Hammer & Sickle with Big Mac


Andy Warhol, Hammer and Sickle with Big Mac, 1976

At the Warhol exhibit at The Whitney, in a glass case at the end of a wall, towards the end of the exhibit and surrounded large and both well-known and less known pieces, is a group of small, gray, low contrast photographs. These were produced to be made into larger silk screen ‘paintings’. Of these, one photograph landed as possibly my favorite piece in the show; a photograph of hammer and sickle with a Big Mac. (There was also a related one of a hammer and sickle with a loaf of wonder bread). The paintings made from these photographs have been written about and are more familiar, however somehow these small photographs feel like they have more impact and are funnier.

As somebody who gives primary value to the visual experience it’s surprising to me that I should respond to something so dull in appearance. At the time that this work was made the US and USSR were still locked in the embrace of The Cold War. That this image is so blunt and undramatic stands in stark contrast to the high stakes of potential nuclear annihilation.

What struck me though is that this image can be seen as prophetic. I’m not claiming clairvoyance on the part of Warhol; however, from where we stand the inclusion of these actors on this still-life stage, in this way, makes me consider how these two countries have become more alike than could have been expected, and not in a good way. Hegelianly speaking the opposing theses of Democratic Capitalism and Communist Totalitarianism have synthesized into a paradigm of Totalitarian Capitalism. Certainly that seems to be the direction we’re moving as Russia and The US take on the worst qualities of the other. This, though not the image, makes me think of one of the opening passages from Macbeth, describing an ongoing battle in terms of two spent swimmers grappling together and so both drowning.

This reflection brings the piece in line with the morbid aspect of Warhol, which runs underneath the dominant layers of humor, irony, distance and shallowness. For all that snarky humor and distance, and all that I may be projecting too much into this piece, I can’t shake this odd little image and with it, grief for the present and future that we have collectively created.

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Shabbyism


My first great art teacher was a tall black man named Bernard Harmon who ran the art program at Central H.S. in Philadelphia, an all boys public magnet school. 40 years later I still remember him saying, “Artists love to talk. Musicians practice, actors rehearse, writers write and artists talk.” I think I’ve taken a studio work ethic with me all these years since then, and yet today I’m thinking about the benefits of talk. For one thing, it was talking that got me excited about beginning this ongoing writing project, when, last week I had lunch with Alexi Worth after returning a painting to him. We talked about shows we had seen and our individual take on artists such as Terry Winters and Kerry James Marshall and also about writing and in particular about writing negative reviews. I have so far avoided writing negative reviews preferring to put my energy into art I can really get behind. It occurs to me thought that this format may be more conducive to taking a look at art problems.

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Alexi Worth, PuzzlePiece 2016, mixed media on mesh, 22×33″

While we were talking I brought up about a review I began of the Whitney Biennial in 2012, that I never completed. My thesis was that the curators and many of the artists were motivated by art world embarrassment. That we don’t want to admit in these times of anti-1%er that the art world lives largely in service to and support by the 1% and so in the long tradition of insulting the bourgeoisie, almost all the work exhibited was shabby and scruffy, doing its best to look anything other than rich. Alexi immediately coined the phrase Shabbyism to describe this phenomena. What a great thing! This was the result of fluid and ranging conversation about art, an in the moment co-creation. Being an introvert and a painter means spending huge amounts of time alone with my own thoughts and ideas, but at some point they just keep turning on themselves. Much like the studio visit from Michael Berryhill a few days ago I was able, through conversation, to see more clearly what I’m doing, seeing and saying.

Strange Reporting


After more than 2 years of neglect I’m re-opening my Painting Lives! blog. My idea is to approach this in more of a diary form than full on exhibition reviews. It will be less formal and I intend to get less wound up about language and writing quality, instead focusing on a range of art and painting-related topics. These will include thoughts about conversations and studio visits, about art that I see and have seen and things I’m thinking about in the studio, without having to necessarily flesh out thoughts completely. My intent is to write 3 to 5 days a week. I’m hoping it will also make what has often been a bit of a grueling task, more fluid, more fun and help me stay sharp; in short, it will provide practice. I will continue to write reviews and post them on the Huffington Post and perhaps shortly other sites.

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Studio wall with paintings in various states of completion.

It occurs to me that this is very much how I approach painting. To the best of my ability I take the breaks off and let myself be open to the vagaries of mood, feeling, letting what will happen on any given day. This has allowed me to become more productive than I’ve ever been, and to stay in connection to what it is I’m actually doing, until those days when magic takes place, parts come together and I feel myself more as a vehicle for the divine than the petty ego demands that can be so tiresome; (every painter I know has these kinds of ego thoughts. It’s called professionalism, and though it has its place it’s not what really MATTERS. I’m sure I’ll return to this topic later.)

