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

200 words #4 / David Hockney

David Hockney / Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1971

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David Hockney – Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1971, Private Collection

© David Hockney

When I was in my early teens I came across David Hockneys’ interpretations of Cubism through what he called ‘joiners’; composite images composed of clusters of Polaroid photographs. The effect is similar to early Cubist portraits, where the figure has been fragmented and reassembled. At the same time Hockney was painting tightly composed portraits à la Picasso of the 1940s. With a distinctively sun drenched take on Picassos’ signature motifs, Hockney took quantum leaps across a substantial Cubist lexicon. Not only did he dip in and out of Cubism at random, but Hockney seemed to play around with it without the slightest hint of reverence. And why shouldn’t he? Picasso too, by his own admission, was an expert thief. As a consequence of the lessons I learned from Hockney’s fresh take on Cubism, I went back to my textbooks to see how badly I’d misread Picasso the first time around.

Hockney was the perfect art history teacher, and for the period that followed I rarely thought about his work without it leading to the discovery of someone else’s. I have learned to look far more carefully since then, and discovered so much more in Hockney that is original and timeless.

 

David Hockney opens on 9 February 2017 until Monday 29 May 2017 at Tate Britain.

Tate Britain – David Hockney

 

Georgia O’Keeffe @ Tate Modern / July 6 – Oct 30, 2016.

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Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II 1930, Oil on canvas mounted on board, 24 1/4 x 36 1/4 (61.6 x 92.1), Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

In a desert landscape, time can appear to slow to an extent which becomes difficult to measure. The sky each day can be virtually identical to that of the previous day. Evenly spaced clouds cast tidy shadows over the landscape. The result of walking to a horizon might seem equivalent to staying put. In a scenario where virtually nothing changes, neither the landscape, the climate nor the viewpoint, the only variable which the viewer, a painter perhaps, might be sensitive to is herself as she stands within the landscape. The painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) was drawn to New Mexico perhaps in part because of the sun-baked permanence of the landscape. It is the kind of climate which allows an artist to spend time examining geographical features, without risk of the weather transforming the view beyond recognition. It is the same kind of permanence that drew Cezanne back repeatedly to Mont St. Victoire.

Georgia O’Keeffe liked to suggest that location was of incidental importance to her work, having written in 1976 “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant.”*. As a statement of fact however, this is amply contradicted by the majority of her paintings, which are very much products of the places in which the artist spent different stages of her life. It is more likely that O’Keeffe, through this defiant statement, was taking control of her own story in much the same way as she had learned to do as far back as the 1920s in New York.

“They make me seem like some strange unearthly sort of creature floating in the air – breathing in clouds for nourishment – when the truth is that I like beef steak – and like it rare at that.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

From the moment of her first solo exhibition at 291, the New York gallery of photographer and influential art world figure Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s public reception was being stage managed in a way which foregrounded her status as a female artist. It was a reading of her work which the artist thought bore no relation to what she was producing; “They make me seem like some strange unearthly sort of creature floating in the air – breathing in clouds for nourishment – when the truth is that I like beef steak – and like it rare at that.”. Having met in 1916, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz formed a relationship which was both professional and to different degrees mutually developmental, and which evolved into a personal one very rapidly, with the couple ultimately marrying in 1924. In 1925 O’Keeffe and Stieglitz moved into an apartment in the 34 storey Shelton Hotel on Lexington Avenue. By this time O’Keeffe was firmly established in Stieglitz’s professional circle of what she called ‘city men’; a circle which included the photographer Paul Strand (1890 – 1976), and the painters Marsden Hartley (1877 – 1943) and John Marin (1870 – 1953). From 1925 until 1929 O’Keeffe painted a series of New York cityscapes inspired by the emerging metropolis, seen both from street level and from the windows of the couple’s apartment. These paintings are among the most solid works the artist produced in her entire career. Their slightly fractured planes, emphasised, if not created, by the steam and smoke rising from the city, speak more of the influence of male dominated European Cubism than any presumed femininity or lightness of touch. Continue reading “Georgia O’Keeffe @ Tate Modern / July 6 – Oct 30, 2016.”