Monday, November 13, 2017

Sister-in-Law / Beautiful Landscape

Claude Monet (1840–1926, France), The Islets at Port-Villez, 1897. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" x 39 ¾" (81 x 101 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, Bequest of Grace Underwood Barton. (BMA-432)

My sister-in-law Stacy's birthday coming up on the fourteenth of November. She’s a beautiful person both inside and out. Since I couldn’t find any “sister-in-law” works of art that satisfied the need to praise a beautiful person, I am resorting to a work by an artist who truly produced some of the most breathtaking paintings I’ve ever seen. Even his studies for paintings have an extraordinary beauty to them. And, I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to my sis-in-law than with beauty in a painting equal to her beauty as a human being.

As you may already be aware from my posts about Monet paintings, he is one of my inspirations for wanting (trying) to paint landscapes. I think the fact that he was growing as an artist and expanding his vision of what he wanted to show in paintings even in his eighties, should be an inspiration to any painter to keep at it. I often think studies like this have an abstract potential that eventually came to dominate his late water lily paintings.

In 1890, Monet bought his home in the village of Giverny, which is now world-famous for his water lily garden. Nearby was the town of Port-Villez—between Vernon and Bonnières-sur-Seine—where he did numerous paintings as studies of reflections in water. To paint scenes such as this, Monet used a flat-bottom boat, something he had learned from the realist Charles Daubigny (1817–1878). In the 1860s, Daubigny was one of the Barbizon painters who encouraged Monetand his fellow fledgling Impressioniststo paint landscapes outdoors to achieve realistic interpretations of light and atmosphere. This, combined with Monet’s encounter with the works of J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), the great British Romantic landscape painter, is what started Monet on his path to true greatness.

Like many of the Impressionists, Monet did not paint most of his works completely outdoors. He established the colors and light while outdoors, then refined the works in the studio. However, I have a funny feeling that this study was executed completely outdoors. It’s always thrilling for me, an aspiring landscape painter, to see sections of a Monet canvas unpainted. Monet’s brush work seems to follow the rays of light from the rising sun. Those arcing lines of color are echoed in the foliage to indicate the receding and jutting volumes of the trees. For Monet, the landscape did not exist separately from the surrounding atmosphere and light. He attributed those elements as the truly important contributors to a successful painted landscape.

Correlations to Davis Programs: A Global Pursuit: 7.2; Discovering Art History: 13.1

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tree Memories

Rodney Taylor (born 1966, US), Untitled (Birch Trees), 2010. Mixed-media on paper, 144" x 114" (365.8 x 289.6 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 Rodney Taylor. (AK-2810)
Meet my new “find”: the awesome painter Rodney Taylor. As a Virgo, I do not routinely paint totally from memory. While a memory can evoke very specific imagery, it is often affected by emotional coloring that distracts me from establishing an image of the place that is somewhat recognizable. (I’m basically a landscape painter.) I certainly can, however, attest to the strong feelings place can play in a work of art. I think memory and place combine in the work of Rodney Taylor.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Taylor moved to New York City, where he lived and worked for 16 years. He studied at the Cooper Union, Fashion Institute of Technology, Bard Annandale-on-Hudson, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. A large part of Taylor’s work is heavily impasto impressions of elements of urban life and decay. He also often combines images of trees with his architectural imagery. The tree image also appears individually in his paintings.

Although many of Taylor’s paintings address urban imagery and symbolism, his paintings of birch trees stem from personal reminiscences. They recall memories of trips with his family to Maryland for family reunions. The birch trees represent his remembered views of trees flashing by the car.

Taylor’s more recent work has taken a decidedly abstract turn and a more muted palette. These works seem to be influenced by urban architecture.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.1; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.6, 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.26

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Prescription

It was rainy and damp in New England for quite some time in October. My prescription for the rainy blues is color (and art history, of course). 

James Lambie (born 1964, Scotland), Zobop (Stairs), 2003. Vinyl tape. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 James Lambie / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-2689lmbars)

If I were able to commission Jim Lambie to add more color to my life, I’d have him do the wood floors of my apartment hallway. I would love to see this vibrating color every day! It would make even the dreariest rainy day all right. What is so impressive about his installations is that they follow the contours of the room so precisely, it almost seems as if the colors are pulsating back and forth. This is exactly the effect Lambie hopes for in his works.

