Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Craigie Aitchison was a visiting lecturer when I was at Chelsea School of Art. He was always very quiet, gentle and disarming. Like his paintings he gave a sense of being delicate but this belied a strength. Frequently he was accompanied by his Bedlington terrier and the most beautiful models. His work was clear, distinctive and poetic.
Crucifixion 9 1987 courtesy of Tate
Guardian obit with pictures!
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Images courtesy of http://www.gimagine.com. Sadly there were no titles or details available!
The Cuban-born artist Carmen Herrera in her Manhattan loft, surrounded by her art. After six decades of very private painting, she sold her first artwork five years ago at the age of 89.
"Paintings speak for themselves," Ms. Herrera said. Geometry and color have been the head and the heart of her work, she added, describing a lifelong quest to pare down her paintings to their essence, like visual haiku. Shown here, "Blanco y Verde" (1966), a canvas of white interrupted by an inverted green triangle.
New York Times
Monday, 21 December 2009
Garry Fabian Miller is one of a small band of international photographers who investigate the possibilities of camera-less
photography (the interaction of light and light-sensitive paper). Miller continues to push the boundaries of photographic
possibility into the 21st century whilst always keeping one eye on the past and, in particular, on a lineage that dates back to
the first practitioners of the art (and science) of photographic experiment in the 1830s and ‘40’s.
The results are unique, one-off prints that condense light and colour into spectacular images. However, the delicate
balance between the art and science of these methods has come into clear focus in the past few years as the all important
‘science’ of the raw material – light sensitive Cibachrome paper - has come under threat from the digital age. Artists such
as Miller have had to stockpile materials and re-think their practice as the manufacturers of their precious paper go to the
Armed with the knowledge and experience of old methods that can’t be replicated, Miller has risen to the challenge,
feeling his way forward and building a bridge into a new and principally digital world. The resulting work suggests an
evolutionary moment, sharing the values of historical knowledge with the potential of the future. These photographs will
take their place in Shadow Catchers, a major survey of camera-less photography at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in
November 2010. Ahead of this they will be shown for the first time at Ingleby Gallery in November and December this
year, under the collective title The Colours.
They are remarkable photographs, embracing the possibilities of pure, liquid colour on a large scale and using the new
printing technologies to restore the intensity of those first experiments in Cibachrome of 30-40 years ago. Their starting
point was 2 years of intense studio based practice – referred to by Miller as Years One and Two – that collated all of his
accumulated knowledge into a kind of pattern book of ideas for the future. We will be showing groups of small-scale
works from Years One, and Two alongside the new large format images.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Saturday 9 January - Saturday 27 February
Dark Intervals is a series of paintings exploring a new-found energy which embraces the combined elements of chance and deliberation, application and reverie. They are rooted in spontaneity and improvisation, akin to what John Cage described in music as ‘considered improvisation’.
Nick Moore is a painter, musician and poet based in Bristol. He is a teacher and lecturer in both art and art history and has worked on graduate and post graduate levels. He is currently artist in residence at a GP Surgery in Gloucestershire as part of the Art Lift project.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
'If anything in the world can teach a man to venture, it is the ethical, which teaches to venture everything for nothing, to risk everything, and also therefore to renounce the flattery of the world - historical... " Soren Kierkegaard.
Venturesomeness is only one of the ethical values respected by modern painters.
There are many others, integrity, sensuality, sensitivity, knowingness, passion, dedication, sincerity, and so on, which taken all together represent the ethical background of judgement in relation to any given work of modern art. Every aesthetic judgement of importance is ultimately ethical in background. It is its unawareness of this background that is an audience's chief problem. And one has to have an intimate acquaintance with the language of contemporary painting to be able to see the real beauty of it; to see the ethical background is even more difficult. It is a question of consciousness.
........Without ethical consciousness, a painter is only a decorator. Without ethical consciousness, the audience is only sensual, one of aesthetes.
Robert Motherwell extracts from 'The Painter and The Audience' 1954 Perspectives USA UCP Berkeley
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Richard Wright a painter and guitarist for Correcto has won the Turner Prize. Image courtesy of ITN
Timothy Taylor will be showing works on paper by Phillip Guston.
