All About Me

I am lucky enough that my MFA classmates from the School of Visual Arts got themselves organized and put together a one-year-later show for all of us at the Sideshow Gallery in Brooklyn last month.  Thanks especially to Art Vidrine, Donna Cleary, and curator Melanie Kress for all of their hard work.  There was only one caveat: we had to show work made SINCE GRADUATION.  Well, I’ve done a lot of things since graduation, but making real work wasn’t one of them.  So I decided to paint.

I decided to paint a self-portrait.  Shocker.  It’s not that I love the way I look.  I don’t.  But I like to paint faces and mine seems to be pretty handy.  I wanted to make a painting that showed how distracted and  fractured I was, between working and teaching and home repairs and family.  Here’s the underpainting:

My mother thought only the chin looked like me, but I was satisfied with my beginning.  I began to paint it in, but I had no idea what to do with the background.  And if you’ve been to art school, you can still hear your teachers in your head telling you that the background is at least as important as the foreground, and must be worked at the same time.  I was panicking a little, having only an idea about me and no idea at all about what was behind me.

But hey, nice wicked witch color scheme, right?  I eventually went back to my original idea about fracture and distraction and thought I would try to “hide” my face among background shapes and colors, losing edges and making shallow space.  I divided the canvas into weird diamond/squares (rhomboids? trapezoids?  You tell me!) and painted them in.  By this time I was facing a real deadline, not wanting to hang a wet painting in our early July show.

This is all by way of saying: do what I say, not what I do.  But also: break the rules sometimes.  I’m grateful for the pressure that made me paint.  That’s one post-grad picture under my belt. Fingers crossed that the next one doesn’t take a year.

And apologies to my classmates, who made beautiful work that I didn’t show you here. Some days it’s all about me.

 

 

 

Making Paintings

Stuart Davis The Mellow Pad

Stuart Davis
The Mellow Pad

I’ve always had trouble making abstract art.  I admire the ability, but it’s difficult for me to overcome the delight I feel when I capture a likeness or represent what I see.  For me, abstraction isn’t easier than representation (the “my kid coulda done that” school of thought), it’s harder.

I love creating the illusion of space and depth on a two-dimensional plane.  Some abstract artists embrace the same challenge, and some work hard to avoid making any allusions to the natural world.

Jackson Pollock Number 8

Jackson Pollock
Number 8

In my second-year seminar class last week we read articles about Alfred Stieglitz, the ground-breaking New York Armory Show of 1913, and several of the artists working then. Not all artists are good writers (of course, not all writers are good painters), but Stuart Davis, a painter from that period explained abstraction in a way that makes the most sense to me.

Stuart Davis Swing Landscape

Stuart Davis
Swing Landscape

In his article, “Autobiography” (included in Diane Kelder’s collection Stuart Davis – Praeger Press, 1971), Davis discussed why he hated when viewers asked what his paintings were “about”.

“There is no simple answer to these pesky questions because in reality they are not questions about art at all.  They are in fact demands that what the artist feels and explicitly expresses in his work be translated into ideas that omit the very quality of emotion that is the sole reason for its being.”

He goes on, “In the first place let me say that the purpose of so-called “abstract” art is basically the same as all other art, and that it always has a subject matter.  In fact the difference between ‘abstract’ and ‘realistic’ art is precisely one of subject matter.  It would be more accurate to say that it is a difference of aspects of the same subject matter. The ‘abstract’ artist lives in the same world as everybody else and the subject matter available to him is the same.”

“…But the development of ‘abstract’ art has not been merely a matter of temperaments.  It is the reflection in art of that attitude of mind manifested in scientific materialism by which the world lives today.  Through science the whole concept of what reality is has been changed….  why should the artist be questioned for finding new realities in his subject matter?”

Stephen Maine HP12 - 0301

Stephen Maine
HP12 – 0301

Or perhaps in Hamlet’s words,

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy.”

 

My seminar class is taught by the wonderful abstract painter (and writer) Stephen Maine (www.stephenmaine.com). Here he is in an interview with Gorky’s Granddaughter discussing his paintings and his process.  If I could paint like he does, I might give up reality, too.

http://www.gorkysgranddaughter.com/2013/09/stephen-maine-august-2013.html

 

Open Season on Art

There is enough brilliant and exciting art in New York to fill every gallery from floor to ceiling.  Which is not the same thing as saying that all New York galleries are full of brilliant and exciting art.  They are not.

Mike Womack Observer Effect Installation View

Mike Womack
Observer Effect
Installation View

Saturday was a beautiful day, and several friends and I went gallery hopping in Chelsea.  We visited five or six galleries and saw bad paintings, bad videos, and bad sculpture.

Mike Womack Hypnosis Drawing #9 (Earliest Memory of Pain)

Mike Womack
Hypnosis Drawing #9 (Earliest Memory of Pain)

But we also saw Mike Womack’s exhibition Observer Effect at Ziehersmith (516 West 20th Street), which was truly stunning.  Mr. Womack has cast concrete around his own drawings so that only the edges of the paper remain to be seen by the viewer.  This is very provoking in the best possible way.  What might the drawings be about?  Why are they hidden?  Do they relate to the shapes in which they are encased?  Why would an artist make work and then make sure no one can see it?

Mike Womack Hypnosis Drawing #15 (Earliest Memory of Drawing)

Mike Womack
Hypnosis Drawing #15 (Earliest Memory of Drawing)

The concrete and wood forms remain wholly visible, and are interesting enough on their own to hold our attention.  One never forgets, however, that each one is also an art tomb.  That makes the crucifix-shaped installation even more poignant.  What vision died here?

