If I Had a Million Dollars to Spend on Art

A few years ago, I created a Stickies app list of artists' names on my laptop computer. At first, I thought of it as an imaginary exhibition, but I soon realized that it's actually a wishlist of artists whose work I would love to collect. I know many artists who own art. A few are successful enough to buy it outright, but most collect the work of artist friends, acquired through trade or received as gifts.  

If you've been in my home, you know that it's incredibly compact. Nearly every wall is occupied by a window, door, appliance or piece of built-in furniture. We have one, and only one, wall that is large enough for a substantial work of art. What hangs on that wall? A large 1960s tapestry that once belonged to My Beloved's grandmother. She lived to be 106 years old, give or take a few years (she was coy about her age). I always loved the tapestry. It was made by Los Angeles artist John Smith and has the initials JS woven into the bottom edge. I don't know much about Smith, but he made large tapestries for Los Angeles banks and public buildings throughout the 60s. The tapestry hung for many years in Grandmother's Westwood apartment. When she moved into an assisted living facility, she gave the tapestry to me, much to the amusement of the rest of the family.  In her old apartment, the piece was under-lit and a little shabby looking. The artist had stretched it over a folding stretcher bar frame. When I took possession of it, it was easy to remove a few screws, fold it in half, wrap it in plastic sheeting and tie it down in the bed of my old Ford pickup. As I recall, we did this on a hot summer day, and the tapestry "sweated" quite a bit in its plastic wrapping on the drive up Interstate 5 back to San Francisco. Of course, I had measured our wall, and was certain that the piece would fit, but when we got it up the stairs and into our flat, it seemed impossibly huge. However, my measurements were correct and it fit perfectly. It's held its place in our dining room for perhaps 12 years or so. I love it just as much as ever, mostly for the nostalgic associations that it evokes: mid-century California design; my undergraduate days at Scripps College, where such idealized imagery would not be entirely out of place amongst the early 20th century frescoes and mosaics found around campus; and the proto-feminist novel Herland, if perhaps it had been set in the 1960s or early 70s. I also love that it was a generous gift that made me feel like a real member of My Beloved's family.

tapestry copy.jpg

Inevitably, when we have friends over for dinner, someone will ask, "Why don't you have one of your paintings there, instead of that?" Fair question. The answer: I live with my work, all day, everyday. If it is not in physical proximity, it is in my head, banging around, day and night. I really don't need to have it in front of me at all times. In fact, it is good and necessary to be away from it for a few hours a day.  

Which brings me back to the subject of my imaginary art collection. What would I love to live with if I had more space to show art and a goodly sum of money to spend? You may have noticed that my imaginary budget is one million dollars. Sounds like a lot, right? Maybe, to some of you, it sounds like very little. If I had a smaller budget, I would probably buy the work of promising emerging artists. Of course, if I had a billion dollars and could buy anything I wanted, my list would be different, or at least more extensive. I would throw tens of millions at Roman antiquities, Picasso and Matisse, first- and second-generation Abstract Expressionism, German Expressionism, Allan McCollum, Jonathan Lasker, Sol Lewitt... ahh...fun to think about.  

But, let's say I had a million dollars to spend, and I wanted to buy ten works of art. I am not an expert on prices or the market or the auctions. In writing this piece, I discovered that it is actually pretty difficult to find auction prices, unless you pay to view them. But there have been instances when I have seen price lists at galleries or art fairs and have been greatly surprised by the affordability of certain works by artists that I love, some of whom are on this list. Before I begin, a few things:  1) I do not know exact current values for each of these artists.  Some of them have died in the last few years, so their prices may have risen or fallen;  2) my imaginary collection is comprised of things that I love and would love to live with. I have been thinking of most of these works for years--in some cases, nearly a decade; 3) these works are by artists who are well known, with solid careers, but I believe that most of them are somewhat undervalued.

Here they are, in no particular order.


1. Jay DeFeo, works on paper, particularly from the 1980s

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

On two separate trips to Santa Fe, NM in the last decade or so, I was lucky to see a pair of absolutely gorgeous Jay DeFeo exhibitions at Dwight Hackett Projects. DHP (now closed) was a fantastic venue, off the beaten track and away from the (mostly) schmaltzy offerings on Canyon Road. The first encounter was on the occasion of Jay DeFeo: No End: Works on Paper from the 1980s in 2006. We walked out of the blazing sun and into the cool garage-like space to find a gallery full of tightly-wound, gripping works on paper, along with a series of photographs, also by DeFeo. I was interested in the former, some of which were from the Eternal Triangle series. At the time, I wasn't familiar with DeFeo's works on paper. These works have a muscular, torqued quality about them. DeFeo was a master of form, and here she has taken the simple, primal form of a triangle and turned it up, down and inside out, revealing every edge, plane and the entirety of volume at once. There is a compressed, animated quality to these drawings, as if she has forced a several dozen animation cells to exist in a single frame. Some edges are jittery, some are succinctly incised. Some elements are transparent, while others are seemingly solid, all of them in a state of material flux that I find quite mesmerizing. As it turns out, the humble subject of these strong works is a simple, worn, kneaded eraser. According to Dana Miller's exhibition catalogue essay:

"In the early 1980s DeFeo used that collection of worn erasers as the basis for a series of drawings that she initially referred to as “the eraser series” and later titled the Eternal Triangle series, including two untitled works in this exhibition. DeFeo photographed her old erasers, collapsing one stretched-out, kneaded eraser in upon itself to create a sculptural form of triangular folds not unlike a fortune cookie. For an artist who often chose to work with a grisaille palette, the black-and-white photographs presented certain advantages as models. DeFeo could manipulate her photographs to alter tonalities, emphasize contrast, and heighten shadows. These elements could then be employed as a means for guiding both the tonal and perspectival aspects of her drawings and paintings. The eraser photographs also possess a sense of ambiguous, artificially compressed space, an aspect of her paintings and drawings of this time."

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980

Summer Landscape, 1982

Summer Landscape, 1982

In the early 2000s, the prices for these were around $30,000. They may have increased quite a bit since then, particularly since DeFeo's 2012 retrospective. Let's face it: I would love to own anything by DeFeo, but these works have really stayed with me for over a decade, so it's safe to say that I would probably enjoy living with one them for the rest of my life. I will close this section with a quote from the late Bill Berkson, who wrote extensively about DeFeo:  

“Fittingly, the lead sentence of DeFeo’s statement for the “Sixteen Americans” catalogue read: ‘Only by chancing the ridiculous can I hope for the sublime.’ Sublimity was built into the tremendous body language—‘organic’ and full of ‘growth forms’ in the parlance of the time but with supra-organic, and dashingly clear, cosmological overtones—that characterizes the paintings, outsized drawings, collages and other mixed medium constructions DeFeo made from about 1954 on. The ridiculous too was ever at hand. At her most obsessive, DeFeo was gifted with a sprightly sense of play that allowed her to follow her intuitions and yearnings without hammering them into theses. A early as her student years, she later told [Paul] Karlstrom, she had conceived of making an image ‘about being on an edge…I wanted to create a work that was just so precariously balanced between going this way or that way that it maintained itself.’”