A book is published on Gerhard Richter - A Life in Painting by Dietmar Elger
and Rothko hits the stage at the Donmar in REd.
Monday, 7 December 2009
Read the review in the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/turner-prize/6753775/Richard-Wright-Turner-Prize-2009-winner.html
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
I thought you might be interested in these polaroids that I recently rediscovered. They are of paintings I made nearly 30 years ago whilst at Chelsea. Sadly I don't have better images of them and I don't have a record of the titles.
Bridget Riley opens at Timothy Taylor. Tom Lubbock asks the pertinent questions
"Why this solemnity about shapes and colours? Why this obsession with purity?"
Bridget Riley’s new paintings are clean, bright, hopeful and full of movement. The simpler forms that Bridget Riley is drawing out and the push me pull you tradition in the images attract me but I still find the process and style to harsh and impersonal. They are honed but not comparable to this Spanish Elegy by Robert Motherwell.
Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic (Basque Elegy), 1967
Oil on canvas 82 ¼ x 138 inches, Private Collection.
Location: 2nd floor, JCMCA Portland Art Museum
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Bouquet (908-1), 2009, 23 5/8 x 34 7/8 in. ( 60 x 88.5 cm )
Friday, 13 November 2009
Thursday, 12 November 2009
“ There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth that we inherit from abstract art- that painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, and therefore we habitually defined its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is “impure”. It is the adjustment of impurities, which forces painting’s continuity. We are image-makers and image ridden.” Philip Guston 1960.Image source Philip Guston Retrospective Royal Academy of Arts
Guston struggled with the desire for an openness that abstraction brings and the primitive impulse for the recognition of object. He felt at a loss in the face of the presumed “ultimate” style. In the face of this he was drawn by his need to communicate directly and implicitly despite having acknowledged that the recognisable form “excludes too much” and that “ there is no such thing as non objective art. Everything has an object. Everything has a figure. The question is what kind?”
In response to Guston’s figuration the critic Rosenberg said “ the ‘scandal’ of the Marlborough exhibition is not that this leading abstract expressionist has introduced narration and social comment but that he has done his utmost to make problems of painting seem secondary.” “Painting needs to purge itself of all systems that place the so-called interests of art above the interests of the artist’s mind. …it is time now to liberate it (abstract expressionism) from the ban on social consciousness.” Are we really there again? Or is the formality of reduction an appropriate response?
Dore Ashton made the link between Guston’s comment and Goya’s dislike of artist’s that ‘aped’ nature without question. He then qualified the parallel drawn “ If you read “reason” as the governing power of skill, craft, memory, knowledge, there is no good painter without it.” This monkey business is rife.
“ There are people who think that painters should not talk. I know many people who feel that way, but that makes the painter into some kind of painting monkey.” Guston
(“Talking about painting is like trying to taste music.” Picasso)
I have an aversion to art that pretends to be delivered through scientific analysis, which feels it cannot justify its activity and production unless it is validated by process established in science or fulfils some rational administrative brief. This is inclined to produce cool art and also produces monkeys responding to the peanuts dropped through the cage. Empirical data is not the same as knowledge. Intellectual ability is no guarantee of rational-thinking. Reductive rationalised art runs the risk of being dogmatic and purist, whether it is abstraction or figurative realism. Taking and defending a stylistic stance runs the risk of being habitual, repetitive and dull. Being random and not sustaining a focus runs the risk of unrealised ambitions. I am inspired when I can witness both the random and the rational in a work of art. This combination is rare more so in reductive thinking as the context increasingly narrows. Ref: Michael Bond New Scientist 31 October 2009. In his book On Creativity, the extraordinary David Bohm, expressed his desire for rational participation (This book provided me with the title and text for In Theory, Churchill House, Bath, 2001.) In seeking a solution to different realities he hopes for a common consciousness that withholds judgement thereby establishing a new intelligence. This poignantly would affect the relation between Newtonian and quantum models as well as abstraction and figuration, the inside and the out. A reservation on this vision is that surely judgement is required in all disciplines so at what point is it applied? And everyone “seeing the same thing” is not likely to be a creative scenario. God and Darwinists favour diversity and variation and are we not already very predictable. (New Scientist They Know What You’re Thinking 31 October 2009 & Horizon The Secret You Professor Marcus du Sautoy 23 October 2009) Having us all run through the same maze would make us more so. Perhaps I perceive the rational of these proposals as prescriptive when they are not.
