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?


  1. Well said ! I only just found your blog. I will find some time this weekend to look over the previous entries.