Xico Greenwald writes about the exhibition William H. Johnson: An American Modern at the Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, on view through March 23, 2014.
Greenwald notes: "Johnson’s career traces a captivating course from his Afro-American origins in the rural south, through his cosmopolitan art education and embrace of European modernist innovations, and his final rejection of them in favor of a folk-art style... Painted with a heavy touch that belies Johnson’s technical expertise, these works seem restless, striving for a meaning beyond a likeness. A painting of a vase of flowers, which simplifies the bouquet into rough orange knobs of paint, conveys this sense. In a 1934 interview with a Danish newspaper Johnson said 'My aim is to express in a natural way what I feel, what is in me, both rhythmically and spiritually.' "
Asked about her more abstract recent paintings Coffey remarks: "It's all figure painting, it's the only thing I do... They're about the figure, they're portraits, and that's what they're about. So, while the image is abstracted and might be thought of as modernist abstraction, at the end of the day they're calling in a way that a portrait can call for an 'I, thou' moment. They're more outward, they're not asking to be looked at, they're asking for a relationship... This is a kind of space which is constructed to move out rather than in."
Altoon Sultan blogs about an "insistence on the thingness of things, presented in an abstract way" in John Singleton Copley's paintings.
Sultan writes that: "Copley's American portraits of well-to-do New Englanders have an almost uncanny presence, solid and still. The artist himself is not present, he is a vehicle for delineating the flesh and beautiful 'stuffs' of the upper classes, with exactitude but not with flourishes." Sultan cites Barbara Novak: "What [Novak] sees in [Copley and theologian Jonathan Edwards] is a pragmatism, an intense interest in sensation, and 'how the mind formulates ideas from sensations', and an interest in close observation of the natural world."
Lawrence Gipe and John Seed discuss their mutual enthusiasm for and their "oppositional" tastes in contemporary representational painting. Two excerpts:
Seed: "Painting is a very, very old tradition, and the painting that interests me now attempts to consolidate and refine venerable traditions... when I first see a new artist's work I ask myself, 'What are the genetic (art historical) strands that this work is woven from?' At the moment, I am seeing exciting work that taps into Old Master and academic art, Expressionism and Bay Area Figuration. Of course there are many other sources being accessed, as well."
Gipe: "I ... think that having the meaning of the picture be outside of the 'tableau' itself is a template for an engaged relationship to the world--there's always more than meets the eye in any given image, always layers and layers of back story. While I enjoy abstract painting, it seems conceptually mined-out, a bit exhausted. That's why I gravitate towards representational work... To me, depiction provides the widest platform for artistic expression; it potentially connects with all layers of political, formal and visual issues."
Goodrich writes that he was drawn in particular to Rembrandt who "never shied from sentiment and spectacle, but his muscular drawing and color impart a striking gravity to 'Susanna' (1636); no painting here surpasses the weighty drama of its huddled, leaning figure. Hanging alongside, his small, early 'Simeon’s Song of Praise' (1631) could be the ultimate lesson in multi-figure composition: a tilted ring of people—variously stretching, hunching, and leaning—holds beneath the lunging verticals of an immense interior; dramatic contrasts of light fix each person’s rhythmic disposition. (To appreciate how remarkable this work is, compare it to a work by his student, Nicolaes Maes, across the gallery. Maes’ darks are merely dark, not colorful, and his unweighted colors fail to build in sequences that would make any element necessary or unique.)"
Mira Gerard interviews painter Anne Harris about her work and career.
Harris remarks: "I’m really interested in the sense that substances can shift their weight–that flesh can be air, that air can be liquid, that density shifts...There’s an assumption that I must intend to paint a conventional description of 3-D form and weight, but really I’m trying to do something that can’t be nailed down. I tend to think metaphorically when I paint–I’m at my best when I do. So, I might imagine that the figure is being poured into her container, that the ground surrounding her is some denser stuff, holding her in place (like a mold), or that the painting itself is a slice of air and everything in it is just slightly shifting, like condensation, or everything is skin, pushing against the membrane of the picture plane... I am drawn to work that slowly unfolds, that holds me, mesmerizes me. My hope is that the elements in my painting can function this way. Color is a part of that. I like nameless colors, colors that only get their identity in relationship to other colors, they shift, or flex depending on their context. My hope is that the longer you look, the more they change, that the painting itself keeps shifting."
Christopher Joy and Zachary Keeting visit the studio of painter Sam Messer.
Messer draws while discussing his work including his portrait paintings. He notes that "they're kind of traditional, classical paintings - symbolic portraiture... I'm not interested in the likeness, I'm interested in the feeling - and that feeling, the way I work, comes across in the making, something happens and that's what I stay with... I'm not trying to get a specific image or specific likeness. I'm trying to find some relationship between that and the form, so therefore it can stay open."
Rachel Spence reviews the exhibition Antonello da Messina at Mart Roverto, on view through January 12, 2014. The post is accompanied by an excellent slideshow.
Spence writes that "Messina's psychological acuity renders his subjects as complex as any 20th-century study." She adds that the show "distils the artist to a nucleus that spans his career. Though monumental altarpieces are present, its core is the clutch of portraits, both secular and sacred, that highlight his gift for capturing his subjects’ human essence. Meanwhile, a constellation of paintings by his forerunners and peers shines a welcome light on the painterly ferment in southern Italy, too often overlooked in favour of Tuscany and Venice."
Rhodes writes that "because the paintings are both very focused and fragmentary, they can be seen as both complete in themselves – time stilled – and as a sequence of moments, hours or years apart. That portraits appear at intervals (or in one place together as a group) only enhances the impression of a flow of events unfolding as much as images of things remembered from the past. What amounts to fragments of life are presented at varying degrees of proximity and distance: figures and heads, both partial and complete; flowers, grouped or isolated; trees reflected, next to each other, or singular, but always seen in sections and not whole, however complete they are as an image."
Colm Tóibín interviews painter Miquel Barceló his recent work, on view at Acquavella Galleries, New York, through November 22, 2013.
Talking about his technique of painting with bleach, Barceló comments: "you don’t see what happens until the day after. You believe it happens but you don’t know... With bleach, it’s always the eyes and hands work something like a camera. It is very close to photography, but before photography and painting separate. Photography is a chemical process and my art is like photography but my hand makes the chemistry. There is a point very early, where photography is like a technique of paint. It’s okay to be in between, because something interesting happens when photography goes one way and paint another."
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.