Frank Stella 1970s

Frank Stella Melds Painting and Sculpture in Berlin | Sleek Magazine
Frank Stella “Odeslk I” 1971

Frank Stella was the most significant painter in the 1960s. His work defined the critical stance and look of much of the advanced painting of that decade. Of course there were other kinds of painting going on – Greenbergers (thanks Don Judd) and Popists – one and all. But Stella was involved in painting on a different level of intellectual engagement, more experimental and tough minded. His work of the sixties was historical, hard edged, and unquestionable in its way. His success in the New York art world was immediate. And like many super successful artists Stella could have ridden that success all the way to the last stop of a lucrative career, but by 1970 the always questioning artist found himself in a quandary. New kinds of imagery was beginning to evolve in the work along with surprising connections to the old masters and to the history of art in a way that he hadn’t expected. So what’s next? What to do now?
Stella began again. This new direction began slowly – working himself out of the irregular polygons and protractors building out the support, finding new “old ways” to activated the surfaces of these constructions. By the end of the seventies he had fully involved himself in producing paintings that were wilder, more florid and more baroque than the reductionist work of the previous decade. Stella had found a new way of looking at and confronting the Modern century. No one was more surprised than Frank himself.

By the early sixties, the younger artists in particular were drawing heavily on critical analysis in their studio talk, and had an eye cocked on art history as they worked. Some of them appeared to be trying to decipher the direction in which art history was moving and to identify their work with what they conceived to be that history’s leading edge. With the advent of Conceptual art, the process of artistic decision – making became almost a parody of art-historically oriented criticism….
The sixties were a decade more strongly marked than any before by the notion of a signature style. For every Robert Morris that roamed the map of possibilities, there were many more artists who kept within narrow and consistent limits. In this context, the painting of Stella distinguished itself by its range. The twelve years of his work shown in The Museum of Modern Art retrospective of 1970 demonstrated a richness of ideas and a willingness to take risks unmatched by any other painter during the preceding decade. To be sure, among Stella’s pre-1970 works, the various series of stripe paintings could be considered as extensions of a single pictorial concept, despite all their differences. But both the Irregular Polygons and the Protractor paintings constituted major breaks within that development. [WIlliam Rubin on Frank Stella 1970-1987]

“Nothing much had changed in the externals of my life. But while I was painting the Protractor pictures, I felt I was coming to the end of something in my work. I really did want a change, and wanted to do things that went beyond the methods and system that underlay my painting until then. I just had to start all over again. That the new work could be contradictory and good is what makes the life of an artist exciting.
…Anyway, by the early seventies I had more or less had it with the art world, and with my relation to other artists. I had paid my dues and earned the right to do whatever I wanted, to just let it happen. I felt loose — sort of beyond the point of criticism. As long as I myself felt confident about the new work, why not just do as I pleased? And the new things really were different. There’s a power in the stripe paintings that the newer ones will never have; on the other hand there is an energy – and a kind of florid excitement — in the newer work that the stripe paintings didn’t have. I don’t think you can do it all at once. That’s why you’re lucky to have a lifetime.” [Frank Stella]

“… the problem with the recent return to painting, is that it returned at such a low level. It has certainly loosened things up, but It’s hard to get excited about this work. It represents a return of the mentality of the art school… the exaltation of student mannerisms. In the sixties and seventies, It was considered undignified to be an institutional art student. You were supposed to work at being an artist, and that Implied that you had the intellectual agility, the integrity and coherence of character, to put yourself together without going to art school in order to learn a trade and acquire credentials…. I feel very close still — and I obviously felt very close then —to artists of my own age, the generation of the sixties. It was a varied and talented generation. I sympathize with its tendency to want to make art that not painting—or even sculpture—in any received sense, and I admire the attitude that led a Helzer or a Turrell elsewhere. I don’t find the so-called return of painting in the late seventies and eighties an important alternative. At least not yet.” [Frank Stella]

