Bornowsky’s Spheres

I’ve written a review of Vancouver artist Eli Bornowsky’s recent show in Toronto, soon to appear in the on-line edition of Canadian Art. His small works had wooden spheres, some drawn over with lines, attached to shaped supports. There are many interesting scientific connections possible, bubble universes for example. I once heard Leonard Susskind talk about strings (information about the physical world) curled up, or tangled up, on the surface of a black hole. In the review I was critical of the way the support plane kept the works pictorial despite the space activating potential of the spheres, and suggested that it would be better to make them larger and let them hang free. Now I’m having second thoughts. With my interest in Frank Stella’s work with volumes added to planes and planes added to volumes I should have been more sympathetic to Bornowsky’s efforts.

The surface of a sphere is a great support for painting, although I’m not sure why. I have made works like that. Because of the way that a sphere closes off it is also cut off from everything around it, but it compensates for that with its own infinity because it can’t be seen all at once. A composition can only be seen partially and sequentially as the sphere spins or the viewer moves around it. It is limited but infinite, as maybe art is anyway. I would still like to see them big, big…three foot spheres with support scaled up accordingly. Mounted on a planar backing the sphere can’t spin, but it might do something interesting.


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3 Responses to Bornowsky’s Spheres

  1. Martin Mugar says:

    It would like to relate your comments on Matisse to those you make on Bornowsky.You refer sympathetically to the daily praxis in Matisse, similar to that of practicing scales. This implies a feeling for the interrelationship of the notes; they are capable of harmony or disharmony. They can be used to create chords and can add up to symphonies or short mood pieces. In a scale there is an implicit sense of part to whole and the whole transcending the parts. You seem nonplussed by Bornowsky; is it because his work does not convey what you call practice: To quote you directly: “But the biggest obstacle today is that art no longer provides a repetitive manual activity to give oneself to. Even the most extremist devotees of painting are more concerned with conception than absorbed execution.”

    To my eye he sets up some interesting problems conceptually that hint at some interesting solutions which he may not feel compelled to resolve. Since he hasn’t even asked the first question: what is color and how does it interact when there are numerous colors side by side, I don’t think these are paintings that are the start of a voyage similar to what we experience with Matisse’s career.

  2. I mostly had Stella in mind when thinking about Bornowsky. The comparison might be unfair, but as you say, there are some worthwhile initiatives in his work. I wasn’t making any connection between Matisse and Bornowsky, though the way the blog works it’s not impossible to do so—and you are welcome to do that of course. There’s often a thread from post to post and the images can speak to each other—as for example the Barré photo piece and Smithson’s Mirror Corner in the two most recent posts.

    The pressure today is to start a career early so as to go through the various professional stages at a reasonable rate, yet it may actually take a few years to build the foundation for great paintings. To begin again and again, or to find out late what one needs to do should be allowed. Of course nothing is disallowed, but there is a professional price to pay. I think Eli takes his work very seriously and I wouldn’t want to predict what he might accomplish.

  3. Martin Mugar says:

    Thank you for responding to my comments. I have been writing about art on my blog.

    Much of what I write is picked up by Charles Giuliano, retired Boston art Critic on his site Berkshire Fine Arts.

    Sometimes I also publish on artdeal, put out by former Arts magazine critic and artist Addison Park.

    I must admit that Boston is so influenced by its heritage as the site of Boston Expressionism and its revival in Guston’s students at BU that the kind of discussion you and I engage in about Abstraction falls on deal ears, except for an occasional thoughtful comment from ex Rose Art Museum (at Brandeis) head Carl Belz. So I appreciate that you are responding to what I have to say.

    I think somewhere you quoted an artist or critic who observed that sculpture had been squeezed into a difficult spot by painting and architecture. I feel that painting has been equally impacted by architecture. I always thought that Ellsworth Kelly’s color panels broke up the metaphysical role of painting for good, a sort of statement about art that could not be ignored, like Nietzsche’s god is dead. By separating the colors far enough apart they stop interacting among themselves and start interacting with the architectural environment. Now that he shows only the plywood substrate, his work is truly the material of architecture and abandons the optical all together. It is the metaphysical role of painting, the suspension of disbelief about materials, that must be revived. I see it happen in what I have seen of your work. In the essay on my recent show in Boston with Paul Pollaro I made a case for acknowledging the impact of Kelly’s work but left open the struggle to revive the language of painting on the painting’s surface. I think Bornowsky is engaged in it as well.

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