24 January 2023

Mondrian in an upside down world

Now without getting too heavy about the following saga, I cannot help but point our that it does reveal one of the several cracks that I believe weaken the strength of the Post Modernist foundation that has reigned over us all these past eighty years. 

Objective and scientific reliance upon truth has been eroded in almost all aspects of modern life, from the way we receive information to the way we impart it to others (both our own, but also our entire collective cultural histories too that have opened up like autopsies for all to see). One cannot argue with things like this anymore than one can deny a giant river through the Alps. However in the political world, in a powerhouse like America, the concept of an objective truth has all but evaporated, or at the least, been severely damaged by recent politicians. Feelings are not fact, or so we have been taught to believe, and to push this infantile narrative is mendacious. But curiously, in the realm of Art, yes, feelings do become facts in this world of creative invention specially when it is convincing. For Art is a world of poetic contrivance, it's an inspired state of imagination in contrast to the world of politics and science even. Though to place politics and science together in the same sentence is unfair to scientists.

I am not alone in believing that the culprit of misinformation has been groomed by the internet, perhaps the greatest invention since the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg back in the 15th century. But this has been elevated to an even higher state of alert by the search engine Google and others. The speed of any information circling the globe today is mind-boggling. It is a Yin-Yang situation because all its fortunes are coupled with equal misfortune. 

Why do I bring this up? It's not exactly rocket science, but in this venerable world of experts and know-it-alls, there are concrete clues reminding us that these smartypants are sometimes clueless. For example, this Mondrian had been hung upside down for eighty years before anyone realised it (See below, or better yet, google the story).

In the following photo two gentlemen are looking at the version that is in fact upside-down. The correct version is at the very bottom in this post, and in it, are a double set of dark blue lines running horizontally at the top which give the picture weight. They also give the work a sense of gravity when correctly presented (and the way the artist had originally intended, though this is my own feeling). 

I also prefer it this way because of the single blue line running up the far left side of the picture, and this too, appears to anchor the image. Visually, also, my eyes gravitate more to the left, and they run up the blue line as if a heavy column to the imaginary heavy roof that once covered the Parthenon in Athens. 

But hey! It's not the kind of picture that would draw me in enough to really look at in the first place.

{Addendum} Because this painting was principally made by using rolls of coloured tape that have so severely disintegrated the curators have decided to leave it in its current state. So thus, it will continue to be hung upside down.

17 January 2023

Turner, a king in the realm of wise children

I was sent this small Turner watercolour recently by a mysterious gentleman, a certain Peter Shearer from Cincinnati who collects art and loves it too, apparently. We have mutual friends over there and I believe that he has also visited this small blog space so he obviously knew what interested me, but also  himself too. In any event I thank him for this small gift.

This unpretentious little oeuvre, lacking in any visual presumption is just so perfect and beguiling that I could weep with envy. Its innocence speaks of a rare and simple vision, one which a very insightful young child of rare sensibility might be able to pull off but only on a very lucky and insightful afternoon. 

There is at certain times, that awkward honesty in Turner's voluminous record-keeping of the sea and sky that reveals such playful abstraction that one could possibly (if they knew little or nothing about Art) imagine it done by a child indeed. But this of course, would be a fairly cheap value judgement by smug, smart-alecks who would be ruled by the left side of their brains only, for this is a masterpiece of invention.  

The perfect brilliance of this tiny and unobtrusive little souvenir is beyond description. This child-like innocence belies a profound vision, one that was cultivated by a lifetime of looking at Nature, but also by an enormous talent buried deeply within the structure of its four corners and behind its quiet and simple design. 

But hidden within this simplicity is a foreground, middle ground, and a background, which all together seem to come racing up to the viewer all at once on one plane, like the visual world does in fact. In Painting, this is the art of greatness for it has to be learned through practice but also a generously  extensive understanding of Art History itself. 

It's because normally, our eyes don't allow this to happen due to our incapacity to focus on all planes all at once, and at the same time. It is therefore left to the artist (and innocent eye of a gifted child) to reconfigure that physical impossibility for us viewers. And this sounds way more complicated than I am making it out to be. But put simply: our eyes only reveal to us, at nanoseconds at a time, the entire picture in front of us when we look out at the world at each moment. Normally, we cannot, without practice, see a landscape as painters have learned to make them because they were re-created using a kind of abstraction built by planes that move forward and backward on the two dimensional surface. The painter needs to fashion a foreground, middle ground, and background which are not always apparent to us, because our eyes do not naturally take them in as one. It is why some painters will squint their eyes whilst looking at a landscape in order to see it as one entire thing. But to paint it as one entire thing is an abstract process.

A viewer doesn't realise this because they don't think about it, it's taken for granted. But the painter (and gifted child) seem to understand this, though in different ways, because they know they need to reconfigure a visible world through a sort of connivance of talent and gumption to reconstruct the logic of a landscape in a painted image. For the gifted and clairvoyant child, and a few lucky painters (the visionaries), it's innate, but for most painters it must be learned. I had to learn it for instance, it didn't come naturally to me.

Put another way; the 'Academic Painter', of which there are many prestigious adherents, are trained to paint Nature (landscapes and models) as a compilation of separate parts, attaching them through painting technique alone. But unlike them, the visionary sees everything as an organic whole image all at once in their mind. 

In the Turner above is a great example of seeing the 'motif' of the picture as a unified visual idea. And because an academic painter sees only a picture as pieces to be attached to one another, he/she consequently attempts to tie them all together a bit like a patchwork quilt. But being a visionary, this is not how Turner saw either the motif or the picture, for he saw everything as a whole and he made the necessary sacrifices to reconfigure that whole into the form of a painting. 

11 January 2023

Somehow, Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho will vanquish fascism

Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho is my new hero! I went to Brazil about thirty years ago and was suitably dazzled with so much Modernist detail that seemed to be in lurking every little corner or round balcony. And looking down on the mosaic park design from a hotel high above the Copacabana beach front was a joyful sensation and it gave me this crazy unrealistic  optimism for the future of humankind. How did this government, this culture, these people, understand the meaning of such playful beauty? And how were they able to display such civic idealism in a world of limited bureaucratic imagination?? What an adventure! I remember thinking decades ago during my visit.

But watching news of the recent attack on the Congress in Brasilia suddenly awakened in me a complete infatuation and wonder at Niemeyer's design for the entire complex now being so thoughtlessly trashed by the mob. Not only do they not deserve a Democratic system, but neither do they merit Beauty, and that is the mark of a troll.

Ok, these are cheap photos I ripped from Google but I promise you I will go there sometime soon and take my own photos for this space herein! It will be my next pilgrimage because I just love this playfully sedate civic architecture. 

It will be like my trip to see the Taj Mahal already almost forty years ago and which, I should say, several idiot friends had warned me against visiting because that it was a big waste of time. OOOUUPH! These friends, I realised afterward, were the real waste of time because the Taj Mahal was for me, one of the most extraordinary places I had every been in my whole life. 

So like those idiot friends, and those too, who  ransacked the Congress in Washington two years ago, I only pray that these illiterate trolls be sent to Prison for years to contemplate their own furry, smelly feet. 

B.T.W, because I am on the subject, try as I may, I have never been able to see any beauty in the Capitol building in Washington. It has always been a boring, conventional, and ugly bit of cliche architecture for me)

Anyway, one has to love the Brazilians for creating such a remarkable government complex like they did in Brasilia. It's overwhelming in everyway, and it says to the world: We love Life and Art!

02 January 2023

Let them eat cake in Painting Purgatory!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 July 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This rather tasty-looking study I recently saw in the photo library and liked immediately. I certainly don't remember it at all which doesn't surprise me because I probably didn't think it was very interesting at the time. It feels like the memory of a dream.

But today this drizzly first day of the New Year 2023, I see a delicious design as if made by a pastry chef in Copenhagen. But it's not a clean or polished design, and this gives it charm (or not, depending upon your sensibilities). But it has this fresh shaggy feeling of spontaneous whimsy that despite its plasticity (in the historical, and painterly terms) it presents like a flat rough draft from some colourful planet where people communicate through design only.

I like this flat quality, its been something I have been after for years now. Though 'flat' evokes Matisse, I really mean Cezanne, who seemed to compress his large and complicated pictures like he had run them through a press somewhere in Painting Purgatory. And in a rather convoluted and strange way he revisits all those strangely flat landscapes of the early Renaissance around Florence and Siena but even Giotto too, much earlier near Venice.

I do understand that this is not a picture for the general public, though maybe some clever kids under the age of five might really see it. It's not even a picture for the Art Elite because it has traces of Nature in it. "Mais Non! tut! tut!,,, No Nature s'il vous plait!" This is a just painting for myself.

Its sensual colour harmony is simple. Placed like ribbons, a yellow band and a pink one, are both sandwiched between the pale blue sky above and the deep blue-black of the sea below. At the very base of the picture, like an entrance way or a discreet door mat, is a band of blue green to help offset the warmth and to welcome the eye into the picture plane.

The horizon is clunky! Yes,,,, I know,, Ha Ha,,, viewers wishing for a clean line will be disappointed! Alas,,,,,, and it's rough too, it might feel like it was torn from a page out of one's own dream when they had awakened too quickly. 

But, in the end, aren't all paintings rather dream-like in nature? After all, they exist for each of us individually, and only for such a small moment in our minds. Our reactions to them is also deeply personal and we interpret them according to our own emotional history. They come to us seemingly out of the blue, only to be replaced by other incoming images. What do we remember about the experience of seeing a painting? And what do we retain of our own experiences anyway? Isn't it all dream?

It maybe does seem at first more real for the creators who labour and fret over them while wondering if they are any good in the first place. But then, soon, their creations are replaced by other creations, over and over again, as the cycle of work continues. But in the end, even these artefacts will become dreams, and the artist will hardly ever remember making them in the first place.