The Jewish Museum hosted a recent panel discussion What’s at Stake for Abstract Painting Today – and Where Do We Go from Here?. The panel, moderated by Bob Nickas, included painters Joanne Greenbaum, Philip Taaffe, and Stanley Whitney.
Moderator Nickas addresses what he sees as the ill-effects of the contemporary art market on the quality of contemporary painting, "de-skilled" abstract painting in particular. The artist panelists comment on this, primarily by offering thoughtful insights into the experience they seek through painting. Although each has a slightly different take, they all touch on the themes of authenticity and painting as a worthy, and a necessarily lifelong pursuit.
Greenbaum comments: "I feel that it's my responsibility to at least try to move abstract painting along... Every time I make a painting I really try and make it new for myself... sometimes the new materials I've been using dictate how that painting comes along, sometimes I try to start a painting in different ways... I have a vocabulary and a language that I work with over and over again but it's always changing."
Whitney notes that today "there's a lot of things called 'painting,' there's not one thing called painting... I personally... am still involved with Cézanne. If you're really involved in the tradition of painting and you really want to get involved in the depth of painting that's one thing... [but] now painting is opened up to a lot of [other] possibilities... I've been lucky that I painted long enough and people were interested, but I took a long time to make those paintings, and I felt that was something I wanted to do, and needed to do, as a painter... but I don't know if economics, if the world now allows that... it's very difficult now to paint... we move fast, and painting doesn't move like that. Painting's something totally different. The way you get knowledge from painting is a very special, very slow thing."
Taafe comments: "I'm very idealistic in my approach... and I expect a lot from artists and from a painting. It's very clear to me after having seen so much over all these years, when a painting is delivering something or not. If you can see the journey that the artist has been on, that they've come back with a certain evidence and you want to feel that and interact with it. I believe that painting should be involved with conveying knowledge and emotion and beauty and all kinds of poetic, intellectual energies. I expect that." Later, he adds that young artists need "to figure out what the culture needs ... instead of what the market needs... How do we give something to the visual landscape, to the development of history? ... What is the culture going to benefit from?"
Philip Taaffe considers the work of Henri Matisse on the occasion of the exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern, London, on view through September 7, 2014.
Taaffe writes: "From the standpoint of my own approach to things, what I have always most appreciated about his cut-outs is the absolute mobility of their freely formed elements. The sheets of drawing paper were pre-painted with gouache, then independently scissor-cut and brought to an evolving pictorial situation (a wall, or other sheets of white paper). This constituted a radical liberation from the more deliberately sequenced, chronological development of a painting. The pinning down, temporarily, of coloured paper shapes which can then be added to, exchanged, or removed from various grounds or previous iterations represented a very new and original approach to his visual research."
Yau writes: "Taaffe’s paintings teem with activity, moving from the visceral to the ghostly. Our attention keeps changing gears, never finding stability. Seeing is akin to excavation, to sifting through the details without losing sight of the entire arrangement or the different layers. Every symbol and sign seems to possess an arcane power whose potential is waiting to be put to use. Taaffe’s close attention to similarity and difference endows the paintings with a state of heightened seeing often associated with hallucinations. The radiant light coming from within the paintings, the oscillations and sudden shifts between figure and ground enhance our experience. I don’t think of his paintings as illuminated manuscripts so much as glowing screens. It seems to me that he has evolved from scribe to seer — a transmitter of trance states in a digital age."
Commenting on the sources for his work, Taaffe remarks: "I have this idea in my head that I am referencing ancient art and the idea of the scribe. Several of the paintings in the exhibition are derived from what I think of as illuminated manuscript paintings, so in other words I am trying to get in touch with this earlier art historical reality and trying to update it in my own sense… the idea of the scribe, the idea of the mosaic patterning, has to do with ancient craftsmanship being brought up to date and being filtered through my own artistic desire, I suppose, in terms of what I would like to see in the world."
Andrew Russeth visits the exhibition Alchemy and Inquiry: paintings by Philip Taaffe, Fred Tomaselli, and Terry Winters at Wave Hill Estate in the Bronx. Russeth writes: "With each artist featured in a separate room, it's easy to see their three distinct visions clearly. My favorite in the tripartite melee is Taaffe, whose paintings are populated with forms that recall amoebae and deep-sea creatures. They almost appear to pulse and vibrate in front of you." Be sure to click through for a link to the on-line catalogue.
Alchemy and Inquiry is on view through June 19, 2011.
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.