My time in Israel is winding down quickly, and with it also my painting time. I have much to look forward to, including the city of Naples, a new home, further academic studies, getting married, seeing my family, as well as all the Italian food and etiquette I have been missing like crazy. Sometimes it can be hard to concentrate on the painting with all the things that need attention right now. I thought I would show a couple of my works in progress in their various stages of starts and restarts before I may find it necessary to pack them away and resume them again later after moving.
The sink study above was a quick one, maybe about an hour at most. I plan on doing another one, but much more “finished,” because I like both quick/sketchy paintings and more defined ones for so many reasons. They have different things to see about the experience of perceiving the space and subject.
The square bedroom ones below instead already involve many days and hours overlapping. I don’t share these because I am happy with them now as they are as a whole, but rather to share the process of what I am thinking about as I paint them and look at them. They have parts or aspects that perhaps I am pleased with or make me think of new directions to take. In the square painting below, for example, I am happy with the back left corner of the room, particularly with the cat cage and Christmas tree sticking out of it. But in order for the painting to be more representative of reality, in my opinion, the painting needs numerous other “days” inside of it, and in particular I need to work on the colors. I may prefer to make this painting more black and white.
This second bedroom start has a bit more room in the approach to the bed, and I like that. I also like the cooler and softer colors, and I am wondering if I don’t want to make the painting a bit more blurry-eyed in general. Below this top surface are, I think, at least 6 or 7 other paintings I had started, though I am not sure I can remember what they were.
This last square painting had originally been an interior one, depicting my kitchen, at least until the washing machine/sidewalk scene outside my front door distracted me so much to the point that I needed to grab the closest, least precious, most suitably sized surface available. Hence, no more kitchen painting. The photo below shows the first half hour of frenzied changes, and it has been an absolute joy to be outdoors painting again. I do this a lot, painting over older paintings, and not because I am convinced that the new painting will be better, but because the new motif interests me more. Painting is a passionate enterprise, involving impulsive actions which can ultimately lead to a failure. But you must take a breath and jump all the same.
“Thanks, but I’ve got my own soap.”
Though relatively unknown today in the art school and painters circles, Fausto Pirandello (1899-1975) is one of my most favorite modern artists, and one I dutifully try to find every time I am in Italy. Pirandello’s approach into different layers of reality, while also focusing on the mundane behind closed doors, strikes deep chords in me. I also appreciate immensely his very original motifs and compositions, as well as his ongoing explorations of the figure and bathers. Son of the dramatist Luigi Pirandello, he trained with the sculptor Sigismondo Lipinsky between 1919 and 1920, before turning to painting. His early work was influenced by Armando Spadini and Felice Carena, colleagues of his, as well as by Gauguin, Kokoschka and van Gogh.
After a four year experience in Paris, where he mingled with some of the more important Italian-Parigian artists of the 1920s and 30s, Pirandello returned to Rome in 1931 and was welcomed into the Roman School, distinguishing himself by his originality and solitary research. Pirandello’s painting was oriented towards a realism of daily life, including the grimy and gritty, and expressing himself through dense painting. His intellectual vision translated the naturalistic facts, even those most brutal, in a sort of magical or poetic realism with archaic and metaphysical tones, adding spatial concerns stemming from cubism, tonalism and expressionistic painting, such as in La Scala, depicting a woman ascending and descending a staircase in a brothel, or in Pioggia D’Oro, with a foreshortened female figure falling out of a domestic scene.
During the 1950s, Pirandello develops his style further, reabsorbing cubist suggestions from Braque and Picasso, and living through the difficult phase afflicting Italian painting at that time, the split between realism and neocubism. Through expressionistic deformations, he comes up with new solutions that sit between abstraction and figuration, with paintings that refer strongly towards a cubist synthesis in the tiling of colors and in compositions which slowly lose their narrative.
Pirandello exhibited widely during his career, including the Venice Biennale and the Rome Quadriennali, along with solo exhibitions at the Galleria della Cometa, Galleria del Secolo, and Galleria di Roma. After the war, he held a solo exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York in 1955, and the solo show “Nuova Pesa” (New Weight) in Rome in 1968.