Frank Stella Grajau I 1975

08:18 Frank Stella: Well I didn’t know what the direction was, but the direction turned out to be instead of painting a painting I ended up building a painting, building something that you painted on. But it was basically a different way of constructing painting and thinking about it.
08:30 Charlie Rose: And what made you come to that? What caused you to come to that?
08:35 Frank Stella: Well, some of the ways I had been thinking about painting, but, I mean, I guess it was what happened — the way I started to look at the imagery that I was interested in. Very simply, I was making drawings. I got very nervous the night before a meniscus operation in my left leg. And, you know, I pretended I wasn’t worried about it, but I guess I was because they bring you into the hospital sort of early, and from about 6:00 at night until about 3:00 in the morning I made nothing but drawings. I made 44 drawings, you know, in six hours or something like that. And they were a surprise to me actually. I mean, they were about all of the kinds of things that I had done, but they were very different. They went in a different direction.
09:15 Charlie Rose: All these drawings.
09:17 Frank Stella: Yeah, the drawings added detail in a way to my own sense of structure. And then when I finally got out of the hospital I had nothing but the drawings and I started to look at them and I realized I couldn’t paint them. They were really plans for something to be built and then to be built up and then I began to work, treat them dimensionally and work and really evolve from 2D to three-dimensional structure that I then painted on. [Frank Stella in conversation with Charlie Rose]

Brice Marden The Seventies

Brice Marden Thira 1979-80

At the beginning of the seventies abstract painting had reached in impasse, and was divided into two warring camps – Greenberg’s painters on one side and hard edged reductionism on the other. There were agreements among the warring parties – anything pre-Modern and European was discredited, anything illusionistic or allusionistic was to be avoided, and any personal or poetic narrative was to be avoided at all costs. And for those artists who actually wanted to explore painting from an older visual tradition, or god forbid, a romantic tradition, there was no way to participate in the advanced painting war of the day. But a few younger painters began to devise ways around these censures. One of the first artists to connect the reductionist present with a more “traditional” past and a European sensibility of figuration and narrative was Brice Marden.

PAUL CUMMINGS: It’s interesting in all of this that you’ve never mentioned somebody like Barnett Newman. Does his work say anything to you?
BRICE MARDEN: Yeah, I think Newman is a fantastic painter. That show last year was just beautiful. But I don’t really think I was working with those ideas. And the same with Reinhardt. That’s another favorite with writers. They try to hook me up with Reinhardt. Reinhardt I’ve always found very uninteresting. I mean he made a lot of really mediocre paintings and some good ones, but I just don’t find them that interesting. Johns was interesting, and Stella was like very interesting, and I think Noland is a fantastic painter. Warhol is very interesting, but I can’t think of any immediate contemporary influence. I mean I got to painting the way I painted more through old master influence than through contemporary influence.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How do you mean by “old master influence” because it certainly isn’t traditional image?
BRICE MARDEN: No, but it’s like attitude. I mean it isn’t like the formal intellectual kind of attitude. I just never had that attitude towards painting like a Stella attitude. It really left me cold. But I like the paintings, you know, and now they look warm and sensuous, very painterly. But at the time they didn’t. [Paul Cummings in conversation with Brice Marden]

Brice Marden Notebook Sept. 1964–Sept. 1967 Karma, New York, 2015

On a page of his 1964–67 journal, underneath a small cutout of Manet’s 1862 painting of Victorine Meurent, Brice Marden wrote, “Cézanne tried to kill painting by denying forms for the sake of painting. He seems to have come closest to painting painting out … I think a painter should paint to end painting for himself and some others. With this in mind and man in mind it seems inevitable that painting will go on.” [Emmie Francis on Brice Marden’s notebooks]

If you look at Marden’s notebooks you’ll find all kinds of personal connections and figurative narratives being explored and collected – these notebooks are almost Victorian in their intimacy and declarative structures. They are also a far cry from Johns’ quotidian recipe for art making – Take something. Do something to it. Do something else to it – or Stella’s elliptical structures of process – What you see is what you see. Marden’s approach to abstraction, Modernism and the European figurative tradition was deliberately provocative to his contemporaries. His use of traditional materials and his connection to the handmade, drawing, and mostly to color made his abstract paintings into something “older”, lush, and inevitable. What Marden was after in these reductive works was not pure formal structure, but ephemeral beauty.

