Robin Greenwood considers "an important and relevant question to ask (time and again) about abstract art: what does distinguish it from design?" He continues: "Matisse's late work does contribute quite prominently, if not iconically, to a certain strand in the conjunction of modernism and abstraction which blurs the distinction between art and design, and more specifically between abstract painting and the decorative and applied arts... I’ve always considered Matisse’s greatest contribution to art not his colour, which is undoubtedly exceptional, but his inventive painterly architectures reasserting what [painting] does (what, in a way, it has always done), what it delivers, by the act of continual reinvention; finding yet more new ways to keep it alive – and of course, keep it keenly separate from design and the applied arts even when in the act of using elements of those very disciplines to elaborate and enrich the spatial structures of his painting."
Muente writes: "Tonal shapes read harmoniously throughout. Grass plains flow and mysteriously turn into a stand of trees. Buildings in the village Inness handled in a similar fashion to an overturned log in the foreground. The trees taunt their color to the clouds, but otherwise share the same DNA, identical in size and shape as well as retaining the softness of their edges. The tree trunks divide and subdivide the picture plane in interesting variations. A lone tree illuminated by light on the right hand side resides at equal distances to the furthest yellow tree to the right and the tree against which our mysterious man leans in the middle of the painting.... On the far left side a swatch of sky, cloud bank and stand of trees are all about the same height, and completely interchangeable... Inness binds everything together. Cohesion is a constant in Inness's version of an October afternoon. Soft edges meld and wed forms. At times it is impossible to assess where one object ends and another begins."
Belz writes that "each [artist] has now been painting for more than four decades, and each has in the process periodically made ambitiously large pictures, as well as pictures that are frankly and unapologetically beautiful, candid in celebrating color as a vehicle of emotional content, intuitively smart in structuring its deployment to assure the content's credibility. Regularly inspired by their modernist past, yet at the same time unburdened by it, each has also looked periodically to nature, not in opposition to abstraction, which was the charge presented against painting nature in the 1950s, but as a resource for enriching it."
One year after the death of painter Lucian Freud - a year filled with exhibitions and tributes - Julian Cosma considers Freud's legacy.
Cosma writes: "There is an unsavory but persistent question that hangs around the neck of Freud's legacy: would he have been as renowned if his grandfather what not founded modern day psychoanalysis? Questions like this are inevitable, however, they come with there own pregnant version of an uncertainty principle. One could never give a dispassionate answer. However, it would not be impertinent to suggest that between Freud fils and Freud grand-père, a plausible case could be for, if not parity, at least a recognition that more penetrating insight was not necessarily gained from the patients laying on the Viennese sofa. Sometimes, it was on the deliciously ratty maroon divan, in London, where the greatest creations of the Freudian came into fruition."
Mark Stone muses on painting in an age where innovation of the medium is no longer possible.
Stone writes that "the absolute truth is that we can not do anything more to painting. The 600 or so years of Western painting has gone full circle. It's ALL been done – from a to z. And after the excesses of the 20th Century upon the body of painting what we are left with is the horror of a recombinant corpse... We've unstretched it, hung it like laundry, ripped it to pieces, sewn it back together, unpainted, anti-painted, photo-painted... Yet all of that nervous desperation to get to the last painting or the Ur-Painting is unsatisfying to those of us who love the medium, its history and possibility, but remain unwilling to join the current Postmodern monolith or the reactionary academics."
Looking at Untitled, 1951, a largely monochromatic canvas by Clyfford Still, Chris Rusak finds clues to the contradiction between Clyfford Still's caustic rhetoric and the obvious "joy" he took in his work.
Rusak writes: "when an artist decides to introduce a proportionally diminutive amount of color into an otherwise achromatic composition, the power of each magnifies. Still's proportions of chromatic and achromatic space in Untitled serve to illuminate the canvas as a whole, to intensify the textures that build space and create dynamism, to voice the joy of his gestural process, and ultimately to challenge historical conventions about the interaction between viewer and art." Rusak also compares Still's near-monchrome to the painting Grau, 1976 by Gerhard Richter.
An essay by Mark Stone on vision - the vital sign of contemporary painting.
Stone writes "How we see things is the most important place to start. There are many of us who... want something more visually stimulating, thoughtful and resonant. We want to use our eyes informed by our technologies instead of relying on the technologies to dictate to our eyes. We are all visual hybrids at this point. We work both online through the lens-based programs and in the flesh and blood world... We do not see in the open world as an Impressionist did. We focus on specifics, isolate details, scan for patterns and then suddenly if we move beyond the program, we are able to comprehend a larger picture, fall into older ways of linear seeing, a to b to c, rather than being stuck in the loop from zero to one, one to zero. When we paint we should work through the lens to our own physical structures of vision, not the other way around."
Laurie Fendrich considers the unique contributions of Siense Painters such as Simone Martini, Duccio Bartolo di Fredi, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Sano di Pietro, Sassetta, and Gentile da Fabriano.
Fendrich writes: "Vasari's 16th-century Lives of the Artists bequeathed us a closed narrative whereby Western art culminates in Renaissance linear perspective, mastery of naturalistic anatomy, and empirically-based imitations of light and shadow -- all the tricks that make for great illusionistic painting (what most people call painting that 'looks real') that were perfected in Florence... an alternative, smaller and more intimate, more mysterious and imaginative, and, to many minds–including mine - a more beautiful and moving kind of Western painting was developed by painters working in Siena... beginning around 1276 and lasting for the next two centuries."
Thoughts on the continued resonance of monochrome painting inspired by the recent exhibition of paintings by Joshua Smith at Shoot the Lobster, New York.
The work of Smith and other artists including Thomas Kratz, Dan Rees, Julia Rommel, is considered with regard to a question with "two implicit parts: one, whether an artist still stands to gain something 'sincere,' i.e. fulfilling, from making a monochrome, and two, whether the art-viewing public has not become too cynical and/or short of attention to appreciate a contemporary monochrome."
Sharon Butler questions Barry Schwabsky's coining of the term retromodernism to describe small scale paintings that mix abstraction and representation "in a manner that evokes the spiritual and intellectual strivings of classic modernism," citing examples from the Frieze Art Fair.
Butler comments that "postwar-era abstract easel painting has been a touchstone among painters... for several years, not just at the recent version of Frieze. Rather than observing a new trend, Schwabsky is giving what is already a robust movement, and therefore self-evident, a new, somewhat derogatory, name. Indeed, many painters have appropriated the visual language of Modernist painting, but from a critical stance, not as a form of nostalgia."
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.