Authority Again

Thinking more about authority—I’ll bet that many, including artists, maybe especially artists, think it means ordering people about. It may well be that in daily life, but in art it’s more to do with a kind of truth, a truth that we have to acknowledge but which irritates us because it doesn’t take full account of us, or of the world as we know it. Honesty demands that we submit, but some other quality makes us search for another, stronger truth.

Robert Linsley, Untitled Watercolor 2012

Robert Linsley, Untitled Watercolor 2012

Posted in Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Ethics of Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


There’s many ways to simulate wholeness, completeness, whatever one wants to call it. As many as there are ways to simulate an excess.

Frank Stella, The Whale as a Dish 1985-89

Frank Stella, The Whale as a Dish 1985-89

Posted in American Modernism, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Power and Authority

I think that power and authority have to be sharply distinguished. Power is what individuals seek to compensate for whatever lack they feel. Or just for the sheer pleasure of controlling someone else, if that’s what gives them pleasure. Authority is something very different. An artist must seek authority, both for themselves and as a necessary part of their education. They have to find out who is the authority—meaning their necessary predecessor—in order to find their way in art. Whether that individual is recognized by others is neither here nor there, every artist must find their own authoritative precursor. Later they have to assume authority themselves, become authoritative. The work demands nothing less. And so authority is not absolute. In art at least it’s certainly a benign form of power. This is the second use of this image in as many weeks, but it works in both places.

Robert Linsley, Fire 2014

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor (Fire) 2014

Posted in Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Early Abstraction, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crouching Woman

Going back to look again at William Tucker’s book, I find my original impression confirmed—it’s really great. Ideas come tumbling out at every turn of the page. Here’s one insight from the chapter on Rodin:

“With the Prodigal Son and the Crouching Woman, an entirely new concept of anatomy emerges, in which the human body is re-structured in terms of posture…the Crouching Woman assumes the compact, closed form of a bunched fist; within it arms and legs, knees and shoulders are torn from their original structural role, their forms and functions deliberately confused in a wilful re-assembly of the body as a bundle of lumps and axes.”


An early source for abstraction, undoubtedly. Also a very interesting one. Now compare with these details of works by Cézanne and Matisse:









This is not just art history, because what Rodin did with the figure gave Matisse a new way to distribute color, as it gave Cézanne a new way to make architecture out of the entire picture surface.

Posted in Abstract Sculpture, Early Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Creativity

Just been reading an interesting article in The Slate. It just says in very plain language what I’ve felt for a long time, namely that the rhetoric of creativity in business is merely rhetoric. Here’s one quote:

“This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.”

That was my experience working on a start up with a Silicon Valley partner. Another quote, just as grimly amusing, and very much applicable to art school:

“Unfortunately, the place where our first creative ideas go to die is the place that should be most open to them—school. Studies show that teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against creative students, favoring….classmates who more readily follow directions and do what they’re told.”

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2009-2014

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2009-2014

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Ethics of Abstraction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Servant Class

Jasper Johns famously said that “artists are the elite of the servant class.” Then what price subjectivity? The price varies, as does the value, and value and price are not necessarily related.

Jasper Johns, Regrets 2013

Jasper Johns, Regrets 2013

Posted in Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Novelty at a Pace

To go back to the thought experiment I presented in an earlier post; when stone age man (or woman) had fire and a wheel, in principle they had the automobile, although they couldn’t make one. To get the automobile was just filling in, which took an amount of time determined by population growth. My question is what kind of genius, or vision, or imagination would it have taken for the stone age person to look at the fire, look at the wheel, and say to themselves “I could make heat move the wheel”? Would that be a moment of genius? Was it natural human dullness and inertia that prevented that thought from occurring to someone? Or did it occur, but was lost because the realization was impossible? Each invention enables others, so there are many intermediate steps from simple fire and wheel to a working automobile. But what I’m getting at is the complete falseness of the rhetoric of invention today. One can never “think outside the box.” The absolute horizon of invention is what we can touch with our hands and feel with our bodies—cut, shape, join, move. Possibilities are all material. That IS the box, and it’s impossible to think outside the box because there is no such place. There is no “virtual reality,” or information economy or realm of digital media. There’s plenty of fantasies floating around in people’s heads, for sure, but reality is all material and full of material possibilities. The consequence is that all inventions are obvious, and indeed they are. Why they appear at one time and place and not another is mere chance, which we call history.

