Archive for the ‘Painting’ Category

Current Studio Work: Egg Tempera Painting

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I started working on another egg tempera panel last month, based on one of my sketchbook drawings.  I scanned this in last night after working on the background.  Right in the middle of the heatwave, it was so warm in my studio (92°F!), the egg medium started to congeal in the jar, so I decided to stop working for a while.  I’ve got more work to do on it, but sometimes it’s interesting to see a panel in an early state.

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The Forest of Images: Recent Exhibitions

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

“The whole visible universe is only a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination assigns a place and a relative value; it is a kind of nourishment that the imagination must digest and transform.”

“Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused words. Man approaches it through forests of symbols, which observe him with familiar glances.”

—Charles Baudelaire

Symbolism, both as a movement in poetry as well as painting, is often said to have its source in Baudelaire’s writings.  I suppose one could argue that this notion is a bit of inherited, modern European chauvinism, and that one might just as easily trace the origins of all symbolic expression to the cave paintings and petroglyphs of Cro-Magnon people living in the Dordogne 40,000 years ago.  But for the purpose of reflecting on contemporary painting practice as it happens now, Baudelaire is just as good a jumping-off point as any.  Depending on what historical scheme you want to follow, after Baudelaire comes Stéphane Mallarmé, then Paul Gaugin, and from there the trail branches off into a wilderness of groups, movements and characters, all clamoring for their place in the modern story of poetry and painting, in all its manifold expressions.

Nearly a century and a half separates us from Baudelaire now, and the forest of images has grown up around us, a vast expanse of confusion and promise.  Where do these images arise from, and where do they go?  The Romantic poets and their Symbolist heirs asked this question, and in their attempts to answer they gave the world Van Gogh and Gaugin, Wagner, Nietzsche, and Freud.  When the Dadaists asked these questions they gave rise to Surrealism.  Perhaps it was Warhol who joked that when late twentieth-century modernism asks these questions, they get the internet, along with a raft of corporate logos and advertising as a response; but Andy Warhol died before the internet came into being, so it probably wasn’t him.   Compared to Baudelaire’s Paris, or the Dadaist’s Zurich, the 21st century metropolis is a whirlpool of commercial images in constant, swirling motion.  Be that as it may, it seems as if the post-modern art spirit continues to ask, Where do we come from?  What are we?  Where are we going?  Even when it seems that the only answers coming back are network sound-bites, YouTube clips and corporate pornography, the questions persist.

The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s installation at the Whitney Biennial,  We Like America, and America Likes Us is a darkly humorous elegy for a culture that is so deep in decline it appears to be coming apart at the seams.  A white Cadillac  ambulance is parked on the fourth floor of the Whitney in a room by itself, headlights shining against a blank wall, white curtains drawn over the rear windows, the driver’s side and passenger windows painted black.  On the windshield, from somewhere inside the vehicle, a continuous looped video is projected, so that the ambulance has been transformed into a kind of movie theater.  The video is a long montage of YouTube clips from familiar film and television broadcasts, presented in a documentary style, as if Ken Burns were giving an overview of late twentieth-century culture in a series of short snippets.

The framing device of the ambulance itself is actually where the video loop begins:  a scene from Joseph Beuys’ important 1974 performance, the sardonically titled I Like America, and America Likes Me.  Beuys arrives at JFK airport wearing his iconic felt fedora and fishing vest, disembarking from the plane with his hand covering his eyes; he is met by a pair of assistants who immediately wrap him in a gray felt blanket and load him into the back of a Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance, almost identical to the one sitting in the museum.  We then see the white vehicle, with lights flashing, rushing through traffic to arrive at the René Block gallery in Manhattan, where Beuys will spend the next several days alone in a room with a coyote—an animal of symbolic importance in much of Native American mythology.

Beuys’ performance has been discussed at length elsewhere, so I will just mention here that after establishing some rapport with the animal over 3 days he embraced the coyote and then left New York City the same way that he arrived, being carried to JFK in the back of the ambulance, later explaining “I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote.”  It happens that the Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance is also commonly used as a hearse, and this dual function of the vehicle forms part of the poetic irony of the Bruce installation; a female voice narrates a long, rambling, narrative-poem in which America is eulogized as a person who has recently died, or perhaps a lover or spouse who has been separated.  The ambulance that carried Joseph Beuys to commune with the Native Spirit of America has now become a hearse, presumably with the dead corpse of America lying concealed in the back, the ghost of our collective fantasies about “America” flickering on the windshield in a late-night television rerun with the sound turned off.  For me, We Like America, and America Likes Us is the most potent piece in this year’s Biennial; in it’s satiric way it establishes a theme that runs throughout the rest of the exhibits; even the choice of having a female narrator for the voiceover seems significant, as much of the strongest work in the rest of the show is by women.

