Monday, July 30, 2007

Matisse @ SFMoMA

One more post, while I'm on a roll: Ann and I were at SFMoMA on Saturday and saw Matisse: Painter as Sculptor for the second time. Boy, what a great show, in so many ways: focuses on the lesser-known side of a great one; a really strong selection of work; installed over several galleries with lots of room between clusters of work so there is a feeling of time, of breathing, of space; lots of little gems one would never have the chance to see.

Like the drawing below, about 8 x 10 inches, a quick ink drawing. I'm really taken with this: it's a head, a mountain, a crystal. In a few quick strokes, c. 1900, Matisse makes a captivating little world.

This terrible photo was taken quickly of a page in the catalog: in the little book shop adjacent to the exhibition, when no one was around, I opened the book, took out my camera, walked up to the register and said to the young hipster behind the counter, "If I took a picture of this page would you have to stop me?" He looked around nervously, and said, "Well, uh... I'll just walk over here," and went to straighten up gift cards or mugs or something. I took a couple of quick snaps, quickly put my camera away, and waved him a thanks. It's a lousy picture, but you get the idea:

Storr and Nozkowski & de Keyser

You said: "...did you notice that all the examples he (Storr) gave in the Brooklyn Rail interview (including Nauman and Baldassari, Ryman, and Angelo Filomeno) are of the male persuasion? One exception: Louise Bourgeois—and jeez, she had to work into her 70s before anyone took notice. I know, this is another topic, but it’s all connected, isn’t it?"

I say: Yeah, I kinda sorta noticed, but didn't pay it too much mind, which, you know, uh, is kinda sorta just the way, uh, well, male privilege, or something. I notice things like that, but they don't always snag me. Sometimes do, sometimes don't. The artists Storr talks about are a narrow slice of names in the Bienalle, and these particular names are artists who have been important to him for a long time, are ones that he personally relates to. Not defending, necessarily, just think it was the slice of conversation. I do know that the actual roster for the Biennale includes way more than a handful of women, though I can't make an accurate head count because there are many names about which I can't be certain if they are male or female.

Peter Schjeldahl wrote in The New Yorker, "He (Storr) rose to prominence in New York in the nineteen-eighties as a critic championing artists at eccentric or challenging angles to fashionable taste, many of them women—notably Louise Bourgeois, Nancy Spero, Susan Rothenberg, and Elizabeth Murray—along with Bruce Nauman, Robert Ryman, Gerhard Richter, and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov."

You said: "By the way, I appreciate Storr’s comments about Nozkowski and De Keyser. Nozkowski is one of my favorite painters."

I say: Ditto. I am a big fan of Nozkowski & de Keyser. Such a big fan that they both deserve to have images included here:

Top: Thomas Nozkowski, UNTITLED (8-67), 2005, oil on linen on panel, 22 x 28 inches Framed , 55.9 x 71.1 cm
Bottom: Raoul de Keyser, Retour 11, 1999, 43,0 x 60,0 cm, oil on canvas

Clyfford Still @ SFMoMA

Oh happy day! SFMoMA has finally rotated the paintings in the Clyfford Still gallery! The red one is a really interesting painting- it looks so fresh, and has a less rugged, knifey surface than a typical mid-50's Still. And the one on the right really works like a Newman, maybe even more Newman-y than Newman.

By the way, photography is forbidden at this museum, unless the guards aren't positioned properly.

Art & the Brain

Joanne, thanks for your answer about curating.

You talked about how curating uses another part of your brain, the more linear thinking part, the more rational, critical, perhaps even objective process. Though curating does involve an emotional side, as well, one does need to be able to step back and even justify one's reaction, significantly because, I think, as the curator you make choices for other viewers, and you want to support some theme, argument, narrative, etc. The personal investment is different- unlike your own work, you are external to the work of others, and know it less intimately. At the same time, as the curator there's all kinds of logistics to be aware of- deadlines, who's in and out, an essay, when it will hang, how it will hang.

I was curious to know if the curatorial work in any way enables you look at your own work with another eye, or does it do the opposite?