2. Nell Blaine, early works from the late 1940s

Nell Blaine, Abstraction, 1948-49

Nell Blaine, Abstraction, 1948-49

Like DeFeo, Nell Blaine possessed a deep understanding of form vis a vis the plasticity of paint. I first saw her work at Valerie Carberry Gallery's booth at an art fair in San Francisco in the early 2000s. I can't remember which fair or what year it was, but I clearly remember VCG's spectacular booth, and thinking who IS this? as my heart began to race. I was bowled over by these works, with their compact, muscular, confident forms. Valerie was so kind to me that day. She gave me two Nell Blaine exhibition catalogues that I often refer to. Blaine was a student of Hans Hofmann and at one time, at the age of twenty, the youngest member of the American Abstract Artists group. She worked in abstraction throughout the late 1940s but then retreated back to figuration, inspired by a trip to Paris with Larry Rivers in 1950, where she was impressed by the work of Vuillard and Bonnard.  The abstract works are relatively few, but they hold up exceedingly well. I'm not as keen on the late work, but I would gladly live with anything Nell Blaine made between 1944 and 1949. 

Nell Blaine, Peaks, 1948

Nell Blaine, Peaks, 1948

Nell Blaine, Bones, 1946

Nell Blaine, Bones, 1946

Nell Blaine, Abstraction, 1948

Nell Blaine, Abstraction1948

Here's a bit of what Roberta Smith had to say about Blaine's early works, in a New York Times review from 2001:

"This terrific show puts on view for the first time in 50 years the astoundingly accomplished abstract paintings that Nell Blaine made in New York in the mid 1940's, when she was barely 20 and fresh off the train from Richmond, Va. With thick black lines and quirky biomorphic shapes submerged in wonderfully forward white backgrounds, they tell a complex story of precocious talent and determination fed by study with Hans Hofmann, devotion to jazz and admiration for Mondrian, Léger and, one supposes, Stuart Davis."

Blaine's early work has become scarce in recent years. An Art News article from a decade ago put her work in the $20,000-$100,000 range, so hopefully she's still within reach. I have been drooling over these paintings and works on paper for nearly 15 years.  


3. Roy Newell

Roy Newell, Untitled, 2000

Roy Newell, Untitled, 2000

Roy Newell created a group of fifty or so paintings in his fifty-year career that he painted over and over again, sometimes returning to them for decades. It was not uncommon for him to rework paintings for more than thirty years. Each of these little gems exists as a relic of time, attention and material engagement. At the same time, each was an eternal work in progress. Newell worked in isolation, shunned his friends and acquaintances and consistently refused to sell his work.  He was friends with de Kooning and Kline, hung out at the Artist's Club and the Cedar Tavern and was just as hell-bent on self-destruction as Jackson Pollock, who he punched out one night after a round of drinks. He was a severe alcoholic and his wife financially supported him throughout his career. Most of the works are diminutive. In reproduction, it is difficult to ascertain the scale of these paintings. In 2010, I saw the exhibition Roy Newell: The Private Myth, curated by Richard Dupont, at Carolina Nitsch Project Room in New York. Together, the works present an amazingly consistent vision. The surfaces are strange, soft-looking and almost felt-like in texture. Newell went against the grain and suffered for it. He was out of step with late AbEx, Pop and Minimalism. Here's a snippet from the exhibition catalogue:

"In a 1986 half page New York Times Review titled “When a Period Lasts a Lifetime”, the art critic Helen Harrison wrote, “The long-term, single minded pursuit of a narrow, self imposed esthetic discipline is rare among visual artists, most of whom undergo the periodic changes in style or viewpoint that we associate with a developing career. Those uncommon few who commit themselves to an approach at once so clearly defined and so personal that it seems to exist outside of time exert a special fascination, especially on the imaginations of their fellow artists. As Morandi represents the ideal “painter’s painter” for the gestural realists, so we might think of Roy Newell as a paragon for the geometric abstractionists.”"

Roy Newell, Untitled, 1959-87

Roy Newell, Untitled, 1959-87

Roy Newell, Silents, 1988, 1966, 1998

Roy Newell, Silents, 1988, 1966, 1998

According to Newell's New York Times obituary, his total output, over 70 years, was around 100 paintings. I keep coming back to his paintings because of their compositional intensity. Some have a near-symmetry, while others are strikingly off-kilter. The forms seem as if they are woven together and then tightened--ratcheted down-- with excessive force. It's as if color-saturated, dense scraps of felt have been composed and petrified, resulting in very powerful little paintings.  I have no idea what the current prices are for Newell's work.  


4. Channa Horwitz 

Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography I Composition XXII, 1991

Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography I Composition XXII, 1991

Truth be told, I have never seen Channa Horwitz' work in person. So, although I need to experience her work in person, I am pretty certain that my appreciation of her work will only increase. I'm glad that she received increased institutional attention and support at the end of her career, before her passing in 2013. One wonders whether she would have received more attention in her lifetime had she been a man. Her work involves grids, systems and numeric permutations. It is logic- and rule-based work that references music and spatial coordinates. In contrast to someone like Sol Lewitt, Horwitz' work has an otherworldly quality to it. The logic seems alien somehow even though it is rather straightforward once one understands Horwitz' systems. When I look at her work, I think of the 1970 film Chariots of the Gods which posited that the technologies and religions of ancient civilizations were given to humans by extraterrestrials who were welcomed on earth as gods. I find these works utterly captivating and I can't wait until the day that a major museum devotes some real time and space to Channa Horwitz.  

Channa Horwitz, Language: Series Three, 1964.

Channa Horwitz, Language: Series Three, 1964.

Channa Horwitz, 8th Level Discovered, 1982

Channa Horwitz, 8th Level Discovered, 1982

Here's a snippet from Jennifer S. Li's Art in America review of Channa Horwitz' 2016 exhibition at at François Ghebaly, Los Angeles:

"As a student at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, in the late 1960s, Channa Horwitz (1932–2013) developed a graphing system that she would use for over four decades, producing some fifteen hundred pieces of ephemera and finished works (with more waiting to be organized and archived). In a 1974 interview, she told the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art Journal: “I am interested in simplifying my tools in order to maximize the potential of the work.”
.............
Most of Horwitz’s work is strictly two-dimensional, but she had a fascination with physical space and with integrating art, music, and language. She staged multiple performances during her time at CalArts, including a Happening with instructor Allan Kaprow. She also developed “Sonakinatography” (sound-motion-notation), a system for organizing graphic and nongraphic elements through the use of color-coded symbols, which allowed her to generate scores that could be performed."


5. Shirley Jaffe 

Shirley Jaffe, X Encore, 2007

Shirley Jaffe, X Encore, 2007

Ah, Shirley Jaffe! I think of Jaffe as the love child of Matisse and Stuart Davis. Spectacular color, bold, suggestive forms, tightly wound and compact, yet maintaining a nice sense of openness and freedom. I love, love, love these paintings. Jaffe passed away just a few months ago. Like Joan Mitchell, she moved to France (Paris, in 1949) and stayed for the remainder of her career, putting her outside the trends of the New York painting milieu. In addition to Matisse and Davis, I see hints of Mondrian and Léger. I also suspect her influence on younger 1980s painters such as Jonathan Lasker and Matt Mullican--something to do with her use of pseudo-expressive, graphic symbols and signs, I suppose. Jaffe's works are just plain thrilling to the eye, heart and mind. The forms are suggestive enough to keep me guessing. They can't always be decoded. I drift between sensation and thought when I see these works.  In my opinion, Jaffe is terribly underrated. Shortly after her death, I saw one of her large works prominently installed at the Centre Pompidou, a big honor for an expatriate woman painter. In a 1990 issue of Artforum, Donald Kuspit wrote about Jaffe’s first US solo exhibition, which took place at Holly Solomon Gallery when she was 60 years old:

“The brightness of color, the diversity of unresolved, quirky shapes on the canvas, and the tendency toward quick, succinct statement suggest a determination to remain innocent, perhaps to make a kind of sophistication or cult out of innocence.” Kuspit also compares Jaffe’s works to Henri Matisse’s cutouts: “Her shapes are the product of a similar process of essentialization, and her colors seem derived directly from those of Matisse, even seem to be a play on them.”

