Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Brief History of Smearing

                 For over hundred years now young painters look at Modern Art and its  various styles,approaches and techniques and being young they get tempted almost each week in different direction  To be as tight and illusionistic as Ingres or as grotesque as Otto Dix, to be painting so magically that everything would seem to appear as if behind a mirror... That would impress anyone.
But, another demon would beckon toward particularly naughty direction, where thrill of doing something that everybody knows should not, not ever be done is tempting. Something as rebellious and defiling that even thought of it would be frightening to the civilized part of the mind. But- the part that secretly shines shoes with lacy curtains and pours ink to the aquarium wants to do it. The consequences might be very unpleasant and at the same time presenting a new you, not that flaccid ne'er-do-well but a formidable risk-taker, artistic buccaneer,almost a salto-mortale motorcyclist!
A  crowd of uncoordinated, devoid of  manual dexterity, impatient art-lurkers promote hopeful wish  that figurative art is either dead or should be dead. They sense that somehow there ought to be another way into artistic success than talent and tedium of learning.
Figurative art is not promising any "fun"[there is immense ,long lasting Joy in painting, but indeed ,no fun]. Let's declare representational art dead  and by necessity of moving forward let us try yet untried. What possibly could be more antithetic to painting as much as  smearing?

The original first smearer,as it often is with claims of originality it may be disputed but in all events among the very first brave smearers  remarkable work of Jewish émigré from Russia ,Chaim Soutin should be recognized. Everywhere in contemporary art of that time paintings still retained disciplined, tight form in drawing  and young Soutin broke that confining restrain. Not being able to draw , like not being able to play piano is something most people share.

However, not being able to play the piano and giving piano recitals would be new and untried. By this analogy not being able to draw, to reflect on canvas some disciplined ,representational forms and yet obtaining great fame as prominent painter is a feat no Pianist-Who-Can-Not-Play-The- Piano has achieved. Feats like that are astounding .In other fields golden nimbus of fame and universal admiration  is given to the very few highest achievers. We see no Polar Explorers who never went to polar regions and we do not see renown swimmers who do not know how to swim. Yet,in the difficult art of painting it has been possible to manufacture by the skillful uses of Dark Magic great fame and a lasting place in the pantheon of greatest artists for someone who could not neither draw nor paint.

Then,another triumph of promotion became visible and this time no longer in Paris but over the famed skyline of New York City.His name was Franz Kline.

It is hard to imagine how something so obviously ugly and chutzpiatic could ever find itself on public display, let alone national museums.And yet:
 ", Kline's work is distinct in itself and has been revered since the 1950s"
"says wikipedia. Reverence,no less......

 "Kline's paintings are deceptively subtle. While generally his paintings have a spontaneous, and dramatic impact, Kline often closely referred to his compositional drawings. Kline carefully rendered many of his most complex pictures from extensive studies."-
 one can see how much meticulous preparatory "studies" conducted by the Master with aid of  interns and aspirants it must have taken before the first brushstroke appeared on canvas. Franz Kline was also known for avoiding giving meaning to his paintings, In a catalog of Kline's works, art historian Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev writes that "his art both suggests and denies significance and meaning" and what a meaning it may suggest! On top of that, just to be inscrutable-he would deny any meaning or even significance -what an appropriately naughty artiste-maudit teasing coyly  the adoring historians into writing about the smears as if their meaning was as dense as a collapsed red dwarf.

When it comes to the greatest,most delightfully haphazard,deliciously emetic art of smearing the golden palm should be handed to Hans Hofmann,the very Pope of Smearing.

Through a painting, we can see the whole world" said Hans Hofmann.I am not certain he meant his painting

And one more for our edification: Frank Auerbach.
" His work is not concerned with finding a visual equivalent to an emotional or spiritual state that characterised the expressionist movement, rather it deals with the attempt to resolve the experience of being in the world in paint."-so,his paintings are some kind of psychological trial of vague angst experienced by "being in the world".The result of this unusual situation,of being "in the world" and precisely in Camden  part of London  calls for "resolving" through the means of gobbing ,pooling and scraping a greasy dump of accumulated paint.