Today I received a studio visit from one of my favorite painters, Michael Berryhill. Some studio visits bring confusion or re-visioning, while others bring clarity and a sharper awareness of what it is I’m actually about. This was one of the latter variety and I’m feeling extremely energized by it. Michael is one of the painters that I feel the most close to in terms of painterly concerns and practice and yet, being different people his particular way of looking at things was very refreshing. He spoke about his and my paintings as ‘Strange Reporting.’ I love this idea. It relates to how I described my work a few years ago as being paintings of things that you don’t quite know what they are. It’s an acknowledgement that the paintings are taken from, inspired by and about the world, about experience, things seen and felt. That the paintings should be somehow oblique, mysterious and indirect is also a reflection of that reality. I want to avoid anything that sounds like justification here because it’s unnecessary. The thing is, I often feel I’m chasing something, a memory, a feeling, a dream, an obsession, that resists explication. This may be the essence of why I, and I suspect many others, paint. ‘Strange Reporting’ strikes me as a beautiful and apt phrase for this experience. Thank you Michael!

Opening Reception: William Eckhardt Kohler & Judith Mullen, Friday May 23, 6-9pm


 

William Eckhardt Kohler, “Portals, Passages and Vessels”
Judith Mullen, “A Good Wander”
May 23, 2014 – July 5, 2014
Opening Reception: Friday, May 23, 2014, 6-9pm

327 N Aberdeen, Suite 151  Chicago, IL 60607  www.lindawarrenprojects.com

Linda Warren Projects is pleased to usher in the spring season with solo exhibitions by gallery artists William Eckhardt Kohler in Gallery Y and Judith Mullen in Gallery X. Kohler, a painter, and Mullen, a mixed media artist, share an affinity for drawing upon their experiences of the world around them, as they are both avid travelers and keen observers. For Kohler, a move to New York has injected structure into his intuitive painting practice, while Mullen’s traversing between urban and rural environments prompts an investigation of the way in which humans interact with the natural world.

In “Portals, Passages and Vessels,” William Eckhardt Kohler presents a new body of work that constitutes an aesthetic breakthrough in his picture-making. Those familiar with Kohler’s long painting career will immediately note that the fragmented images, taped-off lines and geometric forms are in sharp contrast to the fluid, harmonious nature paintings of his past oeuvre. According to Kohler, the artist’s almost-full-time relocation to New York City has opened his eyes to the spirit within the manmade that he never before recognized. 

Where the urban environment motivates Kohler, the natural world is at the forefront for Chicago-based artist Judith Mullen. The artist’s regular treks through the forested areas outside of the city provide for her an endless trove of inspiration. In “A Good Wander,” Mullen has taken hold of the tree and all of its symbolic associations. The tree and its byproducts: bark, wood, branches, sawdust, paper, cardboard and glue are combined with materials like Styrofoam, paint, and resin, their commingling highlighting both the similarities and the differences between the natural and the manmade.

images: (top) William Eckhardt Kohler, Hiker at Night, 2014, oil on canvas, 44” x 37”; (bottom) Judith Mullen, Afoot VII, 2014, plaster, fabric, resin, sawdust, paper, wood, enamel, Styrofoam and wire, 82” x 52” x 8”

HOURS: Tues-Sat, 11-5 PM and by private appointment
CONTACT: chris@lindawarrenprojects.com     312.432.9500

                 

A few current shows Part II


As well as the numerous group show that I wrote about several days ago, several one-person shows from the Lower East Side caught my attention; Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects featured the work of a young painter, Eleanor Ray, who makes exquisite small paintings of small moments, mostly interiors and cityscapes. Their is a sensitivity of touch and delicate light that brings to mind Corot’s small plein-air paintings. But, Ray, does not belong to the school of trying to revive the lost glory of painting. Rather her work appears to spring from the simple pleasure of seeing and painting the rhythms and patterns that she finds in the world around her, for instance the way a grating or window frame divides the space beyond it into an abstraction of geometric and occasional organic shapes. It would not surprise me to find that she has Mondrian on her mind as much as the paragons of representational painting.

