Just as I’ve gravitated to the use of heavy filtering and blending modes to move further into color abstraction, I’m pulled to those same techniques in noir work, albeit with more subtilty. I submit that today’s work is just as ‘abstract’ as one of my color works, say Picking Vegetables. Instead of flowing gradients of color, here I’m using defined straight lines and high contrast. Both are highly stylized variations on what the eye sees, and both can juxtapose reality and fantasy along a continuum as subjective as the mind the eye is tied to.
What I’m even more recently coming to, as in Stardust or Scrutiny, is the effect of combining the two, the color with the noir.
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I’ve had the pleasure of late to be reading a wonderful new biography of Andy Warhol by the arts editor and critic Blake Gopnik. Spanning a thousand or so pages, it’s is superbly written and researched, with almost every paragraph properly attributed to established sources. I’m struck by a number of aspects of Warhol’s career, the first being his use of technology, even mechanical processes in his art, namely silk screen, blotted ink, and his use of photographs as a base for developing art. Please forgive my presumptions in drawing a link from it to photo art. Another presumption: As Pop Art dawned, Warhol likened it to recognizing the ordinary things around us, and here I’ve been advocating “the art of ordinary things”. Again, please forgive my assumption of a parallel. Gopnik’s extensive attributions also point out rather glaring inconsistencies to the Warhol narrative – as the artist’s self-generated persona asserted itself Warhol seemed to tell different people different things, as though he were packaging his message depending on who he was talking to. Gopnik offers context differentiating the realistic from the absurd, but I still get the feeling Warhol not only prefaced modern celebrity he prefaced modern politics in all its dysfunction.
If I’ve a skepticism of Gopnik’s writing it would be his contention that Warhol’s art was intrinsic to his sexuality, as opposed simply to his sexuality contributing to his art, and I’m just not sure I buy that. He seems to be saying Warhol was a homosexual first and then an artist. Was Picasso a philander first and an artist second? See the distinction? Finally, and this depresses me a little, it’s clear that success in art is substantially being in the right place at the right time, that right place firmly being New York. And not in some sedate, rural, ordinary Midwestern town. At least, not yet.
Appropriate credit: the subject of today’s work is a sculpture called ‘Dissident’ by artist Ben Pierce. Facing this direction, the circle frames the Missouri State Capital. Facing the other direction, the circle frames one of the old Missouri State Penitentiary guard towers. That juxtaposition is deliberate. It sits in front of an empty lot where once stood a squat, brick building completely out of place with the historic nature of the neighborhood. Fifteen months ago a tornado rendered it uninhabitable. At the time the building was being used, in part, to exhibit art. After saving the art, bulldozers flattened what remained of the building.
Think of the tornado as a virus.
It took months staring at this photographic capture before I knew how to create a work both appreciative of the sculpture itself while also offering its own vision.
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I should expand on my last post, which I think emphasized the trend (we live in times when one pandemic will follow another and even after we develop a vaccine for this one we can expect more to follow) and only hinted at its impact. An economy for many consumer and essential goods can be cobbled together using on-line and socially distanced dissemination points. What is not surviving are the cultural elements of that economy – theaters, movies, museums, music, galleries, and of course spectator sports. Restaurants may only hang on if they can do a heavy curb-side business, which removes that cultural experience as well. The sports leagues are desperate to open up; games in empty or nearly empty stadiums will at least satisfy their television contracts this year but won’t achieve sustainability going forward, at least not under current salary structures. Of course, it’s sports around which so much angst is expressed; movies and music and art are one thing but to lose football, OMG!!
It astounds me that so many think of next year as though all will be “back to normal”. Just like that – like magic. Whose silly idea was that?
Story in my newsfeed this morning about art galleries in New York reopening. By appointment only. No mass reopening’s and no frenzied crowds packing in on the first day of a new exhibit. Experiencing Art, like everything else, becomes a controlled activity.
Over the last century and a half the consumption of Art has been a branch of mass communications, like rushing to see the new movie or listening to the new album. Not universally, of course; Exuberance for Art remains a niched enthusiasm, confined to the great centers of culture. Much as my local galleries – really, anybody’s local galleries – might have hoped their receptions for new exhibits would have attracted broad swaths of the public such gatherings were mainly attended by the artists themselves. Every community generated “movie-nuts” and such. “Art-nuts”, not so much. But in the cultural centers new Art has been events, and the rest of us, while not there to experience it, heard about it. The new Renoir, the new Picasso, the new Warhol, impressionism, cubism, abstract expressionism, modernism, pop art; as those things emerged we heard about it, saw pictures of it, read critiques. It was news because those openings were events. They were happenings. They had impact. Eventually, waves of it rippled out to the rest of us.
Now, there are no happenings. Virtual exhibiting, like virtual movie premiers, have limited impact.
We dodged five bullets over the last 20 years on our way to Covid: SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza, and swine flu. The sixth one, Covid-19 got us. All these things happened due to climate change and its accompanying human encroachment on the natural world. Biodiversity loss creates opportunities for certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites to spill over into humans.
All this is going to happen again. After a vaccine is developed and disseminated for this pandemic, another is on a conveyor line towards us.
There’s irony that we use florals as a way of marking great events in our lives. Events we perceive as life changing. Events we INTEND to be life changing. And we mark them with magnificent florals at the peak of their brilliance with full knowledge that that brilliance will fade.
… so we’ll just buy more, right? Roses grow back. And life changing events are followed by more life changing events, often changing the outcomes of those events that passed before it. Ain’t no thing, just move on!
No … no … surely I misspeak (damn liberal). Roses grow back and may reinforce that life changing event, thus legitimizing an approach to life that is unchanging. An unbroken sense of ‘normal’. A worldview that is forever. A rose that sits sacrosanct in its vase to lamentations as the brilliance inevitably crumbles.
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I lapse into a wonderful Nicole Atkins song (click to follow the link).
This work began as something quite different, refused to go there and morphed into something else, and then morphed into something else again. That, perhaps, reflects a certain artistic immaturity, which I freely admit to. On the one hand it can lead to indistinct, forgettable works of indistinct style. On the other hand, it can also, once in a while, break new ground that defines a completely new and innovative style.
It usually takes me a while to figure out which of those has happened.
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There is an illustration floating around on social media of a rural family – man, woman, and child – holding hands, backs to the viewer, gazing off into the sunset, with the caption ”I just want to live in the America I grew up in”. Seen this, right?
It’s among the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.
In the first place, that idyllic America never existed. Rural American families – particularly the farm families depicted in the described illustration – were generally dirt poor, hard scrabble, and grossly uneducated to anything outside their peripheral. They worked their asses off; there was no time or energy for empathy. Health care, infrastructure, schools, and economic structures were generally lacking, and we’re not just talking historically – it’s STILL like that. Remembering some idyllic childhood is to ignore the reality that, as a child, ignorance is bliss. And in those rare instances when, indeed, life was sweet, it was achieved on the backs of others; others who were even poorer, or people of color. People who had been robbed and/or disenfranchised.
That said, it frames the problem. We have evolved into a population of grumpy old men complaining that everything was better back in their day.
In the America in which I grew up, I thought there were only a few handfuls of those old codgers, and we could laugh at them, then ignore them (I was wrong – see how that works). Now, it’s upwards to at least a third of the population. That’s roughly 120 MILLION people living a rationalization. A fantasy. We’ve simply come so far so fast, so many changes sociologically, technologically, economically, that an enormous number of our neighbors and relatives are unable to cope and have thus invented an alternate reality.
And they have no compunction from adopting an authoritarian, even fascist ideology as a means of imposing that fantasy.
There are parallels in Art. Episodes when artists so pushed reality as to overwhelm traditionalists and leave them behind.
The hue and cry created by Picasso.
The hue and cry created by Jackson Pollock.
The hue and cry created by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.
Thus it’s clear. America is The Brothel of Avignon.
I’ve been playing with various forms of inversion techniques for years as they can occasionally produce striking results. For me, the problem is that those results are usually also strikingly fake.
Point of reference: Abstract is not fake. Abstraction in art is about enhancing perspective. Fake is taking reality and just making it look different. The puzzle for me has been using an inversion technique in an abstract way, which is why I rarely use one. Among my earliest blogs a couple years ago (no, I can’t find it) I said that the creation of photo art is not about simply sticking a watercolor filter on an image and calling it done. Applying an inversion layer or filter seems to me to invalidate, or perhaps overwhelm, any artistic strokes before or after it. In my work, I use multiple layers, multiple filters, multiple blends and transparencies in concert with each other, often directed at just a few pixels, to create abstract realism. Inversion techniques don’t seem to play nice with anything.
I don’t know that this work comes off any better, but I find that I’m satisfied with the result. So … toss it out there … see if it plays nice …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.