Saturday, February 26

The Internet Does Not Know Everybody: Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor (via Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)
Sometimes I feel overwhelmingly shut out from information on the internet. In those moments, it seems that  all information exists there just waiting to be found but by not yet having found it, I am lost.

Daniel O'Connor (via Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)
Today, if artists are working hard at their careers one generally assumes to find them with the internet. That was the case when I discovered the painter Daniel O'Conner through Francis Vallejo's blog. And although, yes, O'Connor's work is reproduced in some capacity starting on that blog and subsequently scattered throughout the internet (slated to exist forever in that digital format), he still was really hard to find.

The idea that there could be awesome, hardworking painters toiling quietly and hidden (mostly) from the eyes of the internet and a large part of the art industry, is a romantic one. But one I like.

Wednesday, February 9

Abstract Narratives in Figurative Images

Dogs 2009 Nicola Samori (via Art Lab)
My work remains representational. The paintings I look at reflect ideas that I haven't figured out how to articulate. I recently noticed these images are missing a common piece: traditional narrative. By that I mean they aren't about the figures or objects in them at all and instead are about relationships with painting and perhaps even more vague ideas. They are stripped of narrative.

J.V. 2008 Nicola Samori (via Art Lab)
Both Nicola Samori and Alex Kanevsky paint the figure. The way each paints is louder than the figures themselves.

Nicola Samori suggests features of the face or the shape of a head using a rich, Rembrandt-gray palette. But in the same image, that language is twisted and manipulated, until perhaps those colors become other shapes entirely. This creates an unsettling reversal of abstract marks that first articulate something recognizable and secondly become marks themselves.

White Samori's figures are painted in an ambiguous space, Alex Kanevsky's figures interact in clearer rooms and bathtubs. But beyond those interiors, a traditional narrative seems absent. Of course, like Samori's, the figures are doing something. Kanevsky's might be washing their face or bent awkwardly in the tub. But there never is any direction here. Instead what comes alive is Kanevsky's sensational mark making, the bright colors and melted swatches. These are painted mostly on Durlar.

C.L. 2004-5 Alex Kanvesky (via Alex Kanvesky)
When I showed Kanevsky's work to a friend about two years ago, he didn't like them. He thought they were sterile. And in fact, he's right. The backgrounds or the furniture these figures interact with don't tell us any more about how we should be interpreting this image. They tell us how beautiful these pastel colors or a shadow under a nose are in their own right.

To further the point, I'll take a leap here and mention the popular show Mad Men. I am currently enjoying the second season. But I'm always left feeling something is missing - the same something that I oppositely found in a show like The Wire: better writing - or, another words, narration.

David Mendelsohn of the New York Review of Books gives the show a thrashing. His critique, which first ruined the show for me, later helped me understand why I also enjoy it so much: it's painterly. It shares the same ideas I am exploring and looking at with respect to the mentioned artists: figurative paintings without narrative.

Mendelsohn says, "Most of the show's flaws can, in fact, be attributed to the way it waves certain flags in your face and leaves things at that, without serious thought about dramatic appropriateness or textured characterization". The same argument can be applied to the paintings mentioned. Cues are used, faces warped or figures with their back turned - but ultimately there isn't much to be solved there. Like Mad Men does, these paintings want us to recognize the whole image as a shape, as an object - as a point of narrative against other objects.

Like the critique of Mad Men, these paintings dance around the surface of traditional narration, presenting textures, colors and emotional playfulness that coalesce into something recognizable but result only in becoming a graphic of itself and how it's made, resulting in a narrative that is more abstract and ambiguous.

Saturday, February 5

Riches of the City: Adolphe Braun

Untitled c. 1853-55 Adolphe Braun (via Tout Cici Est Magnifique)
Riches of the City: Portland Collects is up now at the Portland Art Museum through May 22nd. The exhibit, taking it's title from the museum's founder and long time patron, C.E.S. Wood, is a terrific celebration of collecting in Portland. The show includes valuable works from Asian Art to Contemporary and demonstrates that there is a lot of great art tucked away in Portland.

Untitled c.1853-55 Adolphe Braun (via Tout Cici Est Magnifique)
While there are great examples of why exhibits of this scope can be lousy, this exhibit is not one of them (Things I love: The Many Collections of William I. Koch at the MFA, Boston in 2005 was a good example of a collector's show turned "museum-owed-me-one" spectacle. It featured among a smattering of art: trophies, a large collection of Magnums and even larger wine vessels (already opened) and even two sailboats installed into the front lawn).

It is the stronger, lesser seen work hanging in Riches that made it enjoyable.Among those pieces was a great Adolphe Braun photograph lent by Stu Levy.

The untitled photograph(not featured here, but very similar)has an aged sepia glow that, along with it's mundane subject matter of a tabletop bouquet and date of around 1855, would be easily dismissed simply as an early photographic study.

Looking closer and minding the eerie, narrow focus and clumsiness of the image (never mind the unusual, truncated composition) it's apparent that the flowers are wilted, dying.

Tuesday, February 1

It Is Absolutely True

Andrew Vicari (photo via BWW Society)
The following is true, even it comes from someone making close to Six Million per painting:
"The thing about being a painter," Andrew Vicari, who claims to being the most lavishly rewarded painter in the world, was saying, "is that every night you go to bed thinking the work you have done that day is fabulous. And then you wake up the next morning and look at your canvas and think it is worthless, a piece of junk, and you start again."
That feeling repeats itself everyday. I am so practical though, that I always believe each evening I can will myself to believe in my work in the same fashion the next day. And although there are stints of time where I require no pacing, or extra trips to the cafe - another words, no screwing around, to get to work, I still come back and have the feeling Vicari admits. I'm sure any painter or other artist I've ever met would relate.

It is about how painting requires you to articulate honestly - which really means exactly what you're about, what ever is secretly repressed, what might be worrying you or even delighting you. That translates to being emotional, at least with paint. Emotions or states of mind change daily - hourly.

I was taught to be disciplined.You go to your studio to work even if you cannot. You paint until you can. That's not exactly emotional. But eventually emotion comes out of me. It's like I previously mentioned with Ginsberg's words.That semi "meditative" process creates a place you can be focused and closer to your thoughts.

I think the best when I am drawing. I've come to identify my drawing as simply a tool in my process - but usually not to any greater clarity of what I will paint, but great understanding as to how. I draw people. They are ordering coffee or hunched over bundling up children to leave. But my sketchbook reveals variances in line weight, shading, masses of tangled line - a mass of thought - and maybe some bit of clarity with a nose or ear. But inside, I feel sorted and able.

And honestly, I'm not sure I've exactly replicated that experience in the studio yet. Painting for 6 hours in a row usually brings me close. However, like Vicari says, it's coming back into the studio only to feel like the previous day was a waste, is how you ever get back to work to fix it.