This somewhat reminds me: as you know, I've done a lot of writing about art, and I've done a fair amount of talking and writing about my own work, too, but I always find it so much easier to talk about the art of others. I carry this continual conversation and explanation in my head about my own art, but I've never wanted to reduce it to an elevator pitch, though I can see the benefits of doing so.

Just recently I had to talk about my work with a gallery director, and I went in with all of the words in my head ready to go. But strangely, once there, I found myself pretty inarticulate, as if I'd forgotten all of the things I wanted to say about my work. It wasn't nerves, and it wasn't because I wasn't prepared. There was a feeling of not wanting to explain and give my work away- I could describe it, describe the process, state the facts, but at the moment in the conversation where I was supposed to say, "My work is about..." my brain kind of shut down, I knew it was shutting down, and I felt myself resisting the idea of working to explain. I think I didn't want to give it away, I didn't want it encapsulated. Fortunately, the director already had a feel for the work, and was saying lots of what I might say- not all, but plenty. It was relief. And it had a happy ending. I'll be in a group show in San Francisco in September at Root Division.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A: Curating for a Painter is Like Cross Training

You ask: Has your recent curating experience prompted any ideas or feelings about your own art that reinforces or challenges what you're doing?
The simple answer is that curating (as with writing) gives me an opportunity to think about art in ways that I don’t think about, or address, when I’m in the studio. It’s like sculpture—thinking and working three dimensionally instead of on a flat surface.

Does curating challenge what I’m doing in the studio? No, but it does challenge me to think about art using a different part of my brain.

When I’m painting initially, the work kind of flows out, and it’s only after the fact that I stand back and look at it and think about it in a critical way. Then there’s a conversation between the intuitive and the rational that continues—sort of a creative alternating current—as a work or works come to completion. (I often work on several paintings at the same time.)

In the studio, above: I don't get this rational until the right brain has run some miles and the work is underway

Curating, on the other hand, is a much more rational enterprise. I have to be moved in some intuitive, emotional, maybe visceral way by an artist’s work, but I do a lot more linear, left-brain thinking about how a particular work it fits into a curatorial theme.

In the gallery, above and below: I start out with the left brain in high gear. The work has to fit into, indeed expand, the theme--which in "Luxe, Calme et Volupte" is visual pleasure: beauty (of sumptuousness, order and sensuality). Above: Tim McFarlane, Rainer Gross, Robert Sagerman. Below: Julie Gross, you, Maureen Mullarkey. The marble sculptures on the floor are by Julia Venske and Gregor Spanle. Exhibition at the Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta (through August 25)

As an artist I paint primarily in encaustic. I love the medium, to the point that using feels as if it’s just flowing out of my hand. But I’m interested in other mediums and other modes of expression. And I’m interested in other artists’ work besides mine. Curating a show that’s not medium specific, but rather, about a theme—beauty, in the case of Luxe, Calme et Volupte—is a way to explore the ideas and artists whose work interests me.

So I guess curating, for me, is like cross training.

You also ask: Related to this, I'm wondering if there is other work you're messing around with in your studio? ... You recently mentioned getting a lot of nice heavy paper. What's cooking?

May I take a raincheck on this question? As you know, I had a very busy spring with the "Luxe, Calme et Volupte" show. And I also organized the first National Conference of Encaustic Painting at Montserrat College of Art. (Many people were involved in the conference, of course, but I conceived it and developed the panels and themes.) I hadn’t intended to take on two large projects at the same time, but life has a different sense of timing than my own. I also did some teaching and a lot of traveling (my blog is part travelog, part critical writing, part self promotion). Oh, and did I mention two solo shows?

So to be honest there’s not much in my studio at the moment. There is a lot of paper—gorgeous 300 lb, hot-press Fabriano that’s just waiting to become a series of gouache grids and another series of graphite grids (graphite powder suspended in alcohol that gets painted as if it were watercolor). But at the moment I’m recuperating from all that activity earlier in the year. I will answer this question visually as soon as I have some new work to show you—which will be soon.

Question for you: What's in your studio right now?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More on the Collector-Driven Market

Chris, I’m glad you brought up this topic here.