So here is my list of notables from the Whitney Biennial: the Bruce High Quality Foundation is a collective of anonymous artists, each of them named “Bruce;” after that, Nina Berman, Dawn Clements, Hannah Greely, Josephine Meckseper, Erika Vogt, Sharon Hayes, Aurel Schmidt, Kate Gilmore, Maureen Gallace, and Julia Fish, in no particular order. Four video artists, two painters, two drafts-women, a sculptor and a photographer, plus the Bruce installation.

Josephine Meckseper’s video, Mall of America, continues the critique of American cultural identities—a long, slow-motion video shot with color filters in a large, sprawling shopping mall, with an ominous, droning soundtrack.  The combination of slow-motion, saturated color and menacing ambient sound transforms the commonplace environment of a suburban shopping center into a nightmarish underworld.  In one sequence a Hollywood war movie is playing on a flat-screen TV behind a glass display case, and the camera zooms in until we are momentarily “inside” the movie which is playing inside the Mall—a simple but effective way to conflate the theater of “actual” warfare with Hollywood and the pervasive consumer culture that the Mall-space represents.

Kate Gilmore’s Standing Here is a claustrophobic video installation:  watching the artist punch and kick her way out of the narrow confinement of a sheet-rock cubicle is made more visceral by the fact that the actual space she shot the video in is right there in the room, next to where the video is being projected.  As I was standing there watching Gilmore—who is wearing a red dress with white polka-dots—kick and tear at the confining walls, I heard several of the people with me remark how uptight and claustrophobic it made them feel.  The gray, silo-like cube is of course intended to be metaphoric of repressive patriarchal structures that confine and challenge women—but I suppose it could also be symbolic of forces or ideas that can confine and limit any of us, whether those forces be patriarchal, political, aesthetic, or even “feminist.”

Michela Martello and Tourya Othman are two artists currently exhibiting at the Tria gallery, in a show entitled Idols and Icons.  Working in a symbolist mode of representation, both artists create paintings derived from the imagery of traditional religious and spiritual iconography.  Othman’s paintings of cherubic “angel heads” put one in mind of the Baroque paintings of Georges de la Tour with their open-mouthed depictions of ecstatic rapture and numinous awe in bold chiaroscuro—but with the introduction of a surreal chromatic intensity that is reminiscent of the Chicago Imagist painter Ed Paschke, or even some of the later, hallucinogenic realism of Salvador Dali.

Martello’s five canvases draw on historical, religious imagery from both Eastern and Western culture to create a personal symbolism—images of Italian sculpture and Latin American folk art as well as Hindu and Buddhist depictions of bodhisattva-like figures.  There’s a certain lightness of touch and handling of paint that reminds me of recent fresco paintings by Francesco Clemente.  But the personal symbolism and  feminine concern with identity also makes one think of Frida Kahlo or Leonora Carrington—two artists whose work is in the spirit of Baudelaire’s Symbolist ideas.  Courage features the truncated form of a standing warrior brandishing a sword in the manner of a Hindu or Buddhist ceremonial court figure, while the kilt worn by the bodhisattva-like guardian has numerous nude female figures painted on it, each of them situated in various states of repose upon a pink field.  The alluring, relaxed eroticism of the small dakini-like women combined with the masculine solidity and strength of the sword-wielding figure is a compelling combination of opposites.

Perhaps it is appropriate that Cuore, a small square painting of a red heart with the aorta severed and a small yellow tiger standing in the middle, is situated on a blue field directly above Courage.  The courage and open-heartedness that is required to be an artist in a world obsessed with confining formalist structures, as Kate Gilmore seems to be suggesting in her work at the Whitney?  Or, perhaps more specifically the courage to be a female artist in a milieu that is traditionally dominated by men.  I think Martello is too intelligent of an artist to allow herself to be confined to any one of these meanings.  A friend who is deeply involved with esoteric Buddhist practices has suggested that the image could simply be evoking the courage to remain an open human being, working with the forms that one has inherited from one’s culture while remaining free from their limitations.  In any case, Cuore with it’s little tiger in the center and the suggestion of gratitude as an antidote for anger and greed is possibly my favorite painting in the show, along with Last One, a painting of fifteen miniature Christmas decorations that the artist sketched while traveling in Ecuador.  This is the painting that most puts me in mind of Clemente with its lightness of touch, gentle naiveté, and suggestion of mystical portents.  Each figure is delicately rendered, as in an old illustrated catalog of children’s toys, and is floating against a seemingly empty field of raw canvas.  As in the best of Clemente’s work, there is a mystery in the presence of the figures that escapes explanation.

“No ideas but in things.”—William Carlos Williams

As I was preparing to work on this entry, an advance copy of Christopher Sunset, the new book of poetry by Geoffrey Nutter, arrived in the mail.  Mr. Nutter is one of those rare poets who, like John Ash or Pablo Neruda, is possessed of a genius that simultaneously opens out towards a field of mystical imagery—laden with the possibility of transcendence—while remaining firmly grounded in the matter-of-fact, stubborn currency of the everyday, the here-and-now.

A poem by Mr. Nutter entitled Thanksgiving declares:

I’ve been puzzled long enough
by modernity and its poems.
It’s evening.  I’m walking down
to the river to watch the sun set.
The clouds are like millions of bright blue leaves
scattered across the sky.
I’m sitting in the shade of a massive tree
but the shade is alive. And under the sunset
the giant gray trestles of the bridge.
And under the bridge, and nearer to me,
shards of bottles and the gravel
of the down-at-the-heels marina,
its broken-down boathouse, the gray
cinder blocks in the weeds, an overturned
boat, a length of black tubing.
It’s all coming together now.
It’s the sky and the earth, resting together
in the unassuming darkness.

Thanksgiving, from Christopher Sunset, ©2010 by Geoffrey Nutter, published by Wave Books

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No Man’s Land: Peter Krausz Paintings at Forum Gallery

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Montreal artist Peter Krausz has 15 landscape paintings on view at the Forum Gallery through January 16th.  These remarkable paintings are all executed in secco, a technique that utilizes an egg-tempera medium applied directly to dried plaster.  The resultant surfaces have a jewel-like luminosity and depth of color reminiscent of early renaissance painting.

Borders have been a recurring motif in the artist’s work (Krausz escaped with his family from Eastern Block Romania in 1969 during a surreptitious border crossing)–political and agricultural borders imposed upon the natural landscape, often resulting in harshly contrasting planes of land thrust against each other.  The paintings in No Man’s Land takes as its visual source the island of Cyprus, where a Dead Zone (as the Greeks call it) cuts across cultivated fields, villages and even individual houses like a gaping wound.  In Krausz’ paintings, sections of uncultivable terrain spread before the fertile greenery of ancient lands–evoking at once the rugged beauty of the earth as well as our struggle to live harmoniously upon it.

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Winter White Opening at Tria Gallery

Friday, December 11th, 2009

As the first big cold front of the season began making its way into the City, I stopped by the Tria Gallery for some warm Holiday Cheer and to visit with friends at the Winter White exhibit.  Here are some snapshots that I made at the crowded opening:

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Harold’s Favorite Art Exhibits of 2009

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

James Ensor at MoMa


Drawings from the Compass in Hand exhibit at MoMa

YellowFever Live at the Whitney

YellowFever Live at the Whitney

Walking out of the Francis Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum and looking at the beautiful Joachim Patinir triptych in the European Paintings Galleries.

Walking out of the Francis Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum and looking at the beautiful Joachim Patinir triptych in the European Paintings Galleries.

The Alice Neel show at David Zwirner's Gallery in Chelsea

The Alice Neel show at David Zwirner's Gallery in Chelsea

Another Alice Neel

Another Alice Neel

The Caillebotte show at the Brooklyn Art Museum

The Caillebotte show at the Brooklyn Art Museum

To be continued . . .

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Philip Guston Small Oils 1969-1973 at David McKee Gallery

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

When Philip Guston began showing this work at Marlborough in 1970, the negative reaction of the established New York art world was so overwhelming that the gallery would not renew his contract to exhibit there.  Hilton Kramer ridiculed the new paintings, and much of the art world dismissed the work as being “impure”—it was simply too transgressive for the sensibility of the art establishment, which revolved around a received notion that painting had to be “pure” to be seen as authentic.

Guston eventually moved to Woodstock, withdrawing from the city to focus on his new artistic direction.  The David McKee gallery began showing Guston’s new work and continued to do so until the artist’s death in 1980.  His painting output during this time period became a lightning rod for subsequent generations of figurative painters, who drew inspiration from his courageous break with the dominant trend of abstract expressionism.  Guston once said, “I’m puzzled all the time by representation or not, the literal image and the nonobjective. There’s no such thing as nonobjective art. Everything has an object, has a figure. The question is what kind?”

The current exhibit at McKee is a great opportunity to visit some of the very earliest of these protean works, which still pack quite a punch after 40 years.









James Kalm Visits the McKee Gallery: Philip Guston Small Oils 1969-1973

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Lauren Edmond’s Digital Landscapes

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Digitally manipulated imagery has been a part of the scene for a number of years now, but there is still an almost mystical regard for the physical medium of paint as something sacrosanct.  Artists who have taken on the challenge of rendering their images digitally are still viewed by many people as interlopers; I like to think of them as pioneers, venturing “into the badlands of other media” as Robert Hughes once said of Stuart Davis.  David Hockney is perhaps one of the first major artists to establish a precedent in this regard (he was doing drawings on computers almost as soon as the technology became available).