Shirley Jaffe, Horizontal Black, 2015

Shirley Jaffe, Horizontal Black, 2015

Shirley Jaffe, The Black Line, 1974

Shirley Jaffe, The Black Line, 1974

If I recall correctly, I saw this 1974 Jaffe at one of the Miami art fairs a few years ago.  I believe it was priced at around $70,000.  I like to think that her prices have increased in the past few months, but an artist's death can sometimes cause prices to dip.

Shirley Jaffe, Four Squares Black, 1993

Shirley Jaffe, Four Squares Black, 1993


6. Frederick Hammersley 

Frederick Hammersley, Screen Door, 1969, computer-generated drawing on paper

Frederick Hammersley, Screen Door, 1969, computer-generated drawing on paper

Fred Hammersley made three distinct bodies of work, and I love each of them with equal fervor.  He is probably most appreciated for his hard-edge geometric abstraction. Hammersely, along with Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin and Karl Benjamin, was in the groundbreaking 1959 exhibition, Four Abstract Classicists, curated by the art critic Jules Langsner at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. If Hammersley's entire output consisted of geometric abstractions, I would still love him madly. But luckily, he made things a little more interesting for himself, and for the rest of us. First, he left Los Angeles and moved to Albuquerque to teach at the University of New Mexico. Clearly, the move put him outside of the burgeoning LA art scene of the 1960s and 70s. Second, he produced two other bodies of work: the "organics," which are small, biomorphic abstractions in funky handmade frames, and a large body of computer generated work.  Of the latter, he said:  

"This happened to coincide with a time in which I had painted myself out, so I welcomed this new experience. I was shown how to prepare a computer program and how to transfer it to an IBM punch card by machine. The alphanumeric characters we could ‘draw’ with were: the alphabet, ten numerals and eleven symbols, such as periods, dashes, slashes, etc….It took me some time to get used to this medium. What I intended to make did not always correspond to the program I thought I had punched in the card. I made many mistakes which the computer, in its logical way, would not print. The intricacies and possibilities seem endless and I have spent a great deal of time simply trying to master the mechanics of this particular technique."

Frederick Hammersley, Tango, 1979

Frederick Hammersley, Tango1979

Frederick Hammersley, EQUAL TEA TALK, 1969

Frederick Hammersley, EQUAL TEA TALK, 1969

Frederick Hammersley, Orchestra, 1987, oil on rag paper on linen on wood in artist-made frame  

Frederick Hammersley, Orchestra, 1987, oil on rag paper on linen on wood in artist-made frame
 

Frederick Hammersley, Hot & heavy, 1990, oil on cotton on birch in artist-made frame

Frederick Hammersley, Hot & heavy, 1990, oil on cotton on birch in artist-made frame

I don't know what the current prices are for Hammersley, but I would take anything, even a print.  He made some gorgeous prints based on the computer drawings in the early 1970s.


7. Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks, Never Say No, 2015

Sheila Hicks, Never Say No, 2015

I haven't seen much of Hicks' work in person. She is well-known for her large-scale commissions and installations. These days, we're having a resurgence of traditional craft-based work such as weaving, ceramics, etc. Hicks has made textile-based sculptural work and weavings since the late 1950s, when she traveled on Fulbright scholarship through South America. Like Jaffe, she spent most of her career in Paris, having moved there in 1964. For half a century, she made what she refers to "minimes," small studies, approximately the size of one's hand. She has created over 1,000 of these studies during her long career. They are diaristic, employing whatever materials might be at the ready in a given day: along with colored yarn or thread, they might include scraps of wood or other natural materials, or rubber bands and the like.  Hicks uses a small, portable makeshift loom to make these woven sketches.  On the occasion of her 2011 retrospective, Artforum's Lauren O'Neill-Butler wrote:  

"To weave, to twist, to knot, to wrap—the processes animating fifty years of fiber-based work in Sheila Hicks’s traveling retrospective may conjure several of the actions inventoried in Richard Serra’s iconic 1967–68 Verb List, which is now on view in his survey of drawings at the Metropolitan Museum. Here are a few more connections linking this (very) odd couple: Both received MFAs from Yale (Hicks in 1959, Serra in 1964); both studied with Josef Albers; both make “sculpture in the expanded field”; both use unconventional materials; both make monumental public art. And yet Serra is much more known, his statements made in steel, lead, and paint stick; hers are made in wool, linen, and cotton."

Again, I'm left to wonder about the role of gender as well as expatriate status and how both might have shaped Hicks' career. She had a 2015 solo exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins, so one would expect that her prices are healthy at the moment.  

Sheila Hicks, Aube, 2008

Sheila Hicks, Aube, 2008

Sheila Hicks, Zapallar, 1958, and Cluny II, 2008

Sheila Hicks, Zapallar, 1958, and Cluny II, 2008


8. Al Held (something, anything, even a little sketch)

Al Held, Untitled, 1967, India ink on paper

Al Held, Untitled, 1967, India ink on paper

Al Held is one of my all-time favorite painters.  Most of his work is monumental.  So, it's safe to say that his prices absolutely bust my imaginary budget.  Throughout this exercise, I have tried to select artists whose primary output is in the "affordable" realm; therefore, I won't resort to "buying" little scraps from super famous artists.  However, I will make an exception for my pal, Al.  Al Held has such mastery over scale that his small studies, like this one, at a mere 20 x 24 inches, packs almost as much punch as his large-scale works of the same era.  The ink drawings combine the bold geometry of his work typical of the mid- to late 1960s with the calligraphic assuredness of an expert Japanese brush painter. 

Al Held, The Big "A," 1962, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 168 inches

Al Held, The Big "A," 1962, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 168 inches

I was lucky enough to see the terrific exhibition AL HELD: BLACK AND WHITE, 1967 at Loretta Howard Gallery in 2012. According to the press release:  

"This exhibition highlights early black and white works from a pivotal moment in the artist’s career before his monumental black and white paintings of the late '60s and '70s. Here we see the artist as he turns a corner, playing with scale, space and geometry but still dedicated to the physical realities of painting. Held’s forms vibrate and collide in space, marking the artist’s shift from flat color to optical geometry and tearing open the picture plane of Abstract Expressionism.

Art Historian Robert Storr writes: “What he was trying to do was to muscle painting back into three dimensions without betraying its character as painting or his own long-standing commitment to the primacy of gesture.” Exceptional in their own right, these pictures mark the beginning of an almost four decade long dialog wherein Held changed the language of abstraction."

The black and white studies were made in preparation for the large-scale works.

The black and white studies were made in preparation for the large-scale works.

Cheim & Read exhibition, Al Held: Black and White Paintings, 2016. 

Cheim & Read exhibition, Al Held: Black and White Paintings, 2016. 

I can't get enough of Al Held's work. There's much to appreciate in each period of his trajectory, but I favor works made up until the late 1970s. The late works are amazing in their compositional complexity, but the use of color doesn't always sit well with me.  Still, Held is a true master, no doubt about it.  