“Certain artists do something and a new emotion is brought into the world; its real meaning lies outside of history and the chains of causality.” Guston
There is an ethical aspect to making art but there is no ultimate image or style, no final solution. If there were would we not have stopped at Giotto or Rembrandt?
Participation and an holistic approach are ideals that have given rise to the good and bad. Rationality and logic has and can excuse the awful as well as the good. Perhaps there will be managed means by which we can all get stimuli that satisfy us. As long as there is a long enough gap between the repeat of the cycle that prevents us from being dulled to the stimuli then………………we can go on rediscovering America. Hahaha.
It was stated in Ars Electronica 1979- 2004 the first 25 years Hatje Cantz for Ars Electronica 2000 -
‘Individual WAP access, consequent to the UMTS standard, is not only the great hope of the IT branch but also focuses digital development on the individual, on individual independence of location, the freedom of every single person. No matter where I am, I can participate in nearly every area of life, business, entertainment, leisure time, culture, in the networked world” “ This generation will become the bearers of global culture, a global culture characterised by the individuality of each person and independence of time and place.” Anders Eriksson of an ecommerce company is quoted as saying “ We think and breathe digital our soul is digital.”
The platform for Bohm’s vision is being established and the Open Source ideology is integral to operations and spreading. I am not certain where the freedom lies with it. It feels as if we are just staring at shadows. However the brilliant invention Autonomy struck me as being the closest to providing the most natural illusion of freedom and control in the experience and management of unstructured data. “More than 80% of all data in an enterprise is unstructured information. This encompasses telephone conversations, voicemails, emails, word documents, paper documents, images, web pages, video and hundreds of additional formats. Unfortunately, attempts to leverage this immense and strategic resource often fail because many businesses lack the requisite technology to understand and effectively utilize content that resides outside the scope of structured databases.” I approached Autonomy years ago in the hope of utilising their software to produce art. It seemed obvious to me that you could replace the word businesses for artists. No they are not one and the same.
The theme for this year’s Ars Electronica festival was Human Nature. Here is a section from their festival description, The Reinvention of Nature. "We’re using innovative high-tech methods to observe the human brain while it thinks, so that we can now look behind the veil of our consciousness and see how our mechanisms of perception and decision-making capacities are reflected in our neurons. The long-established boundaries segregating nature and culture are breaking down, and we are once again confronted by the question of the essence of humanness and the nature of the human being."
By way of a conclusion on this passage on abstraction, figuration, openness, participation, painting and digital developments: I have yet to feel “strange” (Guston) in response to digital technology in the way that I do in front of a painting. Paul Granjon in his performances highlights the fallibility of this relationship with technology for me, slightly absurd and disconcerting but not strange. Part of the discomfort is the imposition of engagement and the motivations that are driving its implementation. The strangeness of painting hits at the core. Our relationship with it is not anachronistic but essential.
“Freedom: dada, dada, dada, crying open the constricted pains, swallowing the contrasts and all the contradictions, the grotesqueries and the illogicalities of life.” Tristan Tzara (Dadaism Dietmar Elger Taschen)
Just heard on Radio 4 “ The trouble with ceramics is that it is trial and error.”
Ooooh aah ahh ahh ooh ooh - Monkey chatter.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Herbert Read arguing along with Adolf Loos and others that mass consumption required the principles of aesthetics to be "restated", declared- "For the real problem is not to adapt machine production to the aesthetic standards of handicraft, but to think out new aesthetic standards for new methods of production."
