Friday, September 24

When a Ditch is just a Shape

Nele Tas About Christmas 2005 (via BAM)
Grier Edmundson The Work Ahead of Us
2009 (via 1430)

I switched majors in college because Illustration wasn't teaching me enough about painting. I thought the act of painting alone was enough. But that put me in the position to approach subject matter very literally. Illustrative. Today I am still trying to teach myself how to paint - or - how to paint, paint, not things. How to break things apart. How to paint abstractly.

I always seem to think from figurative means to abstraction. I actually remind myself constantly to step back, squint or find a means of obstructing my observation - ways of breaking my vision. Another words, I am always turning towards representational means to articulate something, but find more and more that my subject matter means less and less. There is something else I am looking for at an abstract level.

Maureen Gallace Cape Cod, Early September 2008
Seeing the work of Nele Tas reminded me of that today. Alot of his paintings of crowds are very abstract, but snag us using recognizable body-like shapes. It's as if the artist is using objective shapes as non-objective shapes. Figurative, or literal shapes (in this case bodies) as marks in themselves. It got me thinking: maybe lots of representational painters aren't even lingering on figurative means. Maybe, even, they're approaching representational subject matter with abstraction.

In my process, it wasn't until seeing Grier Edmundson's work at Fourteen Thirty Contemporary last year that I truly began to understand a painting with figurative subject matter could convince me not of the narrative but of the painted relationships. Or even that those abstract relationships could create a stronger representational narrative. Grier Edmundson is also alot like Luc Tuymans.

Tuesday, September 21


Walked by this colored-steel yard today. It's one of those places I've walked by countless times. But something about the season, time of day, the light affects whether I see it. These sorts of things can feel incredibly random. Or, is it about whatever I am fixated on? How many things did I walk by for the umpteenth time today and not see?

I disciplined myself and went to the studio today. But didn't feel focused until I was in the bookstore. It's almost like I spend any given day finding the best activity I am suited for. Sometimes the bookstore is a place I have to visit many times to be focused (I will even stray towards certain aisles depending on the light and start there - where I feel right. If it's Downtown Powell's this usually means near the windows. If it's Hawthorne, it usually is directly down the center).

Haven't been following the Oregonian's Art section recently. But browsed today and liked this on Stephanie Snyder. Her curating philosophy:
Yes, but I don't believe in being didactic or dogmatic. I appreciate what Roberta (Smith) observed about the "overeducation movement" happening at a lot of museums. She was talking about the Brooklyn Museum where the walls are colored, and there are video monitors and wall text everywhere. I don't believe in doing that to viewers. You educate by curating good shows and allowing viewers to have a quiet experience with art.
And also, a new Amsterdamn-centric (refreshing!) list-blog about painters, A Thousand Living Painters, has lots of interesting work including these great paintings by Albert Zwann. His paintings feel a bit like backgrounds to Neo Rauch. He's using the same sorts of old-print colors, but really playing with architecturally crisp shapes and otherwise messy figurative spots.

Friday, September 17

Ellen Lesperance

Ellen Lesperance was chosen as this years Betty Bowen Award recipient. Really beautiful work and in-line with well deserved past winners.

But I found out about this via PORT. And I couldn't disagree more with Jeff Jahn's analysis of the pick:
Analysis: an unexpected and very good choice but I sense a backlash is about to manifest itself begging the question, "must every regional art award in the Pacific Northwest genuflect in some way towards overtly craft oriented or hand made work?"

Not to be provocative, just articulating an observable trend that hasn't really kept up with new media. Obviously, craft is a valid and important part of contemporary art but it's not the whole picture, frankly its representation at the awards level is misleading. So I ask, when will video, photography and installation art that isn't fetishing craft outright be given its due at the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, Betty Bowen (which did award photographer Isaac Layman a few years ago), Bonnie Bronson, Ford Fellowships? ie can any of these awards move beyond a predominantly laborious hand made (looking) world? This is the silicon forest after all, Portland and Seattle's economies are very tech-driven. In short, it's a question of accuracy in recognition since many of our non craft artists are internationally established. 
"A question of accuracy..."? Did he really misunderstand the Pacific Northwest to that extent?  First of all, Portland isn't tech driven. In fact, Portland's economy laments the fact it missed the Tech Boom. Sure, Seattle is. But the Seattle Art Museum's mission has been extremely aware of its surroundings, not just trends or economics.  Just take a look at their permanent collection: a completely non-western centric focus, pieces from all over the world mixed together.

And what about craft? Craft is the Northwest! Installation and modern media isn't everything either. I believe the choices in artists, like Marie Watt and Elle Lesperance are actually more reflective of the Pacific Northwest. Shouldn't an art award named after a supporter of Northwest Native Art seek out and exemplify art that somewhat embodies those traditions in a modern world?

I'm no Northwest scholar, but I'm afraid Double J doesn't understand the deep rooted traditions of the Pacific Northwest. I find his analysis ultimately just self-serving and inaccurate. Just keeping in line with the trends.