Al Held, Rothko's Canvas, 1969-70, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 90 feet

Al Held, Rothko's Canvas, 1969-70, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 90 feet


9. Suzanne Blank Redstone, 1960s Portal Paintings

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Portal - Descent, 1968

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Portal - Descent, 1968

I wrote about Redstone's work in a previous blog post. I'm still thinking about her September 2016 exhibition at Jessica Silverman Gallery. Like some of my other picks, Redstone's work is based in Geometric Abstraction. Like Al Held, she creates a fragmented, topsy-turvy sense of space using simple geometric forms and a limited palette of mostly red, blue, yellow and black, white and grey. When I first saw this exhibition, I was struck by the looseness of some of the paint handling. The works are slightly rough around the edges; gradients are not perfectly smooth and some of the shapes are not as crisply defined as one might expect when looking from a distance. The paint surface is a bit chalky. In other words, these paintings look like they were made in another time, for if they were made now, I think they would be tighter, crisper, slicker.  There is a pleasing wonkiness to them.

Redstone is in her 70s and has worked for most of her career outside of the the U.S., and has steadily produced despite not having gallery representation until recently. It's wonderful that she is finally getting some recognition, but once again, I wonder: what took so long? I didn't see prices at the gallery, but I am betting that one of these could be acquired with my imaginary budget.   If not, I also love Redstone's works on paper.  

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Portal 8, 1968

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Portal 8, 1968

Drawing for Portal 2 #1, 1967

Drawing for Portal 2 #1, 1967

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Preliminary drawing 3 for After van Doesburg, 1968

Suzanne Blank Redstone, Preliminary drawing 3 for After van Doesburg, 1968

From Gwen Allen's Art In America review:  

"In a brochure essay for the show, Jenni Sorkin suggests that Redstone’s belated recognition fits a pattern common to women artists. But if the gender politics of the art world have affected the reception of Redstone’s work, her identity and lived experience as a woman have also surely shaped its production. Helen Molesworth provides a compelling framework for such an interpretation in her catalogue essay for “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” the touring survey that originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2007. Though she does not discuss Redstone per se, Molesworth points to the “ambivalence” with which a number of female painters of Redstone’s generation, including Mary Heilmann, Howardena Pindell, and Joan Snyder, have appropriated modernist techniques and tropes that have been historically and culturally coded as masculine. Like the artists Molesworth discusses, Redstone simultaneously deploys the formal devices of modernist abstraction and distances herself from them, reinscribing them with a difference that does not necessarily or simplistically equate with gender, but does lend originality to this particular body of work."


10. Marcia Hafif

Marcia Hafif, Mass Tone Painting: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Oct 2, 1973, 1973

Marcia Hafif, Mass Tone Painting: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Oct 2, 1973, 1973

Marcia Hafif, like some of my other picks, lived abroad for a good chunk of her career.  Her work is about the materiality of physical matter as applied to a planar surface: the very stuff of painting itself, in the most pure, reductive, systemic way. At 88 years old, her lifetime body of work is freakishly consistent and logical, but also poetic. Her color associations reflect, among other things, her travels in Italy. To me, the color choices are completely evocative of place.   

Hafif's website is descriptive, concise and well-organized, reflecting her clearly delineated process.  She states:

"The Inventory is a listing by series of works in the approximate order they appeared. One series followed another at approximately two years intervals, in idiosyncratic order, building my project of examining the methods and materials of Western Painting in the form of works of art.

In 1972, in order to start at the beginning, I covered a vertical sheet of drawing paper with vertical pencil marks starting from the top left and ending at the bottom right. Each drawing developed in a slightly different way leading to unexpected patterns within that same procedure. I turned to paint, acrylic at first presenting a palette of fourteen colors on fourteen canvases then oil in The Extended Gray Scale, 106 canvases graduated from white to black.

About this time I was lent Max Doerner's book, The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting that led me to experiment. I bought every color in powdered pigment that I could find using a glass muller to grind them one by one into linseed oil making my own paint. Each color was painted on prepared canvas on a ready-made stretcher each element referring to Painting. Wall painting came next, then grayed colors, the color of "the most beautiful black," and the color of skin in European painting each displaying some technique such as egg tempera, encaustic, watercolor, glaze or scumble."

Marcia Hafif, Mass Tone Painting: English Red, March 5, 1974, 1974

Marcia Hafif, Mass Tone Painting: English Red, March 5, 1974, 1974

Marcia Hafif,  2015 installation view of An Extended Gray Scale, 1972-73. Hafif painted as many gradations from white to black as she could distinguish, for a total of one hundred and six 22 x 22 inch oil paintings on standard cotton canvases.

Marcia Hafif,  2015 installation view of An Extended Gray Scale, 1972-73. Hafif painted as many gradations from white to black as she could distinguish, for a total of one hundred and six 22 x 22 inch oil paintings on standard cotton canvases.

Marcia Hafif, Pencil on Paper: February 9. 1972, 1972  

Marcia Hafif, Pencil on Paper: February 9. 1972, 1972

 


So, there you have it.
Until next time.  

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2016: Memorable Works

2016 was an extraordinarily busy year for me.  I was preparing for my October exhibition, Chopping Wood on the Astral Plane and I worked very steadily through the year, regularly seven days a week.  I confess that I didn't get out much to see exhibitions.  Like most artists, I feel torn about this.  How do we, as artists, approach our art viewing?  Is it a responsibility and an obligation?  Is it a pleasure and a reward?  Or, is it sustenance for our souls?  To me, it's all of those things.  When I am on an Art Ninja trip--that is, a vacation that is largely dedicated to viewing art--I will see anything and everything, voraciously and enthusiastically.  I don't mind seeing shows that fall short, shows that disappoint, shows that "aren't my thing."  However, when I am in town and in the studio with looming deadlines, I am very careful about my time management.  I try to see friends' exhibitions, and things that I am particularly interested in.  This year, I missed a lot.  But, looking back, I experienced some wonderful work that punctuated my intensive hours in the studio.  Here are a few highlights, in no particular order.


Christian Marclay: Six New Animations at Fraenkel Gallery.  I loved this exhibition.  Marclay, master of time and of whimsical, careful editing, has created mesmerizing animations from thousands of still photographs of urban detritus such as bottle caps, straws, cigarettes, old chewing gum and the like.  The static images are arranged, stop-motion style, so that the objects transform: cigarettes appear to burn, from just-lit to down to the filter and then, miraculously,  back to full length; bottle caps and lids appear as pulsating orbs, increasing and decreasing in size; straws assume the position of clock hands, playfully telling time. Like all of Marclay's work, these projected animations are amazingly clever, poignant and just plain fun.

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY, Bottle Caps (video still), 2016 Single-channel projected animation, silent

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY, Bottle Caps (video still), 2016
Single-channel projected animation, silent

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY, Chewing Gum (video still), 2016 Single-channel projected animation, silent

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY, Chewing Gum (video still), 2016
Single-channel projected animation, silent


Bridget Riley: The Interactive Character of Color, 1970-2014 at John Berggruen Gallery.  Riley is one of my favorite painters and also an extraordinarily accomplished writer. I return to her writings on the subject of color again and again. The purity of her approach and her sensitivity to the elusive nature of color is what makes the work effective.  It is difficult to focus one's eyes when viewing the paintings.  Everything moves and shifts. Each shape and color, so deceptively simple and direct, is in flux.  This exhibition included a selection of works (paintings as well as studies on paper) spanning thirty-five years.

At the core of color lies a paradox. It is simultaneously one thing and several things – you can never see color by itself, it is always affected by other colors…Color relationships in painting depend on the interactive character of color; this is its essential nature.
— Bridget Riley
BRIDGET RILEY, Chord, 2014, oil on linen, 61 1/4 x 104 3/4 inches I was very delighted to see this recent work.  It was one of the most vibrant and compelling pieces in the exhibition. 