Photo courtesy of wikipedia
Given that production and consumption is going to change radically this is most definitely a pressing challenge. He was idealistic in his ideas about planning the urban environment believing that aesthetics and function would be a driving factor in the designs and construction of them. For a long time I also believed that major constructions would be driven by the social welfare and its improvement. The realisation that it was being driven by greed and the desire to offset risk illustrated what little progress had been made and how little value is placed on aesthetics over function. The assumption is still rife that this model is king and will create good design, good art, good cities. Good citizens? For this to be true the function has to be scrutinised and changed.
"In other words, what is required as a preliminary to any practical solution of the division existing between art and industry is a clear understanding, not only of the process of modern production but also the nature of art. Not until we have reduced the work of art to its essentials, stripped it of all the irrelevancies imposed on it by a particular culture or civilisation, can we see any solution of the problem. The first step, therefore, is to define art; the second is to estimate the capacity of the machine to produce works of art."
Art and Industry - 1934 Herbert Read, as a disciple of Walter Gropius, was all for aesthetic analysis of works of art; what is the work that art does? what works in the art?, and why does it work?.
"In order to create it is necessary to destroy; and the agent of destruction in society is the poet. I believe that the poet is necessarily an anarchist, and that he must oppose all organized conceptions of the State, not only those which we inherit from the past, but equally those which are imposed on people in the name of the future."
Anarchy & Order; Poetry & Anarchism (1938)
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
And while looking for texts regarding Mondrian's search for uncomplicated harmony I discovered the news on this blog http://thelowcountriesblog.onserfdeel.be/that there is a Van Doesburg exhibition at Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden. There is so much to approve of and admire in this search for simple harmony, which is much needed in these complicated times and for me more welcome than the other popular escape of the fantastical and gothic which appears currently all pervasive.
Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-44, Oil and paper on canvas, 50 x 50" (measured on diagonal sides)
courtesy of Wikipedia
The courage, scrutiny and genius of Mondrian will always remain a source of inspiration but surely this, a late work, is not a simple painting. Neither is it cold, vacant or clinical. The touch is visible and vital. Vacant space and hard edge maybe clearing out the clutter but I seek to keep the emotional in my work and very often emotion is complicated, soft and crowded - Rothko, Motherwell. Grayson Perry in his excellent Unpopular Culture presents a simplicity that is not reduced and is emotional, political, visual and personal. As an exhibition it is sentimental but the works are not.
Friday, 6 November 2009
Having just posted the piece below I went on to read the review of the Bauhaus exhibition at MOMA in New York.
Johans Itten Kunst de Farbe 50 x 50 work on paper courtesy of Seeman publishers
I was interested to see this endorsement and push of the constructivist aesthetic by MOMA. www.moma.org. I wasn't aware that the modernist attitude was being supported by the major institutions. Naiveté...moi? Here is a sample of the review "Finding a Bit of Animal House" by NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF in the New York Times posted today.
"A big surprise is how much of the school’s mission still feels relevant, from the effort to come to terms with mind-bending technological advances to the desire to serve an audience beyond the usual cultural elites. It’s true this mission was pursued with an optimism that would be hard to conjure today, but if the show has a message, it’s that a little naiveté can be productive."
The full review can be found here http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/06/arts/design/06bauhaus.html
Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878–1935.)
Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying. (1915; dated 1914)
Oil on canvas, 22 7/8 x 19" (58.1 x 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
It denies, excludes and is inclined to become fundamental, dogmatic and regulatory. (One commentator in the US has declared that abstraction is non political and a great investment, therefore an ideal vehicle for sponsorship and patronage in this troubled world. History repeating itself...I digress) Science has recognised that reductionist enquiries need to be tested against other disciplines to stand up. Newton/Quantum/Body/Mind/Classical/Contemporary. In doing so the premises on which the isolated reductive thinking has been based, at worst is undermined and at best is shown not to be compatible with other paradigms, theories, experiments or realities. Having stated this I greatly appreciate and admire the focus that, for example Minus space is providing. They are encouraging debate and are providing a focus for some beautiful work. It follows an American tradition yet is fresh. For me the majority of the work that I have seen under their umbrella goes part of the way to answering some of the quests in my work. This contemporary movement doesn't reveal the human flaws and vulnerability that I recognise in their predecessors that I have been so inspired by - Guston, Motherwell, De Kooning, Newman etc. The clinical aesthetic strikes me as one of wishful thinking and hiding behind mechanism. Painting as a process has the uncanny habit of revealing more than is perceived by the maker. Design tends to be outcome led and a pre-emptive filter. It reveals a lot but less of the unguarded. The reductive is good at finding motif, which is a mountainous task, but in my experience the significance and flavour is then lacking. To combine the two processes is surely the pinnacle.
