As part of the Backstory series, Richard Benari and Lauren Henkin invited me to share some thoughts on my recent paintings, on view at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York through March 28, 2015.
An excerpt: "To aim for a more complete expression of reality is not at odds with abstraction. Reality in abstract painting exists where what is seen impacts the body physically, where space visually navigated can be felt. By this definition, Renoir’s painting [Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81)] is as abstract as any work ever painted. We understand the relationships of the painting through an invisible, natural force.
Renoir’s vision for painting was as complex as the scene before him. In reaching towards an equally convincing expression, I am increasingly turning to the scene before me. My most recent works incorporate moments of perceptual painting to push repeating marks of uninflected color to their expressive limits."
Françoise Gilot shares her memories of traveling with Picasso to meet Matisse.
Gilot remarks: "What drew me to Matisse is his desire for finding the strongest and most simple way of expressing a form or character. And also in terms of... mounting the color to the extreme... The difference between Matisse and Picasso is Picasso was looking at nothing when he was painting, but Matisse always liked to have a model near him - he could touch the hand of the model with his arm... There is an ancedote à propos Matisse and the color black. He decided to go and say hello to Renoir. One of the credos of the impressionists painters is you can't use black any more. So, Matisse is bringing a few paitings to him, and of course, in them black is used as a color. Renoir was rather astonished and said "that is very strange - you have to be a painter because I, myself, could never make a painting with black not receding making a hole."
Robinson writes that "the real treasures in the show come from the hand of Degas. Here we see five fine works, all depicting the ballet. These pieces appear both ancient and startlingly modern: ancient because although the Ballet is the 'subject,' the works really point at more universal concerns of physicality, gesture and the unspoken realm of body language. Like other great draftsmen such as the cave painters of Chauvet, Michelangelo, Ingres, or Kitaj more recently, Degas is able to conjure a physical and emotional response to his works. The movement of the bodies, diversity of touch, and brilliance of pictorial invention activate and provoke us as viewers. Degas used pastel in a free way, constantly changing his approach to suit the needs of a particular work."
Jed Perl reviews the exhibition Impressionists on the Water at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, on view through October 13, 2013.
Perl writes: "These nineteenth-century artists brought an almost scientific attention to the study of nature. And what they found was that the closer they looked at the world, the stranger the world became. For painters, water could become the ultimate conundrum, both visible and nearly invisible, a sight that confounds sight." Perl continues noting that "what makes 'Impressionists on the Water' a success is the confidence with which the curators stay inside the story they’re telling, keeping the plot line simple enough that the paintings emerge with their subtlety and complexity intact."
Goodrich's review considers the cost of "combining major and decorative arts." He writes: "Some exhibitions have featured conscious pairings of 'high' and 'low' art. Many have contextualized masterpieces with examples of decorative arts. This is the first museum installation in memory, however, in which great works of art serve as the accessories to trends in the decorative arts. If, in the wake of the McQueen exhibition (the Met’s most-visited installation ever), we have a new paradigm—blockbusters of great art organized by fashionistas-cum-curators, we have truly sold our souls... Speaking for themselves, the best paintings here make a different argument: that painting is a major art, in which artists prove their own character in attempting to commit to canvas, in the language of paint, an understanding of the visual world. By these lights, only the lesser artworks rely heavily on the social dynamics of fashion, a field in which no one knows why a hemline need to be high or low, or a brushstroke fine or coarse, yet everyone recognizes a hot trend. The issue resonates in our time, because this very dynamic—of few being able to define ultimate values, yet everyone recognizing a successful career—seems to increasingly to define today’s artworld. Rather than battling this trend, academia sometimes encourages it, treating painting as a “low” art—an evocative craft on the order of basket-weaving—to be elevated by the criteria of their own disciplines, which are liable to deal with encodings and significations. As one cynic claimed, cutting-edge art has become the marriage of convenience between fashion and academe, with fashion supplying the thrills, and academia the justification."
Katherine Luer blogs about Pierre-Auguste Renoir's extraordinary drive to paint late in life and posts a video of Renoir painting in 1915.
She writes: "Renoir suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis for [the] last three decades or so of his life. His hands were deformed, his joints severely damaged, and he was wheelchair-bound for most of his later years. He adapted his painting techniques to cope: his children or other assistants held his palettes, placed paintbrushes in his permanently curled fingers, and even moved his canvases underneath his paintbrush so that he could hold his arm still to reduce the pain."
Haber writes that in the painting The Umbrellas, Renoir "surrounded a family dressed for success with the broader shading of clouds, a woman's full-length dress, and a swarm of umbrellas behind her. Those broader fields of blue and gray now fill the picture. Streaked with lighter tones, they show Renoir at his most modern, almost like the color planes of Paul Cézanne. And the critics were on to something, for Renoir was never better than when he cast color theories to the winds and indulged in black. In Moulin de la Galette, blacks ripple through the picture almost like points of light."
Einspruch writes: "Perhaps best of all is Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando (Francisca and Angelina Wartenberg), on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. This 1879 painting depicts young circus performers in gold-fringed outfits. One girl has collected oranges thrown to them in congratulations, while the other gestures as if winding up for a full bow. Subtle shifts of precision and softness throw the two figures not only into different spaces, but into slightly different times, with a slower universe around the closer figure. The artist's touch is perfect, his signature softness lending even the sawdust floor a luminous delicacy."
Gael Mooney reflects on an exhibition of Late Renoir paintings at Hammer Galleries: "The works in this show possess a quiet and intimate beauty that contrasts with the fleeting gaiety of Renoir’s Impressionist period for which he is best known." In recent years, Mooney points out, Renoir's late work has re-emerged as a significant influence on subsequent artists "the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Bonnard all of whom collected his work."
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.