The Dow passed the 14000 mark today (though it closed slightly lower). There’s a lot of money out there right now. Sure, there are plenty of rich boors who are gobbling up anything they think will give them prestige, but there are many thoughtful collectors as well. Perhaps these latter aren’t driving the market, but they keep things chugging along as they acquire work from emerging and midlevel artists.

In my post on Edward Winkleman’s blog, I said that a rising tide raises all boats. Not everyone agreed with me—the usual assortment of whiners said, basically, that because it wasn't happening for them, it wasn’t happening— but I’ll say it again here: There are more collectors than ever before. Those collectors, at all levels, have created a market that accommodates more galleries than ever before, which in turn has paved the way for more artists to show and sell than ever before. Say what you will about the art fairs—and there’s plenty yet to be said (I just reserved my flight and room for Miami in December)—they have given mid level dealers and artists a way to have international exposure and sales. Tide, yo.

Money may trump knowledge in the category of paintings-for-over-50-million-Alex, but there's still a fair amount of intelligence and integrity down here on terra firma where most artists and dealers work. As a midcareer artist who earns a living from the sale of my art, I am living proof that a rising tide raises boats.

By the way, I appreciate Storr’s comments about Nozkowski and De Keyser. Nozkowski is one of my favorite painters. But did you notice that all the examples he gave in the Brooklyn Rail interview (including Nauman and Baldassari, Ryman, and Angelo Filomeno) are of the male persuasion? One exception: Louise Bourgeois—and jeez, she had to work into her 70s before anyone took notice. I know, this is another topic, but it’s all connected, isn’t it?

I am working on a response to your question, but I had to weigh in on this topic.

The problem with a collector-driven market/The kind of careers that kids think of now

Just posting, won't comment much now, except I think about this, the two sides of the coin that follow. Joanne, I know you saw the first quote because you commented elsewhere. I'll follow up the first quote with a second comment that struck me:

From the Art Newspaper: The problem with a collector-driven market, by Jane Kallir

For the past century or so, the art world has been supported by four principal pillars: artists, collectors, dealers and the art-historical establishment (critics, academics, and curators). From a wider historical perspective, the latter two entities are relative newcomers... Over the long term, art-historical value is determined by consensus among all four art-world pillars. When any one of the four entities assume disproportionate power, there is a danger that this entity’s personal preferences will cloud everyone’s short-term judgement. Put bluntly, the danger of a collector-driven art world is that money will trump knowledge.

From an interview of Robert Storr by Irving Sandler about the Venice Bienalle in the latest Brooklyn Rail:

I’ll tell you by the way, there are two artists in this show who I identify with quite a lot. One is Raoul De Keyser and the other is Tom Nozkowski. Both of them worked for very long periods of time, Tom as a magazine layout designer, Raoul as the educational official in a small Flemish-speaking town in Belgium. They just kept making their work, so they’re here in part as my idea of how another way of being an artist turns out. Raoul is 76, Tom is 60; they are real artists and they have never had the kind of careers that kids think of now. For that matter, neither did alot of the others. Bruce Nauman had a moment in the ‘60s and early ’70s, and then it went away and it was rough until the early 1980s. Richter had a moment in the ‘60s and then he was not doing so well. A lot of artists like John Baldassari that young artists look up to actually had very checkered careers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Q for you

Q for you: Has your recent curating experience prompted any ideas or feelings about your own art that reinforces or challenges what you're doing?

Related to this, I'm wondering if there is other work you're messing around with in your studio that hasn't seen the light of day yet? You've shown a lot lately, your website is fairly current, but is there other work happening besides more recent series like Uttar, Vicolo, Mudra, and Silk Road? Last year you painted Quadrate 1, acrylic on canvas- that's a bit of a diversion from the encaustic work. You recently mentioned getting a lot of nice heavy paper. What's cooking?

Monday, July 9, 2007

A: an hour goes by really quickly!

You say, “You mentioned in an e-mail note that there were so many other things you wish you'd said in the interview but that the interview hour had run out. What are some of those things? Links and images welcome.”