Another example of an excellent initiative in the US that I have failed to find a similar example of anywhere else, let alone the UK, is Lyle Rexler's photographic exhibition at Aperture "http://www.aperture.org/travex/detail.php?id=54". As part of his explanation for the works selected he said that it wasn't his aim to try and define abstraction. Hurray. "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Einstein
Monday, 2 November 2009
Colored pencil and watercolor on paper
14 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
36.8 x 23.5 centimeters
(Cheim and Reid Gallery, London)
The significance of a 'lyrical' abstraction in painting by David Moxon:
Monet / Cy Twombly / Joan Mitchell / Patrick Heron
Rationale: This essay is responding to the way painting, especially abstraction, is being pumeled to death with the overloading of our senses with paintings of the ironic/Pop Art/icon style. My frustration is that these paintings are little more than paintings copied from photographs and filled in like a colour by numbers template . My concern is that any aesthetic consideration, when viewing paintings that are abstract in nature, is being starved of oxygen. These paintings require more than an intellectual response of a few seconds, they requires 'time', to reflect, to absorb and to respond...
'A single line, violent, passionate, broken, or beautifully calm, regular, uniform, conveys what we are feeling. It corresponds to what we are living through..' Hans Hartung
Painting. What is it about the act of painting that is so captivating? The process of painting, the creative act of placing pigment on canvas is an extraordinary experience..
I am thinking beyond any romantic ideas about the smell of linseed oil or turpentine in the studio or the image of the artist out on some kind of action-painting bender; drunk on the stuff in a Pollock-like fury.
Hans Namuth, Jackson Pollock in his studio
I am interested in paintings and not pictures. Paintings that require some thought beyond a merely visual reading of the subject matter. Perhaps, I am thinking about the 'letting go', that is required from us as a ‘viewer’ to go beyond just looking. For me painting and especially abstraction, is an activity that coalesces the engagement between thought, material and action. A process that responds to the 'feel' of the painting.
There is something of the epic, of Renaissance heroicism, in the large painterly canvases of Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko and Kline. The power these paintings reflect through there size is important to painting in the second half of the twentieth century. We read these paintings through the physiological effect that they exhude. This can only be received when standing in front of one of them, yet we know them best through tiny images in books. When was the last time you stood infront of a Pollock?
There is an energy in the use of the large expanse of space that these painters brought to modern art, through the interaction of colours, the shapes or gestures that remain on the picture plane. In this age of instant gratification, perhaps something is being missed here when not standing in front of a real painting. We can learn a lot from looking at developments taking place little over a hundred years ago by Monet. A debt of gratitude that the art historian Jed Pearl in his article, 'After Monet', Modern Painters, Spring 1993. He suggested many artists have followed in the direction of Monet, perhaps indirectly, and with specific interest in the late and large series of paintings entitled 'Water Lilies’. These are now in the Musee de' l'Orangerie, Paris, at MOMA, New York and London's Tate Modern, to name a few.
Claude Monet. Water Lilies. c.1920.
Oil on canvas, triptych, each section 6'6" x 14" (200 x 425 cm).The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. (Photograph ©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, by Kate Keller/Erik Landsberg)
This is often where there is a concern with the modern artist and his/her choice in subject matter. Good painting doesn’t need subject matter. How important is it that something is from reality or non figurative? The interest for me, lies in what response we receive from the painting, for instance, as a subject matter how interesting are water lilies on the surface of a pond? Is it the way the water lilies are painted that we pick up on or is it the transference of the water lilies into paint onto the surface of the canvas that we some how receive visually? In this way good painting transmits a signal that requires more than just an intellectual response, surely it triggers your visual experience, and that subsequently triggers your emotional response, just like music can.
When visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as a student, I stood in a large room of Clifford Still paintings, they were the large, black, red, yellow and brown paintings from the late fifties, they opened up the room in terms of colour and space, they jumped back and forth, what Hans Hofmann called the ‘push and pull’ of the picture plane. These paintings came alive in a way that was not just visual, especially those jagged fault lines of Stills; compressed next to each other like the surface of a cliff (no pun intended). It was a defining moment for me; I then went around the museum, looking at the paintings through this understanding of a perceived depth, trying to decipher the paintings through this 'visual experince' which could actually be called 'sensation'. The funny thing was, I was not even fond of Still’s work, but the concept of painting in that way, in that size, worked, it could equally have been Pollock, Rothko or Kline, or any of the others come to think of it..
The painting of Cy Twombly work in a similar way. His paintings are the ultimate in ‘epic’ sized ideas, especially in An Analysis of a Rose as Sentimental Despair a triptych from 1985, Twombly is transmitting something powerful, a subdued act. It echoes what Harold Rosenberg suggested in the 1950's:
At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American after another as an arena in which to act...What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.
Cy Twombly, Untitled panel V of V
(An Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair)
(the colour is more subtle on the original painting)
Few artists seem to communicate in this strange energised frequency that Twombly maintains, yet Joan Mitchell comes close. For these artists abstraction is not just somewhere to explore and experiment with gestures, marks and forms. Nor is it a safe platform for visual communication, good abstraction, occupies an arena that is constantly moving, vibrating with energy and restlessness. It should draw in some other element; an unexpected spontaneous response through marks, a deliberate choice of colour that creates an awkwardness to the painting etc, to ensure that it does'nt fall into an all too easy parody of beauty. A number of works stand out as powerful evocations of this ‘arena’.
The large triptych at the Whitney Museum entitled Clearing by Mitchell, is one of them, with its large echoing black lozenge shapes and mauve ringed areas, and a later one ‘Untitled’ a diptych from 1992, that hovers in the centre of the paintings like the boughs of two trees in a Japanese garden.
Joan Mitchell, Clearing, 1973, oil on canvas, triptych, 9' 2 1/4" x 19' 8”
This painting can be traced back to Monet and his energised responses to the water lilies at his house in Giverny, France, towards the end of his life. Even if Mitchell is unaware of it, the influence is there. Monet’s paintings were shown later in New York after World War II, and bought by MOMA, seemed to have meant more to Abstract Expressionists, than any other artists in Europe at the time, except perhaps the artist Patrick Heron, who followed the modernist cause from Monet through Bonnard and Cezanne to Matisse and Braque, but didn’t expand his paintings on the scale of the American painters, until the sixties and seventies, but I'll be discussing him later.
Where else can we see the influence of Monet?
At the Whitney retrospective exhibition of Mitchell’s work, an essay in the catalogue brings forward the significance of the series of paintings, twenty-one in total painted in 1983–84 called 'La Grande Vallée'. Their is an essay by Whitney curator Yvette Y. Lee devoted to the series. Unfortunately, only three of the paintings are in the show, which makes it impossible to assess the impact of a body of work ideally seen as an environment. These lush, abundant paintings are landscape impressions, predominantly floral in feeling. They clearly echo Monet's 'Water Lilies' and other garden subjects like 'The Japanese Footbridge', and the 'Grande Vallée' cycle is deeply indebted to the Impressionist master, never mind the repeated denials by the catalogue authors.
But lets look at the processes used by Joan Mitchell in her painting:
Her paintings are about the very materiality of paint; slashing strokes, colour over colour and scratchy, tangled lines characterize these early works from the fifties.
