Category Archives: Art Commentary

Comments about what I’m seeing

Emma

You know that I fervently deny any purpose for Art beyond the expression of the individual self, and so, I’m heartened to see the new video works by my niece, which are utterly hermetic and personal. A painter, she also works in video; dreamy & iconographic. Like much of this genre, it presents a quasi-narrative and non-sequential format of images and sound. In a word: Montage. Video is not the experimental medium, this form of storytelling is. Releasing from the formulas of drama, and amplified by the ubiquity of video content present everywhere to the young person’s perceptions, the ideas about flow of images and meanings in a constructed artistic expression are altering. There are extremes to this; On one hand I am too familiar with very fat books filled with blurry photographs, whose meanings are particular to the photographer through memory or the momentary, irrelevant to the viewer, with an equal pile of words to mediate that difference; On the other, epic installations, or lengthy and episodic “movies”, that display fantastic production values without need for structure, or reference outside of the elaborate internal logic of the work-of-art.

Her videos, Prisoners of Venus, White Sands, &c. are at: http://www.emmapryde.com/

Adornment

I went to Portugal and Spain seeking and expecting to see a lot of decorative art applied to things from chapels to architecture to sculpture and streetscapes; instead what I discovered was something more intense than what I usually thought about decoration; what I’ll call Adornment. I may have thought of decoration as something applied to the surface, over something else, and and hiding, or not fully part of, another thing; an afterthought. Adornment means for me the accumulation of detailed elements into a synergizing aura becoming the object itself; there’s no boundary between the adornment and the object; each single part has adornment included in it.

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I’m sure I’d like to bring adornment into my work, over-ripe, sensual, vibrant, and rich; Not words I normally use about my sculpture.

More Moore

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time; in Toronto, I went to the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I was in Toronto for the Tango Marathon, but Saturday afternoon I took off on my own. I rode the electric street trolley through town, which otherwise looks like Chicago.

At the AGO there is a large hall, and there are there displayed, some 20+ original full-size plaster models of many of the best known large public works by Moore.

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I’d been up ‘till 4 the night before, and I hadn’t had much breakfast, and when I entered that hall I felt humbled and bit sick to my stomach, and I thought of Prince’s Little Red Corvette:

I guess I should of closed my eyes
When you drove me to the place
Where your horses run free
‘Cause I felt a little ill
When I saw all the pictures
Of the jockeys that were there before me

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These are all very large sculptures – 8 to15ft – far above life-size. There is a lot of surface area at this size. They’re different from the bronzes in this way: I know the bronzes have a rich surface texture of marks and scrapes, cuts and gouges, which are essentially Moore, but the metal is so dark, the patina so dark, that it can be difficult to really see the forms being evoked out of that surface of markings. On the plaster versions, these marks are very much clearer, and I can easily see the drawing-like gestures, and the painterly slinging and shaping of plaster. I love plaster as a medium. It applies like paint or clay, and carves like clay or stone. These works were all done in the 50’s and early 60’s, and you can see Moore working in full-blown abstract expressionist mode across the full surface of these large forms. The entire surface of a sculpture is a drawing surface.

The structure of his process makes this fully abstract and gestural surface possible. I think most of his designs start as small, complete models, of the size to be held in the hands. He worked these in the hand, at the size which can be easily turned and examined, and discovered, until certain. Then a greatly enlarged armature is built to the final size of the piece, by a crew I presume, who also skims it with first surface of plaster. Now Moore has a complete full-size form he can be confident in. No major adjustments  need to be made to the form. Now he can go over the whole surface with wet plaster as if a drawing surface freely and without restraint.

I love Moore. I don’t want to be Moore, but I want a structural approach to building sculpture which also allows for the totally free expression of the spirit through material forms.

