Category Archives: Early Abstraction

Appearance and Desire

Nineteenth century artists like Cézanne and Degas believed that if they channeled sexual energy into their work they would get better results. Matisse had the same view. Models should be attractive, but the feelings they aroused had to be transformed … Continue reading

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Isolation

From William Tucker’s great book I learn that by the age of seventeen Rodin had been rejected three times by the Beaux-Arts. He spent twenty years earning a living as a technician/assistant working for academic sculptors, while developing his ideas … Continue reading

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Tucker’s Stance

William Tucker’s favorite sculptors, according to his book, are Brancusi, Matisse and Degas. If one looks at his own work with this in mind, it’s clear that he is not rooted in construction, but in ideas of organic form, and … Continue reading

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Object Matter

From William Tucker’s book The Language of Sculpture, comes these further words on cubist construction: “Apart from their richness and power as individual pieces, all these wooden constructions demonstrate the object-nature of modern sculpture. They take objects, still-life, as their … Continue reading

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Planar Construction

William Tucker’s book contains the following very apposite remarks on cubist construction:“Painting gives way to physical making, and survives only to key or differentiate existing parts. The picture surface has been replaced by the frontal planes of real volumes, although … Continue reading

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The Creator Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley describes her own position in these terms:“For the last fifty years, it has been my belief that as a modern artist you should make a contribution to the art of your time, if only a small one. When … Continue reading

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The Invisible Greater Part

In ordinary life one doesn’t have to see or know exactly how things relate in order to do something useful with them. For one obvious example, a cook doesn’t have to understand what is going on chemically in the oven … Continue reading

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Light and Abstract Form

My normal and somewhat unreflective view of this early Leger has always been that there is an unresolved conflict between the imagery – the obvious chair, side table, cup, folded   fingers – and the large abstract white and black … Continue reading

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A Journey by Train

Sonia Delaunay’s collaboration with Blaise Cendrars, La Prose du Transsiberien, featured in a number of recent catalogs, including Inventing Abstraction, is pretty interesting. I love the shapes, and of course I love the idea of an abstract book. This one is … Continue reading

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Cézanne at an Angle

Many of Cézanne’s compositions lean. They have a tilt. The desire to rectify, or straighten out, or balance when a tilt appears is so strong. Learn from Cézanne to go with the lean, and not correct it.

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Combination

  Arp’s blobby shapes are good, and so are Lissitzky’s ruled ones. The artist who comes to mind as most successfully combining the two is late Stella, from Moby Dick or Had Gadya onwards, because the geometry appears as an image rather … Continue reading

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A Muddy Spring

Among the Picabias mentioned in an earlier post is one called The Spring, so presumably lacking the dancing figures. The writer in the Inventing Abstraction catalog observes that this spring looks pretty muddy, that the colors of the picture might … Continue reading

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The Space of an Artist

Blog reader Naomi Schlinke has posted a comment that she has a less than positive experience with Stella’s work, particularly its space. That’s a good thing for me, a Stella fan, because it forces me to clarify what I feel … Continue reading

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Wood Nymphs

Leger’s work is very odd. This piece, a kind of a breakthrough for him, is really bizarre. While contemplating the craziness of this work, I find in the MOMA Invention of Abstraction catalog two large cubist Picabias I had never heard … Continue reading

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Leger and Stella

The resemblance of Stella’s Cones and Pillars series and the work of Leger  is pretty clear, although to contemplate it is still interesting. Stella has a true modernist genius for picking up on the least promising sources. This Leger could … Continue reading

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Inscrutable Klee

Readers of this blog will have noticed that I sometimes allude to T.J.Clark’s articles in the LRB. Recently he reviewed the massive Klee exhibition at Tate Modern. I think he is right to stress that it is very hard for … Continue reading

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Arbitrary or Wilfull?

My personal definition of the arbitrary is a finite number of options, all equally good. That’s how a modern painting, or even a modernist painting, starts – with an arbitrary beginning. What does it matter after all whether the first … Continue reading

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Woodcuts

Still dwelling on the Sydney Paths to Abstraction catalog, which I find surprisingly inspiring. Surprising because many of the works have never been among my favorites. But there are two great merits to this show and catalog – the prominent … Continue reading

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Figures

An earlier post got me thinking. Balzac’s “The Unknown Masterpiece” is an iconic work of literature for modernists, from say Cézanne to Picasso. The blank map in The Hunting of the Snark is equally important for the transition from abstraction … Continue reading

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Early Monet

Some years ago I was very struck by this Monet in Chicago. It is beautifully ordinary – the subject, the treatment – a kind of bland, unassuming realism. I thought of Harold Bloom’s description of Wordsworth, whose use of ordinary … Continue reading

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Sex and the Empty Canvas

I’d like to think more about sex and abstraction, because there is something undiscovered there. But in the era of mass pornography and internet explicitness, a genuinely artistic approach to sex might be anerotic. The other day I was driving … Continue reading

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Gallerists and Dealers

I just came across a catalog of Picassos in the Nahmad collection. The Nahmad family is an art dealing dynasty that goes back a couple of generations. Recently Helly Nahmad was busted for running an illegal gambling ring in his … Continue reading

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A Private Art

A review of a show of Indian art in the Guardian makes an important point. India does not have a tradition of museums, never mind public art galleries. Most art is still in private hands, and, apparently, there’s lots of it, … Continue reading

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Kandinsky Pro and Con

Recently I saw a couple of early abstractions by Kandinsky, which provoke me to revisit the reasons I don’t like them. As it happens, my normal disinterest in the artist has just changed – I’m now strongly disposed in his … Continue reading

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Kandinsky and Stella

The following comparison may or may not be a good one; what caught my eye is the plane sticking forward in the Kandinsky, which could be seen as punctured, and its resemblance to the brown curved and cut plate in … Continue reading

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Old and New

Stella’s work always offers the same experience—each new series looks awful at first, and then time reveals its beauties. How much more revealing of quality is a good strong dislike than the bland suspension of judgment most appropriate today. I … Continue reading

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Wilhelm Worringer

Recently I put up a post on Wilhelm Worringer’s classic book, Abstraction and Empathy. It worked off an earlier post about Michel Serres, but I didn’t give it much importance; it was something of a placeholder. But as Mr. Waller … Continue reading

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Origins

I’ve been looking at a recent catalog of Rothko’s works of the forties, the so-called “multiforms.” My friend Andreas Neufert is a big admirer of these works, but personally I find it hard to get interested. Yet Harry Cooper’s essay … Continue reading

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Another Way

Recently came across these words of Beethoven, relevant to my work because I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music as a kind of research into form: “The working out in breadth, length, height and depth begins in my … Continue reading

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Asymmetry

I found this quilt by Sonia Delaunay in the Sydney Paths to Abstraction catalog. I’ve been looking at it for a while, and just realized why I like it, and what it means for abstraction. The parts are not all … Continue reading

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