Lambie’s installations use eight to nine colors of vinyl tape to transform spaces into virtual kaleidoscopes of color. This piece at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is from an on-going series that Lambie has called Zobop. Lambie first conceived of Zobop (he invented the word) in 1999 for his first solo exhibition in London. His intention was to fill a room with rhythm while keeping the space free of physical construction. He equates this filling of the room without obstruction to music, which plays a large part in his life outside of his visual art. Zobop may be related to the 1940s terms of “be-bop” and “re-bop” that referred to complicated chords and rhythms of nascent jazz music.

Lambie’s process is amazingly complex and time consuming when he creates his Zobop. He starts by outlining the entire space at the point where the wall meets the floor. He then repeats the outlining with color after color, overlapping precisely 2 millimeters (about 1/16") until the entire square-footage is completely covered. It results in a domination of parallel lines of vibrant color. He has also created versions of Zobop in entirely black and white tape, and metallic tapes in gold, silver, and copper colors. He also often combines Zobop with found objects that he augments with bright color. Lambie has referenced music when describing his installations as the baseline played by drums and bass (the tape outline) and the found objects placed on top as guitar and vocals.

Lambie was born in Glasgow and studied at the Glasgow School of Art. The artist avoids attaching any cerebral meaning to his Zobop, though it is tempting for art historians to compare them to Minimalism and Op Art. However, it lacks these 20th-century movements’ impetus to redefine art and the way of looking at it, based on mathematical formulas and science. He prefers that people take away what they like from these installations. 

James Lambie (born 1964, Scotland), Zobop (Stairs), 2003. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 James Lambie / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-2690lmbars)

Correlation to Davis Programs: Beginning Sculpture: 7; Experience Painting: 9; Exploring Visual Design: 4, 11, 12

Monday, October 16, 2017

Rich History

I just returned from vacay, spending my last day in Dublin after leaving Switzerland. We went to the National Museum of Ireland, where we saw tons of beautifully executed golden objects that have been found in bogs over the years. These ancient objects are dated to the first 1000 years BCE, giving an image of a culture with resplendent metalworking and particularly fine gold work. The sophistication of these early Celtic / Viking cultures (pre-Roman and certainly pre-Christian) surprised me. How many cultures have you not thought about in the last, say, 24 hours? How about the rich cultural history of Java, Indonesia?

Java, Indonesia, Prambanan Plain, near Yogyakarta, Plaosan temple complex, view across Plaosan Lor, 830–850 CE. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10183)

This beautiful, sculptural temple complex is located in south-central Java. It was built during the rule of the Medang (or Mataram) Kingdom, which flourished, along with many other dominating kingdoms in Indonesia, between the 700s and the 900s CE. The Medan Kingdom was the ruling entity when the Great Stupa at Borobudur was built.

It is generally believed that the earliest inhabitants of the Indonesian archipelago were of Indian or Burmese origin. Later migrants known as Malays came from Southern China and Indochina at around 3000 BCE. Hinduism was introduced from India through trade during the first 100 years CE. Hindu kingdoms were established in Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Java between the 400s and the 1200s, some of which had also absorbed Buddhist influences.

The Medang, a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom, evolved at the same time as the massive Srivijaya Empire in Sumatra and western Java. Interestingly, although few inscriptions from either culture survive, they appear to have been similar in the fluid manner in which they ruled, with kings overseeing regional overlords who were more or less autonomous. Similarly, both the Medang and Srivijaya seem to have established what could be considered urban centers.

Javanese architecture began under Hindu influence. There was a surge of Buddhism from about 750 to 850 (as evidenced by the monumental Stupa in Borobudur), followed by a second flourishing of Hindu architecture that lasted from the late 800s until the 1300s, with the coming of Islam. The Plaosan temple complex is a large group of Buddhist temples. Plaosan Lor (North Plaosan Temple) was dedicated to the Dhyani Buddha, the five celestial Buddhas believed to have existed since the beginning of time. This is one of two temples in the center of the complex. It was built on a 2 foot (60 cm) high base, and, like the Great Stupa at Borodubur, contains a grouping of multiple towers at the top, a symbol of the world mountain, Mount Meru.