UPDATE: Found this old Regina Hackett half-interview with Double J from 2008 (when she was still with the Pi). I'm happy to see her calling him out on his blurry ethics. But it's disappointing that she seems resigned to his clubby curatorial morals.

Thursday, September 16

"Man, I am Relaxed"

Herzog must scare his grandchildren. All 19 of them hidden away somewhere dark. And hey, that Waa-keen Fee-nicks is kind of a badass too.

And wait, you mean the Allen Ginsberg / Bob Dylan disguise was an act? Well, we all knew that. But what we didn't know, was whether or not we were going to see I'm Not ThereCasey Affleck tries to finally help our decision after a tepid opening week:
Virtually none of it was real. Not even the opening shots, supposedly of Mr. Phoenix and his siblings swimming in a water hole in Panama. That, Mr. Affleck said, was actually shot in Hawaii with actors, then run back and forth on top of an old videocassette recording of Paris, Texas to degrade the images.
This is Casey Affleck's first. Short of an art exhibit, he's kind of like a darker James Franco. I thought his supporting role in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Gerry were great.
Seeing this high-profile celebrity stunt come to fruition would be worth it enough to see. Although strangely, it does feel like there is a piece missing - a one last "HAH".

I guess this peaked my interest, after spending the last few weeks of summer trying to educate myself on the original movie badass: Dirty Harry. The movies get more cringeworthy with each sequel.

But kinda related: Podcast with Slate's, Dana Steven's, explaining rather well why The American was actually worth savoring. It is quiet.

Sunday, September 12

TBA: To Be Attended

This is my fourth year living in Portland. I haven't yet experienced any of the annual TBA festival. I came close two years ago, with a PICA membership. But found, still, events were expensive.

Looks like the best way to be involved is, well, to be involved. Volunteers get discounts or even in free. That's not exactly my style. Nevermind that I've been somewhat disenchanted with art as a world right now.

And although I love PICA as an organization, (throwing all it's weight into TBA is awesome and smart) it's still clubby.  Eventually I'll get myself to some of these events. Each year the event seems to get better well rounded and accessible.

Here are some things I'll try to see (or regretfully miss):

Storm Tharp: High House. Mr. Tharp has a studio nearly below mine. Not that this proximity begets any sort of relationship. I can still hear his music choices though. And well, I do love his work. He'll be creating work throughout the summer in this space. And perhaps there's a chance to see his process - a little dirt and disorder around all those tidy compositions.

Rufus Wainwright: In Concert with the Oregon Symphony, Conducted by Carlos Kalmar, with Guest Soprano Janis Kelly. An Opera? By Rufus Wainwright? Sounds fabulous. As much as I've heard, only my wife and I seem to be excited about this appearing in Portland.

Shirin Neshat: Women Without Men. A first feature film by the Iranian-born artist. I was first introduced to her by the Portland Art Museum's inclusion in Disquieted. One of the more interesting pieces in the exhibit.

Nina Katchadourian: Sorted Books. "Taken as a whole, the clusters [of books] examine each particular collection’s focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies—a portrait of that library’s holdings". Seems interesting.

Jessica Jackson Hutchins: Children of the Sunshine. Another artist in close proximity to me. I've heard alot about her work - but hardly seen it. This print show will be both something new and less typical of an exhibit of hers to see. UPDATE: A rounded out review of the show from the Oregonian.

Danielle Kelly and Noelle Stiles: Blanket. Looks like this will be occupying that empty storefront off NW Glisan, in which Tharp had some work in last month. Just walk by, it looks intense, cuddly and terrifying.

Hard Edge, Hard Work: Curated by Stephanie Snyder. In conjunction with Snyder's show at Reed, ABSTRACT.

Thursday, September 9

Clarity & Televised Golf

I've nearly completed my bookcase painting. This is a big deal only because over the last year and a half I just over-painted things or refused to finish them. So when I came in with a cup of coffee the other morning and realized I had nothing else, it was an unfamiliar feeling again.

Towards the end I read Laura Newman's words: "I want my paintings to exist at the point where form takes on meaning..."(via Two Coats of Paint). And I thought this was a perfect way to describe the intermediary distance between figurative and abstract representations. And it's even a better way to describe what I've been thinking about: articulating things without showing them.

I also thought Jonah Lehrer's (of Proust Was a Neuroscientist) article (here) on how modern mediums influence our difficulty in perceiving the message - specifically with books and reading - was apt for painting as well. Good paintings never quite articulate everything, leaving that small space of doubt or ambiguity. Lehrer talks about the inconsistencies of ink on paper vs e-readers. But I think it compares to simply looking in general. I believe a painting might have more to tell us if it doesn't tell us everything.

And lastly, maybe in the spirit of drawing conclusions, while drawing the other day I determined drawing from life works for me because it moves. Simple enough right? But while I used alot of information from photographs - it's the actual activity, like a cafe setting, where figures and variables come in to play that I react to. It makes me re-evaluate everything over and over, as a photograph, or a still model never does. It moves. And that's what I want my paintings to do.