Abstract Expressionism @ Royal Academy of Arts /September 24, 2016 – January 2, 2017

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Jackson Pollock, Blue poles, 1952 , Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016

“At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act…”

Harold Rosenberg – The Great American Action Painters / 1952

A lot is made of the theatricality of the act in the term action painters. And indeed Harold Rosenberg’s reading of what was happening to post-war American painting, as typified by the statement above, emphasises the existential encounter of the artist with the modern world, and the individual as a protagonist within a dramatic event. It is an interpretation which might seem to encourage a one-way reading of the Abstract Expressionism movement, starting with a moment of schism and considering only what came after to be of relevance. Abstract Expressionist artists, alternately referred to as Action Painters, are sometimes portrayed as fugitives from the past, as though they had performed a jail break and were now desperate to erase their past. Whilst American painting from the 1950s on did perform radical reappraisals of traditions and produce breathless innovations in artists’ media, in the scale and delivery of the painted mark, and in content, it did so with profound awareness of what had come before.

There are several characteristics of some Abstract Expressionist painting that have become synonymous with the movement as a whole. Some of these characteristics, in no particular order, are: large scale of both the canvas and the painted mark, an all-overness to the distribution of the marks on the canvas, and -in part due to the tendency of an ‘all-over’ treatment of the surface to preclude the accumulation of marks in one area of the canvas- the absolute absence of anything which could be thought of as representational. The fact is that these characteristics are not to be found systematically throughout Abstract Expressionism, and in many cases they are nowhere to be seen. Continue reading “Abstract Expressionism @ Royal Academy of Arts /September 24, 2016 – January 2, 2017”

200 words #11 / Dale Chihuly

Spanish Orange Black Macchia with Sable Lip Wrap, 2006, 19 x 36 x 25″

“The Macchia series began with my waking up one day wanting to use all 300 of the colours in the hot shop.” Dale Chihuly describes the origins of one of his most iconic series of blown glass objects in characteristically down to earth terms. Chihuly always speaks about his work with reference to the processes involved in its production. The instability of blown glass, and the technical requirements involved in controlling it in its molten form, dictate the final product to a far greater extent than most other media.

Even though the Macchia have the appearance of vessels, they are in no way functional. With an undulating lip marking the aperture between a vibrantly coloured mottled outer surface and a raw, almost organic interior, they could also be seen as tropical coral vividly imagined in glass. The tendency for blown glass to create billowing, rounded shapes reminiscent of some naturally occurring forms is an almost unavoidable result of the way it is produced, and the Macchia series is perhaps the most uninhibited expression of this. Like Jackson Pollock exploiting the viscosity of enamel paint straight from the pot, Chihuly allows the inherent organicism of his medium to dictate the results.

www.chihuly.com

Clip from Chihuly over Venice on Vimeo

200 words #10 / Hans Hofmann

Song of the Nightingale, 1964, Oil on canvas, 84 x 72 in. (213.4 x 182.9 cm), Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz, Photography courtesy of Josh Nefsky

“Art is always spiritual”. It was with such unequivocal statements as this that Hans Hofmann (1880 – 1966) established his reputation as a highly effective pedagogue, a motivator of artistic talent, and a convincing champion of European modernism. From the moment he relocated to the United States from Munich in 1932, he set about the task of instructing a new generation of American artists. His teaching was characterised by a generous self-confidence, and supported by a comprehensive set of clear principles centred on the act of painting, colour theory, and the purpose and limits of the painted form.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s Hofmann’s methodology would continue to inspire his students and emerging artists. His message however, representing as it did a Euro-centric devotion to the figure and the picture plane, would ultimately provide some of his students, such as Lee Krasner, with something against which to rebel.

Looking at Hofmanns’ paintings today, it is impossible to feel the same investment in the battles of theory which were fought across the lines of European Modernism and the emergent force of Abstract Expressionism. Nevertheless, Hofmann’s late work in particular, looks fresh and complex today, and continues to provide invaluable lessons to artists.

200 words #7 / Jessica Stockholder

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Installation view of Jessica Stockholder: The Guests All Crowded Into the Dining Room at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY. © Jessica Stockholder; Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY. 

When certain critics asked Jackson Pollock why his paintings stopped short of the edges of the canvas, as though the looping paintwork was turning back on itself, they were exposing a fictional boundary between painting and the world beyond the canvas. In asking the question they seemed to be willing the paint across the edge, perhaps to see what would happen and what it would mean.

When I first saw Jessica Stockholder’s work about 20 years ago, reproduced in a generously illustrated large format Phaidon monograph, I realised what it meant to take the challenges faced by painters every day in front of their canvases and to thrash them out in three dimensions. The issues of painting are portable I discovered, and could just as well be investigated without easel or paintbrush.

