “Mac” Conner

The American illustrator McCauley “Mac” Conner’s career in the 1950’s and 60’s was sandwiched between three influential artists, two he admired and for the third he was an influence.

As he says in a video produced by The Museum of the City of New York “Al Parker was one of my gods along with Norman Rockwell, the way he [Rockwell] painted the heart and soul, the sense of humor he put in them…the humble people.” Conner’s 1953 illustration We Won't Be Any Trouble (see above) is Rockwell to a fault.

Writer and curator Janis Hendrickson states in her 1993 book on Roy Lichtenstein “In 1961 Lichtenstein began his first pop paintings using cartoon images and techniques derived from the appearance of commercial printing. This phase would continue to 1965, and included the use of advertising imagery suggesting consumerism and homemaking.” With both Lichtenstein and Conner being in New York and Conner being widely published in commercial and homemaker publications the inference cannot be missed. Add Ben-Day dots and a thought/speech bubble and The Man Between (see below) becomes a quintessential Lichtenstein work.


Growing up in Newport New Jersey, Conner was an avid drawer, as he says “I was a bit shy, I think, I didn’t express myself too well and this was a way of doing it.” After his formal education Conner became a sign painter “I started out as a sign painter, so I got good, pretty good at doing letters and things. The Illustration part I moved into after the navy,” he recalls.


After the navy Conner met up with the salesman Bill Neeley and fellow artist Wilson Scrubs and together they opened their own studio with their first client being the Saturday Evening Post. Others like Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Ladies Home Journal followed.


As the popularity of the magazines started to fade with the advent of photography and television Conner moved over the to book cover illustration with companies like Harlequin romances. As he has

said, “When I got into paperbacks they were in oils, they were like a full painting…the lifestyle, the whole thing appealed to me. I loved to do it, it was a way of speaking or a way to get your feelings down and so it was a happy journey doing these paintings.”

The exhibition Mac Conner: A New York Life is currently on show at London’s House of Illustration until the 28th of June.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Of Myths, Politics & Painting

“I prefer to see myself as an artist who is bothered
about what is happening around us.
Surendran Nair

Surendran Nair came to prominence in 2000 when his work An actor rehearsing the interior monologue of Icarus was ordered to be withdrawn from an exhibition at India’s preeminent National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi by the recently elected BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government for depicting The Ashoka Pillar (India’s national emblem) in a less than reverential manner. The other 24 artists participating in the “Combine—Voice for the New Century” exhibition withdrew their works in solidarity with Nair for this “blatant attack on artistic freedom” causing the exhibition to be cancelled.

At the time Nair was astounded that his painting “an allegorical means to suggest the need for reflection on our ties” could cause such offence. “I cannot understand how my painting of the Ashoka pillar with the Greek mythological character Icarus standing on top of it can be constituted as a slight to a national symbol,” he is reported to have said.

Known internationally for his allegorical paintings, Nair’s work combines the myths of India and the ancient Greeks with a dramatic flair placed in a modern day context. In an attempt to pigeonhole his work Nair is often referred to as a surrealist in the vein of René Magritte, a classification he rejects.

As he told the Times of IndiaIt is a misconception. I am no surrealist! That is, if one were referring to surrealism in the sense that it explores the unconscious or the subconscious; in the sense that it is something inexplicable, absurd or magical, to a lesser degree, I would still say no. But one may find a semblance of it in a degenerated sense, at a technical level.

In an attempt to classify his work Nair has stated about his Corollary Mythologies, “In a way Corollary Mythologies are about belonging and dissent. In that sense I imagine it to have political undertones, however subtle, which is informed of history, mythology, real and imagined events. Art history, notions of tradition and identity and its relationship with modernity, of language, sexuality, politics, religious and other faiths etc. Without emphasizing any of these in particular, I address these issues simultaneously. Sometimes rendered sentimentally, literally, cryptically or otherwise metaphorically oblique, they are both detached and reflective and at times often with a mischievous gaze, making innocent jokes, and at other times being ironical and quizzical too.”

Nair currently has two galleries showing his work. Mumbai’s Sakahi Gallery is showing Spatial Arrangements of Colours, Lines, Forms and Desires until the 31st of May and New Dehli’s Kiran Nadar Museum of Art is showing Surendran Nair: drawings, print and watercolours (1970s-1990s) until the 30th of July.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Speaking of Colour

“I just like painting; I wouldn’t know what to do without it.
Gillian Ayres

In a 1995 interview with The Independent Newspaper’s Fiammetta Rocco, the British abstract artist Gillian Ayres said, "All the painting I've liked has always been colour painting. I've found that I respond to colour more than anything. Do you know that every artist has their own colour? If I name artists, I start spinning out their colour in my mind. If I think of Matisse, I'm going to think of red or emerald green. I'm going to think of those pinks and lemon yellows. But if you said Kandinsky, I'm going to think of more beetroot red and yellows. And if you said Pollock, I'd say black and white. Black and white can certainly be colour too."

Ayres decided to become a painter at the age of 13 after seeing a book featuring the work of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Monet. As she told Martin Gayford in 2010, ‘The four who set me off were really bloody good, they really were. My God! What they could do with painting!” And by the age of 16 she was enrolled at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. As she said 'I ran away from school when I was 16. I insisted on going to art school. There was a great fuss about it from my parents, who were perfectly supportive people, just not in the art world.’

But the teenage Ayers’ will prevailed and she spent the best part of the next three years under the influence of the Euston Road painting style. With her preference for a dialogue between colours the drab gray formalism of the school rankled and Ayres left for Paris a month before completing the course and taking her final exams. As she explained to the College Magazine, “I thought exams were bourgeois, that they didn’t have anything to do with art.  The terrible thing about that” she added “is that later I became head of painting, and an external examiner but deep down I don’t really like what I used to do, because you’re examining people at 20, but they can take off when they are 30 or 40.”

For more than 20 years Ayres earned her livelihood from teaching. At the age of 51 she was sacked from the Winchester School of Art, where she was head of painting, due to cuts in the schools funding. Which in retrospect she mused They heaved me out at a good time. Now I'd say, `Thank you'."
Since 1956 hardly a year has gone by when Ayres isn’t exhibiting somewhere in Britain. Having been able to devote her time exclusively to her art she has come to earn the accolade of the Grande Dame of British art, painting during the summer and working on her prints during the colder months.

As she says, “I don't see why you shouldn't be filling yourself up, making yourself happy. Enjoying yourself. Feasting on beauty. I want an art that's going to make me feel heady, in a high-flown way. I love the idea of that. I'd use the word spiritual. I'm not frightened of all that."

Her latest exhibition  is currently on show at both of Alan Cristea’s London Galleries until the 30th of May.

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