Thursday, May 5, 2016

Shingo Francis at Art Center Open Studios

I really enjoyed meeting Shingo Francis at the Art Center open studios.  Upon entering his studio, I couldn't get a good read on his paintings, especially the large digital ones.  I liked his collage of environmental disaster imagery: ideas that weigh heavily on all of us.  And there was a screen displaying digital pixelation which I was not initially compelled by. 

After speaking with him for a bit, he explained what the digital image was—snippet of surf cams from all over the world with feeds that were throttled in some way.  The data-choking leads to bizarre pixelation and compression, where the visual feed tries to update itself, tries to correct the image, but never can catch up.  

So what we are left with is an image of the environment trying to right itself.  Constantly updating, it cannot overcome the digital bottleneck.  Then the environmental devastation imagery pinned up next to it brings it into focus.  The environment, the ocean in particular, is always trying to right itself, clean itself, but we won’t let it.  The metaphor of digital garbage as real pollution is made very visible in his videos. 

I was then transfixed by an acid green set of waves breaking in the foreground of a heavily compromised image, and it felt as appropriate as any piece of art I’ve seen.

Ragnar Kjartansson at the Broad

This was my second time to the Broad and I must say it is a beautiful museum….  but…  The upstairs collection shows none of taste of the collector—It seems like a who's who of contemporary art.  Kara Walker aside, downstairs was much more fun, with the Murakami room, the Saville drawing, Burden battleship, and the Currin tailor. 

But for me what stole the show was the installation The Visitors by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.  My first time to the museum I spent a 5 or ten minutes there, but this time I spent a full half hour there watching it, mesmerized.  It is a strange hybrid of music video, art film, and just aesthetic experience that is fully realized, fully engaging and becomes more and more enjoyable as you watch.  

The mood of the room is palpable— 9 screens each showing an individual musician lost in their own creative process.  Then you realize they are all creating a song together… Separate together.  Each screen feels formally isolated—the compositions thoughtful and compelling.  But then this cohesion of the whole overwhelms.  One cannot take in all 9 screens at once, you have to wander around, get to know the different musicians in more intimate proximity. (I measured the scale of most of the figures on the screens— they are about 3/4 size, a very painterly scale, one I am using a lot in my current portraits.  But I digress.)   

There is a solemnity to the act, one where you feel the calm readiness of the different parts as they silently sit until they join into the song.  

The song is, by the way, very compelling— perhaps a bit hipster and of our time, but hey, it is melodic and cinematic.  Haunting and catchy at once.  

I spent longer this time and saw things I hadn’t before—them entering the house and setting up; yelling at each other to make sure all the cameras were recording, etc.  It was disarming and you felt you were present at a happening.  Because it was happening.  I also noticed the one screen that was a bit different, a group of people on the porch that would sing along occasionally, and what was actually going on: the two figure in the foreground would load up a cannon and light it off at the climax(es) of the song!  And when it went off you see the other musicians react by looking up at the boom.  

I hope it stays permanently in the lower part of the museum.  I doubt it will, but one can hope.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Hilbert Museum

Visiting the Hilbert Museum

I really liked the modest Hilbert Museum.  I enjoy collections with narrow scope, for they exist more like an exploration, or a curated exhibit on a topic, rather than a broad collection. (pun intended.)  Looking at the humble landscapes and street scenes I felt transported back to the 30s and 40s of California, a mix of nostalgia and disconnect; the scenes were at times familiar and at times totally foreign.  So much has changed in California’s recent history that I couldn’t recognize many of the scenes depicted— they are all but gone.  

Emil Kosa, Driving Along the Old Road
I particularly responded to Emil Kosa’s Driving Along the Old Road.  As a native Californian, these back roads throughout the coastal hills and Sierra foothills are part of our collective psyche.  He uses a vivacity of mark-making in the foreground which implies the breezy nature of colliding microclimates.  And the looming mass in the back ground reads as either fog or mountains enveloped by fog, either way I buy it.  He places the viewer on that backroad through the countryside, and we are delighted go along for the ride.

I also enjoyed the last few rooms with more modern paintings—the works are demonstrations what the younger generation of California artists inherited from earlier pioneers.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bergamot Station

Last week we saw a 3 shows at Bergamot Station— Arcadia Gallery, Copro, and Lani’s talk at Lora Schlesinger.

Lani Emanuel’s talk about her work was great for the class to hear.  I saw much of this work develop over her years in the MFA program at LCAD and it was a treat to see it all up in Lora’s grand space.  There was a tight coherence in the body of work, and her interest in fashion came across clearly.  I would love to see more variety in the way she paints her figures, though I have no doubt the variety and skill will only increase with time. 

I enjoyed seeing Arcadia’s space— and the owner Steve gave a great chat to us, telling us about the gallery program and some advice for up and coming artists.  From the dealers perspective, he wanted to see craft, but originality of vision as well.  If he could tell who you studied under, that was not a good thing.  I thought this was pretty good advice.  
For me, the work there is hit or miss—it is all well crafted, but some of the work feels more product than expression or investigation.  I loved the large goldfish still life by Miguel Angel Moya— so unexpected!  It was a subtle, inviting subject on an oversized scale.  His other small scale octopus still life paintings were also arresting.

The work at Copro was extremely uneven.  Some work was very strong (like Scott Hess’ large canvas), and others seemed like high school doodles done well.  The lowbrow aesthetic can rub me the wrong way, and most of the work was thus.  Good for a laugh but then what?  I enjoyed the craft in quite a few, and others had some visual puns that made me smile. 