I came across some additional images of Sophie Jodoin‘s earlier works this past week, and it happened at a time when I really felt like I needed to see something that speaks of blunt honesty. I have been thrown a lot of curve balls during my experience in Israel, so it is consoling and encouraging to look at an artist that attempts to expose the learned truth, straightforward without agenda or masks, focusing on the victims rather than the crazed protagonists.
Jodoin has explored numerous difficult themes over the years, particularly the violences in war, children, relationships, growing up and aging, as well as the feelings of numbness, nostalgia, fear, rejection, and aspirations that accompany these very facts of human existence. Around 2003, and certainly by her Fallen (revisited) series in 2006, Jodoin chose to remove color altogether from her work, to strip “away the sensuality of color often associated with painting,” as she put it. The 2004 series “A Little Red Suite: the World is a Heartbreaker” – oval portraits of grief in red – were thus followed by the black and white documentary type explorations of Drawing Shadows (of her mother) and Diary of K., and since then Jodoin has consistently stuck to the raw, graphic power of black and white.
Is she perhaps better skilled in black and white than color? I might say so, but then again it has been hard to find more than a few earlier works in color to compare. Reality has its base in black and white, existing before the cones and rods of the eyeball, and color does impassion our moods unwillingly – just imagine if food were only in black and white. Certainly, the lack of color in her work over the last several years lends more severity, coldness and objectiveness to the analysis, and thus is more suggestive of a documentary approach on the human condition. It also serves to curb any of those who dare classify Jodoin as a political artist; the removal of optical color also takes out any of the cloying color of politics. At any rate, I like pretty much anything she does, in any hue or tone.
She always knocks the wind out of me, because the images have a violence in contemplation rather than in surface – a jolt of exposure that is needed, in my opinion. It is too easy to go about our day ignoring, neglecting or simply being unaware of other currents and people around us. We are so “busy.” It is only when unfortunate things happen in our own back yard that we stop for a moment and begin to fully question the horrors of being human. Sophie Jodoin paintings function like universal backyards for the viewer. Though artists tend to notice things others may not, in many of her series, Jodoin chooses to make the likeness of a person unrecognizable while focusing instead on the realism of recognizable props, which can sift out an undercurrent of emotions that perhaps we had never considered before. We do not recognize a random soldier, but we recognize the bandages of war. We may not relate to a toddler’s face, but we can relate to a faceless young girl clinging to a bunny.
Jodoin allows us views of people who – by a rare slip of circumstance – are not us, but could be us in a split second. We should not be fooled that we are better or more fortunate than anyone else simply because we are standing on the other side of the glass. Instead, we can absorb these works as exposures of the fragile, haunting truthfulness of life, and we can walk away more equipped to proceed with life, with more knowledge and compassion.
Born in 1965, Jodoin lives and works in Montreal, having earned her BFA from Concordia University in Montreal in 1988. Represented by Battat Contemporary and Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art, she exhibits regularly throughout Canada, the US and Europe. Her website provides a thorough investigation of her work and bibliography since 2004. There is a also a beautiful filmed interview (in French) of Sophie and her work.
If you have not yet been able to make it to Madrid this summer for the major retrospective of Antonio Lopez Garcia at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, the Museum makes it a little easier to cope with through an excellent online virtual tour through the exhibition. The virtual exhibition walks you through the ten rooms of Lopez’ development, thematically displayed in categories of Memory, Surroundings, Madrid, Gran Via, Trees, Nude, Characters, Interiors, Food, and Projects. The new six curvilinear perspective paintings of Gran Via, talked about in the El Pais 2010 interview below, are displayed in progress, as well as a recent landscape view of Madrid, his newest flower paintings and sculptures of his grandchildren. The phenomenol show opened on June 25 and will be up until September 25, 2011.
Closed on Mondays, the Museum recommends early booking to the limited entry exhibition.
You can buy the soft-cover Spanish exhibition catalogue here online, with 176 color illustrations and 45 black & white ones for about 30 euros, but only if you have a Tax/VAT #.
- Major El PAIS news spread on Antonio Lopez, including photo galleries, videos and articles.
- 2010 Interview of Antonio Lopez by El Pais in Spanish. Click here for a transcript in English.
- 2009 Interview by Luis Maraleda and Carmina Montana for TV Tomelloso. Click here for a basic English transcript after viewing the video.