The list of interviews is at The Art World Podcast, or download the mp3.

Thanks for asking, Joanne. Eva did her homework, and she asked lots of good questions. We had met in Portland, and she came to the opening and saw the show. We deliberately did not talk about my art in-person so that the interview would not sound like a kind of call and response retread. I was excited about doing the interview, but at the same time apprehensive, worrying that I wouldn’t represent myself well.

Some of the questions I had anticipated, some I hadn’t. There were some specific things I wanted to talk about in order to better get at what I think my work is about, but I was surprised at how quickly the hour went by, and by how I didn’t get around to these topics.

One of my concerns was that we not talk about the HTML work as a novelty medium. I wanted to talk about the images, the content behind the images, and the possible meanings of the more conceptual aspects of the work. I’d wanted to talk about the performance-like aspect of making and exhibiting an image daily, but didn’t. I’m afraid that we did not actually get around to discussing the images, although I did talk about how images are found, not just made. I’ve encountered this tendency in some to think that working on the computer is not actually a creative process (not that Eva thought that) and I wanted to be more clear about that. It was just one of many things that somehow I didn’t bring up because of the flow of conversation.

Eva did ask about influences of Malevich and Ellsworth Kelly. I kind of accepted the Malevich connection, but ultimately feel it’s a superficial comparison. And I quickly dismissed the Kelly connection, so much so that a friend of mine commented about it, thinking that I was maybe dismissing Kelly’s work, which was not my intention. Related to this, I also wanted to talk about how I don't think of this work, or any of my work, as geometric art.

I wanted to be more clear about why working in series is important to this work, and how when I show these images as objects (for example, Jukebox, shown both at Chambers and Marcia Wood) it is the collection of images that is the work, not the single images. I wanted to move the discussion towards this by discussing some other artists. Here is who I wanted to mention:

I wanted to talk about my visit to the Scrovegni Chapel in 1980 to see Giotto’s frescoes. I recently told a friend how it has been a turning point for me (and he said, well, it was a turning point for all of Western art) not only because of the frescoes themselves, which are magnificent in every sense of the word, but for the overall conception: the entire inside walls and ceilings of the chapel are covered in frescoes of scenes of the life of Christ and other decorative panels. Being in the chapel is to be inside a complete and total environment, a work of art working on many levels, from narrative to genre to design to decoration, with landscape, portrait, still life, trompe l’oeil, and fantasy. The form in the compositions is very architectural, and also very abstract. There is consistency and rhythm and rhyming among the images. It is incredibly ambitious and integrated. I have carried the memory of this visit with me for twenty seven years. Not that I have wanted to paint in the same way, but what I’ve wanted to make is a body of work that can have some kind of impact similar to the chapel. I wouldn’t compare my work to Giotto, but I think that the larger borders of my project—an image a day, everyday, in themes, for a particular environment, an attention to form and color, images with strong abstract quality sometimes bordering on representation, a sense of visual narrative—this may be as close as I’ve ever got in my own work to some of that ambition.

In a more modern vein, I wanted to mention Jacob Lawrence’s well known series of paintings The Migration Series, The Frederick Douglass Series, and Harriet Tubman Series of 1938-40. All of these are tempera on quite small panels (in the 12 x 18 inch range). Although he is painting representationally the abstract qualities of the images are inventive and strong. He takes on very specific subjects that are of interest to him because of his background, stories that are unlikely to be told in this format by anyone else- this is ambitious, like Giotto, and to see these series is to be immersed in his graphic, intimate world. I wanted to particularly mention Lawrence not only because he has influenced me, but also because in the world of abstract painting that you and I traffic in he is a very unlikely influence. Yet I didn’t give him his due in the interview, even though I wrote a note to myself to do so.

There are a few other specific works by artists that I wanted to mention to emphasis even more this idea of an artwork that is expanded into a series, or where many small units make a larger single artwork. These include:

Jennifer Bartlet’s Rhapsody, composed of 987 painted steel panels, each 12 x 12 inches, which occupies 153 running feet of wall space and “reads like a piece of music or poem in a carefully planned rhythm and repetition of images (ref) (ref).”

