Archive for December 2008
James Van Patten, “Charlotte Valley Swamp”, Watercolor on paper, 24″ X 34″
Some stunning photo-realist paintings by James Van Patten are being exhibited at OK Harris Gallery in New York until January 3, 2009. These current works concern what he describes as “throwaway scenes” of marsh lands and quiet, tucked away ponds, brooks and tributaries. I was amazed to learn that most of the paintings are watercolors. I’ve rarely seen photo-realist works done in the medium of watercolor.
Aside from these being exceptional works, I also have a strong affinity to these images. I grew up near a nature preserve containing a salt marsh habitat that snowy egrets would migrate through in Maine. Prior to the English’s genocide in New England, Abenaki Indians used to occupy the marsh lands, which they called Owascoag (meaning “place of tall grass”). Salt marsh habitats are usually preserved for their rarity, but there are many other areas besides salt marshes that look like the places Van Patten’s paintings depict. Such places are normally outside the boundaries of populated centers. Too unstable or unattractive for development or commerce, these places avoid human footprints and design. The smell of the water, salt and mud in the air, the quiet that can be experienced, the crackling of the reeds and brittle grass in the wind – is this the throwaway land? These paintings are amazing.
James Van Patten, “Flood Mud”, Watercolor on paper, 10″ X 13″
James Van Patten, “Over the Edge”, Acrylic on linen, 48″ X 64″
James Van Patten, “Almost Unnoticed”, Watercolor on paper, 10″ X 13″
Via C-Monster today, it appears as if the art world has a new photographer bursting onto the scene. Known only as Cooper (what is it with these one-named artists?) his photographs are a voyeuristic take on contemporary suburbia. As if he were mapping out some stalking route, Cooper’s super-cool, anti-art images reflect a bucolic calmness that is oddly striking, not to mention a not-too-shabby sense of composition. Cooper doesn’t yet have gallery representation, but was recently featured in the Seattle PI. The future looks bright for this promising young artist.
Did I mention Cooper is a cat? Visit Cooper’s Flickr page here.
New works by Cindy Sherman are on exhibit at Metro Pictures in New York. They’re also on-line here. I love Sherman’s photographs… sure who doesn’t? Sherman has done interesting photographic work over the past thirty years. The question is never, “is the exhibit of new work good”, but rather “how good is it”, with each passing exhibit. Except, that is, for Jerry Saltz, who “was never really a big fan”. Cindy Sherman is a bit of an anomaly – an artist with staying power who produces consistently good work, and continues to do so to this day.
Sherman’s earlier work has toyed with and skewered feminine mystique. In her seminal “Untitled Film Stills” and other lively and exaggerated conceptual female portraits, she cast herself in most pictures, adopting various roles in the photographs that both exploit and comment on the male gaze, as well as create a running narrative about female identity. This subject has seemingly been an endless well of inspiration and exploration for her and her work. The latest works are not a departure from that basic formula, however, these works seem to be representative of Sherman looking forward in time, perhaps trying on various roles and identities for research into her own “golden age” down the road.
Sherman has often employed an element of satire in her works, sometimes subtle, and sometimes in the extreme to the point of the images being grotesque. These latest works seem to represent a somewhat satirical yet tragic take on the middle ages of upper class, white matriarchs (perhaps a sector of women who collect her artwork, which seems rather brazen). The first thing that one notices is the giant size of the photos themselves. They’re over-sized to the point that they can’t be ignored, which seems to be the point. The make up Sherman uses to assume each specific identity and role for the photographs has been purposefully over done, the clothing worn in each photo helps tell a story, and the poses range from icy cold to slightly demented. There’s women in ball gowns alone in their own living rooms. Women who are trying very hard to look good for the camera. Not that the representation of each of these female personae seem untrue. Quite the opposite, they’re on point in American society. Sherman might find other less comical archetypes of middle age women in societies like South America or Asia, but Sherman is focusing on the women in her social and/or professional neighborhood. For Sherman and some viewers, these are convincingly realistic representations of women. I suspect for others, these images will appear to be caricatures.