Some of the works on exhibition, and others I love looking at:
Nowadays, it is considered taboo in figurative painting to betray any sense of feeling if you want to be taken seriously. Objective analysis of form and color is heralded as a higher goal for a painter, and yet I am not sure I agree. The art can then very easily become just as boring as photorealism. There is a lot of excellent painting happening today, but when I feel that it is being conducted in a mechanical method or pixelized way, rather than perhaps being something pounced upon and pushed through an emotional instinct, it does not seem to go beyond craft and decoration for me. I think this becomes even more interesting to examine the closer you edge to the extremes of more abstract versus highly rendered paintings. When I look at Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, the last thing that comes to mind is painstaking, empty illustration. There is a love driving his work, both found and lost. I always feel privileged to look at his paintings, swept away by the chance to stand in his shoes and look deeply at his recordings of the people, places and weather around him. It is a rare gift that someone looked so stubbornly, poignantly and faithfully – not afraid to expose himself so, despite the trends of the commercial art world.
Andrew Wyeth (July 12, 1917 – January 16, 2009) was primarily classified as a realist painter and is one of the artists I have consistently looked at in astonishment during the past 20 years. In a “Life Magazine” article in 1965, Wyeth said that although he was thought of as a realist, he thought of himself as an abstractionist:
My people, my objects breathe in a different way: there’s another core — an excitement that’s definitely abstract. My God, when you really begin to peer into something, a simple object, and realize the profound meaning of that thing — if you have an emotion about it, there’s no end.
Wyeth’s favorite subjects were the land and people around him, both in his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his summer home in Cushing, Maine. With his father’s guidance, painter and illustrator N.C. Wyeth, he mastered figure study and watercolor, and later learned egg tempera from his brother-in-law Peter Hurd. He studied art history on his own, admiring many masters of Renaissance and American painting, especially Winslow Homer.
N.C. fostered an inner self-confidence to follow one’s own talents without thought of how the work is received. In a letter to Andrew in 1944, N.C. wrote:
The great men [Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect — to score a hit — does not know what he is missing!
In October 1945, Wyeth’s father and three-year-old nephew were killed when their car stalled on railroad tracks near their home and was struck by a train. The strong emotions arising from this tragedy engulfed Wyeth personally and artistically, finding an outlet in what would become his enduring style. For further biographical reading on Wyeth in Wikipedia, click here. There is a great video of “Andrew Wyeth Draws a Portrait” on the Painting Perceptions forum. Sharing below images I have collected over time for others to enjoy.
Over the last year, I have developed the craving to compile a place for an ever-expanding collection of visual notations, in addition to my personal musings on my own paintings. My new Visual Notation posts will focus on Great Notations and Contemporary Visionists, highlighting painters from then and now who depict the world out there through the process of perception – the mind filtering that takes place as we see, touch, feel, smell or hear something, along with the contemplations, recollections, aesthetic reactions, intuitions and phantasmic proposals of possibility that the mind performs. These perceptual painters are concerned with exploring and learning something more about this world we live in, but cannot be called realist painters in the way known today. They are not interested in painting reality exactly as they see it, for seeing is only one element of the senses. They are humanists, concerned with what the gift of life might mean, and they labor with sincerity, earnestness, humility and arrogance to try to represent it. They stand out for me because they have a gift of acute and broad vision that goes beyond just a delight in the surface of things to the deeper, higher, beautiful abstractions holding everything together, both in the natural world and in the picture plane. They are seriously consumed by the infinite potentials of rectangles and the juxtapositions of colors and shapes within it, and they paint, in my opinion, as if their heart depended on it.
For those of you who have subscribed to my painting blog (the blog tab at the top), you will continue to receive those posts directly to your email, as well as the new visual notation posts. I hope you will enjoy them all. For those new here, please feel free to take a look around and if you wish to receive posts by email, simply click the subscription button below.
The image to the right is a clip from an astounding fresco piece that I came across in Naples at the Museo Archeologico this June. The full painting, down below, depicts the Trojan horse being dragged victoriously into the city of Troy in utter celebration, unaware of the doom to come from the Greeks. There are uncountable art treasures around the world, but these figures and shadows threw me into a time-traveling warp so jolting that I think I may have permanent whiplash.