Srivijaya Kingdom (flourished 600s to 1200s CE, Java), Woman Holding a Lotus, architectural fragment, chalk stone, 18" x 10" x 4 ½" (45.7 x 25.4 x 11.4 cm). © 2017 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-1240)

This female figure may have been a celestial woman or deity from the decoration of a temple. In style, it is very similar to the female figures depicted on the exterior of the Great Stupa of Borobudur, in the Medang Kingdom. This indicates the vast influence the Indian sculptural style had as Hinduism and Buddhist spread throughout Southeast Asia.

The Sryivijaya Kingdom was Hindu-Buddhist, and was ruled by Tamils centered in Palembang, Sumatra. After the Funan culture (centered on mainland in Cambodia) had been defeated in the region, the Srivijaya dynasty established itself around the late 500s CE, and thrived between the 700s and 1200s CE. The kingdom enriched itself by controlling the sea trade in the region, particularly that to India and China. The kingdom established control over Sumatra, western Java, and much of the Malay peninsula. Like the Medang kingdom, the Srivijaya rulers established vast Buddhist temple complexes that were famous for their exterior sculptural decoration.

Prambanan, Java, Pawon Temple, ca. 778–800s CE. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10451)

Pawon Temple is one of three Mahayana Buddhist temples built during the Sailendra Dynasty of the Medang Kingdom. The name Pawon derives from the word for “kitchen” in the Javanese language, which in turn comes from the root word for ashes or dust. It is theorized that the term pertained to the fact that the temple may have contained the cremated ashes of a king. It is on a northeast-southwest axis between the temples of Mendut and Borobudur. The multiple towers and high platform are similar in style to the other two temples.

Various scholars have proposed the origins of the Sailendra to eastern India, Cambodia, and Sumatra. Early inscriptions mentioning the dynasty name date to 778 CE in the Kedu Plain in central Java. The Sailendra rulers had good relations with the Srivijaya Empire in Sumatra. It existed next to the Sanjaya dynasty in Java, and around ca. 850 CE it seems to have been subsumed by the Sanjaya. The next mention of the Sailendra was as rulers in Sumatra associated with the Srivijaya. An Indian invasion by Chola rulers in 1025 conquered Sailendra territories in Sumatra and seems to have ended their rule there.

Correlations to Davis programs: A Global Pursuit: 8.5; The Visual Experience: 13.3; Discovering Art History 4E: 4.5

Monday, October 2, 2017

Workus Interruptus (Vacation)

Even though I’m half Swiss, I’m not really a Swissaholic. I just happen to see a lot of art that happens to be from Switzerland that also happens to be worth sharing. I’m going on vacay and thought I’d leave you with a Swiss kiss of art.

Switzerland, Wardrobe from Toggenburg, Sankt Gallen, 1827. Painted wood, 69 3/4" x 56 ½" x 26 ½" (177.2 x 143.5 x 67.3). © 2017 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6672)

When I was little my mother dragged me and my brother to lots of castles. Some of the ones in larger cities would inevitably have at least one room that was furnished in the Rococo style, which was the favored style by the fyni Lüt. This is what my grandmother called the landed gentry, who were governors of areas of cantons, basically a landed upper class. Since Switzerland had no royal court or princely courts or dukedoms, the upper classes in many parts of Switzerland aped French fashions. That lasted until the first Napoleon forced thousands of Swiss men in on his dumb Grand Armée campaign to invade Russia.

That was in central and western Switzerland. In the far eastern part of Switzerland—Ostschwyz, as we say—there may have been French tastes among the elite, but they were executed in the form of painted furniture, rather than finely carved and gilt furniture like French Rococo. The designer of this armoire was definitely into the Rococo arabesques (rocaille), but the little landscape scenes painted in the roundels are straight out of the Danube painting school going back to the 1500s. The roundels may be attempts at Chinoiserie

Toggenburg, now part of the canton of Sankt Gallen, was part of the Protestant-Catholic strife in the early 1700s. It was finally united with Sankt Gallen in 1803 when the Federal Republic was established. 