Using the most commonplace of items such as plastic laundry baskets, refrigerator doors, lightbulbs, fans, mirrors, and shower curtains, Jessica Stockholder creates irresistibly lush environments. Where she uses paint, it is to consolidate disparate objects under the same colour. In other places similarly coloured, unpainted objects seem to mimic the painted surface. Her immersive installations, sometimes resembling a latter day merzbau, are cerebral and poetic in equal measure.

JESSICA STOCKHOLDER / THE GUESTS ALL CROWDED INTO THE DINING ROOM
is at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York until October 1, 2016.

David Korty @ Sadie Coles HQ / Davies St. London, September 1 – October 1, 2016.

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Installation view, David Korty, Sadie Coles HQ, 1 Davies Street, London, 01 September – 01 October 2016. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

To read the critic Clement Greenberg writing in 1948 that “…the cubist tradition may enjoy a new efflorescence in this country (America)…” is to be reminded that American art was, until well into the 20th century, still looking over its shoulder at Europe. This ‘efflorescence’ never did occur, unless Greenberg had in mind some kind of sublimated re-presentation of cubism, on a larger scale perhaps – a scale befitting the art of an emergent superpower.

David Korty (born, California, 1971) is painting at a vast remove from a time when the futures of clearly identifiable movements in art were the subjects of earnest debate. If the current series of paintings on show at Sadie Coles employs visual devices familiar to us from the work of a range of cubist and post-cubist artists from the past, then it presents these devices in a way which has been researched. His work is cool, in the sense that it does not break a sweat or leave itself exposed to anything so compromising as spontaneity. Accidents, happy or unwanted, have likely happened during the period leading up to the commencement of the series proper, before the major choices involving colour, text, scale, and motifs had been made. The resulting work is sharp, consistent, and imposing. Continue reading “David Korty @ Sadie Coles HQ / Davies St. London, September 1 – October 1, 2016.”

200 words #6 / Lee Krasner

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Lee Krasner The Eye is the First Circle, 1960, Oil on canvas, 235.6 x 487.4 cm, Private collection, courtesy Robert Miller Gallery, New York

© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016

Lee Krasner would try to forestall criticism when, looking back on an early painting trip to Provincetown with Jackson Pollock, in which the two artists hardly put brush to canvas, she insisted that “…to the people who think paintings are made only at the moment paint goes on canvas!” the trip “…was productive”.

For Krasner painting was always the central activity of her life. Even when out walking the flats of Provincetown she was reflecting on her work. It was her period of study under the painter Hans Hofmann in the late 30s which would force Krasner’s work into maturity and help her find her own voice. She had easily assimilated the lessons of Cubism as they had been interpreted and developed by Hofmann. But Hofmann would always have one foot in Europe and so would never consider, and perhaps never want to take the dramatic leap into complete, all-over abstraction.

Krasner felt no such allegiance to the practice of pushing shapes around the canvas. From her mid-career work on there were no ‘gaping holes’ the likes of which Clement Greenberg deplored. There were no objects for the eye to rest on and the painting itself had become the subject.

Lee Krasner’s work will be on display from September 24th 2016 as part of the exhibition Abstract Expressionism at The Royal Academy.

Abstract Expressionism at The Royal Academy

200 words #5 / Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg / Glacial Decoy Series (Lithograph IV) 1980, Tate Collection, purchased 1981.

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Glacial Decoy Series (Lithograph IV) 1980 / Robert Rauschenberg / Lithograph on Paper / 1680 x 1022 mm / Tate Collection / Purchased 1981.

In December this year Tate Modern will launch a retrospective of work by Robert Rauschenberg, the first since the artist’s death in 2008. It is being sold as a retrospective of a giant of Pop Art, and to many observers and the wider public Rauschenberg falls into an aesthetic category alongside Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Tom Wesselmann. Developments in colour print media allowed these artists to riff off contemporary events with an enviable cool and on a scale which was unavailable to collage artists at the start of the century.

I never saw Rauschenberg as a true Pop artist. The energy of the times does echo through much of his most iconic work, in silkscreens such as Retroactive for example, but it is an energy which is dependent on proximity to that moment in time for its impact. If Rauschenberg’s work had not had something more substantial in its makeup, we might not pay it much attention today. Far more than the imagery he appropriated from media sources, what remains fresh and fascinating is the way Rauschenberg could put an artwork together, assembling paintings as though they were three dimensional, and approaching sculpture with the hand of a painter.

A retrospective of the art of Robert Rauschenberg will be on show at Tate Modern, London from December 1st 2016 to April 2nd 2017.

Tate Modern – Robert Rauschenberg Retrospective