Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Post Graduate Blues: pt. 1

I have a feeling this may be one of those posts that might receive a continuation somewhere down the road. Hopefully it is not wishful thinking like BoyzIIMen's TheYuppieYupAlexVanderpoolEra or GnR's Chinese Democracy, but I digress.

This evening I invited several of my colleagues to one of the classes I teach at CCA+D to give an alternative perspective to drawing, or at least an alternative to my handling of drawing. As someone who is not yet one-year removed from graduate school, a colleague is a very plastic term, and can denote a wide range of individuals. In this instance, it referred to my graduate school chums.

All of whom are burned out from graduate school: the subtle nuances of presentation (off the wall or on the ground; should it be framed; paper clips or safety pins), the lunacy in the significance of a color or shape, being specific, the over-thinking of content, and the constant barrage of visiting artists asking the same questions the previous visiting artist asked last week.

After one year it all melts away. The hostility at least. Perhaps not the memory of the hostility, but the hostility definitely melts away... at least until I look at the student loan.

Graduate school is intended to be the most selfish time of an artist's development. It's a club you pay dues to so that you may correspond with other developing artists, contribute and challenge ideas, and invest copious amounts of time debating green, reproduction versus re-production, the legitimacy of projection, the grammar of art, pseudo science and process, the cannonic defense of your studio approach, the legitimacy of nothing, and rhetoric... lots and lots of rhetoric.

One year removed I can safely state that I have learned more in that time than the entire two years I spent hand over fist in graduate school. Granted, this has much to do with the experiences I've had in the past year, the relationships I made while in graduate school, and the relationships I have made through post graduate networking. Therefore, I am also capable enough to admit that had it not been for those two years this year would not have amounted to a hill of beans, partially because the information received would not have easily been absorbed or decoded.

The Post Graduate Blues... you'll get over them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Art at the Katzen

I think there comes a time in the tenure of any artist where he or she thinks to his or her self: what am I doing? With all the great artistic advancements of the last century, the only downside is what to do. This is a perplexing issue for any artists who wants to routinely sample at the veritable intellectual and visual buffet that compose the fine arts.

Near the end of this inaugural year, if there is anything that Jack Rasmussen, director of the galleries in the Katzen Arts Center should be most proud of it is the ability to push a few buttons. Throughout the year the exhibitions at the Katzen have become increasingly provocative both in form and in content.

Opening Wednesday, April 19th is an intriguing collection of work entitled Visual Politics: The Art of Engagement. As the Katzen website states, "On tour from the San Jose Museum of Art, this AU Museum exhibition focuses on art from the West Coast to examine the interconnected history of art and politics since the Cold War. Free speech, Vietnam, black power, gay rights, Chicano liberation, the environmental movement, poverty, immigration, and nuclear war are among the issues explored."

While it certainly cannot be said of all the work on display in the exhibition, there are key moments when walking through that it will not be uncommon for either the artist or the pedestrian to exclaim "I really should be doing more of this in my work." This might resonate more specifically with some artists who would otherwise pooh-pooh the idea of incorporating politics into their art for something more (seemingly)innocuous as space. While certainly space deserves as much attention as some artists will give it, it cannot be denied that art also functions as a means of communication. Visual Politics communicates symphoically, bursting forth with momentous bravado and passing subtly in melodious rhythms.

It should seem only natural then to equate an extension of Visual Politics reflecting in the work of the MFA Thesis exhibition - though this relationship is purely coincidental. Overall, what appears to be occurring is American University's shift away from what was once a traditional painting program, pushing between landscapes and abstraction, into something more encompassing involving the intellect as much as the retinal. It is unfortunate that the thesis work will only be on display for a brief period of time, because it is every bit as interesting as the work shipped over from San Jose.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Return to Cezanne

The major motivation for twice returning to the Cezanne in Proven├že, on exhibit at the National gallery in DC through May 7, 2006, has largely been due to the academic necessity to expose several groups of continuing education students to the experience of engaging the master’s work both in the development of a single painting and in the evolution of a plastic idea throughout a lifetime of painting.

David W. Galenson, in his recent book Old Masters and young Geniuses sets Cezanne up as the archetype for the experimental painter in the Modern era – one who works towards an undefined goal through undefined means illustrated best directly through a quote “I seek in painting.” The progression of an experimental artist is through an evolution of steps, not leaps, and is always in the pursuit of finding. Conversely, the conceptual artist pursues defined goals through defined solution sets. Picasso represents this archetype with his quote “I don’t seek, I find.” The conceptual tend to arrive upon a painting rather than search for it. We’ll come back to this.

Cezanne is easiest to discuss form a formal perspective by how he puts on the paint and how he is structuring his composition. He becomes the painter for many to look at because a retrospective of his oeuvre becomes a step-by-step approach on how to construct a painting or how one might construct a career of painting. Through the scope of time he shows us two major jumps on the bookends of one subtle shift in his methods.