Lauren Edmond is a digital painter whose work has been turning up in small group shows in New York City this last year or so; there was a show last autumn at the Tompkins Park Library, and then another at a small cafe on 7th street called Planet One, and most recently at the HOWL: Homage to Allen Ginsberg exhibit that is currently on view at the Theater for the New City on First Avenue.

Ms. Edmond has a distinctive color palette that is strangely reminiscent of the mysterious nocturnal, aerial landscapes of Yvonne Jacquette, and a handling of form that at times seems allusive to the landscapes of Fairfield Porter.  But what is peculiar about these images is that they are all rendered on a computer, using a digital painting program called Painter and drawn with a Wacom stylus and graphic tablet.

Recently updated exhibition information:

A Harvest Moon closing party will be at Planet One on Wednesday, October 7 from 5:30-8PM, 76 E 7th St, NYC, between 1st and 2nd avenues, their phone is 212-475-0112.

Lauren will also have three new paintings in a show at the Tompkins Square Library, opening Saturday, October 3.  MENAGERIE: Creative ExPression of the Lower East Side 2009, the show will include 40 downtown artists, as well as performance, poetry, and films.
Tompkins Square Library. 331 E 10 St (between avenues A & B) NYC, Saturday, Oct 3, 1-4:30 PM

Here are some examples of Lauren Edmond’s work, and a link to her website:

stbrigid_FULLmoon-longer1“Full Moon over St Brigid” © 2006 and 2009 by Lauren Edmond

Crescent Moon Over the Dog Run“Crescent Moon over the dogrun” © 2006 and 2009 by Lauren Edmond

Fall Twilight in the Park“Fall twilight in the park” © 2006 by Lauren Edmond

Related Video:  Jorge Columbo’s Digital iPhone Paintings

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Moses Hoskins at OK Harris

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

I recently made a visit to OK Harris Galleries, in SoHo, to check out the latest exhibit of one of my favorite New York painters, Moses Hoskins.  The new paintings expand on abstract visual motifs that the artist has been working with for the last couple of decades.

As an abstract painter, Hoskins is a bit of an enigma: his work is not easily placed into categories that the critical lexicon has established since the second world war with the sudden, spectacular rise of non-objective painting in America.  His work is too opaque and perhaps a bit too blunt to fit in with the Color Field artists such as Helen Frankenthaler or even Sam Francis.  The pastoral lyricism of his palette keeps him at arm’s length from the rowdier exponents of Abstract Expressionism.  Not finding an easy frame of reference for understanding the work, some critics have resorted to making a comparison with the late work of Richard Diebenkorn:  those fragile arcs and incised lines floating in between misty skeins of washed-out color do bear some superficial resemblance to the Ocean Park Series.  But the light and atmosphere that is being evoked in Hoskins’ paintings seems all wrong for that comparison to stick for very long, once you see the actual pieces themselves.  Such comparisons are a bit like trying to write about music:  Beethoven is to Brahms as Mahler is to what?  Miles Davis is to Funk as BeBop is to (fill in the blank).  As it happens, I often find myself thinking of jazz when I look at a good Hoskins painting or collage.

Moses has a generous selection of his works on view at his website, along with some engaging photographs from his extensive travels in Europe, the Middle East and India.

The paintings are on view at OK Harris in Soho through October 17.

Moses Hoskins OK Harris Installation 2009

untitled #10

Untitled 2

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Cloud Studies

Saturday, July 11th, 2009


Cloud Study 1bCloud Study 2b

Above:  two oil sketches on sized paper.

Below:  three watercolors.

Cloud Study 3b


Cloud Study 7b

Cloud over New Jersey 2

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Studio View: Enigromatic Avocado Tree

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Avocado 2

I can’t imagine not having plants sitting around the studio.  An artist friend of mine named Moses Hoskins gave me a tip on growing avocados a few years ago, and I started this one in a coffee can.  I’m going to have to transplant it again soon.  It’s sitting on my rolling palette-table, which is just a ready-made tabouret fashioned from an old crate I’d found on the street in Manhattan some 15 years ago.  I screwed some caster-wheels onto the bottom and store my oil mediums in it.  It’s dimensions are identical to the size of my 12″ x 15″ Enigromatic Paintings, one of which is mounted to the side in this photo.

A few years ago I saw an exhibit of Picasso paintings at a gallery on 57th street that included an old palette that the artist had sitting in his studio when he died.  I was surprised to see how similar it was to this little crate that I’d found, with an old ceramic plate on top with black paint dried onto it, a brush still stuck to the paint.  It was one of the most moving things I’d seen from Picasso:  it reminded me of some of his guitar constructions somehow.

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