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor (Fire) 2014

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor (Fire) 2014

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Current Affairs, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So Much

So many blades of grass, so many twigs or branches on so many trees, so many insects, and above all, so many bacteria. As I don’t cease to mention on this blog, the number of details in the world is stupefying, but also the texture of life is unfathomably tightly woven. Those who think that we as a species have dominated the biosphere are in some science fiction lala land. We may affect it, damage parts of it, but it is so much more than us. Not even to mention that our existence depends on all those details. Human beings will never comprehend even a tiny fraction of the four dimensional complexity of the system of which they are a part. An art that can’t incorporate that fact into its process is a paltry thing, in my opinion. Such is my justification for an organic abstraction.


Posted in Ethics of Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Therese Bolliger

A few years ago I saw the ink drawings of Therese Bolliger, and they have been an important reference for my own watercolors ever since. I found them very inspiring. The ink bleeds to the edge of an area of water, and dries there, making a line—a well known effect—but what intrigued me was the way that the contours of several overlapping patches could get confused with each other. If you follow the lines you can get caught in a series of

Therese Bolliger, Interior Schema 5 2009

Therese Bolliger, Interior Schema 5 2009

loops, and lose the distinction between the discrete areas. This may not be what Therese intended, but it works for me. On the strength of works like these  she is, in my opinion, one of the best artists in Toronto. Her more recent drawings are different but still great. The titles, Rhizomatic, indicate that they could continue to grow by addition of more segments, a kind of process that I for one respond to, but the most interesting technical feature is the narrow space between certain of the zones. Sometimes they become lost, and that sometimes is a beautiful moment of letting go. Again, an unremarkable and very familiar aspect of any water based drawing or painting method, handled in a creative but pretty unassuming and subtle way.

Therese Bolliger, Rhizomatic 7 2014

Therese Bolliger, Rhizomatic 7 2014

Posted in Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lost Geometry

What is the substantial difference between an artist who diagrams and fills in completely, and one who diagrams and only partially fills in? Seems to be a lot, as the work of Martin Barré is more attractive than that of most artists who use geometry. The procedure is unpromising, and doesn’t call on much from the maker, but there’s a magic in leaving out, which is not really the same thing as doing less.

Martin Barré, 82-84 124x118 1982-84

Martin Barré, 82-84 124×118 1982-84

Posted in Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time and Motion

British artist Tom Phillips, cited on this blog before, wrote a very interesting review of the Matisse cut-out show. He mentions a film of the artist at work which shows “…Matisse in his wheelchair cutting paper with scissors….Matisse often associated this process of ‘sculpting in colour’ with flying, though another action that comes to mind is a favorite pursuit of his younger years, swimming, especially as evoked by his own descriptions of plunging into the volcanic lagoons under what he referred to as the ‘golden goblet’ of the Tahitian sky.” To see carving or drawing as equivalent to swimming or flying is to stress the changes over the results, time over place. But the most affecting aspect of the cut-outs is that time was running out for the old man. All that great work happened in a few short years, his last years, and they were not the easiest or most comfortable for him. As usual, the pain and the difficulties overcome are what matter most, and Phillips is good on that.

Aged Matisse working in bed

Aged Matisse working in bed

Posted in Early Abstraction, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Basics

John Berger could be a stupidly moralistic critic, but he was perceptive. He notoriously rejected Pollock as a decadent of the age of individualism, meaning he didn’t really understand Pollock at all, but then listen to this:

“Imagine a man brought up from birth in a white cell so that he has never seen anything except the growth of his own body. And then imagine that suddenly he is given some sticks and bright paints. If he were a man with an innate sense of balance and colour harmony, he would then, I think, cover the walls of his cell as Pollock has painted his canvases. He would want to express his ideas and feelings about growth, time, energy, death, but he would lack any vocabulary of seen or remembered visual images with which to do so. He would have nothing more than the gestures he could discover through the act of applying his coloured marks to his white walls.”

Growth, time, energy and death are not bad topics for abstraction, but they’re not easy for everyone to see.

     Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhthym (Number 30) 1950

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhthym (Number 30) 1950

Posted in American Modernism, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I found a thoughtful but also very amusing article in the NYT, by Anna Della Subin. The topic is procrastination, and she begins with the story of St. Expeditus:

According to legend, when the Roman centurion [Expeditus] decided to convert to Christianity, the Devil appeared in the form of a crow and circled above him crying “cras, cras” — Latin for “tomorrow, tomorrow.” Expeditus stomped on the bird and shouted victoriously, “Today!” For doing so, Expeditus achieved salvation, and is worshiped as the patron saint of procrastinators.

