- May 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- April 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- September 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- January 2009
- December 2008
- November 2008
- October 2008
- September 2008
- August 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008
- May 2008
- April 2008
- March 2008
- February 2008
- January 2008
Category Archives: Interesting Artists
gar·ish [gair-ish, gar-] adjective
1. crudely or tastelessly colorful, showy, or elaborate, as clothes or decoration.
Garish: Roadside Color Polaroids, the new book by my friend Robert Jones, is a feast for the eyes. Even if you’re not an aficionado of the extended road trip, as I certainly am, you will find yourself experiencing a certain sense of déjà vu as you page through this book. The photographs tell a tale of an era that could be considered bygone, yet whose artifacts are still so present in so many forgotten little corners of North America that it seems its influence will never be erased completely.
As Jones tells us in the intro, this collection of Polaroid prints, taken with his trusty Colorpack III, “represents a quarter-century’s quest to find beautiful, vivid, man-made color.” His color sense influenced by the “revelation” of David Lynch’s use of surrealistically brilliant hues in Blue Velvet, Jones has driven “untold thousands of miles” to find outstanding examples of these intense colors. He says,
“Ironically, these hues are most deeply intensified when driving across endless lonely stretches of highway in the American Southwest and Mexico, where the people use buckets of brightly colored paints to break the drab monotony of the brown stubble and caliche that characterize that region’s landscape. The crisp, clean air in Canada has given me skies with the deepest blues, and the most luminous greens and reds.”
The Polaroid film serves to exaggerate and shift the color in a nostalgic, yet slightly unsettling way.
As to the artist’s intent, there is no attempt at a hidden message here; it is straightforward and without pretense. To understand what the photographs represent, a passage from “Coloring Outside the Lines,” the essay by John DeFore included in the book, is enlightening:
“Where someone else might have culled through the hand-painted signs and statuary here in search of ironic juxtapositions, or framed them in ways that suggest a new layer of meaning is being created, Jones is happy simply to celebrate what he has found. This collection isn’t a straightforward, undiscriminating catalog of roadside oddities, but neither is it a monograph treating those objects as mere fodder for an artist hovering on a higher plane. Jones takes his pictures seriously, but he clearly respects what he’s photographing as much as he does the image he’s creating.”
Are these photographs truly “garish”? I suppose that’s something best left up to the viewer to decide. Perhaps my judgment is compromised by my love of this subject matter, but I would say they are hauntingly beautiful, celebratory of the overlooked magnificence that can be found in forgotten little corners of the world, sometimes sparked into momentary transcendent splendor by a brief angle of sunlight, other times waiting patiently for decades for an appreciative glance, or for nothing at all. In this age of Instagram and Hipstamatic and instant-whatever-the-matic, in which anything and everything becomes fodder for an overload of superficially formulaic “artiness,” I find it comforting to think of Jones out there on the road, recording these images with this all-but-lost technology, a piece of paper with chemicals that in its own time revolutionized the art of photography.
Evan Jones and hillbilly figure, miniature golf course
Seawall Boulevard, Galveston, Texas, February 2007
For more information and to see more photographs by Robert Jones, please visit his website. The book Garish: Roadside Color Polaroids is available on Amazon.com. It’s also available as an ebook for Kindle on Amazon and as a NOOK book at Barnes & Noble.
Robert Ryman, Surface Veil, 1970-1971
22 x 29 inches, oil on fiberglass with waxed paper frame and masking tape. Collection SFMOMA.
“The real purpose of painting is to give pleasure.”
When one’s thoughts turn to the topic of white paintings, artist Robert Ryman comes easily to mind. Ryman, born in 1930 in Nashville, was first a jazz musician until he moved to New York in 1952 and subsequently took a job as a vacation relief guard at the Museum of Modern Art. His exposure to the artwork there, including contemporary Americans Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, was instrumental in his decision give up music and turn to painting. He never had any traditional art training, although, as Suzanne P. Hudson recounts in Used Paint1, he was directly influenced by MoMA’s “widespread institutional ethos of experiential learning whereby museum educators … promoted values of thinking and making ‘outside the lines.’” He took one adult course at MoMA in experimental painting, although he would later say he didn’t remember much of it. Other than some life drawing done in the class, he never went through the traditional stages of learning to paint or draw representationally. Instead, he was interested in discovering what could be done with different kinds of paints, substrates, and other materials.
Although beginning in the mid-1950s he spent many years exclusively making paintings with every type of white paint, using a seemingly limitless variety of techniques on every possible surface, and he is known for work most commonly described reductively as “white squares,” he would say that he was not making white paintings. “I never thought of white as being a color. White could do things that other colors could not do. White has a tendency to make things visible. You can see more of the nuance.”2
Speaking of one of his earliest works, Untitled (Orange Painting), he said in 1992, “I’ve always thought that if I ever wanted to paint a white painting it would be in the order of the way this painting was done, because this is definitely an orange painting but there are many nuances and many oranges (and black and green). And if I were doing a white painting I would approach it the same way, and there would be whites and warm-whites and cold areas and then you would have a white painting. As it is, the way I use white it’s more as a neutral paint, in order to make other things in the painting visible, color for instance.”3
The interesting thing about Ryman is how he became so well known in spite of (or because of?) his unapologetically unconventional approach to painting. He confounded the critics, who tried variously to categorize his work as minimalist, or anti-form, or process, or conceptualist, while admitting that none of these could be perfectly applied. He resists the idea that his work is abstract, saying “I don’t abstract from anything. [My work is] involved with real visual aspects of what you really are looking at, whether it’s wood, or you see the paint, and the metal, and how it’s put together and how it works with the wall and how it works with the light.”4
He also resisted attempts to place him into a specific box or frame within the greater art world. “I’m not involved with any kind of art movement. I’m not a scholar, I’m not a historian. I just look at it as solving problems and working on the painting and the visual experience.”5 There is no attempt at illusion; the paintings are not “about” anything other than what’s right before your eyes. What you see is what you get – nothing more, nothing less.
I read parts of Used Paint a couple of years ago when I was doing research for a school project. It was a treat for me soon thereafter to be able to go to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and see some of these paintings in person. They are just what you’d expect, but somehow in person they have a surprising presence. I’m drawn to Ryman’s work aesthetically, and I admire his ability to put forth these seemingly simple objects as paintings and get them hung in the most prestigious of museums. I have an impressive number of partially finished textile works lying around my own studio, suspended from completion because I love the raw edges and I don’t want to cut, bind, or hide them in some “professional” way. If I were Ryman, that would be the end of it – I’d just hand them over to the Guggenheim and up they’d go as is.
Robert Ryman, An all white painting measuring 9 1/2 ” x 10″ and signed twice on the left side in white umber
(See full view here)
I first became aware of Ryman’s work from the wonderful PBS art:21 series. In this video from Season 4 (2007), Ryman demonstrates how his paintings consist not only of the support and the paint, but also the edges, the fasteners, and the wall itself. He tapes panels to the walls with blue painter’s tape, and then paints right over the tape and onto the walls beneath the panels. Then the tape, which has functioned as a resist, is removed. The process is repeated multiple times. This creates a variance in the surface and edge surrounding each panel. The quality of the light in the room is extremely important to the aesthetic experience, including how it changes throughout the day. Speaking about his intention, Ryman says, “It should be a soft, quiet experience that’s nice to look at.”
“In painting, something has to look easy even though it might not be easy.”
“The painting should just be about what it’s about, and not other things.”
“In all of my paintings, I discover things; sometimes I’m surprised at the results6
1Suzanne P. Hudson, Used Paint (October Books, 2009) 7.
The title of the book comes from an anecdote Ryman tells. In 1968, he was to have an exhibition at the Konrad Fischer gallery in Dusseldorf. In order to minimize customs fees, Fischer listed the shipment as “paper” instead of “art.” The customs official said that the duty on handmade paper would be expensive, so Fischer told him it was used, and the paintings were shipped with the designation “Used Paper.” Ryman says, “Since that time I have wondered about the possibility of paintings being defined as ‘Used Paint.’ Then there could be ‘Used Bronze,’ ‘Used Canvas,’ ‘Used Steel,’ ‘Used Lead … ‘”
2Robert Ryman in “Paradox,” segment from PBS series art:21, Season 4.
3Ryman, cited in interviews with Catherine Kinley on April 11, 1992, and Lynn Zelevansky on July 1 and 7, 1992. See Catherine Kinley, Lynn Zelevansky and Robert Ryman, “Catalogue Notes,” in Robert Storr, Robert Ryman (ex. cat., Tate Gallery, London/MoMA, New York, 1993), p. 48, quoted in “The How and the What,” Suzanne Hudson, Flash Art n.263 November-December 09
Echoes of Tulips Summer, 36 x 36 inches, ©Nancy G. Cook
Nancy Cook is a North Carolina artist whose work I first became aware of a couple of years ago when I saw her piece in the SAQA 20th Anniversary Trunk Show. Titled Ankle Twister II (photo here), it was a tiny gem of a quilt that captured my attention in a big way. Nancy has been working with the quilt medium for 16 years, but she has really found a unique voice with her Seed Play series. She invites us to take a closer look at the exquisite details of seeds, pods, and fruits, whose subtler color is often overlooked in favor of the plant’s showier flower, but whose form is just as interesting if not more so. Nancy’s reverence for nature is evident in her lively composition, ethereal colors, and mesmerizing quilting lines.
Echoes of Tulips Summer, detail
The focal point of this quilt is the seed pod of the Tulip Poplar. Nancy says,
“[It] shatters as the birds feed upon it. It will also hold some of the seeds from one year to the next. So you can find buds, flowers, this year’s seed pods, and last year’s seed pods on the tree all at the same time. The little seed stitches on the spike of the pod are where seeds have already fallen off the pod.”
Nancy left her career in organizational development and psychology to become a full-time artist in 2001. With more time to concentrate on her work, she was able to focus on her love of the outdoors in combination with her art. She says,
“I find the interconnected web of life to be endlessly fascinating, and I like working with one small piece of it to unravel some of the wonders. Recently, I have been working on a series that features tree seeds as symbols of the gifts that come with life’s maturity. I learned that my work was autobiographical when I noticed that I was creating autumnal images at the same time that I was aware that I came to my art in the autumn of my life. Fortunately, it seems to be a Southern autumn that is prolonged.”
Kousa: A New Dogwood in Town, 36 x 36 inches, ©Nancy G. Cook
Nancy’s heightened awareness of issues concerning nature and trees is a frequent source of inspiration for her work. Kousa: A New Dogwood in Town was inspired by the passing of one species in decline while another takes its place. She says, “Our native dogwood is succumbing to a viral infection across the country. In its place, the Asian Kousa Dogwood is being grown as it is resistant to the infection.”
“Mockingbird’s Larder is a deciduous holly. The Mockingbird carefully guards a food tree like this throughout the winter until either the Cedar Waxwings or the Robins descend in large numbers and strip off the berries and move on.”
Mockingbird’s Larder, detail
There are several things about this piece that I find intriguing. First, I love the way the darker areas of the hand-dyed background fabric echo the character of the tree branches, bringing a strong unity to the work. Second, Nancy has added depth and dimension by using hand embroidery to create the finishing details. And finally, in an unexpected and lovely master stroke, she has engaged the viewer by leaving some of the berry shapes unpainted, indicated only by quilting lines.
Nancy’s career is really taking off this year. She will have no fewer than three solo exhibitions and a featured artist exhibit in botanical garden and art center galleries over the next 12 months. She has also been selected as a featured artist in Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World by Martha Sielman, to be published in 2012.