Thomas Nozkowski and Judy Linn ‘s An Autobiography, "a series of abstract paintings and photographs based on geographic regions along the Hudson River… the twenty works in An Autobiography reflect important experiences and memories in Nozkowski's life. Each painting is defined by a different five-mile increment of the valley. The artist recalls: ‘Everything that I hold important to my life has happened along a hundred-mile stretch of the Hudson River valley. For each painting I would try to find visual images from my memories and in the physical reality of the place.’
After finishing the series, Nozkowski invited Judy Linn to interpret the region in photography. Working without having seen the paintings, Linn's photographs are also defined by the same five-mile increments (ref).

I also would’ve talked about Sol Lewitt more, and mentioned Mary Heilmann and Raoul de Keyser. I wanted to talk about my own work, of course, but also to talk about these artists as a way of opening up a larger conversation about how images are used to make meaning, how the notion of a single painting or drawing or print as the work is limiting to me, and how I am really interested in visual narratives, a way that viewers create and tell themselves non-literate, non-linear stories or meanings in response to what they see. Some of that telling is even nonverbal- we do it through gesture, through the body, by recalled memory, by internal sound prompted by form, color, or movement. It’s a complicated thing, something I haven’t been able to adequately explain, and it was all too much to talk about in one hour.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Images top to bottom:
  • Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy
  • Jacob Lawrence's Harriet Tubman series No. 10, 1939-40, Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard, Hampton University Art Museum, Hampton, Virginia (ref).
  • Jennifer Bartlett's Rhapsody, 1975-76. Enamel on steel, 987 plates, Each plate 12 x 12" (30.4 x 30.4 cm); overall approximately 7' 6" x 153' (228.6 x 4663.4 cm). MoMA, New York. Gift of Edward R. Broida (ref).
  • Thomas Nozkowski Untitled, 1994 (7-55). Oil on Linen on Panel, 16 x 20 inches, from An Autobiography (ref).

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Q & A

Chris, I'm glad our conversation is picking up. I follow your shows on line and enjoyed the interview with Eva Lake. In the interests of actually conversing, I'm going to propose that we do a bit more back and forth online--like what we do in our e-mails--except somewhat more formal and focused.

So let me start with a question to you:

You mentioned in an e-mail note that there were so many other things you wish you'd said in the interview but that the interview hour had run out. What are some of those things? Links and images welcome.

And when you've finished responding, ax me anything.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Let's ease back in here...

After an unexpected hiatus of several months, let's ease back in here. This is the kind of thing that, if you let go for a bit, creeps up on you- a little bit of time goes by, and then a little more, and before you know it a bunch of little times has become a big chunk of time and you've got an abandoned house. So here we are, back to sweep out the cobwebs.

A lot has happened in the past six months. For me, art-wise, it went like this:

Not to forget my radio interview with Eva Lake.

And that's just the first half of the year.

Plus, I'm also beginning working with a new gallery in Ireland, Haydn Shaughnessy Gallery: "Artists who use new technology to create powerful, compelling and collectible new imagery."

And you, Joanne, have a whole ton of stuff that's happened so far this year, and that will be happening the rest of the year.

So we're busy, and even busier than just the list above appears, because making the work, and making the connections, and getting the work to the place it will be shown, and maybe traveling there too, well, there's a whole lot going on behind the scenes to make it all happen.

But so far, 2007 is not a bad year.

During the past six months I have been mostly preoccupied with figuring how I want to print and show the HTML images. I hit on a small solution for now- small prints hung in grids. That exploratory work isn't over- still a lot more to be done. It could get bigger, stronger, shinier, more finished, and more expensive. I'm not sure where it's going. I'm also trying to find my way back into painting after this period.

I'm a little stunned by the Shapiro turquoise piece you show in the last post- I use that color, the gradation, the pyramid motif- I thought it was my image for a bit. It's a little hard for me to believe that this painting was made in the sixties- the imagery and color seems so much a part of computer monitor, the flickering screen, the backlit luminosity, that I have to ask- where did this come from? Do you have any other info?