I thought for sure this was made up, but there is such a saint, and his real life history is in fact equally as hilarious. In any case, she makes a good case for procrastination, which reduces to the simple formula that not doing anything in particular is simply living, and worthwhile as such. Being myself a productivity oriented kind of guy, I am sympathetic. Some time is better spent, but it doesn’t have to be on busy work. In art, the moment of decision, which is also the moment of salvation, is always a moment, however long one has to wait for it. Everything important happens in a moment. The main human problem is that we have too much time to think during the long preparation.

Robert Linsley, Sphere #3 2013

Robert Linsley, Sphere #3 2013

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


One of my favorite jazz standards is “Detour Ahead”, though I’ve only heard it in one version, and maybe not the best possible one. Was listening to it tonight.

Smooth road, clear day
But why am I the only one travelin’ this way
How strange the road to love can be so easy
Can there be a detour ahead

This has something to do with art—I know that experience well, of being the only one on the road. Solitude and originality have some relation after all. In any case, the road to love and the road to art are the same, at least part of the way. But what makes this song so great is that it has at least three distinct voices. Hear how it shifts in the next verse:

Wake up, slow down
Before you crash and break your heart
Gullible clown
You fool, you’re headed in the wrong direction
Can’t you see the detour ahead

It happens—to most artists no doubt. Now a different voice, more objective.

The further you travel
The harder to unravel the web
She spins around you
Turn back while there’s time
Can’t you see the danger sign
Soft shoulders surround you

What’s to say? You have a goal, a plan, a direction, a map—but you can’t help it, you’re only human after all. And those soft shoulders—a beautiful lyric, and a beautiful world.

Smooth road, clear night
Oh lucky me that suddenly
I saw the light
I’m turning back away
From all that trouble
Smooth road…smooth road…no detour ahead

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The View from Inside

In an old issue of the NYRB I find the following from Vladimir Ashkenazy, on his fellow pianist Sviatoslav Richter:

“The strongest element in his magnetic appeal to audiences is his conviction that what he does is absolutely right at that particular moment. It comes from the fact that he has created his own inner world, absolutely complete in his mind, and if you argue with him about anything it’s almost no use…I don’t often agree with him after the performance, but during it I can see that everything fits together and is completely sincere and devoted, and that wins me over.”

The organic truth arises at a moment, which itself arises from the surrounding moments. The retrospective critical view, which sees the totality, is always false. The problem with a lot of art today, as I keep harping on in this blog, is that a retrospective judgment is present at the beginning, as a tacit understanding of what art is supposed to be.

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2012

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2012

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Ethics of Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


The collection at the Stedelijk is pretty great, but l kept seeing sameness, unchanging qualities. Martin Kippenberger, for example, was a talented painter, in a completely normative way. His fooling around was fun to do and is fun to watch, but it seems to arise out of his consciousness of the unbreakable conventionality of “art.” I think that captures Kippenberger.

Martin Kippenberger, Drei Häuser mit Schlitzen (Betty Ford Klinik, Stammheim, Jüdische Grundschule) 1985

Martin Kippenberger, Drei Häuser mit Schlitzen (Betty Ford Klinik, Stammheim, Jüdische Grundschule) 1985

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Current Affairs, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pictorial Energy

Looking at the work of Mr. Energy himself at the Wallraf-Richartz museum in Cologne—the striking thing about Rubens is that he covers so many square yards of canvas without losing intensity. The level is uniformly high. This is a bit different from the overall kind of abstraction, which has a uniform level, true, but not necessarily a uniformly high level of energy. I think Stella wants to be like Rubens in this respect.

Peter Paul Rubens, Juno and Argus c.1610

Peter Paul Rubens, Juno and Argus c.1610

Posted in Current Affairs, Early Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obstacles and Tests

