Abstract 2020.006

(Written March 15)

Dear friends of art (and of Owen);

It’s been some time since I sent off a “what’s on the easels”  note and I am slightly reluctant to do this except that

  • One of you actually asked me what was up!
  • I’m in the hospital with my elderly father, who is undergoing some tests, and there’s not much else to do but worry

My reluctance is that of the three pieces I have here, only one, the truly abstract, is done, and that came out right quick.  It’s a little oil stick on duralar plastic, I’m quite happy with it, and why?  Because sometimes simplicity, wordless, is all one wants, or needs.

Some time ago I wrote a piece that I titled “When is a painting finished,” where I opined that even if the painter think it so, a painting has a life far after its life in the studio – it changes in its viewers hearts and mind, as they see it multiple times.  These next two paintings  – whose impetus came from a few words from  Jeff Bengtson – curator at Isles – are nearly done, nearly done… that is, they’ve nearly exhausted me.  There’s a lot going on.  A few words:

  • Each is in acrylic, 40 x 60
  • Each takes as a point of departure, a work by a great artist of the Western Canon: Mantegna for one, Rubens for another
  • I have neither the skill, nor the time, nor the desire, to copy slavishly either the Judgement of Paris, nor the Camera degli Sposi.  But I wanted the pieces as a point of departure, I realized that I was interested in ironizing them.

With animals (I doubt that Mantegna ever saw a giraffe at the court of Mantua)

    • With abstraction
The Judgement of Paris and Goats (Rubens)

It was a devilish mix!  To enliven and acknowledge every spot in a painting, to try to avoid falling into the mud, then failing, then painting away from one pothole and into another – well, one fails daily, which is the wonder of the profession.  Where the drapery folds? What’s the flesh tone?  One could go back to art school and mix:

  • Titanium White
  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Burnt Umber
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Mars Black

The black to dull things down, or perhaps Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Quinacridone Magenta or a Cadmium Red, a Diarylide or Indian Yellow, a “brilliant” Purple – there are too many choices, and what’s worse, the reproductions available of these works are extremely variable, years and mold has troubled the Mantegna, Rubens painted his goddesses several times, so who knows what they really look like, and in what light?  It tells me that then, as now, one can only guess at an end, truth is elusive, beauty subjective.  I’m taking my best shot, and I’ll probably, when I can get back in the studio, take one final swing at an end.  And then I have to move on, as my late-May opening is getting closer, and I have lots to paint before then:  “Once out of nature,” Yeats was reluctant to take “…from any natural thing,” but for me these days it’s a start, and I am eager to begin on the ferocity of plants.  So expect a few of them.

In the meantime, if any of you are in Minnesota, run, don’t walk to the Weisman Museum to see the Harriet Bart show: “Abracadabra and Other Forms of Protection,” curated by Laura Joseph.  An extraordinary installation artist.  Likewise anything at Bridge Projects in LA directed by Cara Megan Lewis. I was so impressed by their first show, on Phillip K. Smith, that I would see anything they have on the floor.

Lastly, if you’re interested in a few reviews here are two thoughtful ones from Hyperallergic, the first, by David Carrier on Christopher Wilmarth:  The second, by John Yau, on Harry Roseman.

That’s all for now, but stay out of hospitals, stay well, and be more yourselves tomorrow than you are today.

Owen

The Wedding Chamber and a Giraffe (Mantegna)
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