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At the bottom end of the Lower East Side, the paintings of Daniel Rios Rodriguez are on view at Sargent’s Daughters, 179 East Broadway. These paintings are also mostly small , though slightly less so than Ray’s. The tone is a kind of comic grief. The subject; skulls, lemons, weedy grass, an old tennis shoe, speak to small moments of pain, loss and inevitable entropy, but with a sense of humor. Rodriguez scratch- draws into the painting creating a graphic quality like the drawing in comic books. He also places collages pieces of linen and tee-shirt into the paintings, which on one hand opens the painting space back up, but can also seem a little self-conscious about not being straight forward painting. Among my favorites is the warm autumnal feeling Dig A Pony after one of the last Beatles songs, from Let It Be. Weeds and insects are scratch-drawn into an almost entirely white impasto relieved by a brief rainbow colored lump bottom center and a bright but small black sun. The feeling of longing and loss, like last return of summery weather and impending winter, is palpable.

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Daniel Rios Rodriguez, Dig A Pony, Oil, flashe, linen and canvas on linen, 2014, 9 x 11″

Around the corner at 29C Ludlow Stat Blackston Gallery, are paintings and drawings by the abstract painter Patrick Keesey. The drawings in particular reflect a process that while initiated by observation of nature are more about the feel of the act seeing rather than a description of what is seen. The paintings are a built up from squiggly marks accumulating into spatial clusters, apparently more process driven than the drawings. Though the paintings recall the built up loops of Jim Lutes’ paintings, a calligraphic version of Guston’s early 50s abstractions and the poetic blurts of Twombly, they remain Keesey’s by dint of their experiential basis.WileysFugue2014Oil-linen26x22

Patrick Keesey, Wiley’s Fugue, 2014, oil on linen, 26 x 22″

Just opened at Pablo’s Birthday on Orchard is Pius Fox- We Expected Something Better Than Before. Fox is a young German painter whose work usually lands on the abstract side of identifiable reference, though it is clear, that like Keesey, he is taking his visual cues from the world around him, in this instance the studio; windows, books and leaning paintings among the more frequent starting points. The paintings are mostly quite small and conflate sharp edges and a painterly hand. They are sensitive and meditative in feeling, a bit of a cross between Richard Diebenkorn and Agnes Martin. Perhaps the paintings mostly stay too much within a narrow range in emotional tone; but, Fox is certainly a painter to watch.

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Pius Fox, Untitled, 2014, oil on canvas, 30 x 22 cm.

Cora Cohen- Divine Madness


I’m continuing my project of reposting pieces from my Huff Post archive. This article was originally posted on March 1, 2013.

 

Cora Cohen’s paintings, now on view at Guided By Invoices, invite the viewer to pause, to slow down and to step out of the demands of our time-bound reality. She does this with work that is the visual equivalent of a large-scale whisper or in musical terms, they are analogous to ambient music in its starker and darker forms.

The resonant quiet of her work allows the viewer to contemplate and appreciate the various moves and counter moves that the artist chooses. First, she usually chooses to stretch her paintings on shallow frames that reduce their presence as an object on the wall. Second, in many of the paintings she builds a dense, and very physical textured ground reasserting their material presence. Third, over this she may brush washes of pigment and graphite dispersed in water, so thin and diffuse that they barely register any physical paint depth, if at all. Out of this non-presence an illusory and allusive pictorial depth emerges. That is not to say that the artist is purposefully painting an image, because she is most emphatically not; yet, with the barest means a world not quite of this world is suggested.

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In “Drawing4 Grey”, the painting can be read as veils, diaphanous curtains or as the echo of a forest. Towards the bottom left of the canvas, Cohen has left a very small square of the white ground showing, which reads clearly as a door or an opening out of the forest. Though this was an accidental remainder, a result of painterly process, and not an intended illusion, she did leave it. The entire nature of the piece invites a meditation on the eternal and what lies beyond this plane of existence. The veil-like quality invites thoughts, at least for this viewer, in a metaphysical vein.

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In another twist it is difficult to look at this work and not think about The New York School. But this is a bit of sleight of mind, as the work is absent of the heroic gesture typical of at least many of the practitioners in this tradition. This is not the grand opera typical of abstract expressionism. Cohen has a way of undermining the directness of her own mark, burying it, blurring it and hiding it. The paintings are diffuse, elusive and allusive, raising more questions than they answer. It is easy to imagine many hours spent in the studio looking, thinking and waiting; restraint as a working principle rather than haste or aggression.

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The works in this show fall into three color groupings. One is a poisonous or muted acidic range of green, yellow and orange. Others could be categorized as rust or red earth. Still others are almost entirely in black and grey tones. The range of color that Cohen coaxes from these limited palettes is profound, and a testament to her mastery, in particular the paintings that are based primarily on a range of black, white and gray; they never read as monochrome. Taking color that looks as if it could be soot from a New York window she expands it into a sublime otherness.
Cohen speaks of the desire to counter that aspect of our world which is fragmented into endless tasks, distracted, time-bound and overloaded. Sitting and looking at her work and in conversations with her, I am reminded of the alchemists as seen in Dutch genre paintings; passing days with their pots of materials, transforming stuff with little value into something transcendent and rich. This is divine madness and ultimately what draws me to and keeps me looking at these paintings.

Cora Cohen- The Responsibility of Forms – recent paintings was on view at Guided By Invoices, 558 W 21st St. NY, NY through March 16th, 2013. All images courtesy of Cora Cohen and Guided By Invoices. Photography by Stan Narten.

A few current shows Part I- downtown, group, mostly


People often ask me, ‘what have you seen around?’ and I dig around in my memory for a semi-comprehensive list of from my rounds. So, here is a potential walk of primarily group shows (and one two-person show) mostly on the Lower East Side. Part II will be some one-person shows, and something from Chelsea.

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Benjamin King, Untitled, acrylic on paper, 2011

At Longhouse Projects at 285 Spring St in Hudson Sq. (West of SoHo) there is a fine show of work by Benjamin King and Abdolreza Aminlari. I will be posting a longer piece on King’s thoughtful and emotional paintings soon.While these paintings are built on landscape structures, closer looking asserts King’s commitment to the language of Romantic abstraction.

Heading over to the Lower East Side there are all kinds of treasures tucked about. At Brian Morris Gallery, 163 Chrystie St., is ‘How the Light Gets In’, comprising three young painters, Alicia Gibson, Kristina Lee, Jaqueline Cedar, who show a lot of promise. All three seem unintimidated by the traditional painting framework, working with a fresh, unburdened and open approach. Below is one of Kristina Lee’s smallish acrylic paintings.

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Further down Chrystie, at Horton Gallery, is a fantastic painting by Dennis Congdon behind the desk. Regrettably I missed his show there last month, however here is a painter who at 60+ should be getting his due. These humorous and masterfully executed paintings in flashe and enamel, evoke both a future post-apocalyptic and archaeological feel in a way that integrates classical, modern and comic book sensibilities. The drawn elements are achieved through creating an elaborate cut stencil.

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Dennis Congdon, Afrodite (dishabille), 2013, Flashe and enamel, 94×107″

At Novella Gallery, a basement space at 164 Orchard Street, a group show called ‘Soul’ includes pieces by artists I’ve written about before, Peter Williams and Kyle Staver, shown below, as well as Fred Valentine, Kenny Rivero, Elleen Lin and Ana Weider-Blank. I would go so far as to say that soul is back as an artistic value, or maybe that’s just what I look for and dig out in my rounds.

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Installation shots for “Soul’ at Novella, including pieces by (top) Peter Williams, Kyle Staver and Kenny Rivero, and (bottom) Fred Valentine, Eleen Lin and Peter Williams again.

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Olive Ahyens, Farewell NYC for now, 2013, watercolor, ink, wax and graphite, 22×16″

Down Orchard St, at Lesley Heller Workspace, Olive Ahyens curated a show titled ‘Enticing Luminosity’. Ahyens’ cityscape drawings present the Apollonian triumph of Manhattan tower-dom (ablove) as something, wobbly, uncertain and temporary. From the always lively Judith Linhares, three flower paintings bring solidity and bounce to the moment in the floral life just as they begin to wilt. In a way they share the quality of imminent collapse of Ahyens’ drawings. Rather than a mood of doom though there is a sense of the moment of beauty seized and fully engaged; particularity in Linhares’ vigorous and sensuous paint handling.

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Judith Linhares, April, 2010, oil on linen, 22×26″, courtesy Edward Thorp Gallery

I had not previously seen the tragi-comic works of M Louise Stanley. ‘Rich Lady Languishing ‘ hits the archetypal chord of fantasy opulence. Like the previous two works there is a clear feeling that this moment cannot possibly last, and may in fact be a retrospective gaze into a world simultaneously rotted and desirable.

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M Louise Stanley, Rich Lady Languishing, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40×30″

Still on Orchard St., at DCKT Gallery, another group show, ‘Shorthand’, curated by Trudy Benson and Russel Tyler, which focuses on works that ‘impart eloquent, direct brevity’. The paintings of Andrea Belag are done with hard-won simplicity of means, using very large brushes and  wet-in wet viscous paint, producing moments of pleasure and surprise. With ‘In Time’ red paint from the lower portion of the canvas carries into the blue upper portion suggesting a sunset glow such as those favored by the 19th century Luminist painters.

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Andrea Belag, In Time, 2014, oil on linen, 70×60″