“…during a 1964 Jasper Johns retrospective, Marden studied Johns’s early works extensively and considered them in relation to the Baroque masters he has long admired, such as Francisco de Zurbarán, Francisco Goya, and Diego Velázquez. Marden’s works from the 1960s include subtle, shimmering monochromes in gray tones, sometimes assembled canvases into multipanel works, in a manner similar to the black paintings and White Paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, who hired Marden as a studio assistant in 1966.
A trip to Greece in the early 1970s led Marden to create the Hydra paintings (1972), which capture the turquoise hues of the Mediterranean, and Thira (1979–80), a painting composed of eighteen interconnected panels inspired by the shadows and geometry of ancient temples. To heighten the effect of each color, plane, and brushstroke, Marden developed the unique process of adding beeswax and turpentine to oil paint and applying the mixture in many thin layers.” [Gagosian Gallery on Brice Marden]

Brice Marden Avrutun 1971

“In 1967, shortly after meeting his future wife, Helen, at Max’s Kansas City, a New York nightclub that was a meeting place for artists and musicians, Marden completed For Helen, a two-panel painting based on her dimensions, each panel measuring 1.75 metres by 45 centimetres. Marden described the colour of its skin-like surface as a ‘warm pinkish grey,’ which could refer to Helen’s skin tone, yet Marden’s titles are rarely obvious or literally descriptive. Instead, its hue is evidence of a telepathic connection. That summer, Helen had travelled to the south west of England where she was taken by the vast mudflats revealed at low tide along the Cornish coastline. She later telephoned Marden and vaguely described these silt and clay deposits as pink. When she returned home and saw the finished painting, she realised that Marden had captured her memory of their colour exactly.
His second exhibition, at the Bykert Gallery in 1968, featured his renowned Back Series, a set of paintings based on Helen’s height. Their illusion to her physicality is underscored by the exhibition announcement card, which featured a nude photographed from the back. Marden titled one of the seven paintings Flesh. Their surfaces are as creamy and delicate as skin, yet one is done primarily in green. The suggestions of flesh is reinforced by the extreme physicality of the paint and wax throughout the series.” [Phaidon Focus on Brice Marden]

Brice Marden D’après la Marquise de la Solana 1969

BRICE MARDEN: No, not at all. Mine are really very intuitive. I mean like I said most of the paintings will start with a natural experience, but some of them don’t at all, like there are these two Hydra paintings. One dealt with like a landscape color of rock; it’s kind of this strange grey and strange green and very bleached out, bleak sun, bleak light thing. Then another painting that I did in the same group was just a very dark and light painting which didn’t have anything to do with anything visual. I was dealing with this kind of reaction to the place like an intuitive, or spiritual reaction. So it’s not always based on natural but more and more it is. You get a color memory in mind and then you try to make that color and then you start working from that color.
PAUL CUMMINGS: So it’s really very different from the Albers classes, the Albers ideas.
BRICE MARDEN: Yeah, I mean there’s no rules. Then things start repeating, you know, like you get certain value jumps that start repeating themselves. So you work away from them. Perhaps it’s maybe really interesting and you work into it a little bit more. I’ve been wanting to do more one-color paintings. I haven’t been doing one-color paintings lately, or I’ve been working on them but just keeping them in the studio. I’ve wanted to do some, but somehow I’ve been compelled into doing this other thing. But there’s lots of things I still want to do. It’s just gotten to the point where there’s lots of things to do so you work more and it’s much more fun to work.
PAUL CUMMINGS: So you weren’t being painted into a corner at all.
BRICE MARDEN: No, not at all, it’s really very wide open.
[Paul Cummings in conversation with Brice Marden]

Michael Zahn @ Tennis Elbow


Michael Zahn is showing a wonderful recent painting – “A Basket of Flowers” – at Tennis Elbow – a terrific idea for new kind of online gallery. “Tennis Elbow at The Journal Gallery, is the concept of weekly solo rotating exhibitions, opening every Saturday at noon.” Mike has also included an unexpected self-portrait for his show. Highly Recommended!