Mike Womack Hypnosis Drawing #3 (Earliest Memory of My Mother)

Mike Womack
Hypnosis Drawing #3 (Earliest Memory of My Mother)

The press release for the show (read it on the way out, NOT the way in) gives a very specific description of the process through which Mr. Womack made his pieces, and why.  It’s quite compelling (and you can see it on the gallery website www.ziehersmith.com) but I think I prefer making up my own stories.  Go to this show and then let me know what you think.

Sol LeWitt Untitled (gouache)

Sol LeWitt
Untitled (gouache)

The other exhibition that grabbed me on Saturday was Sol LeWitt.  He is rapidly becoming one of my favorite dead artists.  Perhaps it’s because he’s ubiquitous, although that could work equally against him.  Right now there’s a huge LeWitt installation at Paula Cooper Gallery at 534 West 21st, and it’s very worth the walk to see LeWitt’s preliminary gouaches and the final enormous work to which they led (originally completed for the 1988 Venice Biennale).  You can admire his mastery of color, as I did, and then wish you lived in an apartment big enough to install his work, as I also did.

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing #564: Complex forms with color ink washes superimposed

Sol LeWitt
Wall Drawing #564: Complex forms with color ink washes superimposed

That would cost you $1.2 million, and rumor has it that’s just for the plans, not including the actual painting.

If the art in the galleries was always bad, I would stop going.  It is not.  There is always at least one magical piece, or one independently creative new artist who is worth seeing.  Just when I think I am out, they pull me back in.

Just Blue

I will throw pill bottles at the next person who tells me that artists have always been depressed outsiders.

Is it art if I hang something I found in the trash inside a frame that my studio-mate was throwing away?

Is it art if I hang something I found in the trash inside a frame that my studio-mate was throwing away?

That said, I’ve been feeling a little depressed and left out lately.  I should be painting.  Every day I tell myself to go to the studio and paint.  But I rarely do.  I go to the studio and clean.  I stay home and knit.  I crochet bowls and organize the tee-shirts I will need for typesetting class on Thursday (it is awesome!).  I make origami of a manageable size.  I get supplies for my sculpture (working title: self-portrait in the asylum) and wonder what colors I should paint my walls now that I’ve stripped the wallpaper.  I talk to my friend Rachel about starting a new religion; first step: magic wands.  What I don’t do is paint.

My current painting, entitled, It Should Have Been Finished Last Month

My current painting, entitled, It Should Have Been Finished Last Month

Am I not a painter any longer?  Or do I just need a break?  What do you sad, disenfranchised painters out there think?

Just a peek: Self-Portrait in the Asylum

Just a peek: Self-Portrait in the Asylum – underway

The Amazing and Wonderful Rain Room

We stood in line for three hours yesterday to see MoMA’s new installation: Random International’s Rain Room.  (http://random-international.com)  It was worth every minute.  I would stand in line again today for three hours to see it again.

Random International's Rain Room (photo by the artist)

Random International’s
Rain Room
(photo by the artist)

At the time, I kept wondering why the line moved so slowly.   The attendants were letting in ten people at a time, but we were only moving about 20 feet each hour.  What was going on in there?

And then, after my five friends and I had laughed, learned lots of new American Sign Language from our deaf friend Mava, gossiped about our personal lives, AND eaten lunch standing up, it was our turn.

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  I have not experienced such wonder since Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread (see post of January 9, 2013).  If you haven’t read about the Rain Room yet (http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1380), it is the simplest of installations: inside a large dark room it is raining.  As you walk through the rain, you remain dry.  The machine senses you and moves the rain away.

I began to realize why the line was moving like a fat turtle.  We couldn’t leave because we were playing.  I ran.  I stopped suddenly.  I stuck one arm out.  I moved toward the light and then away from it.  I took lots of pictures (encouraged by the museum).  Everyone else in the Rain Room was experimenting, too.  We had gained power over the elements.  We were children, believing in magic and watching it at work around us.

It was the simplest of installations, but it changed our world, making us believe that anything was possible.  It has been a long time since I felt that kind of joy, and it was wonderful. Three hours, four hours, it doesn’t matter.  Go stand in line.  The exhibit closes on July 28th.

 

The Drawing Center

On Wednesday I was lucky enough to receive a studio visit from curator Joanna Kleinberg Romanow of The Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street in Soho – www.drawingcenter.org).

Giosetta Fioroni, Liberty, 1965

Giosetta Fioroni

During our visit, Mrs. Romanow was insistent that I come to The Drawing Center to see their new show: L’Argento (Silver) by Italian artist Giosetta Fioroni.  So this morning I headed out and arrived as the doors opened at noon.  It is an exciting, exquisite exhibition that made me appreciate the mastery that hides behind the appearance of simplicity.  Compared to these drawings, mine feel overworked and over thought.  Compared to these drawings, EVERYONE’s feel overworked and over thought.  They are sublime.

This is a focused survey of works made in the 1960s, but some of Ms. Fioroni’s childhood work is on display, as well as some of the more abstract work that she began to make in the 1970s.  It is interesting to note that both of her parents were artists, thus providing her with a very precocious start, plus nature AND nurture.  Her gift was evident early on.

The show is open through June 2nd and The Drawing Center is very easy to reach by subway.  Do yourself a favor and go savor it.

I have spent most of this semester drawing rather than painting, and experimenting with left-handed self-portraits and silk-screening, so  Mrs. Romanow’s thoughtful and positive critique of my work boosted my confidence as I head into the last week of the semester.  If you’re in the city, come visit the SVA MFA Program’s Open Studios at 133-141 West 21st Street, floors 8-9.  We open Thursday at 5:00 and Friday and Saturday at noon.  http://public.sva.edu/evite/openstudios/

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