In my own work, I have not dealt much with the surface. This is because ordinarily I let the material itself reveal itself as the surface. It is an integrity thing. The material itself is topical to the work of sculpture. However, I’m  beginning to see some ideas which I would work out in clay or plaster – universally plastic material – which has no definite quality of surface except what it made intentionally upon it. It will become necessary to be responsible for the surface of the clay or plaster object; I must discover the surface, and now it seems that the path to that is in drawing. I been doing drawing which I’ve thought of as very thin sculptural shapes. It may be next to think of sculpture as extremely thickened drawing surface.

Machine-made art

Much of the production of visual art is done by machine now. Computerized digital cameras are highly automated, as are image processing systems for still and motion pictures. The digital network infrastructure reaches even to the palm of our hand, distributing images and words. Audio information production is the same. And that powerful combination, added to the printed word, is a mighty voice.

This system of machines supporting visual art does well what machines can do well; lower the cost of mass production and replicate products in large volumes. This is Ford style automated production line. It has progressed wonderfully during the recent digital revolution. The products are similar in source material, design, and workmanship, in that they all share the same imagery: the real world, aesthetics: human global culture, and purpose: communicating ideas and stories.

There is good art being done in digital media and it depends much on machinery. Are its practitioners, if deprived of their tools, prepared to to continue their personal expression in another material way? There may be a filmmaker who uses the media in a fashion that is essentially handmade with a SLR and a laptop, doing the script, acting, lighting, and sound himself. But without them, would he sit by a campfire and create the performance with only his voice, and gestures and a flashlight?  Works of digital media are mostly narrative storytelling, and when not, when being abstract, the meta-narrative of the creation technology becomes the story.

The individual object of art is almost unaffected by this change. It will continue to be created, mostly by one person, by hand, with simple tools, or un-specialized machines, individually. There is little distribution because the market is small and the object is unique and physical, limited in movement. The personal expression of the artist is unique in it’s source: the inner life of the person, it’s creation: the specific manual skill and sensibility of the artist, and it’s meaning: sensuality or spirit, or, whatever.

Individual art is a declaration, not a parable. A statement made by a person. Not the tired moralizing storylines, yet again and again, of good vs evil, the underdog who perseveres, of revenge fulfilled, of personal redemption, the hero, and all that other rot of manufactured sentiment. Enough of all that.

Duende

I have just learned about Duende, as explained by the poet Federico García Lorca, in a lecture he gave in Buenos Aires in 1933, “Play and Theory of the Duende”. (In Search of Duende, García Lorca, Federico; Maurer, Christopher (Ed.) New Directions 1998).

My understanding is that Duende is the quality of extreme emotional intensity, for example as experienced in Love or the grief of Death, typically. What has surprised me is this; I was taught that Western Art was conditioned by a dialectic between the Dionysian, intoxication, dreaming, the suspension of Self, and the Apollonian, clarity, knowledge, the transcendence of Self. Suddenly I’m understanding that there is a third pole to Art’s foundations, one that doesn’t arrive at the dissolution of the Self, but rather is a deep dive into emotion, and the Self, only. There’s no relief from our human condition, or any understanding of Truth, but only the expression of the strongest emotions.

In the book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard remarks on the intensity of the human emotions which cause pain, and why, as a species, we should have evolved these, to such strength. And the answer must be, that the opposite, the Joy of living, and of Love, are the evolutionary benefit of our emotional extremity.

Lately I’ve had a great satisfaction in using some very strong color in my sculpture. I know it is because of the pure emotional effect the color has. I feel the need to do something more with this.

What means Blue Woman?

Being married to a slim athletic woman all my life, that was my orientation to women’s bodies in general. When I took up Argentine Tango dancing, I began to discover the variety of women’s bodies through the physical connection of dancing with a partner. For the first time I was encountering, experiencing and understanding women’s bodies of another type; Round, soft, and buoyant. The gentleness, the agility, the smoothness of motion, the fullness of physicality, all these thing sunk into my brain and slowly created the awareness which manifested in the sculpture Blue Woman. If you are a woman, round and soft, nimble and ebullient  with an open and generous spirit, this sculpture celebrates you!

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