George Hofmann Drawings from the 70s

George Hofmann Untitled Drawing 1977

For painters the 1970s was a decade of unrest, but unrest in a different way from the turbulent 1960s. The 60s saw abstract painters coming up against limitations, reduction and disappearance. The 70s were about finding new pathways, new ideas and different existences in order to break out of the theoretical dead ends and find new possibilities for painting. Let’s say this moment was “après la révolution.” Many artists continued to approach painting from a theoretical angle trying to open up the endgame of reduction. While other painters began to look to a more classic kind of visual experimentation tied to the 19 Century fin de siècle. In either case there was a lot at stake for painters as older alliances and new ideas were jockeying for power in the art world.

Paul Cézanne Rocks Near the Caves above Château Noir 1895–1900

For many of the Color Field painters and Lyrical Abstractionists continuity of space across the surface was the goal. George’s work from the late Sixties was economical and reductionist – line, open space and limited process all come to play. But In these drawings from the Seventies George is pushing against that smooth field and away from Impressionism. He’s is experimenting with Cezanne’s idea of Post-Impressionist broken space and strange continuity in order to contend with Greenberg’s crew of Impressionist influenced abstract painters. This connection to Post-Impressionism becomes very apparent when comparing George’s approach to composition and line with Cezanne’s work. And these drawings speak to George’s need to experiment and push his work in different directions – away from the more facile color field painters in fashion at the time. In fact all through George’s career you can see the outward push and then a return in his work – out to the edges where nothing is sure, and then back to familiar territories and familiar beauty. It feels like he was resting, thinking, trying to understand the implications of his visual experimentation. After a long and successful career in 2010 George made his most important break with Post-War American Abstraction, and if you look at these drawings you can see that the break began in the 1970s.

“In the shift to visual information in society, millions are looking – a lot – at constantly changing images on their TVs, computers and hand-held devices. The world is awash in visual information; unedited and torrential, pixellated, flickering, backlit, and instantaneous. This hasn’t necessarily resulted in greater pictorial literacy, but it probably has affected the way we look at art, and the making of art. In painting it probably accelerated what was already happening: more and more fractured, shifting, unexpected and surprising pictorial space.” [George Hofmann on Fractured Space ]

George Hofmann Untitled 1977

Experimental painting was caught in a double bind. Often the people who supported painting had very conservative rules and criteria for what painting should be. Some of these rules and restrictions came from Greenbergian formalism, while others came out of Abstract Expressionism or geometric abstraction. And then, on the other hand, there were people who took the theoretical stance that nothing at all was possible in painting. As a result, the most innovative work was caught in the middle, attacked from both sides. Of course one of the big problems was that a lot of experimental painting was coming from unexpected sources: African Americans, women, lesbians, gays, and counterculture dropouts. This experimental painting came from people who didn’t fit the traditional profile of what a painter was supposed to be.” [David Reed and Katy Siegel in conversation with Phong Bui]

“There are two main camps, those who believe a painting can be made with a prescribed set of conditions and those for whom painting is the result of a series of emotional responses that evolve over the course of its creation. The former favor adherence to a more rigorous process and the latter tend toward more liberal, expressive use of material.” [Ben LaRocco on High Times Hard Times]

“In 1961, Andy Warhol made a thirty-two–panel painting, each panel meticulously reproducing a Campbell’s soup can with a different flavor of soup. The same year, Roy Lichtenstein startlingly turned his compositional skill to enlarged comic-book simulations. And Claes Oldenburg created The Store in a temporarily rented space he filled with slapdash and wonderfully slapstick plaster reliefs and replicas of supermarket products, splattering them with paint in a way that literally and figuratively “commodified” Abstract Expressionist gesture. The mass media and the arts began to mirror each other. The literal and impassive repetitiveness of Warhol’s work found parallels in the objectively systematized abstraction of Frank Stella, which would soon lead into a movement that became known as Minimalism. On almost all new art fronts, the hand was being withdrawn from action, and the subjective and unique were being imagined away. The influence of Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt replaced that of Pollock and de Kooning.” [Klaus Kertess on Joan Mitchell – Seen Written]