BRIDGET RILEY, Chord, 2014, oil on linen, 61 1/4 x 104 3/4 inches
I was very delighted to see this recent work.  It was one of the most vibrant and compelling pieces in the exhibition. 

Yes, I am one of those painters who obsesses over the sides and edges of paintings.  This gave me a little thrill.  

Yes, I am one of those painters who obsesses over the sides and edges of paintings.  This gave me a little thrill.  


Nicole Couch (Pink, Fuchsia, Orange), 2010 by Liz Craft at Los Angles County Museum of Art.  I spent at day at LACMA with my friend Tom during Thanksgiving weekend.  We went for the express purpose of seeing the John McLaughlin exhibition, but we also perused the permanent collection.  I hadn't been there in a number of years, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with the collection. I especially enjoyed the Giacometti installation, Matisse's 1953 La Gerbeand Chris Burden's Urban Light and Metropolis II.  

One work that I am still thinking about is Liz Craft's large figurative sculpture, which was part of her 2010 exhibition Death of a Clown at Patrick Painter, Inc.  To be honest, I am not sure why this work has stayed with me over the past month.  When time is short I am usually determined to see things that I know I will love.  To me, the greatest reward is seeing a painting that I've read about and thought about for years.  To experience it in real time and space and light... well, that is what I live for.  So it is a bit of a surprise that one of the most memorable works that I saw this year is a downright weird, kitschy figurative sculpture. 

LIZ CRAFT, Nicole Couch (Pink, Fuchsia, Orange), 2010, fiberglass and paint, 32 x 98 x 40.5 inches

LIZ CRAFT, Nicole Couch (Pink, Fuchsia, Orange), 2010, fiberglass and paint, 32 x 98 x 40.5 inches

This life-size figure in repose on a sofa is odd. First, LACMA has the title wrong.  On the card, the title is Death of a Clown, but as it turns out, that was the name of Craft's exhibition at Patrick Painter, Inc.  Nicole Couch is a strange title.  Why isn't it Nicole on the Couch or Nicole's Couch?  Then, there is the color.  The palette is limited to the pink of the couch, the magenta-purple gown, orange hair and near-white skin.  Is the figure supposed to be asleep?  Dead?  There is a romantic, Pre-Raphaelite quality about the piece.  The heavy relief texture of the sofa writhes around the still figure.  The decorative details are sharply incised, yet the figure is somewhat ill-defined.  The piece stands out, I think, because of it's anachronistic, romantic qualities, as well as the use of materials, which have the presence of unfired ceramic clay.  There is something abject and grotesque about it; it's strangely half-baked.  Because it is life-size and rather boxy, it is an awkward presence in the gallery.  For the record, I'm not sure I would categorize this piece as "important."  No matter. It certainly claims its space and it does not allow the viewer to ignore it.  That counts for something, doesn't it?  


John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction at LACMA.  This exhibition was the real purpose for our visit to LACMA, and it did not disappoint.  The museum's webpage for the exhibition includes a terrific video, Seeing John McLaughlin, in which artists  Ed Moses, Mark Grotjahn, Roy McMakin, Marcia Hafif, Tony Berlant, Tony DeLap, and James Hayward share their insights on John McLaughlin and his paintings.  It is a treat to hear them address the subtle qualities of McLaughlin's abstractions.  See also Christopher Knight's terrific review of the exhibition.  

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

McLaughlin is one of those artists who gives us all hope.  He was an odd duck: self-taught and late to the game, having begun painting at age 48.  His brand of abstraction was not so much in line with seemingly obvious antecedents, such as Mondrian; rather, it was based in his interest in Japanese art.  He lived outside of the mainstream, he did not fit neatly into the LA art scene, nor did he teach at any of the local art schools.  However, he (along with Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson and Frederick Hammersley) was included the groundbreaking exhibition Four Abstract Classicists, which opened at SFMOMA in 1959.  How I wish I could go back in time to see that show!  According to the current exhibition's catalogue (which is a great resource and well worth the price) Four Abstract Classicists was organized by LACMA, but opened at SFMOMA because of a scheduling conflict.  The catalogue thoroughly documents the legendary exhibition, which is reason enough to buy it.    

Utopianism, however, was not his goal. European abstraction provided a form for his art’s embodiment of Japanese aesthetic philosophy.

McLaughlin had looked at Japanese paintings since his childhood outside Boston. Son of a jurist on the state’s Superior Court, he was a regular visitor to the illustrious Japanese collection at the Museum of Fine Arts. His great-uncle was a collector, and he left his Japanese paintings to McLaughlin’s mother.
— Christopher Knight, LA Times
la-cknight-2.jpg

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

In LACMA's video, Seeing John McLaughlin, each of the artists attempts to describe the qualities that make McLaughlin's paintings effective.  Tony DeLap says that they exhibit "a depth of feeling."  Yes. And yet...how, exactly, do paintings show feeling?  Feeling. It is essential, yet elusive.  In the exhibition, there is a text written by Edward Albee, who owned several of McLaughlin's works.  

Finally, there is the matter of the patina of age on these works.  It is something that I think about a lot.  Over time, all paintings change-- either a lot or, at best, a little.  Colors darken and yellow, cracks appear in the paint, edges are scuffed during handling.  I worry about how my own work will hold up over time.  I want my paintings to look exactly as they do today until the end of time.  And yet, as a viewer and as a lover of painting, I enjoy the physical history of work; the little bumps and bruises that accumulate over time.  


Joan Brown: Presence Known at Anglim Gilbert Gallery.  This terrifically strong show included paintings form 1974-81.  I was bowled over by the power of these works.  Everything about them is strident, direct and forthright.  Every formal decision seems necessary and right.  There's so much freedom and humor in these works.  They are personal, yet matter of fact.  The works cross through the categories of Beat, Funk and Pop, but they also go beyond, touching on painterly concerns that have preoccupied artists for hundreds of years.  I greatly enjoy Brown's exploration of the confines of the picture plane and her sophisticated sense of pictorial space. 

JOAN BROWN, The Bicentennial Champion, 1976, oil and enamel on canvas, 96 x 78 inches

JOAN BROWN, The Bicentennial Champion, 1976, oil and enamel on canvas, 96 x 78 inches

JOAN BROWN, The Room, Part I, 1975 , enamel on canvas, 85.5 x 73.5 inches

JOAN BROWN, The Room, Part I, 1975 , enamel on canvas, 85.5 x 73.5 inches

My favorite piece in the show was The Room, Part I, 1975.  This painting is odd and mysterious.  It took me a while to realize that the bent knee reminded me of several Balthus paintings. It's a familiar gesture: a slumping posture that connotes petulance and boredom, but also flirtatiousness and sexual availability-- at least when rendered by a male artist.  In this case, in the hands of a female painter, the figure is largely hidden by the chair.  The viewer's gaze is directed (by the yellows and reds) back and forth between the shoe, the chair and the painting on the wall in the otherwise bare grey room (which reminds me of Francis Bacon's simply rendered rooms, defined only by a few succinct lines).  The male gaze--that of the viewer regarding the petulant, flirty girl-- is subverted.  Instead, the viewer looks at a girl who is (presumably) looking at the painting. The room is otherwise empty. Nothing else matters. The painting within the painting depicts a group of people (men?) and horses. Perhaps it is a pre- or post-battle congregation of sorts.  The men seem to be "other."  Their hair, garments and horses indicate that perhaps they are Native Americans. I have been thinking about this painting for months.  It interests me on so many levels: formally (color, composition, spatial sense), art historic connection (Balthus, Bacon), state of mind of the artist (the importance of painting), and gender/identity (position of the subject, position of the object).  

