Peter Walsh reviews Van Gogh and Nature at the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, on view through September 13, 2015.
Walsh writes that "the elimination of the haunted self portraits, including the icon images of the artist with a bandaged ear, shifts attention away from van Gogh the half-savage tortured soul and towards van Gogh the intelligent, enthusiastic, sophisticated, deliberate, and extraordinarily talented creator of intensely original works of art... What is perhaps most remarkable of all about this exhibition is that you can go from beginning to end without picking up a clue about van Gogh’s turbulent personal life. Instead, you see an artist approaching his chosen career with a deliberate plan, concisely and brilliantly carried out, proceeding by distinct stages until he reaches, and makes full use of, the peak of his powers, which he does until the very end of his life."
Kennedy notes that the show will feature "15 major paintings ... that show the artist’s attempts to capture the bright blue sky and light and the harsh lines of the jagged coast. They were all painted in the few years of intense creativity after Lanyon looked up one day while walking along a Cornish clifftop, saw three gliders pass silently overhead, and pledged to join them."
Van Proyen concludes: "Despite whatever claim one might want to make about the complicated relation of Turner’s work to Romanticism (for starters, his politics were of the type that would never embrace the idea of “liberty leading the people”), the important point is that Turner did something with that influence, and that thing is what we see in this exhibition. It captures the precise hinge moment where the radical subjectivity of Romanticism pivots to a new place, where artists dedicated themselves to exploring the tangible relationship between experience and the materials that would allow them to capture those experiences."
Faith McClure reviews Alex Katz, This Is Now at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, on view through September 6, 2015.
McClure observes: "What sets Katz apart from the long history of realism, as well as the great canon of abstractionists, is that, at his very best, he can achieve 'realness' through a completely unexpected entry point — his pared-down aesthetic of broad strokes and giant flat planes of color, his subtle gesture and capturing of light. Katz, as Margaret Graham references in her catalog essay, actually disrupts the requirement that realism be anchored to a certain particularity of detail. Instead, details hit you from a distance. You notice his nuance as a broader sensation rather than as a point of specificity. An incredible feat with such economy of paint, when Katz hits it, he nails it."
Altoon Sultan considers American landscape paintings in the collection of the Hood Museum of Art.
Sultan begins noting that many of the painters "depicted the local New Hampshire landscape, or that of New England. America––that vast 'virgin' land, unpeopled in the eyes of the European settlers, close to God in its awe inspiring grandeur––was a great subject for many artists. Before the 19th century, landscape was so low in the academic hierarchy that many artists painted them only as backdrops to a story or moral tale. With romanticism and the concept of the sublime, landscape came into its own. A small painting like that of Thomas Doughty showed grandeur of mountain peaks, the fear in the blasted tree, the smallness of the human floating within this space and light."
Phyllis Tuchman reviews Brand-New and Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s at the Colby College Museum of Art, on view through October 18, 2015.
Tuchman observes: "Sixty-some years later, all the work still looks brand-new and terrific. As it was, these singular portraits, Maine landscapes, and uncluttered interiors never got their day in court. Katz, for starters, went against the grain and painted small-sized, representational pictures on Masonite panels for much of the 1950s... In ten short years, Alex Katz went from being an art student to a fledgling artist to a mature painter and collage and cutout maker."
Wykes comments: "I find looking and returning to the same subject over numerous sessions rewarding. I tend to go deep into a subject—not wide... Observation is vital. I have always got great enjoyment from seeing. I feel privileged that I have this gift to see. I also think it is to do with retaining the child’s eye of the world before label’s for object’s disguise the subject... I am not concerned with depiction or likeness. I am battling with my preconceptions and how to make a spatial world work on a flat surface. Painting is abstract. It about universal feelings. But on a less formal level, active looking has all the rich trappings of meditation or prayer or oneness, the joy and surprise during a rare moment of lucidity."
Reaves writes that the show "blends Romantic-era geological drama with mid-century action painting, modernizing it by default in the process... Half-inch-deep paint strokes are sliced with thin, tumbling lines, physically mimicking shattered boulders and scraped sand. They are not quite monochromatic, each painting mostly at one end of the shade spectrum but each also representing stark whites and opaque blacks in restrained ratios. Turpentine-soaked washes are intersected by, sometimes sloppily melding into, buttery blobs and slashes. Maybe it’s because she starts and finishes each painting in more-or-less a single sitting that they have a ton of visual energy..."
Ridley Howard interviews painter Benjamin Butler whose exhibition Another Tree, Another Forest was recently on view at Galerie Martin Janda, Vienna.
Butler comments: "I used to be very interested in combining dissimilar art historical reference points, into singular paintings. It was definitely important for me to use a simple/modern subject matter, the landscape, as a context for what was essentially a post-modern strategy. The landscape format made what could have been a heavy-handed idea more bearable to me. Mondrian was a part of this historical discussion that was happening in my paintings. The singular tree framework/motif functioned like a time machine for me. I often thought to myself, "Imagine if Mondrian had never stopped painting trees, and was then influenced by the many abstract painting languages which came later (that Mondrian, himself, had actually influenced)". This non-linear, and slightly absurdist idea, was incredibly helpful in pushing my project forward. The often-discussed idea of abstraction and figuration, and the blurring of the two, I've always thought, is a rather natural and unavoidable effect of putting paint on canvas. However, it does, usually, make a painting more compelling to look at, for a longer amount of time."
Stevens writes: "Like Hopper’s paintings, Martin’s interpretations provide neither a critical nor celebratory stance. Rather, they evoke 'an emotional complexity nearly operatic in scope: with the silent, vacant architecture, human drama seems to exist more powerfully in allusion,' as offered by Quintan Ana Wikswo. Unlike Hopper, however, Martin’s application of paint is undetectable. Her technique relies upon the strokes of a micro-sized brush measuring just 1/32 of an inch in width. Over the course of a single painting, Martin can go through as many as twelve brushes. With exception to the blue sky-scapes that dominate most of her canvases, she favors a Size 0 brush because it allows her to push her paint in such a way that makes for a realistic portrayal of her subject matter, which she illuminates by a slightly blurred glow that is as subtle as it striking."
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.