Mitchell worked to a distinctive palette and personal vocabulary of marks from beginning to end. Green, blue, orange, black, and white are favoured colors. According to Brenda Richardson's essay for the Whitney Museum Retrospective, her marks include:
• choppy vertical smears, rather like a color test, usually in pairs,
• thin "washes" of pastel hues (lime, flesh, rose, slate blue)
• daubs of impasto, almost always on top of other paint
• slashing strokes, long and stiff, vaguely scimitar-like
• eroding or "melting" once-geometric rectangles, mounds, or blobs and drips
Nearly all her paintings use nearly all her colours and all her marks in some combination; the paintings are almost always all-over mat in finish (glazed bits appear only occasionally). A painting like 'Low Water', 1969, is absolutely classic Mitchell, combining all of the above in hieratic descent.
Joan Mitchell, Ici, 1963
Mitchell first visited Paris in 1948 and was to stay there from 1955 until she died in 1992. During this time she met the Canadian-born French artist Jean-Paul Riopelle; they remained close for the next 25 years, lived together from at least 1960 to 1979. There was a close dialogue between his Surrealist-influenced "action" painting and her own Abstract Expressionist oeuvre. There are also in Mitchell's art the impact of contemporaries like the German abstract painter and theorist E.W. Nay, who developed the theory that "to paint is to form the picture from colour." A similar approach adopted by Patrick Heron at around the same, this is discussed later in this essay. Mitchell lived on the banks of the Seine at Vétheuil from 1967. Paris was only thirty-five miles away; here was the cannon of European modern art, the Courbet and the Impressionists at the Museum D’Orsay and Monet’s ‘Water lilies’ at the Orangerie.
As for contemporary artists of the time, she presumably had the opportunity to consider the work of Europeans of shared sensibility, artists like Mathieu, Soulages, de Staël, Vedova, and even Alechinsky and Jorn of the CoBrA group who would have often exhibited in Paris. The CoBrA artists believed in spontaneous painting, what one writer described as "pure psychic improvisation," this view was shared by Mitchell, who said she never planned her paintings, never thought about them, never did preliminary sketches or laid down any "starter" outlines on the canvas. She insisted she just painted what she felt.
What other influenece are there on her work? You could add Phillip Guston’s early abstractions of the fifties and Sam Francis on a good day, Deep, Orange and Black from 1955, in particular. As well as having strong friendships with Philip Guston, they lived in the same apartment block in New York. It was the work of Sam Francis which Mitchell took most creative influence from. What these artists retain in their paintings is a quality that engages your senses rather than your intellectual powers. They state almost immediately a familiarity in their forms that suggests nature, but it is painting imitating nature, a virtual reality drawn from nature, existing in colour pigment, gestures, the use of space or the resonance of the forms on a surface, what Irwin Edman stated in ‘Arts and the Man’ back in 1928:
A painting is not a design in spots, meant merely to out do a sunset; it is a richer dream of experience meant to outshine the reality
The subject matter could be trees, it could be a wood, could be an old wall or ruin, it could be anything, but it’s paint responding to the artists physical movements and sporadic hand gestures on the surface of the canvas. the paintings success is at the whim of the artists feeling or his sensations. It’s paint in its most dangerous and potent form…
Another artist who took the large scale painting from Monet was Patrick Heron. Consider, the late Heron paintings from the eighties, that he called ‘Garden’ paintings. They retain a freshness and vibrancy still. when looking at these paintings are we meant to perceive these forms squeezed straight out of the tube across the canvas or the blobs of pigment as specific native flowers from Australia, where many of the paintings were made? Or like the Clifford Still paintings do they respond physiologically? Again that feeling of space is present, of a space made from colour. Heron did suggest that the time has come to give up 'to truly sensational painting.’ Here he is not copying nature but evoking it.
Let's look at Heron in more detail:
Patrick Heron,Big Purple Painting: July 1983-June 1984
Big Purple Garden Painting: July 1983-June 1984…This painting has similarities to the paintings of Mitchell’s, as a horizontal canvas that echoes Monet’s late paintings. On Heron, Mel Gooding referred to reading 'Big Purple Garden Painting', through the lateral scanning across the canvas:
..a process of continuous apprehension that moves across the surface, from left to right and back again as the eye is enhanced by the flicker of light, and then caught by the space of the experienced world, and the eye seems to glide into an indeterminate distance, potentially infinite.