Talking with my friend Chris Gergley about the art world and the obstacles we all face in our careers, it came to me that I have been too one-sided in my stress on objectivity. Yes, art is objective, and yes one wants to let it stand alone and produce its own meanings, but it still needs a human enabler; art has its own life but can’t live without a person to sustain it. Might sound obvious, but it’s not—at least not in the realms of abstraction. What brought these thoughts to mind were practical problems and difficulties. Chris and I agreed that if an artist calculates their market, or makes work to meet the expectations of curators or collectors, then they really don’t think their work is worth anything. Such behavior is deeply self negating. But it can be hard when one is struggling to find one’s own language—social pressures have to be overcome, and one of the worst, in our experience, is the need and desire to be anointed and given professional help by a more successful artist. In a way that is the canonical career path, but we’ve both seen how many young artists sacrifice their own identity to fit in, how they adapt and suppress their work to enable a smooth follow on with the work of someone else. That’s tragic, but it’s also a test. An artist has to be free inside and out. Formal freedom is a given today, there are no rules, but the feeling of freedom—the freedom to think, feel, respond and create as one needs to do—has to be achieved, often against resistance. It isn’t easy and it can be painful. But if you can’t do it then you betray the work; it doesn’t get a chance to be autonomous, and its possibilities will not be realized.

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2014

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2013

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Other

In Cologne Gerhard Richter is a common presence, as one might expect. In the conference center I saw a couple of pictures by another artist that at first I mistook for Richter. Are they as good? Debatable point, but the fact that it is debatable says something. Close in person comparison of concrete details would be necessary to decide. They seem even more blandly grid like than Richter’s work, but maybe comparable to the Cage series.


Posted in Abstraction and Society, Ethics of Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Richter’s Church Art

I went to see Richter’s window in the cathedral of Cologne, and my first impression was that it blended in well with the other windows, which may be a good thing for the church, but doesn’t necessarily help the reputation of Herr Richter. Though the bombing left the cathedral intact, many windows must have been blown out, because there are some

Abstract windows of relatively recent date in Cologne's cathedral.

Abstract windows of relatively recent date in Cologne’s cathedral.

obviously modern ones. Most prominent are windows with recurring abstract patterns, like carpets in glass. Richter’s window is different from those in that it has a degree of randomness or variation, but on site that didn’t seem such an important distinction. You can theorize it and say that Richter replaces religious certainty with openness and chance, but that’s not an interesting thought. A banality in fact. His work is variation within a conventional manner, and doesn’t depart much from the past.

Gerhard Richter's window, Cologne

Gerhard Richter’s window, Cologne

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Ethics of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thomas Ruff

I saw the recent photograms of Thomas Ruff in Düsseldorf, but since they are entirely digital you could call them imitation photograms. But that would only apply to the ones that have the typical photogram look, with some straight lines and a few circles and a few shapes that look like they might be shadows of common objects. Photograms are normally made with ready-made things, and usually have arrangements that look like modernist design. The legacy of the twenties is hard to shake. But Ruff’s better works go even farther back, looking like nothing so much as cubism. I imagine most painters would object to the

Thomas Ruff, phg.05_III, 2013

Thomas Ruff, phg.05_III, 2013

impervious photographic surface, but I’m bothered less by that than I am fascinated by shapes that twist my brain around, that make me follow them into their own convoluted spaces. In other words, Ruff is making abstractions, and they’re not bad. There’s sufficient energy there that de Kooning and Klee and Kandinsky can put in appearances, along with Braque and Picasso, maybe even Picabia. But then we learn once again that modern art doesn’t change that much, and the middle of the road continues to be heavily traveled.

Thomas Ruff, phg.04, 2012

Thomas Ruff, phg.04, 2012

Posted in Early Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Owens on Koons

After writing three and a half posts on Jeff Koons, I naturally took an interest in the comments by artists in the September 2014 Artforum, Koons on the cover. Laura Owens in particular was really good; devastating, but true to her experience of the work, which she never left for a second. She manages to be critical without making any criticism, a skill I associate with the laid back intensity of California and it’s highly competitive inclusiveness, but also seems completely adequate to conditions today anywhere on this overpopulated planet. Intensely present with the work—she gave it a good look, not a moral evaluation.

Close up detail of a Jeff Koons balloon dog, stainless steel with an applied transparent blue coating. Technically high level, wound up tight, looks like an inverted sphincter.

Close up detail of a Jeff Koons balloon dog, stainless steel with an applied transparent blue coating. Technically high level, wound up tight, looks like an inverted sphincter.

