Wednesday, October 20

Defined by Limitations

Luc Tuymans in his studio (via Elle)
An older idea came back yesterday: how much does an artist's limitations define their strengths and direction in their work?

As an immediate example Luc Tuymans came to mind. His paintings aren't limited in their intended capacity. But his work has a distinct style, already influencing a host of young artists, even before Tuyman's own career is finished.

Tuymans admits that his paintings are executed in one day. He claims, "I only have an attention span that's that long". Still they are "captivatingly blurry, washed-out and bleached" conceptual representations. His paintings are derived from banal photographs and television.

I remember a figure from my memory - perhaps in undergrad, maybe a grad student in adjacent studios - explaining to me one afternoon that it was necessary to continually refine your process, throwing out old ideas and experimenting with new ones, until you were able to produce what you wanted effortlessly or at least fluidly. And recently, another friend hearing that I had taken a banal, incremental change in the way I moved paint around remarked: "that's creativity - each time you find a solution to make what you do better."

Gas Chamber Luc Tuymans 1986 (via Wexner Center for A
I find Luc Tuyman's paintings so interesting because of their clear decisions - and because of everything that has been tossed out. There is a decision point (perhaps subconscious, slight or gradual) where an artist drops what they aren't interested in or lost patience with. I think that admitting these limitations becomes a strength. What an artist doesn't know begins to define what they do know.
Francis Bacon (via TATE)

I'm not saying an artist lazily retreats from what they cannot do, but by encountering these walls in art making they begin to learn about themselves and in turn become honest.

As I thought about this more, I remembered reading this interview with Damien Hirst discussing Francis Bacon and realized that was where the idea of limitations germinated. He says:
I think Bacon is one of the greatest painters of all time....He's complicated. It's not essentially about formal skill or technique or dexterity. It's about belief. I believe! And the struggle, the sense that you somehow grunt your way through it by sheer will....If you compare him to Lucien Freud, say, it's obvious that Freud is the more technically accomplished painter. He can read what he sees, and render it. Bacon couldn't do that. If you look at the feet in his paintings, they're bloody awful....But it's so bloody powerful.
It was then, going back to look at Francis Bacon's feet, I realized he was right! Hirst goes on to talk about Bacon's patience. In in a lot of respects that's where I relate. I don't have patience for particular things, but patience for what I haven't clearly defined. But for artists like Francis Bacon or Luc Tuymans, by having admitted to something, they seem to become all the more powerful and in control. And after all, a painting should be nothing but honest and by doing so it has to be about only what it knows.
Untitled (Wedge) 2009 Angelina Gualdoni (via Asya Geisberg Gallery)

UPDATE: I thought of including Angelina Gualdoni's work with this post. Via Two Coats of Paint, Gualdoni writes, “The shift in the work compared to previous bodies, is in favor of improvisation, and against a photographic basis, in favor of degrees of presence." And Sharon Butler follows with: "There's a poignant sense of unknowing in Gualdoni's impressive new work. Whereas in previous paintings she featured lavishly-painted structural elements of defunct worlds, in her new work Gualdoni sheds the nostalgic architectural references and authoritative facture to find meaning in the process itself."

I think it would be interesting to learn of the when and how certain things became dropped or removed in a process like this one. Gualdoni's paintings are very suggestive of representational space while we are still drawn to abstract paint relationships.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent article. I am personally going through this shedding coats process, and it's so good to have these artists and yourself beaming light on how it works for them. Giacometti's "awakening" is an interesting one, too. He just couldn't force himself to draw in another way than that which was revealing itself to him. We don't realise what courage it takes to "leave out" or "loosen up" and for that to be acceptable to ourselves as our personal evolution.