But as Gooding continued to discuss, there are obvious differences, Monet, being a nineteenth century painter, is interested in the ‘descriptive’ qualities of paint and Heron, being a late twentieth century painter who’s raison d’etre is ‘paint as colour, colour as paint’.
But again we have this interest in the ‘visceral’ qualities of paint, where the transformation from an observed and lived experience like Monet to the more ‘sensed’, in Herons words, to ‘translate sensation into terms of aesthetic emotion’.
What is interesting is considering Heron in the same light as Twombly and Mitchell as a lyrical abstraction painter. I believe we have a series of paintings that emerged in the early eighties from Heron’s Porthmoer studio in St.Ives, Cornwall that will be seen as a highly significant body of work, that should be considered with Twombly and Mitchell's oeuvre.
Alongside Big Purple Garden Painting: July 1983-June 1984, there is Red Garden Painting: June 3-5 1985, White Garden Painting: May 25-June 12, and Pale Garden Painting: July-August 1984. To me these are the embodiment of what painting is about, they sit individually as explorations of paint on a surface tracing the artists movements in front of the canvas, transformed to spontaneous actions on its surface. These evocations could refer to a real landscape but this never really emerges, they exist as an alternative landscape transformed through ‘sensation’.
Patrick Heron, Red Garden Painting:June 3-5, 1985
Patrick Heron, Pale Garden Painting, July-August 1984
Joan Mitchell, Cy Twombly and Patrick Heron are still painters that retain a fragility, a concentrated energy in their work, a possibility of what painting can achieve. They have 'enchanted' the physical act of painting, the simple material of pigment on canvas and brought them to life.
To sum up, in 1958, Cy Twombly he wrote in the magazine L'Esperienza Moderna:
'Action must prove from time to time the realisation of life. Act is therefore the primary sensation. In painting act is the formation of the image, the mechanical action of its evolution, the direct or indirect impulse brought to exasperation in this high act which is invention'
Jed Pearl, After Monet, Modern Painters, Spring, 1993
David Sylvester, Cy Twombly-Theatre of Operations, Modern Painters, Issue 7, 1995
Mel Gooding, Patrick Heron, Phaidon, 1994
Richard Green Galleries, Patrick Heron: The Shape of Colour, Exhibition catalogue, May 2006
Siri Hursvedt, The Mysteries of the Rectangle-Essays on Painting, Princeton Architectural Press, 2005
Alan Gouk, Article: An Evening with Patrick Heron: 1998, State of Art: Notebook
James Elkins, What painting Is, Routledge, 2000
Brenda Richardson, Review: Joan Mitchell exhibition, Whitney Museum, 2002
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Ann McElvoy recently interviewed Anish Kapoor for Radio 3. Anish Kapoor started off with a statement that I felt he then went on to contradict. "I am not really interested in composition. In fact I am not interested in composition. I am interested in conditions of matter". He also said. "Composition is of course putting one thing next to another. What the work declares very clearly is that there is no juxtaposing." I was amazed that he declared this particularly as he then moved on to describe the decisions in the formation of the works and that he had made with the installation of the works in the RA galleries. "I have chosen a very particular material and a very particular colour and is hugely associative." My appreciation of composition is that it informs, gives direction to, heightens communication and occurs in the placement of work in a space as well as the decision on what scale a work is going to inhabit and he is interested in scale. He went on to explain, "(The work) is full of meanings that arise out of the process and that is what I am interested in. Abstract art, generally is good at meanings that are somewhat under the skin and those are the meanings that matter I think, rather than a more figurative art where the meaning sits alongside an image. It's a coming to content rather than the revealing of meaning." He draws comparisons with action painting and recognises, a relevant and contemporary point, that any mark made is an act of aggression. I liked his final description of his desire to be radical, his appreciation of the RA in allowing him to smear the galleries with coloured Vaseline and his belief that such disruptions and 'slight discomfort' give rise to a meaningful moment. For me herein lies the contradiction as this discomfort comes about through the juxtaposition of the material and the surroundings.