Yau writes: "Both Nozkowski’s and Guston’s paintings reveal themselves slowly. Their visual impact is not as immediate as it is in similar works. It takes close looking to see the figure-ground interaction in Nozkowski painting and the gray leg sticking out of the gray ball in Guston’s acrylic on paper. The pace of seeing is synonymous with — at least in this viewer’s mind — the act of waking up, as shapes and forms slowly become crystalline... Like Guston, Nozkowski, who doesn’t title his paintings and almost never mentions the sources of his work, wants to always be 'at the beginning of seeing.' This is one of the goals of his painting — to be true to the original experience and to reach that moment of seeing when all the names begin falling away."
Alan Gouk argues that visual art and language share little in common.
Gouk writes: "the relationship of words, either spoken or written, to 'things,' is a world away from that of visual sensation to its pictorial presentment. The pictographic representation of a tree has a morphological link to its object – this means that its significatory function is radically different from that of sign to 'thing' in writing. In developed languages the link between signs and their objects has become arbitrary; not the case when it comes to painting. It is much closer to 'reality' (however defined) than is the word."
He continues: "In writing what may have begun as a pictographic sign is quickly modified by the act of writing itself, the flow of the implement used etc., into a kind of short-hand in which the original sign is transformed until its pictorial element is lost. Not so in art, painting or drawing; here the short-hand – dots and dashes of paint or line retain their direct visual role and are continually brought back into a correspondence with the 'facts' of visual sensation (even in abstraction)."
A new essay by Josephine Halvorson examines how sometimes a seemingly ideal subject resists the artist's efforts to capture it, receding into memory before it can be, or should be, realized in paint.
Halvorson tells the story of her "attempt to make a painting of a large diesel compressor next to a mine shaft on a ridge along the California-Nevada border. Its base showed the recent shine of a grinder, as if its ankles had been gnawed, its tendons sliced. It had been pushed on its side, an effort requiring considerable force, revealing the concrete foundation on which it had been secured for decades. Thousands of dried black insect carapaces were exposed in a dense layer. Looking at the machine askew, it was suddenly a severed head, its facade transformed into a face: a bolted plate resembled a shut eye, a dark recess became an open mouth, and a heavy steel shaft protruded, suggesting Pinocchio’s telescoping nose. On its rusted side, in white spray paint, someone had written 'Shame.'"
Ezra Tessler reflects on Blinky Palermo's Grey Disk (1970).
Tessler writes: "Once Grey Disk made its way into my mind I had a hard time not seeing it everywhere. Turn Grey Disk on its side and walk through the Met: there it is in the rounded-faces of the lifelike Roman funerary portraits painted in encaustic on wood, in the hand-carved cameos of the late nineteenth-century, and so on down the halls. Or leave it horizontal and think of nearly any painting. It mimics the golden orb of the kneecap at the center of Caravaggio’s Narcissus, the shape of Braque’s Violin and Music Score, the dark cutout oval in Picasso’s guitar sculptures, the black elliptical sphere in Dana Schutz’s Guitar Girl, the biomorphic shapes in Ron Gorchov’s pieces, and the swollen lumps of elephant dung in Chris Ofili’s work. It’s the bowl of fruit in every still life from Claesz to Matisse, the muted and dusty grey saucer in Morandi’s Natura Morta II, the skulls in seventeenth-century vanitas paintings, the ominous cloud covering Gerhard Richter’s Table and the carnal orifice of his Mouth. Cloud, face, saucer, saddle, stage, shield, palette – how can one begin to capture everything that it invokes?"
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."
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.