Time seems more at issue in these works than in her previous work. Sherman seems to be focusing on a period of transition and uncertainty in the lives of Western womanhood. The time of sexual attraction and procreation is seemingly over for these women. These women’s children have moved out of the house, or perhaps they never had children. These society women are approaching a time when their previously engaged and active lives begin to slow down. The slight satirical appearances of the women hint at a vulnerability and a despair in the not too distant future, despite the many attempts at proud stances by these women. Rather than these pictures being a reflection of how men view women, these are strictly Sherman’s eyes we are seeing through this time.
I read somewhere that these works were more tender and empathetic, but I can’t see that. These photos seem to be an almost savage analysis on the part of Sherman, to stave off the possibility of herself becoming one of these archetypal identities. In each of the photographs Sherman digitally superimposes her subjects in various stately backgrounds and surrounding, which serve as the symbolic representation of a life’s work. The women hautily project an image of themselves against that backdrop, yet a tragic subtext fills the space in the photograph. Despite Sherman’s attempt at a humorous distance between her subjects and herself, she’s pinpointed a very serious time of passage in women’s lives, including her own.
Review of exhibit and video at Art:21.
Review by Martha Schwendener at Village Voice.
Review of exhibit by Art Forum.
Review of current work by Steve Kaplan.
Interesting interview with Cindy Sherman at Papermag.com.
Below is a short little interview I had with Kristine, which provides some fascinating insight into her work. I don’t think anything Kristine articulated contradicts my analysis of her work in my previous post, but in some ways it’s better to hear from the artist herself, as opposed to a critical analysis or review of the work. Not being able to see her work in person here in Seattle, I certainly appreciate Kristine’s time and willingness to answer a few questions.
Would you articulate the central thesis of your latest work?
My artistic practice is based on the creation of a central character which I situate in contentious sites of struggle. Various references from literature, film and mythology enter into the work to make part of the narrative that runs throughout each painting.
Particularly intriguing to me is the unearthing of human nature’s innate region, that from which comes the ability to transform oneself into something seemingly incomprehensible or violent as a need for survival (be it psychologically or physically speaking). I’m interested in that moment where one is pushed beyond their own limits, and as a result, transformed into something absurd or unrecognizable. This narrative is the underpinning of the work and motivates the outcome of the central protagonist in the paintings. The embodiment of this struggle is reflected in the expressive quality of the painted gesture, manifested as an additive and subtractive painting process.
In some ways, I think my paintings deal with what is unknowable in a person, they are an attempt to express what would be revealed if the mind was able to have a direct physical outward manifestation of its subconscious/conscious state.
What is the informational source you use to create your paintings? i.e. from life, from memory, from books or magazines or stories?
I’ve recently found myself drawn towards classical mythology, but especially the myths of Greek tragedy, those that reflect the themes of love and desire, death, hubris, retribution, and good and evil, as a way to try to understand contemporary life. Through painting I’m trying to discover something about human nature that I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on.
I also collect images from magazines, books and film stills, some I find on the internet, some are my own personal photographs and others are of historical paintings. These images are used as reference materials. By having these various images pasted on the wall in front of me while I paint, I can usually begin to see some sort of narrative forming. As the painting evolves so does the narrative, and at some point, the painting takes on a form of its own. Formal issues and narrative continue to shape and reshape themselves until both are resolved.
Am I correct in seeing female figures in your work? If so, is there a gender specific content to this work?
The central entity is created from fragments of shelter, human and animal parts, yet remains unidentifiable as a whole. The fractured elements are assembled together in order to express a manifestation of conditions that exists outside of the norm. Often times there will be womanly shapes, such as breasts or arms, and perhaps some beings are decidedly more sensual than others, but I consider these figures to be morphing into something that is beyond gender.
Your use of paint and colors seems much looser now, more succulent than the pastels and tightly controlled compositions in your previous paintings. How did that evolution happen?
I previously was trying to define what this central protagonist was made up of, what elements made its shape. It was suggested that I try sculpture to further explore this aspect of my ideas. I ended up making a few sculptural objects, and this helped me to understand more fully what it was I was after. Afterward, I felt I didn’t need to describe this ‘being’ in such detail through painting. It freed up my paintings; I could express the ideas I was after as oppose to feel the need to illustrate them.
I’ve read that people have compared your work to that of Francis Bacon, but I tend to disagree with that comparison. I see much more Gerhard Richter in your paintings, particularly the way you seem to walk along the line between representation and abstract, non-representational mark making. Are either of these comparisons fair? Who has influenced your work?
Yes, certainly Gerhard Richter has been recognized to have had an important impact on the history of painting and I have a deep respect for how rigorously his concepts are tied to his painting methods. But there is an emotionality in Francis Bacon’s work which I’m fascinated by. He seems to have captured a human vulnerability which I quite like. I think he let his own frailty and frustrations enter into his work, on a very personal level.
Another artist that has influenced my work is Cy Twombly, particularly the series of paintings he did in the early 1960’s dealing with erotic myths. There is a series of paintings entitled Ferragosto, that have lush fleshy passages symbolic of Bacchanal festivities that Twombly made while living in Italy. Twombly stated a few years later that he could never have painted those works in America “because they draw on a freedom of indulgent sensual release that only living abroad allowed”.
Perhaps my paintings are symbolic of a struggle to contain these sensual indulges, unlike the freedom that Twombly had found abroad, my paintings come from a place of restrictions and moralistic social codes. They are representative of the grit and rawness that bubbles just below the surface of society, that which exists among all of us but is seldom acknowledged.
Thank you, Kristine.
In my blog post titled “On Painting” from last summer, I mentioned the painter Kristine Moran and spoke fondly of her work. I’ve recently come back to reviewing her work and musing on what it is she’s painting about.
Her paintings often depict interior spaces such as night club dressing rooms, show rooms and private parlors that cast a dark, seedy pall on the tenor of the imagery. Her fictionalized settings house semblences of female human figures embroiled in a weird recombination of the organic / biological and the architectural. Cocophanous clouds of flesh, boat oars, wooden bannisters, wolves, chairs and rope lines collide in an unusual frenzy of violent activity. But as opposed to her earlier student paintings that illustrated total destruction, here the frenzied collisions result in a chrysalis of something apparently new. Moran hints at a generated result both grotesque and glorious, although the viewer can’t quite be sure exactly what that result will be. This interior calamity seems to represent a psychological place within the human mind, of identity and a metamorphosis of some sort. I can’t help but think that Moran is coming to identify with the human Id in her work, and either consciously or unconsciously trying to draw from that realm and take chances in her work. Not all of Kristine’s paintings represent interiors, as some illustrate spaces that seem to allude to a natural world with snow and forests. Others are set on public sidewalks next to buildings. Yet the violent events of some sort of disaster / rebirth remains central in those exterior environments as well.
Moran’s early student work imaged car crashes and other such catstrophic events, of objects at a high rate of speed coming to a rapid stop via collisions with other objects in motion. From there she developed paintings representing environments, cities and urban dwellings reorganized and reconstituted by Moran to reflect an idea of urban failure bouyed by humanity’s hunger for a utopian society. Moran’s latest work, created mostly while completing her MFA at Hunter College in New York, appears to represent the evolution of an analytical thought process on her part, combining her previous painting themes together with a newfound emphasis on the human figure resulting in a new, as of yet unspecified whole. Along with the uniqueness of subject matter there also appears to be incremental steps in her painting technique away from a traditional formalism towards a non-representational impulse in gestural painting and a more robust, juicy color palette. See “Leda and the Swan” and “The Gift”. While her current transmographic narrative seems darker and signifies mankind after the Fall (tragedy), there exists an excitement about it all. See “You Used To Be Alright, What Happened”, “Unravelling of Self”, “Collapse of Will”. The paintings exemplify a joy in the process and craft of painting, which for me comes through in an exhuberant manner.
Originally from Canada, Kristine now lives and works in New York, and is represented by www.nicellebeauchene.com. The Nicelle Beauchene Gallery was included in the recent NADA Art Fair in Miami this month, and Kristine’s work was apparently shown there. Best of luck to a relatively new and intriguing painter. Moran’s website here.