".......results in an astonishing desire{it really must be "astonishing"] to produce an image the artist considers 'right'. This leads Auerbach to paint an image and then scrape it off the canvas at the end of each day, repeating this process time and again, not primarily to create a layering of images but because of a sense of dissatisfaction with the image leading him to try to paint it again" No  kidding,who would react differently but scrape the thing and perhaps look for the work he could succesfuly do.
"This also indicates that the thick paint in Auerbach's work, which led to some of Auerbach's paintings in the 1950s being considered difficult  to hang, partly due to their weight and according to some newspapers the paint fell off"-that quote shows how not all of it is glamour and riches : paint falls off,people are jeering...

There is a very general set of pre-existing rules of how to do something if we want a particular result. Taking part in figure skating competitions requires without exceptions very fluent skill of skating. One cannot get a job as UN translator without knowing well foreign language.
Actions taken in the process of painting are organizing paint into intense,emotional illusion of three-dimensional image, thus hiding means by which it was achieved. The degree of illusionism varies with styles and unique touch of the artist but the fundamental illusion of paint appearing as objects of the world depicted ; that fundamental  rule obtains. Clearly, subversive forces embedded in XX century culture started the perversity of definitions on all fronts and art is just one of its victims. What has always been a joke has become a rule and what humanity everywhere  and always understood to be in a certain way has been hung upside down and ridiculed .
Because I wanted to conclude this post without fury,I am including one of Meredith Frampton's paintings.Can you imagine him at an art-opening with those new giants?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Graduated Fergusonification


  To be clear: art museums are not places tasked primarily to educate but to hold public display of select masterpieces. Education should happen before and after one goes to visit a museum. Nobody is listening to a symphony while someone is "explaining" or even eating with running commentary. Do one or the other, not both at the same time. Looking at paintings requires immersion in the same kind of silence and concentrated attentiveness in which language of painting is silently eloquent. Too much is made of the '"explanations" of artworks and not enough emphasis put on contemplation. My contemporaries not only see on the screen the action but they want to be told that "Tyrone passed the ball to Leroy". Then they have to be told what the Prez in his speech actually said and what they see while staring distractedly at art.
I guess that most people  are devout democrats at heart that rejoice seeing all-inclusiveness in every public activity.To my eye it seems particularly "american" to see that degree of inclusiveness. It is as if some mythic Mother held on her public lap everybody and their children,even toddlers and demented nonagenarians,spastic wheel-chair riders and uncontrollable pranksters,overly energetic four-years- olds running and hooting along the loggias of the museums.Nobody and never should feel the stinging bite of exclusion.Come all! Come and bring along not only children but your beloved pets to be posed for some selfies with art in the background as a campy joke. .Anything but increasing chances at concentration and silence.


What a total misunderstanding of the purpose of the museum. It is not a „fun place”, not a romper room or hall of distorting mirrors. Bringing smart-phones  to take yet more snap-shots of your marvelous Self is almost as disqualifying as blindness[or more-because  willful donkification is worse]

Malignant notion that it is good to bring in more and more wrong people is going to turn them into high culture lovers is not supported by any facts. It is the “midnight-basketball for ghetto thugs” way of thinking. Leave smart-phone crowd alone: they are evolving in a different direction and Occidental Heritage of Culture has only one use, they found: funny background .

 At a nearby library most seats in the Reading Room are taken but the occupants are taking extended naps, use restroom to body-wash, have speedy sex and over time I have never noticed that they started perusing the aisles for reading material.The painters exhibiting their masterpieces at the National Gallery have not addressed their works to those selfie-ninnies.The curators,the management furnished them with wrong audience , hostile to Culture. What a dismaying betrayal.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Crocheting Spirit


                                  When one is just beginning as an artist it seems too confining to be classified as belonging to some already well in place group. And yet, very rarely any artist would be so unique that a separate cubicle in art taxonomy would have to be made-just for one. Even if the effort at uniqueness made someone to create sculptures using only toothpicks, or  rejecting all materials and just sitting naked at Museum-it will be gathered into [and this is just a provisional name] “daft offerings “group.
                                   Within the broad groupings of contemporary art there is a considerable section of figurative [more-or-less] art and in it many sub-groups. One that always gives me pause and a head-scratch of bewilderment is what they call “spiritual art”. The first, momentary reaction would surely be positive to anything called “spiritual”. The trouble comes next, when you realize that the understanding of the “spiritual”, especially when connected with art is very blurry and the more examples of it you see the less clear it seems.

Spiritual artist Sri Chimnoy

                                   As I examine my own inner life I need to state that I don’t have a “spiritual” life. I experience thoughts and sensations and feelings but none are of “spiritual” nature. The concept of spirituality takes such a prominent place in any proclamations of values, of spheres of our concern and yet-I don’t experience anything that should be called spiritual. When I think what “spiritual” is the answer that comes is that it is a pursuit of imaginary being and elaborating that inner illusion. When that pursuit is crystallized by rituals it is religion.

                                   This is not a definition generally available because usually accepted definition of spirituality is “personal transformation”. I cannot quite grasp it. Why one would need a transformation and are such changes possible?  Who or what requires of all of us “personal transformation”? Of course if you sell a product it must be claimed that everybody needs it, most especially if it assures your good standing with Imaginary Entity always so keen on obeisance.
Another definition that I fashioned is that spirituality is seeking contact with invisible but sentient beings. Rain Dances and letters to Santa would fit that definition well. Turning the prayer wheel or using rosary is seeking to influence the invisible being with piety. In that, writing two books “Conversations with God” should qualify right on top of successful search for any contact with invisible but sentient being. What a triumph: at last! Except that it is of course just so much smooth verbiage-garbage. Nobody who talks with God would be returning to scribbling third-rate books any more than people who intend to pay their rent by publishing a book on how to become a millionaire in 60 days.
                                      However, the air of tacit complicity on the part of both the author and the readers is assumed already in the title [no more credible than “How I was eaten and digested by crocodile”] and if you reached for it you agreed to have your leg pleasurably pulled. Now extend that tacit complicity to the congregations of four churches on my short street   and then beyond to all “spiritual” people on the globe. Nobody is suddenly jumping to the microphone and wailing  in pain over the radical, unbroken absence of the object of their supplications, adoration. As if mind-numbing litanies and polite genuflections could suffice while real contact with the invisible sentient being was irrelevant or even unwelcome.
                                      On all sides we  are surrounded by such thick walls of religious edifices, decorum and custom reaching to us from the layered past and enduring  right into the future to populate, to move all the heavy furniture of their mythologies, so that the future will not be open and yet unwritten, but already musty with past. Malchus will be again and again looking for his bloody ear in the dirt of Gethsemane. God Gamesh will keep his elephant’s trunk because nobody will say-“elephant’s trunk? Are you serious?” Billions of people will believe in god with elephant’s trunk and billion others will believe in Resurrection. With such surplus capacity for believing “spiritual art” has huge audience.
                                      For proper reception of “spiritual art” one has to assume the suspension of skepticism and take it like the book of conversations with God. One has to dim the lights and “play along”.

                                      Spirituality and spiritual art are coating the mouth of the abyss of the Ultimate Unknown with breath-fresheners, offending the Greatest Mystery with domestication routines and blaspheming with soothing bromides. What is particularly galling is lack of visions, repetitiveness, crippling symmetries. The colors are so shrill one wants to run from such “spirituality”. When I look at these examples of spiritual art I see that their authors are crocheting doilies for subatomic particles.

                                                                                  Alex Gray