BALTHUS, Girl with Cat, 1937

BALTHUS, Girl with Cat, 1937

BALTHUS, The Golden Years, 1945

BALTHUS, The Golden Years, 1945


Landfill/Bedrock at Guerrero Gallery

Landfill/Bedrock at Guerrero Gallery

Guerrero Gallery's new space.  Like many in San Francisco, I am happy to see that Guerrero Gallery has found a new location.  Finding it is a bit of an adventure, as it is tucked behind an interior design warehouse that's full of giant amethyst crystals, Buddha statues, hunks of petrified wood, air plants and antique doors and furniture from Asia.  Once you make your way through, into the bright, clean gallery space, your are in a world beyond a world.  The experience is like emerging from a primeval land into PeeWee's Playhouse.  Two shows caught my attention this year:  Landfill/Bedrock and PURPLE [Tears of Rage].  Both were bright, fun, light, brash and pleasingly rough around the edges.  The exhibitions were beautifully installed, the light is gorgeous, and it is great to see this new incarnation of the gallery, which previously skewed heavily toward young male artists.  Perhaps it's too soon to tell, but Guerrero seems to be showing more abstraction and more women artists in its new location. 

JAMES GOBEL, I Used To/Still Care, 2014-16. Felt, acrylic, yarn, and embroidery thread on canvnas, 58 x 42 in. 

JAMES GOBEL, I Used To/Still Care, 2014-16. Felt, acrylic,
yarn, and embroidery thread on canvnas, 58 x 42 in. 

I was excited to see this new piece by James Gobel in Landfill/Bedrock.  I'm not sure if this is a one-off or a new direction for him, but I love the looseness, even as he adheres to his usual labor-intensive process of piecing together 'paintings' out of felt and yarn.  This piece looks like a sheet of ruled paper, turned vertically and covered with text and scribbles.  Very strong.  

PURPLE [Tears of Rage] was another solid group show at Guerrero.  I enjoyed Sofie Ramos' monochromatic paintings, even though they tend to reside in the 'one-liner' category, consisting of pre-fab textile materials saturated with paint and mounted on panels.   My favorite is outrage, our rage, orange (FTD), which looks like a patch of shag carpet dipped in orange paint, or a pile of cheetos standing up on end. Of course, it recalls Yayoi Kusama's accumulation works, as well. 

SOFIE RAMOS, outrage, our rage, orange (FTD), 2016. Latex, hand sponge mounted to panel. 5.5 x 4.5 x 4.4 inches. 

SOFIE RAMOS, outrage, our rage, orange (FTD), 2016. Latex, hand sponge mounted to panel. 5.5 x 4.5 x 4.4 inches. 

YAYOI KUSAMA, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation), c. 1964

YAYOI KUSAMA, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation), c. 1964

I was happy to see Linda Geary's new work at Guerrero.  During the run of PURPLE [Tears of Rage], Linda had work in a concurrent exhibition, I Dreamt Bees Made Honey From My Past Failures at George Lawson Gallery.  When I saw Linda's large painting at Lawson, I thought: "That painting is coming apart.  It wants to be pulled apart.  It's barely holding together."  So, it was surprising and gratifying to see Linda's installation, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes from Nothing, an installation of 100+ shaped paintings, most of them quite diminutive, arranged along one rough wall of the gallery.   

These small works look like they have been cut from existing paintings on panel with a jigsaw or a scroll saw.  The installation takes full advantage of the gallery's architecture; forms are arranged along a ragged concrete ledge. The shapes are engaged in conversation with the other works in the show and with each other. As a group, they are quite lyrical.  They remind me a little of Jean Arp's relief works. Linda Geary is a painter who is always pushing the boundaries, exploring the depths and mixing things up. I always feel the urgency of her painterly inquiry when I see her work.  

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016. 100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016.
100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016. 100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016.
100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016. 100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

LINDA GEARY, Everything Comes from Something, Only Something Comes From Nothing, 2012-2016.
100+ paintings, various sizes, acrylic and oil on panel

A confession:  I have a soft spot for kitsch. Therefore, I greatly enjoyed Laura Rokas' works in PURPLE [Tears of Rage].  These paintings and ceramic sculptures are so fun, personal and clever.  The work suggests that her process involves a continual circuit between 2-D and 3-D object; she makes paintings of sculptures, and sculptures of paintings.  I am really looking forward to seeing Rokas' work develop over time.   

LAURA ROKAS, Stabbed in the Back, Let Your Rage Guide the Way, 2016. Hand sewn patches on felt and linen; cotton embroidery floss, acid washed denim, synthetic hair, 30 x 24 inches 

LAURA ROKAS, Stabbed in the Back, Let Your Rage Guide the Way, 2016. Hand sewn patches on felt and linen; cotton embroidery floss, acid washed denim, synthetic hair, 30 x 24 inches 

LAURA ROKAS, R.O.K.A.S. (Rage Out Kut And Scratch), 2016. Hand sewn patches; cotton embroidery floss on felt, vinyl, canvas, 20 x 18 inches.   I am in love with these custom hand-sewn patches. These works remind me of Matthew Palladino's plaster reliefs.

LAURA ROKAS, R.O.K.A.S. (Rage Out Kut And Scratch), 2016. Hand sewn patches; cotton embroidery floss on felt, vinyl, canvas, 20 x 18 inches.  

I am in love with these custom hand-sewn patches. These works remind me of Matthew Palladino's plaster reliefs.

LAURA ROKAS, various works, ceramic

LAURA ROKAS, various works, ceramic

LAURA ROKAS, Seeing Red, 2016. Oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches This painting makes me grin from ear to ear. 

LAURA ROKAS, Seeing Red, 2016. Oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches
This painting makes me grin from ear to ear. 


Suzanne Blank Redstone at Jessica Silverman Gallery

Suzanne Blank Redstone at Jessica Silverman Gallery

Suzanne Blank Redstone: 1960s Portal Paintings at Jessica Silverman Gallery. I loved this exhibition!  What a treat to see these works unearthed by Silverman.  While I don't know how this show came about, I am delighted that it did (even though it falls into the problematic category of "exhibitions-by-ignored/overlooked-women-artists-rediscovered-by-hipster-gallerists-hoping-to-make-a-killing").  Redstone is in her 70s and has spent most of her career without the support of a gallerist. Looking at the works online before I saw the show, I wasn't sure if they would hold up, but indeed they did.  Some of them remind me of my favorite Al Held paintings. The paintings have a nice, 'complete, yet not overworked' quality.  Some aspects are a bit rough, such as the blended gradient areas, which makes them seem more urgent.  I mused that, if these were made today, they would be more slick, more labored. Redstone's faster, lighter touch works somehow, and helps to locate the paintings within their timeframe.  Her works on paper (which I would categorize as studies) are beautiful, too--very assured--and nearly as powerful as the large paintings, despite their small scale.   

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE, Portal 1, 1967. Acrylic on shaped masonite, 44.5 x 66 inches   

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE, Portal 1, 1967. Acrylic on shaped masonite, 44.5 x 66 inches   

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE, Portal - Descent, 1968. Acrylic on masonite, 41 x 74.5 inches

SUZANNE BLANK REDSTONE, Portal - Descent, 1968. Acrylic on masonite, 41 x 74.5 inches


A few other shows worth mentioning, below. Please click links to view.  

RADICAL: Monochrome Paintings from the Goodman Duffy Collection at George Lawson Gallery

WINSTON ROETH, Insider, 2001. Acrylic on Hexcel® honeycomb panel 45 x 32 in.

WINSTON ROETH, Insider, 2001. Acrylic on Hexcel® honeycomb panel
45 x 32 in.

LOUISE NEVELSON, Untitled, 1964 I love the satiny black of this piece, which reads almost like graphite. Once your eyes adjust to the value scale, the whole piece comes into focus. 

LOUISE NEVELSON, Untitled, 1964
I love the satiny black of this piece, which reads almost like graphite. Once your eyes adjust to the value scale, the whole piece comes into focus. 

“My plan is to grow these physical fields of pattern into monumentalized paintings,” says Grabner. “At such a scale, the gingham fields will continue to evoke an American domestic nostalgia but they will also speak to the authority of painting.” With some canvases measuring nearly 100 inches tall, these gingham paintings usurp the viewer’s periphery.
— Gallery 16 press release

It's interesting and surprising to me what work sticks over time.  I'd like to write about exhibitions while they're on view, but my thoughts don't solidify quickly, so I like to wait and see what rises to the top over a period of weeks or months.  In the New Year, I'll be writing about my recent trip to London and Paris, so please stay tuned.  

Art Jaunt to Dallas-Fort Worth

A few months ago, my art pal, Tom Mueske, called and said, "Amy, I think we need to go to Dallas."  I'd been so immersed in the studio that I hadn't been aware that the Dallas Museum of Art would be the only U.S. venue for Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, a comprehensive survey of Pollock's black paintings (1951-53). While we were on the phone, I did a quick web search of the other museums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  We set a date, made our travel plans and, a couple of months later, met at Dallas Love Field on a Friday afternoon.  We checked into our hotel, walked over to the DMA (which is free, except for special exhibitions) and headed straight for the exhibition.  Our exhibition tickets allowed for multiple entries, so we went through the show on Friday, twice on Saturday and once more on Sunday, spending about 6 hours total with the black paintings. 

In addition to the DMA, we visited the Kimbell Art Museum, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, The Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dallas Contemporary and a few galleries.  It was non-stop art for two and a half days, with Tex-Mex and cocktails in the evenings.

I allowed this art pilgrimage to really settle in before writing about it. With these five venues,  the Dallas-Fort Worth area is rich in truly spectacular art and architecture.  So much of what we viewed has stayed with me.  Here are a few highlights:

Dallas Museum of Art.  The DMA is one of those old-fashioned general museums, full of families and school children.  Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots was a special exhibition.  The galleries were were designed to resemble a New York gallery in the 50s: intimate, carpeted spaces with Le Corbusier chairs and Mies van der Rohe benches.  In general, the black paintings have been under-appreciated.  Some regard the move away from the dense and intricate poured paintings toward a more open, pseudo-figurative approach as a step back for Pollock.  However, seeing these paintings together, along with a gorgeous installation of works on paper and a few small sculptures, I was extremely aware of Pollock's technical mastery and willingness to experiment with techniques and materials, and his ability to expand upon the techniques he had previously developed.  The fluidity of line is perfectly confident, varied and purposeful.  The hints of figuration are integrated with pure abstract elements. Christopher Knight reviewed the show for the Los Angeles Times, and I agree with his assessment: Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots is the rare exhibition that triggers a revision of one's long held beliefs about an artist and his work.  One thing that really struck me was the patina of the raw canvas.  It is pleasantly aged and tawny (almost golden)  creating an aura of authenticity and historical import.  I wish I could go back in time and see these works when the canvas was new and just barely off-white.  Did the paintings have a different impact? 

Echo (Number 25, 1951), 1951

Echo (Number 25, 1951), 1951

Convergence: Number 10, 1952, 1952

This painting is the perfect blending of the techniques of the black paintings and the earlier poured paintings.  It literally sizzles with opticality. 

[detail] 

[detail] 

The catalogue for the exhibition is an excellent resource.  I was so saddened to read this on the first page:

If only he knew...

[detail] Silver Square, c. 1950   This piece was painted on the rough side of a piece of Masonite.  I love the silver ground and the lively line work.  I also enjoyed Pollock's experiments on various papers: Japanese, mulberry and Howell.  He treated each so differently, with absolute sensitivity to the surface texture and absorbency. 

[detail] Silver Square, c. 1950  

This piece was painted on the rough side of a piece of Masonite.  I love the silver ground and the lively line work.  I also enjoyed Pollock's experiments on various papers: Japanese, mulberry and Howell.  He treated each so differently, with absolute sensitivity to the surface texture and absorbency. 

Orignal exhibition poster.

After a couple of hours in the exhibition, we went back to the hotel, had dinner and went to bed early.   

Kimbell Art Museum. The Kimbell is one of my "bucket list" museums.  The original Louis Khan (1972) building is complimented by the Renzo Piano Pavilion (2013). Both are wondrous.  The Khan building is possibly the most perfect building I have ever seen.  The materials, the proportions, the light.  Oh, the light!  The natural light enters in a way that is gentle and diffused.  The entire space is luminous.  The museum is small, and filled with high-quality, mind-boggling treasures.

The vaulted ceiling lets in diffused light that floods the space. 

Giovanni Bellini, Christ Blessing, c. 1438-1516

Tintoretto, Portrait of Doge Pietro Loredan, 1518-1594

The ermine cape is so incredibly rendered.  The brushstrokes are so loose that it is impossible to discern the image when you are close to the painting. 

Picasso, Nude Combing Her Hair, 1906.  This painting really stayed with me.  The concrete awkwardness of the figure, mass of hair, mask-like face, soft brushy background and the placement of the figure within the picture plane gave me a sense of physical tension and compression.  

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.  This museum was the biggest surprise of our trip.  The building was designed by Tadao Ando in 2002, and it is hands-down one of the best museums I've seen for contemplating works of contemporary art: galleries are perfectly proportioned, works of art have plenty of room to breathe and sight lines are excellent.  The museum is situated near the Kimbell.  We were there on a Saturday, and the museum was pleasantly quiet, allowing for private, extended engagement with the art.  Works from the permanent collection were on view.  WOW!  I could include a hundred things, but here are few highlights:

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1986

The placement of this painting could not be better, with Andy presiding over the museum with an eerie Wizard of Oz effect.

The museum has many single-artist spaces.  I love this Ellsworth Kelly installation. 

A small, but terrific, painting by Roy Lichtenstein. The museum also holds Lichtenstein's Mr. Bellamy in the collection, but I particularly enjoyed this simple yet powerful piece. 

One of the best Pearlsteins I have ever seen: Two Female Models on Eames Chair and Stool, 1976. The use of color, diagonal figure-eight composition, strong vectors and repetition of linear elements (fingers, stomach, breastbone) make for a very dynamic picture. 

Lynda Benglis, For Carl Andre, 1970.  This terrifc Benglis looks so fresh, as if it had been made yesterday.  The foam is in great condition. 

Morris Louis, Dalet Kaf, 1959.  The Modern has two Louis paintings, both absolute exemplars.  This is probably the best of the Veil series works that I have seen.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1961.  A really wonderful Mitchell with a great palette of purples and earthy golds. 

[detail] It was timely for me to see these color relationships as I am working on two paintings with strong yellow and purple elements. 

A small gem by Howard Hodgkin. 

Tom, with an enormous stunner by Mark Bradford. 

Dan Christensen, Pavo, 1968.  We weren't allowed to photograph this painting.  I've seen it in reproduction a lot. It is really spectacular in person. The ground is luminous and metallic, glittering in its iridescence.  It is one of those works that, had it not been so perfectly executed, would be meaningless. 

I could go on, but let it suffice that the Modern is a destination museum, and the fact that it is next door to the Kimbell makes Fort Worth a necessary stop for any art pilgrim. 

Dallas Contemporary.  After a full and satisfyingly mind-boggling day in Fort Worth, we made it back to Dallas in time to see the Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting exhibition space in the warehouse district.  We were delighted to find Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics on view.  The exhibition included four radical feminist artists active since the 1970s: Joan Semmel, Anita Steckel, Betty Tompkins and Cosey Fanni Tutti.  As scholar Richard Meyer has written, they "eroticized the male body in ways that conformed neither to heterosexual convention nor to mainstream feminist thought at the time...The art they produced reminds us that sexuality cannot be made to align with politics, including the politics of feminism." Photos were not permitted, but here is a terrific overview of the exhibition by curator Alison M. Gingeras.  Tom and I agreed that some of the work, while important and radical in its time, appears dated now.  However, Betty Tompkins' work looked fresh and timeless.  It was great to see such a fine selection of her Fuck Paintings from the early 70s.  Much like the Tintoretto we saw earlier in the day at the Kimbell, the images fall apart when you stand in close proximity to the work. All you see is paint, surface and technique, until you move back far enough to perceive the image. The Dallas Contemporary was a perfect, jarring, gritty end to our day. It was really wonderful to experience this 70s feminist time-capsule exhibition.  It reminded me how much can be--should be!--at stake in art making.

Betty Tompkins and her work, c. early 1970s.

On Sunday, we went to see the Pollock show one last time, first thing in the morning when the museum was still quiet.  It was great to have the opportunity to see the show multiple times over the course of two and a half days. I really had the chance to let the works burn into my eyes and memory.  

As it turned out, a beautiful Rebecca Warren exhibition, The Main Feeling, opened that very day.  While some of the DMA's galleries are a bit dated and stodgy, the Warren exhibition was in a suite of light, airy, beautifully proportioned galleries, and included three different bodies of work: blobby works in clay and bronze, some small and painted, displayed on plinths, and some tall. thin and figurative (here is a short Art Forum piece in which Warren discusses her recent bronze works); works from her vitrine series, which employ wall-mounted cabinets, small objects and neon light; and large works made of welded steel slabs.  I respond most favorably to the first group, which heavily draw from de Kooning, Degas and Giacometti. While the other two bodies of work are also interesting, Warren's divergent approaches prompted me to wonder about a particular (unfortunate? problematic?) phenomenon of postmodernism: the gratuitous diversity of practice.  Or, phrased differently: at what point does the extreme diversity of practice become gratuitous, a mere market strategy? This has nagged at me a bit, even though I greatly enjoyed this exhibition. 

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren. 

From there, we went to the Nasher Sculpture Center. Another spectacular building filled with the best of the best; too many treasures to count.  Here are a three of my favorites:

Willem de Kooning, Clamdigger, 1972.  After seeing the Rebecca Warren exhibition, it was great to see de Kooning's large plaster sculpture.  I love this piece.  It is simultaneously scary, sad, pathetic, powerful...so expressive, with a lively surface and a patina made of linseed oil and soap.  It's mesmerizing, lumpy, barely a figure, but terribly human. According to the wall text, de Kooning wore three pairs of heavy work gloves, one over the other, so that his hands and his gestures would be bigger.  Brilliant. 

[detail]

[detail]

Okay, I like Richard Serra as much as the next person, but this is the first time I ever had a truly spiritual experience with a Serra.  Why?  Well, this piece, My Curves Are Not Mad, is in the Nasher's beautiful garden.  The day was gorgeous, warm and sunny, and the light was dappled and brilliant in spots, animating the surface of the piece. Trees swayed in the breeze, casting elegant shadows on the Cor-Ten steel surface. The brilliant green of the lawn reflected off the steel. And then, the church bells rang for three full minutes, providing a soundtrack for the moving shadow forms. Unbelievable.  I was lucky to capture a video. 

Somehow, the brilliant green grass cast a reflection on the inside of the piece. It was a hovering cloud of bright green, impossibly beautiful. 

Last, but not least, I enjoyed at terrific piece by Ann Veronica Janssens, Blue, Red and Yellow, 2001, an outdoor box-like room made of translucent walls, colored with blue, red and yellow films, illuminated by natural light, and filled with thick fog.  Upon entering, one immediately loses one's bearings.  The viewer is enveloped in colored fog and is unable to see more than a few inches.  Really, there is nothing to see but color and light. Magical, fun, and disruptive.  In a way, it is similar to the experience of being inside a pitch-dark cave, but one is lost in light rather than darkness. I watched viewers going in and coming out. Some people were terrified (losing all sense of their visual control, not knowing whether anything else would "happen" to them as they stumbled about in the space) while others found it relaxing, peaceful and enjoyable. I found it to be a unique, pleasurable and pure sensory experience. 

Somehow, the colored films shift and mix, producing a soft and playful cubic form. 

This is what it looked like inside, but the color is variable and the piece shifts through the color spectrum,  Beautiful. 

This is what it looked like inside, but the color is variable and the piece shifts through the color spectrum,  Beautiful. 

After the Nasher, we popped into the DMA one last time to peruse the permanent collection, which contains a number of gems. I will end with this piece, a painting by an  artist unfamiliar to us, Sadamasa Motonaga.  It surprised and delighted both of us and looks particularly fresh and timely, as if a young LA artist made it yesterday. Ah, nothing is new. 

Sadamasa Motonaga, ine, Line, Line, 1979. 

We headed back to Dallas Love Field, had a beer and boarded our respective planes. What a great, unforgettable trip. 

An Unexpected and Delightful Collaboration with Adam Hathaway

It's great when things come full circle.  When my friend Adam Hathaway told me about his project, Rainbrush, and asked me (along with Sarah SmithRenetta SitoyGrant DavidsonTamra SealS.D. Willis and Carrie Hott) to collaborate with him by providing him with an image that would be interpreted by his painting machine, I was intrigued.  According to Adam, Rainbrush would be a machine that "makes simulated rainfall, and that simulated rainfall makes a watercolor painting.  There will 288 individual vials giving a final resolution of 12 x 24 'pixels.'  I'm hoping the final images will simply appear to be blurry renditions of the original, like looking at something with your naked eye while under water."  

I selected a cropped image of one of my recent paintings, Variation (white), 2014, and sent it to Adam.  My work begins with digital imagery that is then translated, via process and materiality, into a painting.  Adam took an image of my painting, reinterpreted it as a low-resolution arrangement of pixels, which he then used to program Rainbrush to make a watercolor painting.

It is wonderful to participate in and witness the cycle of digital>material>digital>material image-making. Brilliant job, Adam!  

Rainbrush is currently on view at Aggregate Space Gallery in Oakland.  Congrats, Adam, and thanks for inviting me to collaborate with you!

(Left) Rainbrush painting; (center) pixel mapping of my painting; (right) detail of my painting, Variation (white), 2014

(Left) Rainbrush painting; (center) pixel mapping of my painting; (right) detail of my painting, Variation (white), 2014

A detail of Rainbrush and its color vials.

A detail of Rainbrush and its color vials.

Adam Hathaway's Rainbrush in action at Aggregate Space Gallery.

Adam Hathaway's Rainbrush in action at Aggregate Space Gallery.

Rainbrush making a painting based on Variation (white)

Rainbrush making a painting based on Variation (white)

Studio Blog!

Welcome to my studio!  This is my first blog post.

This is a detail shot of one of my new paintings, Variation (orange).  Nearly finished!