John Brosio’s large "Dinosaurs Eating CEO" always brings a smile to my face.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Rebecca Campbell

Rebecca Campbell at Cal State Long Beach 

Rebecca Campbell sure can paint.  No doubt about that.  
But this body of work rubbed me the wrong way.

I’m realizing sincerity is something vitally important to me in painting, and I did not it find her larger works.  Her range is staggering, but to what end I don’t know.  The slickness of her smooth passages, the perfectly placed “rough” parts.. they rang very hollow to me.  They are very much a product.  Perhaps I’m jealous of her command of the medium, but I don’t feel an intentional icy remove, nor a felt gesture... just a stylistic calculation.  I read the marks as signifying things, rather than being them.  

What I’m getting at is that I respond to unity of form and content, and in this body of work by Rebecca Campbell, they did not.  I just felt the disconnect of hand and heart.

Candy Darling

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sandow Birk's "American Qur'an"

Thoughts on Sandow Birk’s American Qur’an

I’ve been mulling over Sandow Birk’s epic project: a fully illustrated version of the Qur’an on display currently at the Orange County Museum of Art.  Some 300 pages are on display—somewhere between a graphic novel and an illuminated manuscript.   Graffiti and comics are a big part of the imagery.  The consistency and pure invention on this scale is mind boggling.

First off, it is amazing.  A wonder.  And what an what a way to approach such an enormous subject!  It depicts the everyday experiences of American life in the borders of the pages of this Qur’an, each verse transcribed by hand.  

I’m not sure what possessed him to take this on, and to apply the visual banality of everyday LA life to verses of the Qur’an.  If the goal was to make it more accessible, it did— but to what end?  If the goal was to shed light with some sort of correlation between the text and his images, only rarely could I make a connection.  Perhaps the goal was to present something bigger than the artist, bigger than all of us, to remind us of that sense of awe before the divine.  We can see our daily lives for the minutia that we occupy ourselves with, totally separate from the spiritual heights of godliness.  In his work there appeared no joy in this life.  Duty, yes.  Happiness, no.  I felt totally drained after the exhibit.  It was too much.

All that said, perhaps the way to appreciate American Qur'an is one page at a time, in book form.  Pick it up, read a verse, and contemplate the daily goings on of whatever is happening in the pictures.  You might take that verse with you through the day, digest it like a healthy vegetable, and enjoy the benefits.  But all at once, it was too much.  

I love Sandow’s work, and I look at this show with tremendous admiration.  I just didn’t have the ability to digest it in one go.  I look forward to having some time with work in book form.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My Taste in Art?

My taste in art.. That is the question at hand: what shaped my taste in art?  Sort of a problematic question--

I guess influences would be the most interesting way to describe this, but it is not quite complete.  I have a taste for Lalique Jewelry, but this is not really an influence.  Or I love Takashi Murakami and Robert Irwin, though I would not call them influences.  I will do my best, bear with me, here goes:

My earliest influence would be my father and his figure drawing cohorts in Palo Alto.  This was classic Bay Area Figurative, influenced by Olivera and Diebenkorn. The drawings were all over the house.  My earliest memories are of a house with those large female forms, pastel or ink, on every wall in the house.  As a young child I would go sometime to his life drawing group-- a bunch of bohemians drawing and drinking wine.  And little me.

Then came middle school and high school and drawing comics.  Frank Miller.  Mike Zeck.  Katsuhiro Otomo.

My freshmen year of high school was my first trip to Italy, and we went through the major art highpoints on the Grand Tour stops.  Somewhere between Fra Angelico's Annunciation at San Marco and walking into the Sistine Chapel I realized, deep down, I want to be part of this.

I went to the Prado for the first time when I was 16.  I've been back many times, but I think the first time leaves you struck by the total command of paint by someone like Velazquez-- who can freeze time in a painting like Las Meninas, but make the magic trick look like it was dashed off, like the painting is being created before your eyes.

I have a profound taste for this sort of painting, a work that seems to paint itself before your eyes-- Deibenkorn also has it.  And Matisse.  And Morandi.

Gustave Caillebotte, Study for Paris, Rainy Day
In college I was influenced by the draughtsman of the Italian Renaissance.  I copied many original drawings in the Gabineto of the Uffizzi-- Bernini, Bronzino, etc.  Also during college, I saw a huge Caillebotte show at the Art Institute in Chicago.  Looking back now, Paris, Rainy Day and The Floorscrapers along with all the accompanying studies in the exhibition influenced me a great deal.

When I moved to New York a couple years after college, that was when I feel my tastes expanded and my eye became more sophisticated.  It was an eclectic frenetic absorption of new art-- not just current art but also historical art that was new to me.  I saw epic shows and tiny happenings: I fell at once for Ingres and Twombly.  Jenny Saville and Tim Hawkinson.  Uta Barth, Barry McGee.  Chardin, Morandi, Yuskavage and Guston.

Philip Guston, Zone, 1953
More recently my wife, painter Judy Nimtz, has opened up my taste in 19th Century painting.  There were always painters I admired from this period like Corot, but now I find myself delighting in Albert Moore, puzzling over Leighton, and generally allowing myself to indulge in the pure pleasure of looking at this period of painting.  My desire to look at Matisse is waning, in favor of my compulsion to inspect more traditional 19th century paintings.  I feel I still have the taste for Modernist painting, but I would rather look at a Puvis or an Arnold Bocklin than a Cezanne.

So, those are some of my formative influences.  Blend 'em all together and you get this: