During a visit to Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea at the National Maritime Museum, London (through April 28), Robin Greenwood finds works by Ansel Adams that present the "moment of most heightened visual intensity," also sought and prized in great painting.
Greenwood writes: "I need to look at something that is ambitiously but unambiguously spatial, and very particular about it; rather like, in fact, [some] photographs by Adams, the ones where content and form were indistinguishable. This is not an argument for figurative art; this is an argument for breaking out of the easy-going, moribund, over-composed two-dimensional space that almost all abstract painting currently lives and dies by. This is an argument for pushing deeper into abstract space, opening it out in all the complexity, particularity and exactitude of its visual relationships; like a magnificent landscape laid out to sight, unfolded and lucid."
Patrick Neal reports on the recent panel discussion Painting Matters Now: A Conversation moderated by Nancy Grimes, held at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. Panelists included Greg Drasler, Laurie Fendrich, John Dubrow, Mario Naves, and Peter Plagens.
Neal writes that Grimes "explained this panel had come out of 'conversations I had with colleagues about the state of painting,' in which they asked each other 'Why are young artists choosing to paint, despite attempts to drive a stake through painting? Why does one medium attract so much malice, particularly in the academy?' The focus of this panel was thus on 'What matters with painting now and why?'
Pepe Karmel argues that we are now in the midst of a golden age of abstraction and suggests that linear analysis is no longer an effective method of evaluating abstract art. Instead, Karmel suggests the adoption of a super-set of "thematic" categories: "Three respond to nature: cosmologies, landscapes, and anatomies. And three respond to culture: fabrics, architecture, and signs. These categories are not mutually exclusive."
Karmel concludes: "Ultimately, the evolution of abstract art—like the evolution of modern art more broadly—has been a series of responses to the experience of life in the 20th and 21st centuries."
Brody remarks that Wheeler "always had fans –– the work’s sheer persistent quality keeps it alive. As the wheel of poetic injustice turns, Wheeler now begins to seem, to many contemporary artists, more directly relevant than the canonical New York School artists. Art history pinches back on itself all the time –– particularly American art history, in which, for example, the dogged conservatism of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Charles Burchfield, or Edward Hopper becomes avant-garde in retrospect."
Brody continues, noting that "[Wheeler] packs signs into a resolute, atomic-age aesthetic crush, then works the variables of color and linear hierarchy into critical mass. A plurality of contemporary painters have used a similar strategy, for example Pearson, Burckhardt, and Murray; they get to abstraction by submitting found objects, or found fragments of style, to enormous pressure. This additive, sign-saturated version of abstraction, not invented by Wheeler but pushed to a limit case by him, allows many contemporary painters to manifest, like Wheeler, a quality of true belief in painting, above and beyond artistic ideology. Yes, we respond to Wheeler because he is a believer, and more than that –– something close to a prophet."
Poundstone writes that recently "De Chirico was the only canonical modernist who spent most of his life proclaiming that modern art was junk. He called for a return to Old Master values as early as 1919, just as his career was taking off. The whole avant garde retreated after the first World War, but no one more decisively (and permanently) than de Chirico... De Chirico’s late career almost reads like a conceptual prank, a deep-undercover Andy Kaufman put-on in which he never broke character. The artist doesn’t crack a smile in his self-portraits, presenting himself as the very model of a major anti-modernist."
Arena rock power chords stir memories of Neo-Expressionist paintings for painter Ken Weathersby.
Weathersby writes: "As there is something signaling excess, even hinting at chaos in an overdriven distorted guitar on the edge of feedback, so there is in the touch of a gigantic brush dripping with a giant blob of mottled oil color. Each contains potential worlds within itself-- and each can present a virtuosic dishing out of monumental forms, fat floating slabs for the ears or the eyes. In both cases the expression is a presumption of intensity and power deployed. In both cases the awareness of the touch of a creating hand invites one to identify and emulate by miming a swinging gesture of a brush, or a thrash at an air guitar. It’s a seductive image of mastery, full of grandiosity."
"What troubles me isn’t that people are embracing Piero’s work," Perl writes, "I love much of it, too—it’s that they are reluctant to see that its power is inextricably bound with its limitations." Perl observes: "It is [the] skittishness about overt emotion, this desire to show what [art critic Adrian] Stokes called 'the separateness of ordered outer things,' that powers Piero’s art. Although we can probably never know what Piero’s contemporaries saw in his intricate compositions, what we see is not a perfect world but a problematical world, where form absorbs feeling, and the effort to create an ideal order is the only reasonable response to life’s everyday confusions."
Sharon Butler posts a defense of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, written by painter Thomas Germano.
Germano questions the prevailing tendency to dismiss Pre-Raphaelite painting: "While some will dismiss Pre-Raphaelite art as illustrative because they were the first artists to employ the new technology of photography in their art, the use of photography today is a perfectly accepted method of image making and artists no longer hide this fact nor apologize for doing so. The Pre-Raphaelites were simply too popular and widely circulated in their day and critics have always frowned upon the universal acceptance of the PRB art movement questioning, 'how can anything this popular be good art when so many commoners admire it?'... While I've never been the first to champion the PRB, this exhibition demonstrates their brilliance and proves exactly why "now" is the time to re-examine their admirable accomplishments. "
Tamar Zinn considers the limitations and potential of painting in black and white.
Zinn writes that "painting in black and white is not the same as thinking in black and white. By painting in black and white, the artist has pared down one part of image-making -- color choice, but rather than certainty we are offered a range of possibilities. Is the blackness something concrete or is it atmospheric? Does whiteness always connote a void? Can blackness and whiteness possess many of the same qualities? And of course, labeling colors simply as 'black' or 'white' is simplistic, as there are many variations of blackness and whiteness. Although the palette is limited to black and white, the experience of seeing is complex."
Michno writes: "Bradford's interest in power structures, emergent when he was at CalArts, has continued to inform his painting, and how he conceptualizes his work. He has always been fascinated by the purity that is attributed to paint and that collage is considered lower than painting in the spectrum of media. "I was building a political framework in my head of how I wanted to engage, and what materials could push that. That is why I demand that they're called paintings," he says about his large-scale paper-on-canvas works. 'That is why people get unfurled when I call them paintings. That is why the purists stand up and say, 'There is no paint.' ' Bradford also notes the lack of African-American men and the lack of women throughout the history of painting. Finally, he points to the question of space. 'Certain white men are allowed to be size-queens; they have big paintings, they can take up big spaces. It was about who was allowed to take up space, and who was allowed to not take up space. So I think for me, all this framework came out of being at CalArts and observing ideological frameworks and my relationship to them.' "
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.