Max Bill (1908–1994 Switzerland), Striving Forces of a Sphere, 1966–1967. Granite, 23 ½" x 35 ½" x 23 ½" (59.7 x 90.2 x 59.7 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-1007bfars)

Like many other Swiss artists in the first half of the 1900s, Max Bill, born in Winterthur, studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau under Josef Albers (1888–1976) from 1927 to 1929. He is probably one of the most ardent theorists of the Concrete Art aesthetic. The term “concrete” art was coined in 1930 by de Stijl artist Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931) to reference pure abstraction. De Stijl artists reduced art to simple geometric shapes. They felt that the term abstraction implied reduction from a natural form instead of fundamental forms divorced from all reference to the natural world.

Bill initially exhibited with the French abstraction group Abstraction-Création, and organized Concrete Art exhibits in the 1930s. He revived the importance of the aesthetic after World War II (1939–1945). Bill firmly believed that art always had had a mathematical origin, whether conscious or unconscious on the artist’s part. In sculpture, the forms that intrigued Bill the most were the spiral and the sphere. Works such as Striving Forces of a Sphere are Bill’s idea of an endlessly transforming shape that exudes the qualities of rationalism, clarity, and harmony. Although he is renowned as a graphic designer, I really like Bill’s sculptures the best.

John Armleder (born 1948, Switzerland), Untitled from the Supernova portfolio, 2003. Lithograph on paper, 22" x 30" (55.9 x 76.2 cm). Photo © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Art © 2017 John Armleder. (MOMA-P3624)

The question with contemporary artists is no longer “What is Art?” as it was in the early 1900s with Dada and Surrealist artists. Now it is the concern with how an artist’s ideas are reflected in the creative process. Which is more important, the idea or the result of the idea? The Conceptual Art movement that began in the 1960s immersed itself with that question, as did the loose international group of performance and visual artists called Fluxus. They called for the overturning of traditional perceptions of physical art in favor of both mental and visual perceptions.

John Armleder was at one time associated with Fluxus. Born in Geneva, where he studied art at the School of Fine Arts, Armleder is a painter, sculptor, performance artist, and installation artist. The Fluxus movement rejected the idea of “star artists” after the sensation caused by Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. That sentiment was revived during the greed-fueled, entrepreneurial art scene of the 1980s. Armleder’s body of work is concerned with anti-establishment and anti-commercialist works. In 1969, with other Geneva artists, Armleder co-founded Groupe Ecart, a performance and installation vehicle that was concerned with abandoning traditional hierarchies of art media.

The group of prints in Armleder’s Supernova portfolio embraces the idea of anti-star power by mimicking a variety of divergent styles from Abstract Expressionism to Op Art in only a vague nod to the strict canons of those movements. Armleder invites the exhibiting space to hang these 20 prints in any combination or alone, vertically, horizontally or diagonally. This underscores Armleder’s belief that the art has a life of its own, independent of the artist and certainly independent of commission-hungry sales galleries.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Color for the End of September

With all the storms this month, what better way to end September than with a storm of color? And what better way to end with color than to show you the work of an artist who is 1) committed to his modernist vision in painting, and 2) committed to extending an unpretentious appreciation of modernism to whomever wants to share it with him. I wish every town had an artist like Charles Clough with his open studio/participatory events. 
Charles Clough (born 1951, US), Cruor, 1993. Enamel on Masonite, 24" x 32" (61 x 81.3 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 Charles Clough. (AK-2523)

I just can’t stop looking at these paintings by Buffalo artist Charles Clough. As early as the late 1970s, he was producing paintings that have been celebrations of color and gesture, and I absolutely love them. I am venturing a guess that he decided on abstraction rather than narrative content around 1980, based on the moment he writes about in his autobiography, Pepfog Cluff (2007). In his book, he states that he wanted to paint for process’s sake like Jackson Pollock (1912–1956). I can totally see a Pollock aesthetic in his work, although uniquely Clough.

What interests me even more is that Clough’s work was featured in an exhibition called The Pictures Generation in 2009 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It ostensibly featured artists who were involved with appropriated imagery like Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Jack Goldstein, and Cindy Sherman, but also, I guess, included artists who appropriated processes in abstraction. The exhibition included artists who founded the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center exhibits in Buffalo in the 1970s, which Clough co-founded with Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman in 1974.