Posted in Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Current Affairs | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marlene Dumas

At the Stedelijk, I had a brief chance to see a Marlene Dumas retrospective. Since she lives in Amsterdam it must have been a satisfying show for her. I was expecting to admire her faces, and a wall of ink drawings were as expected, with touching and complex expressions, but these days I can’t shake the feeling of the sameness of art, that the things one sees in museums don’t really change from period to period, despite the modern revolutions, which start to seem superficial. For example, if one looks closely at Dumas’ sensitive drawing, around a pair of lips say, it’s pretty familiar from any number of old

Marlene Dumas, Julie, die Vrou 1985

Marlene Dumas, Julie die Vrou 1985

master works, and the blotchy “expressive” color sinks into the background as period style. I’m far from wanting to assert timeless values, in fact I find it a bit depressing to think that there’s a look of art that automatically qualifies certain works. Give me difference and novelty, please. But certain questions remain compelling. Isn’t the figure still important, even of the essence? The ideal would be to realize the central content without using the standard manner. Some artists have done that. Dumas does it in one of her ink drawings of a nude, painted in masses to the degree that it verges on abstraction, which forces me to remember that some of my works move the other way, and figures emerge from the blob. Recognizability or resemblance is still a very interesting problem. But Dumas goes straight to the figure as a source of value, or as a question of value, and she gets there through a very simple and direct kind of painting, which is admirable.

Nudes by Marlene Dumas, though not including the one I saw, which was much more of a shapeless blob, trending in the right direction.

Nudes by Marlene Dumas, not including the one I saw, which was much more of an amorphous blob, but still trending in the right direction.

Posted in Ethics of Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sculpture Figurative and Abstract

Lane Relyea has an original perspective on the work of sculptors such as Rachel Harrison and Isa Genzken: “What we are looking at here, after all, is figurative sculpture…who or what exactly is it representing?” He answers: “…in the new bricolage we find something like a court art for today’s network paradigm….portraits of the trader, the consultant, the networker or multitasker, the free agent or proximate manager…Too internally diverse and intersected to be constrained by form, such bricolaged statues are also mobile and autonomous enough to escape the fetters of site and circumstance. These are actors who are both embedded and disembedded…their parts never adequately unify, never reach the level of wholeness demanded by the criteria of a self-conscious, self-identical subject. Here the figure is shown always coming apart as much as coming into being and constituting itself.” The title of this piece means a vacationer or someone off work.

Isa Genzken, Urlaub 2004

Isa Genzken, Urlaub 2004

Posted in Abstract Sculpture, Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Ethics of Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lost Boundaries

One moment in Lane Relyea’s book that caught my attention was this:

“The rise of networks might not mean the end of of all insides and outsides, but it does mean that, with boundaries and the exclusions they effect being more communicational than representational, one now gains entrée by mastering not paradigms and metalanguages but circuits of connections.”

As a description of a boundary this is a good account of systems theory—and, since art always works with boundaries, thought provoking to an artist. Think of boundary as representation, as surface but also as picture—not far from earlier discussions on this blog about opticality and sculpture. Now think of a boundary as made above all to be crossed, in other words no boundary at all, or with just an abstract, invisible existence. Reminds me of Fred Sandback. But Relyea is thinking of a boundary as itself an act of communication, and exclusion as happening in all conversations. A good description of the art world.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, the paradigmatic networked artist, organizes another gallery cook off with conversation

Rirkrit Tiravanija, the paradigmatic networked artist, organizes another gallery cook off with conversation, the function of which is to represent community and simultaneously place individuals as insiders or outsiders

Posted in Abstract Sculpture, Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Conceptualism and Painting, Current Affairs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


A couple of months ago I visited a well known Toronto gallery (well known in Toronto), which had just moved to a new space. As it happened, the gallerist was alone when I arrived, and the whole encounter gave me new thoughts about anxiety. I’d be curious to know how the work sold, or if it did, because Gedi Sibony’s piece of plastic with a few bits of tape attached is nothing if not anxiety ridden. The gallerist was looking a little unsure, but who knows the reason. The paradox is that the art world isolation bubble

Gallery with Gedi Siboney's plastic sheet with tape in the background at right

Gallery with Gedi Sibony’s plastic sheet with tape in the background at right

actually muffles the anxiety of work that tries to advance by doing less—turning a risky, on the edge strategy into a matter of mere tasteful knowingness, or maybe knowing tastefulness. When Sibony casually brushes white paint on a piece of cardboard he evokes Ryman by making the painted patch roughly echo the rectangle, and he evokes Gabriel Orozco by showing something that looks like it was found in a vacant lot—but all that smartness is just a cosy blanket for an exposed sensibility. What could a collector who bought that possibly be aspiring to? If they didn’t feel like a fool for buying it, and didn’t want to throw it away afterwards, they wouldn’t really know what it was.