In the beginning of his work, exhibited in the second gallery shows many studio paintings with sitters and still life – very few landscapes. C. 1860, these paintings demonstrate Cezanne’s interest searching between line and plane to represent form. Plane is approximated through large meaty daubs of paint that appear applied with a club, whereas line rests heavy and black around specific forms within the composition: outlines that break. His first shift away from this is simply through what looks like a greater attention to thinning the viscosity of his paints. Suddenly by the 1870s the paintings become a bit more atmospheric, lighter. While this might seem like a simplistic observation, it is evident how this freed up his mark making. He expertly drew compositions quickly onto the canvas, overlaid appropriate formulae of color, and retraced line where necessary. In this process he quickly began to understand how the stroke of the paint applied with the brush affected the optical interpretation of space: lines in opposition will create an illusion of depth. Where he chooses to create lines that run parallel with one another he develops space through methodic experiments in value and color. Shifts in tone are what allow the space on the canvas to recede. This is something he had to struggle to find in his painting. This is also where a thinned paint will help the solution since oxygen takes less time to penetrate and dry a thin membrane of oil paint rather than a chunky glob.

A second, subtler shift in his work happens with a return to the studio. Whether Cezanne bounces back and forth between the two is not evident through the thesis of work presented on the wall. But, several quotes on the wall suggest his dissatisfaction with the studio earlier in his carrier, forcing him into the landscape. Later in his career he seemed able to construct a studio to fit his needs rather than constructing work to fit what his studio space allowed. Some later work of still life and skulls appear to suggest what he learned in the landscape was applicable to the studio environment once he found a suitable means of production. No suggestion is provided within the thesis of the retrospective to suggest that he ever abjured his sentiments regarding the studio from earlier in his career. But having any comfort to work in the studio would set up his third shift in subject.

The bathers seem anomalous and tangential to his body of work. In later paintings around Sainte Victoire Cezanne seemed to be less interested in the optical needs of representation and more attentive to the intellectual suggestion of form that occurs with how he works color and stroke. Some of this seemed abandoned when it came to the bathers where he stumbles around anatomical issues like an adolescent boy groping his first breast. Yet, positioned next to a late still life of fruit in the studio, it becomes apparent that Cezanne, with his heavy line and clumsy planar approach is a certain influence of Picasso and also a great influence of Cubism (Gardener also makes this correlation). With careful observations of Cezanne’s female bathers we are also likely to find influences for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. While this gives no less credence to Galenson’s findings, and there are sketchbooks filled with Picasso’s preparatory drawings of Les Demoiselles, Cezanne offers a very strong backbone for Picasso and becomes the fulcrum allowing Modernism to shift into Cubism.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hi-gloss Does Not Mean Hi-content.

The April 2006 issue of Art News is currently tackling some serious issues from around forty years ago: the validity of artists who paint from photos; artists who work between abstraction and representation; artists who work in multiple styles and media. Riveting! Of course, no subjective opinion is given on behalf of the authors, no thesis is deeply investigated and no great thought is ever pursued. Rather, a half-hearted attempt to create content within the magazine is reflected.

Why there should be any sense of profundity, let alone an argument, about the validity of painting from a photograph is beyond the attention that should be dedicated to the cover of the magazine. But, then again, it only reflects the sense of style that art magazines seem to delve into with greater and greater frequency by offering us a “glimpse” into what’s “hot” and “trendy” in the art market. Such analysis is probably better suited for the bulls and bears in the triangle below Canal. Though, it should not be too surprising if we see Damien Hurst’s name appear on the NASDAQ before the end of the decade.

Is painting from a photograph cheating? Whether debating about the intellectual subject of the painting (the photo or the subject of the photo), there still exist issues of light, form, space, stroke, color, mixing, and on and on and on. But moreover, it’s an antiquated belief that working with any optical device destroys the divinity of the image. After all, the sacred space created within a painting echoes back to the time before the Renaissance when a painting existed as the iconic representation of Jesus/God. Arguments against the use of photography as a tool for painting can trace a direct lineage to such similar sentimentality. The only difference is if you are caught using an optic tool to create a painting today the Catholic Church will not punish you with death.

What becomes disturbing in this trilogy of features is the proclivity in the final article, Boundary Issues, to present the toxic information of price into the equation. Rebecca Spence twice provides the reader with sales prices for painters who straddle the line between abstraction and representation. How does price even enter into the studio space when it comes to the creation of the piece? I’m happy for Kristin Baker to be able to sell out a show three years after graduating with an MFA from Yale. But, what does that have to do with the content or even the subject of her work?

Hi-gloss does not mean hi-content.