Clough was born and raised in Buffalo, studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn (1965–1970) and Ontario College of Art (1971–1972). He also studied at the University of Buffalo Center for Media Studies (1973–1974) and New York University Information Technologies Institute (1997–1998). He has taught at Columbia University and the Rhode Island Institute of Design. He decided to devote himself to being an artist in 1971. I cannot say enough about how much I admire the diversity of this artist and his body of work. I admire him even more for his open studios called Clufffalo in East Aurora, NY, where total strangers are invited to lend their efforts to collaborative paintings. After you read about Clufffalo, you’ll understand why I said I wish there were artists like Clough in every town!

More works by this fabulous painter:

Charles Clough (born 1951, US), Universal Soul Doll Guts, 1979. Enamel and paper collage on paper, 19 3/4" x 13 13/16" (50.2 x 35.2 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 Charles Clough. (AK-350)
Charles Clough (born 1951, US), August Sixteenth, 1990. Enamel on board,  16 1/2" x 12 1/4" (41.9 x 31.1 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 Charles Clough. (AK-2524)

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Iconoclast (?)

Zhan Wang (born 1962, China), Urban Landscape Buffalo, 2005–2010. Stainless steel pots, pans and kitchen utensils, 67 ½" x 197" x 393 5/8" (171.5 x 500.4 x 999.8 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. © 2017 Zhan Wang. (AK-2840)

It would probably take me forever to be able to say that I had “seen it all” in the world of art. You know the old expression, “just when you thought you’d seen it all,” seems sort of hollow to an art-hungry art historian. Zhan Wang’s installation just knocked my socks off. It’s so amazing and awesome, and yet it’s not the dominant type of his body of work (or “oeuvre”).

I’m not quite sure that I have ever witnessed an installation that incorporated solely kitchenware to get the subject across. But, what I am sure of is that Zhan’s interpretation of Buffalo, NY (and Fort Erie across the Niagara River) is brilliant! I deluded myself into believing I had pegged Niagara Square in the close-up below, but I’m not staking my art historian badge on it. The installation is so wonderfully complex, and the urban forms that Zhan has emulated in a variety of utensils—I especially like the expressway formed by end-to-end ladles—are absolutely fascinating.

In studying centuries-old traditions of Chinese landscape painting, you learn that one of the keys to a successful landscapeestablished during the Song Dynasty (960–1279/1280)—is that the painting invites the viewer to take a stroll in the land depicted. Well, that certainly happens for me when I look at this installation by Zhan. I want to take a stroll in these shiny streets!

The contrast of old and new, natural and man-made forms is one of the driving forces behind the sculpture of Zhan Wang. Born in Beijing, he learned landscape brush painting at an early age from his grandfather and an uncle, who taught him sketching. He studied sculpture at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he became part of the 85 New Wave movement (1985–1989). This movement was a reaction against social realism espoused by the Communists, and incorporated a wide variety of Western-inspired contemporary art, ranging from traditional imagery of rural Chinese life to groups that espoused Zen-Dada conceptualism. It inspired the development of 79 independent avant-garde artist groups all over China.

Some of Zhan’s most recognizable works are his castings in stainless steel, updating the idea of eroded “scholar’s rocks,” often seen in Chinese painting. This series is entitled Artificial Rock, and like Zhan’s Buffalo installation, Zhan confounds the viewer by translating a traditional subject into a material that is completely opposite reality. Just as scholars believe scholar’s rocks contain the vital energy called qi, there is a definite vitality in Zhan’s pristine arrangement of pots and pans as an American city. I believe the crinkly form in the background of Buffalo is one of Zhan’s Scholar’s Rocks.

Many of the galleries representing Zhan call him an “iconoclast.” Most people would interpret that as someone who objects to images of sacred characters. But I think it also deals with conceptualism, where Zhan as an artist overturns traditionally held beliefs about art forms and subject matter.

Zhan Wang (born 1962, China), Urban Landscape Buffalo, 2005–2010. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2017 Zhan Wang. (AK-2842)

Correlations to Davis Programs: A Community Connection: 9.5; A Personal Journey: 9.6; A Global Pursuit: 9.5; Beginning Sculpture: 7: Discovering Art History: 17.5