Sibney's painted doorskin at the back

Sibony’s painted cardboard at the back

Posted in Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Current Affairs, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Deep

This late Pollock has come in for some critical contempt over the years, not least because the title seems to confer on it a Melvillean sort of portentiousness, but without Melville’s humor. It has to be Melville because it has to be some sort of American sublime. Certainly it fits in with post-war literariness, with works like Motherwell’s Elegies, or Gottlieb’s symbolic bursts. It may also suffer in many viewer’s eyes when it’s somewhat vaginal

Jackson Pollock, The Deep 1953

Jackson Pollock, The Deep 1953

image (reminiscent of Fontana) is related to its dreary color and knowledge of Pollock’s depression at the time. Formally, for anyone conditioned by the great drip pictures, and even familiar with the black and whites, the torn white surface opening onto a deep space has to look cornball, even kitsch, and the sexual associations redouble the impression. But, as I discussed earlier, Reflection of the Big Dipper is an important turning point for Pollock, I think because it rationalizes the canvas on the floor as a collector of imagery that falls on it from above, from the sky, and it has a similar opening in the clouds. The Deep might have been a milestone of equal importance, if Pollock had lived. In a word, there are other depths in this picture, and the slashed surface was clearly necessary for him in some way we do not and likely cannot understand.

Posted in American Modernism, Principles of Abstraction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Other Reliefs

Blog reader Kizi Spielmann Rose kindly sent me some shots of Stella’s recent work. He seems himself to respond to energy in art, and has taken up the relief painting method accordingly, with gusto, as evidenced in this image.
Some things that I see in his work that are also present in Stella are: using both the cut out positive forms and the resulting negatives, usually in different works; a diversity of forms and manners on the cut out panels; forms jumping between the levels. Since the panels are usually parallel and flat, the works have a resemblance to those of Arp, which goes to prove that Stella is not and cannot be the only reference for someone who works like this. The only problem I have is that the forms seem a little hard and linear—but to each their own. Meanwhile, I was particularly attracted to earlier works with overlapping shapes. I can’t tell if these are prints, digital pieces or paintings, but see a lot of potential in the method.

Image 40

Posted in Abstract Sculpture, American Modernism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Starry Reflections

My theory about Pollock’s Reflection of the Big Dipper is that the title should be taken literally. It shows reflections of clouds, stars and tree branches in a puddle. I just saw the piece in person for the first time at the Stedelijk, and see no reason to abandon that interpretation. What has not been clear to me till now is that the ropes of thrown enamel went on last, over the titular reflection and oil painted first layer, so maybe they can’t be called tree branches only. After all, this piece is one of the crucial transitions toward the full blown drip works, so its meaning breaks. Most shocking is the color of the oil paint—purple, alizarin, orange, yellow-green, more grassy green—a real salad.

Jackson Pollock, Reflection of the Big Dipper 1947

Jackson Pollock, Reflection of the Big Dipper 1947

The skeins are far from random: note the splashy encircled nexus in the upper right, with the smaller hook/semi circle surrounding a patch of green (looks yellow in the reproduction) slightly below and to the left, above another splashy bit. See the large bent finger shape that occupies the left side and across the top. There are strong grid feelings given by strokes of oil paint along the left hand edge and parallel ones at the lower right (these don’t show up in the reproduction). The design of the skeins is kind of figurative, Miro-like. Floating free from the lower level but still responding to it. I love that kind of relationship between levels. And the blue opening into the night sky anticipates The Deep, which now seems sad and depressive, but still supported by this earlier work. Over all, quite a tightly organized piece, and it feels sprung, not scattered.

Posted in American Modernism, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chaos Shimmering Through

In an old copy of the NYRB I just found an article about Alfred Brendel, who quotes the poet Novalis: “Chaos, in a work of art, should shimmer through the veil of order.” So now I can see where Ehrenzweig was coming from, and wonder why I am so attracted to musty old romantics. Probably because they were right. The most dramatic example is Walter Benjamin’s university thesis “The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,” which I think is a much more relevant read for any art student than the famous “Artwork” essay. He convinced me that Schlegel understood the condition of art today. A conventional approach to Pollock is to seek the order underneath the chaos. A more sustained look and a more subtle perception gives the opposite. Will prove it in the next post.

Jackson Pollock, Number 5 1948

Jackson Pollock, Number 5 1948

Posted in Abstraction and Society, Early Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment