In my previous blog post, I mentioned Michael Craig-Martin’s interest as a child in the shape and form of American cars. From a very young age, Michael Craig-Martin had the ability to identify every make and model of an American car. I found this profound because as a child I also had this ability, but with British cars in the 80s and 90s. This foundational understanding and appreciation of form is clearly something that many artists unconsciously encounter from a young age.
This week l stumbled on a black and white BBC documentary about Henry Moore (1898 – 1986) and my appreciation of form was enhanced. In the documentary, Henry Moore discusses what he thinks is behind his work and motivations. He stated that he believes that “Appreciation of form, comes from an appreciation of sex”. He said that;
“If you want to interpret form from this point of view then everything is sex. Everyone’s appreciation of form is built on this appreciation of sex. I think that my art in my part of early training as a young sculptor comes from going to a mixed secondary school where I could look at all the girl’s legs. All from the age of 12 or 13 and I could tell you in the school which girl was which. If you’d only show me her figure from the knee downwards. The fullness of form. The tautness of form, all these things are connected with life and life is sex.”
I was fascinated when Moore talked about how he gets started when he enters his studio. In his studio, he has a tray of objects that he found on the seashore, in his garden and in ploughed fields. Picking up and examining one of these objects often inspires him and sparks a powerful passion to get started. The outward appearance of the stones, flints and other bits and pieces on the tray remind him of the form of a person or the contours of the landscape. A distinctive form begins to form in his mind. Moore works from this arousal into his sketchbook trying to determine and embody a particular idea.
Henry Moore explained that “A sculptor is a person who is interested in the shape of things, a poet in words, a musician by sounds.” It never occurred to me until then that maybe l should start collecting three-dimension objects. I must agree with him when he states that “All art is an abstraction to some degree.”
Henry Moore felt that reading the book by Neumann titled, The ‘Archetypal World of Henry Moore’ gave away too much about his work. So he stopped reading it. He believed that it is a mistake for a sculpture or a painter to speak or write very much about his work. Stating that it releases the tension he needs for his work.”
“By going into what its deep motives and reasons are, I think [it] might stop me from wanting to go on…One can give a tiny clue perhaps in talking about what you’re trying to do, so people don’t look for something you’re not trying to do. But all I mean is you can’t explain, in a few words, what you’re been trying to do for a whole lifetime…You shouldn’t try to use up words and get rid of a tension that should be used in your artwork.”
Henry Moore’s comments made my wild and untamed mind think about the suitcase in Pulp Fiction. There is an intriguing mystery when the actors John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson react to a light-emitting from a suitcase in the film. By holding back the mystique, the audience never finds out what was in the suitcase. The situation encourages a deeper level of curiosity. No matter what is in the suitcase, it wouldn’t be as powerful as the mystery of not knowing what was in the suitcase.
Our minds are free to make subjective assumptions as we view artworks but we will never know the truth. The more wide-ranging and varied the interpretations are the more successful the artwork becomes.
It is well known that during Philip Guston’s career and throughout his life’s work, he toyed with two opposing forms of art. There was the figurative cartoon style of his earlier work in the 1930s and abstract expressionism in the 1950s. Philip Guston’s career highlights what he believed to be the central concern in the career of an artist. No matter what anyone else says or does, Guston believed that “A painters first duty is to be free.” Free to make their own choice, that is said, “unless you’re the kind of an artist that gnaws on one bone all the time.”
After a decade of teaching Philip Guston became part of the Abstract Expressionists movement. Its art was about finding ways to communicate the emotional reality of life and portray more significant metaphors about the wider universe. Despite being involved in the movement from its beginning after several years, Guston felt unsatisfied. He thought that Abstract Expressionist’s were losing touch with everyday life. The group, instead of looking into the real current subjects of the time, were too busy wrapped up in their own conceitedness and making grand pronouncements.
Over time Guston began to have powerful yearnings towards figuration. He felt that what he was making as an Abstract Expressionist was unrelated to what was gravely distressing him. It was now the 1960s, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the devastation and calamity of the Vietnam war. Thoughts about the flawed political errors he felt where morally wrong. Rather than just feeling exasperated by what was in the news, Guston wanted to discuss and show the world what he felt really mattered in his work.
In the end, Guston had a sudden compulsion. After serious consideration, he concluded that abstract expressionism was a cover-up for the poverty of spirit. Figuration and his morality won.
Guston was held in high regard within the abstract expressionist community of artists in New York. He was there from the beginning. The friendships he had established had filled his soul and bolstered his place in the epicentre of the art world. He had felt content in the community, nourished and understood. Well almost!
Once Guston made clear his intentions to return to figuration, the warm swell of admiration changed. The richest of friendships were now laced with tension and conflicts. The strain was building up, and the common ground between Guston and the artists of his generation began to erode and fade.
Things started to get unpleasant. Guston’s friends and peers were shaking their heads, and uncomfortable statements became common. Elaine, Willem de Kooning’s wife, said when talking about Guston and his change to figuration that, “This is embarrassing, this is really embarrassing.”
Guston felt it was time to leave New York and the painting style of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism. He wanted to return to motifs of his earlier work, the cartoon style of figurative work. As long as Guston was content with what he was doing, and he painted what he wanted to paint, he felt everything else in his life would take care of itself.
Guston concluded that he didn’t need to worry about what other people thought; good relationships would survive. All he wanted and needed was to feel free and be true to himself. Even when he was part the ‘New York School’, a term he preferred, rather than ‘Abstract Expressionist’ s’, he always showed a great deal of individuality in his work.
Guston now wanted more freedom believing that “nothing is ever solved in a painting. It’s a continuous chain that doesn’t go in one line, it goes in a serpentine line or in crooked paths, detours that have to be investigated. I felt like an explorer who almost got to the top of Mount Everest and somehow stopped just short and remembered and thought, well perhaps maybe I forget some gear, you know. I forgot some equipment but going down to recover this equipment I took some side paths that looked exciting and full of possibilities.”
He went on to say “Comments about style are strange to me. You’re working in this style or that style in the matter. It is not as if you had a choice. You’re trying to stay alive, continue and not die. It’s circular you’re still back there. I don’t feel any different now that I did in the early fifties. When I was doing so-called non-figurative things. I know that they dissolve and they don’t have this figuration and all that, but that is really beside the point. Because what is to the point that I am in the same state.”
In going back to the figurative style, he now had what he wanted; he had a new solitude in Woodstock. Guston valued his freedom and independence; however, it came at a high cost. His friendships didn’t survive. The critics were outspoken about his work. Instead of continuing painting, Guston felt at a loss. After a few years and a period of intense self-reflection, Guston eventually went to Rome for a two year residential to find a new path, leaving his wife and child at home.
When Guston returned, a year early than planned, he was eager to start his new work. He had found a new way forward. However, this time rather than plains of abstraction, there was a playfulness that mischievously took on the immoral and evilness he saw around him. There was a viciousness under his new hooded figurative work. From the Klansmen figures covered in blood to the references to Nixon with a political punch. Guston defied expectations.
Guston’s work alluded to painful experiences. Grappling with personal issues and the way his father, a jewish immigrant, was treated when arriving in America. Guston’s father committed suicide in 1923.
For Guston it was the only decision. What was significant to him came out in his work. He had a massive belief in the conviction that the artist needs to be free. Now with Pop Art centre stage, the art establishment slowly recognised the strength of his decision.
Guston continued to make crucially meaningful figurative work up until his death in 1980. Thankfully Guston had the satisfaction of reading about the changing views of the critics. Robert Hughes, who had once called his work “Ku Kluz Komix” retracted his options with, “a figurative artist of extraordinary power.”
Philip Guston, “There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art, that painting is autonomous, pure and for itself. Therefore we habitually analyse its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is ‘impure’. It is the adjustment of ‘impurities’ which forces its continuity. We are image-makers and age-ridden.”
Leonardo Da Vinci left 7200 pages of notebooks after his death, filled with anatomical and scientific drawings, detailed designs for new machines and weapons, military strategies, maps, sketches, and observations, as well as 15 paintings. He was interested in art, engineering, biology, medicine and geology amongst many other subjects. Walter Isaacson’s book is an interpretation and analysis of those notebooks and paintings. If you have ever wondered about the life and mind of a voracious creative genius, then this is undoubtedly a satisfying read. The six hundreds pages of the book, ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ by Walter Isaacson it is an immensely impressive undertaking.
Author Walter Isaacson was born in 1952; he is an American writer and journalist. One of the main focal points of his career is not only the critically acclaimed biographies he has written about Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci but also that Isaacson was the chairman and CEO of CNN during the 9/11 attacks.
Isaacson is a very experienced wordsmith. He has the skill and experience to carefully draw out the life of the gay and ostentatiously dressed artists life. The book is a story of a truly gifted artist who often failed to complete his projects and commissions. Leonardo’s uncompleted work can sometimes be incorrectly misunderstood making him seem penurious, both artistically and financially. However, Isaacson proposes that Leonardo’s wide-ranging curiosities gave his work more substance. That meandering is precisely what made him distinguished and extraordinary in what he achieved.
The book is balanced by the author’s artistic licence to analysis and understand how Leonardo thought by interpreting the footnotes of Leonardo drawings. Leonardo had an intensely, inquisitive nature about all areas of life, which is highlighted by his to-do list. With items such as; why is the sky blue? Describe the tongue of the woodpecker; get the measurements of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni; and get a master of hydraulics to explain how to repair a lock, a canal and a mill. Leonardo’s inquisitive nature was insatiable, unsurpassed and beyond compare. Although he lacked formal education, Leonardo achieved so much in his lifetime. It took hundreds of years for the rest of the world to catch him up.
Leonardo was aware of his contemporaries like the young Michelangelo, but Isaacson’s book shows that he never tried to compete with his peers. He always seemed to know he was on a different path. Leonardo was interested in knowledge about life and how things work for its own sake. He turned down many lucrative commissions, clearly showing self-gain wasn’t necessary to him. Leonardo had no interest in trying to prove things to people he didn’t know or respect.
Leonardo knew what he didn’t want. His ego and his legacy weren’t important to him. For Leonardo following such a path would feel restrained, like being in prison, captive to someone else’s demands. Instead, Leonardo developed a hunch and followed his intuition. He pursued whatever made him happy at that moment, getting lost in whatever took his fancy. He wanted complete, unconditional creative freedom that was free from interference.
Leonardo doesn’t stop after the endless uncompleted projects and paintings. Instead, he was too interested in being an unpretentious student of life. When he paints, it is as if to prove the point that they are no precise lines, boundaries or borders in nature. Leonardo believed that lines are mathematical constructs without physical presence. Leonardo said;
“Do not edge contours with a definite outline, because the contours are lines and they are invisible, not only from a distance but also closer to hand. If the line and the mathematical point are invisible, the outline of things also being lines are invisible even when they are nearer. Instead, an artist needs to represent the shape and volume of objects, rely on light and shadow. The line forming the boundary of a surface is of invisible thickness; therefore, O painter do not surround your bodies with lines.”
Instead, he became the pioneer of a technique, taken from the Italian word for smoke, ‘sfumato’. Leonardo’s technique helps to soften the transition between colour and makes line irrelevant. This is very noticeable in the Mona Lisa.
I enjoyed this extensive attention-holding book. It asked profound questions about who we want to be in life. Although it is possible to pull the historical contexts from 15th-century Italian culture at times, Isaacson acknowledges that he lacked “intimate personal revelations.” However, he makes up for it by trying to process the 7200 notebooks and paintings. On the whole, it was a delightful read.
It’s no wonder many people see failure as the most painful moment in their lives, school wrongly teaches us we need to do everything we can to avoid failure. However, Adrian Ghenie makes it a central power source. Having to face humiliation and shame by returning to home to Cluj, Romania, after trying to start a new life in Vienna drove his artistic ambitions. Returning to live back at his parents home at age 27 in 2005 he had no future to look forward to. However, Ghenie used his difficult set-back as fuel rather than limitation.
The fuel of failure is a common element in the story of success for many accomplished people. Richard Branson’s head teacher said he would end up in prison or as a millionaire. After Steve Jobs was sacked from Apple in 1985 it motivated him to dent the universe. Michael Jordan’s cut from his high school basketball team was all the fuel he needed. Sylvester Stallone, after writing Rocky, tried to get the film made. After trying to play the staring role, he had hit rock bottom. These successful people used hardship as fuel to never give up. They all kept trying no matter how hard life seemed. Stallone saved all the letters of rejections and read them out the night he won at the Oscars.
Returning home, Ghenie felt lost and unsure. With a group of friends, he talked about what to do next. They came up with the idea of opening a gallery as a meeting place and Galerie Plan B was born. Their intention was to establish a program for Eastern European artists and connect them with the outside world. This became the starting point of Ghenie’s successful career as an artist leading Ghenie to say,
“If you feel that you are totally disconnected, that the world is far, that you have no chance…organise something. Put people together in a group with a name or something. Then try to build a program and messages. Sooner or later, somebody will receive them and will be curious to visit you. Then you have a connection. If you do something interesting, then you have a root. You are in.”
Ghenie’s paintings in the first group show in 2006, went up for sale for between €2500 to €4000. In 2009, l attended his first show in London titled, ‘The Darkness for an Hour’, at Haunch of Venison. At that show, Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie’s and Haunch of Venison, brought ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for €60,000. In October 2016, the auction house sold ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for £7.1m as demand for Ghenie’s paintings outstripped supply. [Art Newspaper)
Ghenie’s latest large paintings are now priced between €750,000 to €1.1. He represented Romania at the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. Ghenie is now represented by Pace and Thaddaeus Ropac galleries.
To enhance my knowledge, I took a close look at Ghenie’s work. I wanted to contemplate what is it about his paintings that has to lead to so much attention and recognition. I realised that chance is a big factor when working in the art market and it is a major element of Ghenie’s paintings.
Collages of documentary films, historical images and still images from David Lynch and Hitchcock inspired Ghenie’s ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) and ‘The collector’ as he successfully rendered the texture of black and white celluloid film into the paint. Ghenie translated the cinematic impression of velvety blacks, light and texture into browns and reds. Which heightens the meaning and emotions and affects the dark undercurrents of the subject matter.
Once Ghenie’s preparatory images are finished, his next step is to paint with house-hold decorator’s brushes on to the large white canvas. The crude wide headed brush is used in rapid movements to create washes leading to runs and dribbles on the white gesso. On top of the broad strokes, Ghenie shows his skill and dexterity with a brush to get some of the detail down. Ghenie waits for the representational painting, that at times is drab, to partly dry before using a cloth to dry it. He then uses a trowel, palette knife or a squeegee like a brush introducing a variety of colours to contrast to the earlier brush marks. New marks are scrapped and smeared across the surface burying the detail.
There is plenty of space in Ghenie’s larger canvases to play. Ghenie juxtaposes a variety of techniques from drips and scratches, with pours and smears. The slathered paint sends his paintings towards abstraction. Occasionally, just to make it interesting, he throws in an element of photographic college to ground the staged accidents and composition. Ghenie stated that
“when you try to paint a tree, you realize, ‘I cannot paint all the leaves, I cannot paint all the textures.’ So you have to invent a movement of the brush that would suggest, in your mind, a tree. That is, essentially, abstract.”
There are many fiascos along the way, however, Ghenie knows how to manipulate paint like a master. In his latest work, he takes this mixture of technique and turns painting further towards a form of collaging painting. As this all comes together there is a strong element of what Ghenie callers “a Russian roulette moment” where chance, accident, instinct and the fear of failure leads the way.
Ghenie’s nostalgia for the craft of painting is clear to see. The techniques from modern masters find their way into his paintings. Distortions from Picasso, accidents from Bacon and squeegee from Richter. His subject matter comes from across the centuries.
Ghenie reminds the viewer of the collective imagination of historical figures and moments in his earlier paintings. Once figures of the establishment were taunting and terrorising us now we are taunting and terrorising them. He evokes an overall feeling of contemptuous scorn and caricature, as Hilter, the bogeyman watches us as we sleep in the painting, ‘Nightmare’ (2007).
Ghenie’s versatile approach to painting using textures of smooth buttery paint creates intriguing compositions of visual harmony that feels almost confrontational. There is an overall fluidity across his canvases that is visually captivating. He asks interrogating deep questions about 20th history through the broken up surface. Ghenie acknowledges that failure helped him to dismantle the traditional approach to oil painting. Clearly stating painting is far from dead.
I remember just starting out as an artist, and I didn’t know what to paint. The choice seems so vast and momentous. I was often lost in thought as I was worried about making the wrong decision. I wasted a lot of time and energy when l should have just got started. Recently I heard this advice from Herbert Swope (b 1958) the editor and journalist, “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: ‘trying to please everyone all the time.” Although these words of wisdom do not come from an artist, it is excellent advice. It took me a while to figure it out that l shouldn’t be trying to please everyone, in fact, that was the last thing I should be trying to do.
It is quite common when you’re new to painting to work on getting between three to ten points of interest in a painting. My main point of interest in my early paintings was the angst I was feeling. I wanted my audience to feel what I felt.
I made it easy for people to easily understand this feeling and point of view. However, l have learnt that l need to leave each painting open to interpretation. A strong painting works on many more levels. This allows everyone to look deeper and to see different things in the work. The sleigh of hand is to take stuff out rather than put things in.
I paint the painting I want to see. As I know, there is a lot of people who have the same tastes as me. I ask myself what really excites me? What can I uniquely achieve on a canvas? If there are some tough steps I need to do to achieve my next painting, then I need to do those hard steps.
I have done this by learning to say no. Often painting is a choice of what not to do. I now know I don’t need to be worried about whether people like it or not. I have learnt that whatever I choose to do will be worth the hard work. As long as I live a life of total engagement with my work, I will be content. When that commitment comes through my work, the choice of what I paint doesn’t matter. Apparently, there are 100,000 people with similar interests to me somewhere in the world. l paint a painting that I would be thrilled to see. My audience is a stadium of me!
Viewing Etel Adnan’s vibrant paintings, it is surprising to discover that when Adnan grew up in Beirut, colour only found its way into her home in the form of decorative rugs. Adnan’s childhood home had no paintings on the walls and there were no art museums nearby. Nevertheless, she became interested in making art. Unfortunately for her and us, Adnan was discouraged by her mother’s nullifying comments about being clumsy. So instead, Adnan found her creative outlet through writing. In 1977 she won the France-Pays Arabes award for her novel Sitt Marie Rose.
Many years later after Adnan moved to America and she was teaching Aesthetics at the Dominican College in California she also picked up a brush. Adnan’s colleague Ann O’Hanlon enthusiastically encouraged her to start painting. This encouragement freed the 35-year-old Adnan, and she soon was in a love affair with the colours of the Californian landscape.
Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs
The iconic peak of Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco was visible from her apartment. Along with this and natural shapes and forms of the landscape like triangles, squares and circles, Adnan found her own way forward. Form and mass penetrated her soul and found their way on to her canvases as she painted her spatial experiments. The resulting paintings certainly had the power to affect the soul of the viewer. Adnan painted her canvases on a table in a room in her apartment. She uses a palette knife to create buttery slabs of pure colour, often using oil paint directly from the tube.
Paul Klee, the German artist, was a significant influence for Adnan. Klee came to prominence in the 1920s while teaching at the Bauhaus. Like Adnan, Klee began by working in a different field. Then in 1914 the violinist visited Tunisia and overwhelmed by the inspiring light started painting. Klee began to create a harmony of colours using rectangles on a canvas. He believed that colour could create different responses, similar to the way that music keys do. Klee composed his paintings like he was making a symphony. There is a surprisingly similar approach in Adnan work, but an altogether different looking outcome.
Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs
In each canvas, Adnan reorganises what she sees into different compositions in a wide variety of pastel tones. Each painting has its own rhythm, energy and its own structural arrangement. Adnan uses colour to see what it can do and explores what colour can communicate. Her work is akin to a poem or a musical composition. The result is something unique and beautiful. Her subtle adjustments of the landscape create a visual symphony that celebrates light.
Up until 2012, Adnan had small shows and was known as a painter only by an intimate audience. At 87, her work received recognition by being included in Documenta. Since then, Adnan had exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, the Whitney Biennial and White Cube in London.
Adnan later said it was poetic justice that she came to painting through poetry, and she discovered that the reality she saw in her art was up for grabs. Through observing nature, Adnan’s use of the sun, mountains and the horizon suggests a world seen through tinted glasses. Each painting has a spirit, a lifting force that makes you feel warm inside. Adnan paintings encourage us to look at the world and then look beyond what we think we see. She understands the rules and power of colour along with natural know-how of how to use them. I felt that her abstract values were like a path to some kind of truth. Her work says that colour alone is all that the painter needs.
Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs
Often when a viewer looks at works of art they ask themselves, ‘why did the artist make this?’ However I believe that understanding the original idea or intention of my work defeats my ambitions for this artwork. Instinct led me to paint this painting. By trying to understand my instincts my aims are never going to be clear.
Creativity is instinctive, and it is buried within me. I’m interested in this part of myself. I am curious about exploring what I am hung up on. I’m not in control of what comes out.
Braque said, “the only thing that matters in art is what that cannot be explained.”
A painting has to stand up by itself – Related posts:
Art does not have a purpose and function like a design. It is not essential to try and understand why I made this artwork. A person viewing an artwork comes to see the work with their own unique background, knowledge, and history. The artwork now exists on its own, and it has to stand up by itself.
Everyone sees things differently. I believe that the best artworks mean different things to different people.
As Duchamp said, “the artist has only 50% of the responsibility and that is to get the work out, it is completed by the viewer.”
A painting has to stand up by itself – Related posts:
I was taught at school that everything had to be right. I was encouraged to conform so that when I grew up I would make a good employee. Education was stifling. I was urged to aim for perfection; however, I was a long way away from achieving that. Sketching and doodling were discouraged, learning from failure was hindered. As a consequence, I had no idea how to rebound from a failed painting.
When I started to learn to paint I use to stop, look and make a judgment about my progress. I worried I was wasting my time and making a blunder. I hated being wrong. It is a struggle to complete a piece of work and I didn’t realise that I needed to keep working until the artwork was ‘finished’. If I stepped back too early l was not happy with what l had achieved. It took me a while to realise that l needed to conclude the artwork, then reflect, review and try to acknowledge what didn’t work.
Then for years when l made a failed painting, it was like hitting a brick wall. It would take me weeks to recover, to stop procrastinating and worrying. I would ask myself where did I go wrong? What lessons can l learn for next time? I’m not sure when l finally realised that a failed painting is a near win. That each time l practised the experience allowed me to grow.
By learning from my near wins l slowly learnt that I could avoid the same mistakes. The flourishing painter, Alex Katz said it took a thousand paintings to achieve his ‘Big Style’. Michael Jordan, the highly successful basketball player, missed nine thousand shots in his career. Thomas Edison, the prosperous inventor, said after inventing the light bulb, ‘I have not failed, I have just found ten thousand ways that didn’t work.’
The painting process needs to be inquisitive, open and free. Before I start a painting l no longer think that what I intended will happen. I know if it fails that something else will happen instead. A painting with difficulties and flaws leaves the door open to the next work and the next work after that. It gets me closer to where I wanted to go without realising where ‘where’ is.
If the opposite was true and I had an idea first. When I made it, it would be lacking in integrity, authenticity and a soul. It would be stillborn. It would be dead. Like I feel about the painting ‘Law of the Jungle’ above.
I have slowly realised a failed painting has no negative impact on my long term career unless I let it. Thomas Edison stated that “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time.” Therefore l focus on the skills that persist past the painting, and look for the best option to create more choices. There is no conceptual end, just a deeper rabbit hole.
Tal R’s painting practice follows the traditions of oil painting. The artist walks the streets in Copenhagen near where he lives and works, looking for people, places and objects that appeal to his curiosity. He looks for the moment that he feels is slipping away and paints its soul in vibrant and colourful paintings that at times float into abstraction.
Tal’s passion and exhilaration for paint clearly materialises throughout his work. In each painting, he is learning about the endless curiosities with life and paint. I see the pictures like a window into the inquisitive thoughts that are bouncing around in his head.
When I look at Tal’s paintings I easily relate to the places. I understand some of the references; but at the same time, I’m often confused. Tal often adds an object into his painting that doesn’t sit right. By placing this almost ‘foreign’ object where it doesn’t belong, his paintings work at getting an unanswerable question into one’s mind. He calls it ‘leaving the viewer with a stone in their shoe.’
Marcel Duchamp commented that “the creative act is not formed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”
We each come to his painting with our own way of seeing the world and pick up on different points of interest. Tal’s artwork then becomes about the paint, the artist, the viewer and their baggage. These four elements are what is so attractive about Tal’s paintings. Tal does what all good artist do, he makes it look so easy.
Tal describing how his practice works, “How I do it before I do it is, I work with all these motives, like figures and drawings. Sometimes they lose their vitality. Then I put them away. Later they appear in new forms. So it is like being in my head.”
“All of these places that I paint they mean something and they also mean nothing. These are places I am very familiar with. I walk past them many times. It makes it much more easy for me to rhyme in those places. Although it is about places in Copenhagen, it could, in fact, be about anywhere. If I grew up in another city, I would rhyme on those places.” Tal R
“It is like trying to grab a fish, and it slips out of your hand. You should catch it and feel it is yours.” Tal R
Tal’s work can’t be explained purely by understanding the subject. The forms and references only appear to on the surface, rhyming with other footnotes that are possibly out of the picture. The real subject matter is the formal qualities and paint.
Often Tal starts with an underneath layer of paint in a free-flowing thick impasto style. It is usually an intense colour in contrast with what goes on top. The tones are often a little subdued, but they pulse and wobble due to the contrastive composition. They dance for your eyes like a gymnast, filling you with hopefulness.
Tal doesn’t paint to give a complete account of the essential nature or direct likeness of an object. He goes for a ghostly like quality. What is more critical to Tal is the success of those objects and colours as formal qualities in the painting. He adjusts the flexible subject matter to create a visual harmony in their placement within the composition. The intriguing forms and his unrefined strokes of oil paint encourage the object to float between figuration and abstraction. This is the real subject matter. It’s the skill of his image making that makes Tal R’s paintings a success.
Tal steps into a space where all good artist go, into a spacious creative area and into a painting where time disappears, where he is at one with his creative innocence. He loses himself in his work, like a child at play. Pointing himself towards what he is interested in, and the work comes out unforced and without plotting. Tal is in a place where he is allowed to be true and where no effort is required. This creative space is a place where we all seek to go.
Tal R was born in Isreal in 1967 and moved to Denmark when he was young. He studied at the Royale Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark where he continues to live and work. His work is currently on show at Victoria Miro Mayfair, in a group show titled, ‘Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby, Tal R’ until 23rd March 2019.
At the Whitechapel Gallery in 2016, many thoughts rushed through my mind the first time I saw the painting ‘Crashing Wave (2011)’ by Mary Heilmann. As I looked at the painting it evoked a special moment. I remember being out on my body board on Manly beach, Australia, at complete peace with my surroundings. The air was crisp, and the sun was bright as I pitched forward. I kicked with my flippers while paddling hard with my hands as I took off down into a crystal clear barrel wave. I rode the perfect wave, a foaming mass of white water. The ultimate experience!
It was a weird feeling being out in the sea, which strangely had surprising similarities to painting in a studio. There is the same solitude in painting when you’re standing with a brush in front of a canvas. You’re in apparently harmless water, but there is the feeling that if you’re not alert, like one wrong move at the peak of the wave, you could end up scrambling to stay on the surface. The consequence being that you could get thrown around and washed out. Mental and physically rejected back on the beach or in front of a failed canvas.
Related posts; The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann
Mary Heilmann’s unforgettable painting combines subject with spills and accidents, runs and washes, that are akin to nature. Although Hellmann only witnessed surfing as a spectator sport, she has captured its impression in the surface energy of her painting. Using a geometric structure, Mary invites you to have an aesthetic experience. A remarkable vibrant experience that is enthralling, leaving the feeling that reality has been refreshed.
Mary highlights the need to be at one with what you are doing. One mistake and it’s over. In both situations, you can spend a lot of time thinking and waiting for the right moment; the right wave or inspiration to get started. Hoping for the world to move through you. Undisturbed by turmoil and disorder. Aiming for a placid stream of serenity where things come together in the stillness. When you are in tune with that stillness, incline your mind towards a majestic moment. Confronting the sharpness of life as you harness nature and ride the wave of an idea back to shore.
As Mary Heilmann says, “Each of my pictures can be seen as an autobiographical marker. A cue by which I evoke a moment from my past or my projected future. Each a charm to conjure a mental reality and to give it physical form.”
Mary Heilmann was born in 1940 in California. As a student, she trained as a ceramicist and a sculptor. After trying to complete in an all-male environment in both these fields she struggled to get any attention. Then Heilmann decided to paint. She had her first show in New York in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of American Art after moving to New York in 1968.
Related posts; The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann