Robert Linsley considers the spatial possibilities that eighteenth century ceiling painting might offer contemporary abstract painting.
Linsley writes that "Tiepolo is a conduit back to the rich history of ceiling painting, which turns out to be more important for abstraction than we might expect... Pictorial problems of the eighteenth century become pictorial possibilities of the twentieth. Rotatable space might be one of the undeveloped potentials of modern abstraction. Pollock attacked the canvas from all sides, but the finished works had a top and bottom that we have no need or desire to change. But as with historic painting, tondos and ovals can help to get us off the ground... when one looks at a great Tiepolo ceiling, and the clouds start to spin as our feet unavoidably shift sideways, modern abstraction, present and future, is not far off."
Matthew Collings conducts a fictional "interview" with painter Hilma Af Klint.
Colling's Af Klint notes: "if you’re a painter you spend a lot of time getting things right, getting forms to be efficient so that whatever you’re hoping to get across can have a chance of being coherent, of actually communicating to someone. You’re basically narrowing down to a very visual priority.... The trouble is, no one has yet taken the trouble to see my paintings in this ‘seeing-through’ way... But when [biographical/historical] narrative is the only focus of the art experience, the experience of painting – this discipline with its tangible realities, its materiality, its forms and colours – then there is a lack of understanding of what the experience is really about, and if you don’t understand that then you’re not really having the experience, you’re going through the motions only."
Painter Alan Feltus discusses the elusive nature of meaning in his painting 2004 Summer.
Feltus comments: "I tend to focus on the underlying structure, or composition, of my paintings and how I work with that intuitively, not basing the structure on any traditional systems. Composition has always been very important to me. What one can read into the image I leave to the viewer... I want paintings to reveal their meanings slowly, a little at a time, and always changing. That is what I think good paintings do. So, for me meaning should be elusive while at the same time it wants to be known."
Eleanor Ray examines the "temporary equilibrium" achieved in great painting. In particular Ray discusses this quality in the work of Philip Guston, Stanley Lewis, and Giorgio Morandi.
Morandi, she writes, "brings painting to the edge of representation, painting objects so simple that they are nearly reduced to shapes and lines, but never are. He locates the power of a line in the tension between its simplicity as a mark and its existence as something else — the space between two boxes or fingers. We can’t see a line or a shape in his still life as merely what it is because we can’t separate it from its participation in the painting’s representation. The language of painted notation disappears when you try to isolate it."
Lewis achieves an equilibrium, she notes, "between matter and imaginative experience, between a teeming surface and a spatial world. We can’t fix what we see into paint or image alone, or force it into schematic generality; it remains hidden in its particularity."
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco blogs about both the "beauty of small paintings," and the particular problems and rewards of working on an intimate scale.
Del Turco writes: "I find that small works are particularly successful when they depict a large space, still life or a figure, rather than something 'life size,' ... a small work is never 'a reduced version' of a large work, the painting process is intrinsically different... Small format is extremely difficult and takes a long time. Little paintings draw the viewer very close and need absolute perfection to pass such a close scrutiny. Small compositional shifts might turn into disasters and 'touch,' the way paint is deposed on the surface, is paramount. Paint doesn't necessarily need to be manipulated with small and controlled strokes, on the contrary it is often a free brushwork that makes these paintings stunning and keeps them clear of the boundaries with miniature."
Viktor Witkowski responds the Jerry's Saltz's recent New York Magazine article Art’s Insidious New Cliché: Neo-Mannerism, in which Saltz bemoans "that ever-expanding assembly of anemically boring, totally safe artistic clichés squeezing the life out of the art world right now... Looking at 2-D work, I'm this close to that old Carter-administration-era croak of 'Painting is dead.' Again."
Although Witkowski agrees with Saltz that "current mannerisms in painting are undermining its potential and strength," he cites Lynette Yiadom-Boakye as an example of an aritst who "reveals some of her references (a mix of Velasquez, Manet, James Ensor and occasionally George Condo), but always manages to deliver paintings that stand on their own... Her work is not about pledging alliance to a painterly style or fashion. Yiadom-Boakye is committed to painting alone and what it is capable of doing if left alone and entrusted with its most powerful of tools."
Reflecting on Barry Schwabsky's recent article of Giorgio Morandi (October 2013 ARTFORUM), Robert Linsley muses on Morandi and "abstraction as an 'ethics of the real.'"
He writes: "The ethics of art, abstraction above all, are found in the right attention to the work, and Morandi could certainly manage that. That human realities (meaning politics) are strongly present at the moment of most perfect attention to the work is a matter of faith, but usually hard to see. Schwabsky makes a convincing case that Morandi’s pictures are a demonstration of this exact truth. He suggests that the anxiety producing aspect of the work, in other words the pleasure it gives, is that it seems to exist at the point of greatest….tension? stress? conflict? communication? difference? transformation?…between individual subjectivity and collective life."
James Hassall considers the contemporary relevance and potential of abstract painting.
Hassall asks: "rather than establishing that painting is dead, the true outcome of postmodernism should be that everything is alive. If medium doesn’t matter, if fetishising painting is passé, then it just allows us to focus on the ‘proposal’ that each work makes as opposed to the examination of its chosen medium’s limits. The real question is whether this proposal is external to the artwork itself, or immanent to its sensible properties. If we reject [Ad] Reinhardt’s desire to establish and work within the inherent limits of a medium, must we reject ‘painterly’ problems and ‘painterly’ truths as beside the point? As the idea is privileged, do we necessarily lose the sensible object?"
Toorop’s painting Self-Portrait with Hat and Voile "is emblematic of her later 'realistic' style. Features that help to define a painting’s realistic appearance are usually accurately rendered shadows, light, textures and colors. We believe the sitter’s physicality and presence. We relate in a similar fashion to the painted semblance as we would to the actual person. Her face is roughly life-sized, looking out at us with heavy eyes, but if it wasn’t for the veil, her painting would be far more ordinary. There is an incredible gestural richness and variety in the veil’s make-up. Toward the edges of the veil, individual strokes adopt the (impressionistic) qualities of moving water or swaying grass. Her face, on the other hand, is treated much more lightly. The veil is transparent here. It feels airy, porous and light... By painting the veil in the way she did, Toorop elegantly merges two opposing notions of representation. And by doing so, she realizes a crucial aspect of painting: to make something ordinary appear in a new light."
Mark Stone considers Kazimir Malevich's spiritual approach to painting and Suprematism's affect on later modern and post-modern paintings.
Stone writes that "what begins to happen in the Square, Cross and Stripe is that the painting is no longer a painting of a thing, but has indeed become a thing in itself. The form, the shape of the form fills the space of the painting. The paintings become painted objects instead of paintings of objects in painted space. By objectifying the thing, the painting of pure form itself, our relationship to Painting is newly changed – both the Renaissance 'window' and the Naturalistic 'mirror' become redundant. Malevich’s distrust and distaste for the 'accumulation of things' in paintings IS the opportunity to make the painting itself into a thing-in-the-world, in essence a being, a sublime thing. A painting as a thing is as real as a chair, a desk, a pipe, while retaining its symbolic, Platonic meaning as a painting. It doesn’t create a visual world, but is instead, in the world. It is a fetish object, something to be contemplated, and quite possibly worshipped, rather than seen."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.