Winter Studio Notes

  • How do you communicate the sense of humans’ meaningful relationship to landscape, instead of just talking about your own, private relationships to specific places (central Florida, grandparents’ farm, Pennsylvania, etc.)? The latter flirts with inaccessibility and sentimentality.

  • "What you’re making, it's not an abstract painting, and it's not a landscape. It's a cerebral construction." (Dona Nelson)

  • "You must have the illusion of space in the painting, for the signage of space to be activated." (also Dona)

  • Integrate the abstract and representational parts, make them need each other.

  • Why landscape imagery at all?

  • I’m not interested in painting as an illustration of the idea.

  • Why am I so allergic to physical terrain in the painting, or to using actual collage? I want a singular place, a singular illusion. There's something about the entire painting having the same skin that goes to this, to holding all those disparate parts together the way I want.

  • Ways that the work may be problematic (just a few):

    • aestheticizing, showing as beautiful the modern-industrial world

    • suggesting some sort of symbiosis between modernity and nature

    • underpinned by the romanticization of nature/landscape

What’s on the wall:

Evan Fugazzi at Gross McCleaf

Taken within the context of contemporary art, Evan Fugazzi's paintings are unabashedly, emphatically, confrontationally beautiful. They're minimal in a way that speaks to a distillation of knowledge, though at times they read like experiments with limited variables. Throughout, the incidental and accidental take on a lead role.

I imagine Fugazzi troweling the paint over white-primed canvas. The luminous stains hearken to a history of glazing with oil paint, but the undiluted Flashe has its own, highly pigmented game. Even when opaque, the paint can flatten, make itself immaterial. "Pure color" plays against the thicker drips, slops, and carving that make the paint a physical thing. 

Evan Fugazzi,  Loom , acrylic on linen, 43.25 x 70.875 inches, image:

Evan Fugazzi, Loom, acrylic on linen, 43.25 x 70.875 inches, image:

Jasper Johns at Matthew Marks

A painting can act simultaneously as a collection of parts (i.e. "the left part," "the top part"), and as a singular entity that transcends the sum of its parts. Some paintings really totter on the brink of being a whole. Use the minimum of skin to hold together. With Johns, the feat feels generous. Here are a variety  of parts that we can play with, take in different sequences, in the flow of perception. Johns's repetition of the face/vase motif re-affirms his interest in this active style of viewership that requires time. Physiologically, one can't perceive the faces and the vase simultaneously; the only way to see both is in different moments, and by focusing one’s attention on different parts. 

Johns engages us in the construction of his images.

Within a series, paintings repeat a single composition, each version bringing out and camouflaging different parts. It’s almost a game; each version offers different clues which the viewer can piece together to get the whole story. The versions present different realities of a set of objects--the interior of a room, a bed, a figure--like Monet’s haystacks or cathedrals. But overall, Johns’s paintings feel too rooted in the pleasure of invention to be simply about different optical experiences of a thing.

Julie Mehretu

Through layered marks and shapes, the artist Julie Mehretu constructs dynamic, spatial worlds. Her drawings and paintings reference urban architecture, the chaotic pathways of information technology, flight patterns, and a host of other present-day global phenomena. Mehretu’s work is important to me for how it conflates landscape and formal abstraction, and for how it joins formal rigor with socio-political content.

Mehretu’s piece Empirical Construction, Istanbul represents intimate relations between religion, the corporate world, and state politics. The overall, central mass takes the vague shape of a domed mosque. Rays emanating outward from its peak contribute to this impression, suggesting that the shape represents a holy, powerful entity. The tone and texture of the silhouette is defined through interacting layers: first, a crisp architectural drawing that loosely depicts a cityscape, then squiggly ink marks, and, in the top-most layer, brightly colored geometric shapes and lines. Each layer evokes different associations. Direct, gestural drawing suggests raw human emotion, especially in contrast to the underlying architectural drawing which connotes logic and order. These bottom-most, black and white layers evoke the foundational tension of the human condition—negotiating our raw psychological dynamics within an organized civilization. The brightly-hued shapes, foregrounded and privileged by color, suggest powerful entities. Tellingly, they resemble national flags and polished corporate logos.

Empirical Construction can be read as a stunning abstract landscape, a composition that invites the viewer to optically revel in the active play between color, tone, shape, line, and texture. But the piece doesn’t end there; as is typically the case, Mehretu’s formal elements perform double duty and work on the viewer’s intellect, prompting us to consider political, religious, and capitalist systems of power in our contemporary world.

Julie Mehretu,  Empirical Construction, Istanbul , 2003

Julie Mehretu, Empirical Construction, Istanbul, 2003