George Hofmann Untitled 1978

“The other point is a more elusive one: the prettiness that was a legacy of 19th century painting still echoes in painting today – the desire for harmony in composition (Renaissance) and even the appeal, through the everyday-ness of the subject in Impressionism, still hangs on as a guiding idea and an unspoken foundation of art. People still make paintings that appeal, that are composed to balance, to be attractive, etc. We all do!
But to shift the base of composition away from this is difficult, because it involves going against a long tide of what we believe to be right. I still find that wish resonating within me, and know that it is so ingrained as to be almost unerasable. I think the Cubists still had the old idea about Appeal (only the Expressionists and a few others didn’t quite) but, because this idea is so deeply ingrained, it is a very hard one to shake, and we only see it loosening, somewhat, in FS, in part because of the diffusion in images – and this is all to the good.” [George Hofmann Fractured Space Part II]

Paul Cezanne Study of a Bloom 1895-1900

“Paul Cézanne was an experimental innovator. A month before his death in 1906, the 67-year-old Cézanne wrote to a friend:
“Now it seems to me that I see better and that I think more correctly about the direction of my studies. Will I ever attain the end for which I have striven so much and so long? I hope so, but as long as it is not attained a vague state of uneasiness persists which will not disappear until I have reached port, that is until I have realized something which develops better than in the past… So I continue to study… I am always studying after nature, and it seems to me that I make slow progress.”
This brief passage expresses nearly all the characteristics of the experimental artist — the visual criteria, the view of his enterprise as research, the incremental nature and slow pace of his progress, the absorption in the pursuit of a vague and elusive goal, and the frustration with his perceived lack of success in achieving that goal of “realization.” The critic Roger Fry explained that Cézanne’s frustration was a consequence of his uncertain attitude and incremental approach:
“For him as I understand his work, the ultimate synthesis of a design was never revealed in a flash; rather he approached it with infinite precautions … For him the synthesis was an asymptote toward which he was forever approaching without ever quite reaching it.”
Sometimes it takes a while for a painter to find the right technique – it can take decades. For artists that aren’t necessarily idea generators, but visual generators it’s a long road of experimentation – it doesn’t come all at once.” [David Galenson on the Two Lifecycles of Creativity]

I see George’s work just in this way and I believe artists should be looking at this experimentation as inspiration. Here in the 21st Century – particularly at this moment when everything is possible – George may well be the “father of us all.”

The Silence of the Room

Douglas Milsome Full Metal Jacket Vincent D’Onofrio 1987

What was your role in capturing the realism of combat on that film? Tom Savini, a war veteran told me it capture ‘Nam better than any other film…
Vietnam’s  ruined city of Hue was shot in Dockland due for demolition. South East London was South East Asia; yet another idea of Stanley’s, so we beat it up, adding palm trees for sub-tropical effect. We chose a look to shoot with low con fast film, heavily filtered, increased grain and colour. A study in grey/green back light smoke to evoke a mood of urban war. Stanley’s plan was to mould his actors into a form he imagined; “born to kill” aggression on one hand, altruism on the other, creating confusion and a sense of hopelessness.  And the actors not just knowing their scripted lines, but the interpretation and meaning behind the words. His iconic code – no heroes, no easy solutions, no happy endings.
What did you learn from working so closely with Kubrick on those seminal films that you could use in your career as a respected cinematographer?
What I learned? I suppose since Stanley died I have carried lots of memories of him. I continue to see a living memory of him in his films and their status as something special. As a cameraman, I tried to bring a reflection of his personal authorship, a perspective that becomes open to interpretation. Let the photography be true to the narrative, with camera movement not in the way of it. [Douglas Milsome in conversation with Chris Wade]

Narrative was the dirty, unsanitary word used as a pejorative putdown in the 1960s and 70s. For artists like Donald Judd whenever “narrative” was mentioned, well, it was goodbye to all that – too European, to Old World. But in Cinema of the time there was a hot revival of Old World narrative images. This kind of Baroque imagery drove the stories, made sense of nonsense – lied to tell a truth. And speaking of lying to tell the truth – another Old World European artist, a very old Picasso – was reworking his Cubism into something older and baroque as well, collapsing imagery into abstraction, and finding strong narrative structures about his own life in that collapse. Clearly, there was something brewing beneath the “surface and side” aesthetic that was ruling the roost at the time.

Vittorio Storaro Apocalypse Now Marlon Brando 1979

MM: You have spoken in the past about how the art created by Caravaggio has influenced you. What is your earliest memory of seeing his paintings?
Vittorio Storaro (VS): Someone asked me a similar question about two years ago when the Guggenheim Museum in New York City had a beautiful celebration of Italian cinematography, where they presented two of my films, The Conformist and Apocalypse Now. I explained that in Italy we see art in our churches starting on the day we are baptized. When I was attending elementary school, the first book they gave me had paintings by Raphael on the front and back pages. When I was just starting my career during my early twenties, I visited the Church of San Luis dei Francesi in the center of Rome with my fiancé, Antonia, who later became my wife. There were some extraordinary paintings in the church’s chapel. It was the first time I saw The Calling of Saint Matthew
MM: What was your first impression of The Calling of Saint Matthew?
VS: It took my breath away. There is a beam of light that goes from the top to the bottom of the painting, dividing it into two parts. One side is in daylight and the other side is in darkness. I recall thinking they represented the human and the divine sides of life and our unconscious and conscious beings. That was the first time that I saw light and darkness used as metaphors for life and death. I also remember reading a book by William Faulkner called Absalom, Absalom!, where one of the main characters explains how a beam of sunlight penetrated and divided a room like it was separating periods in another character’s life. It was the same concept as The Calling of Saint Matthew. [Vittorio Storaro in conversation with Bob Fisher]

The filmmakers of the late 60s and 70s wanted a rich ambiguity of meaning for their images. They were looking at the strong imagery in movies by Welles, Truffaut, Fellini, Hitchcock and Godard among others – as well as looking back at Europe’s wealth of paintings. They used strong light and harsh angles in their cinematography to drive the storytelling, reworking the conventions of Hollywood movies. Of course American filmmakers had to look to Europe. Nothing like this kind of painting, this sort of visual storytelling, exists in the United States. The movies created by this generation were fueled by Baroque painting and these paintings loaded banal narratives with complex historical and cultural interpretations. The late 60s and the 70s brought about a new kind of experimentation and a new kind of cinema in the US. For younger artists, particularly painters, who had grown up with these films on television, decorating their college dorms with these images, and talking incessantly about scenography, cinematography and scripting – these films would change how they saw painting, how they approached painting and how they reacted to painting.

Robert Burks Rear Window 1954 Jimmy Stewart

The camera moves across the courtyard buildings at dusk, a singer is doing scales, windows light up, the camera moves into our hero’s darkened apartment, he is asleep, a shadow crosses his face…
The camera moves across the courtyard buildings at dusk, a singer is doing scales, windows light up, the camera moves into our hero’s darkened apartment, he is asleep, a dangerous shadow crosses his face… 
We cut to a beautiful woman moving towards camera in the silence of the room. 
Our shadowed hero opens his eyes, seems briefly concerned, then smiles… [Benjamin B describes Robert Burks’ visual imagery]

We see these kinds of images all the time in our culture. They’re ubiquitous, ever-present. But their conventions had been overlooked and ignored by the avant-garde for decades. The lessons about imagery and its meaning learned from the Pictures Generations along with abstract painters who concentrated on the power of photography and cinema, particularly David Reed (see this especially provocative article on Italian Baroque Art and contemporary abstraction), began to enrich imagery with older narratives and a European art historical presence. Also see Reed’s strange collaboration with Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo.

Conrad Hall Marathon Man Laurence Olivier 1976

MS – What about location work? Do you prefer to work on location? Do you think that one necessarily gets more realism on location?
CH – Yes, more realism definitely. It’s not impossible to get good realism on a set, but things are made too easy for you. You have an abundance of light, you have places for lights to be put already. Set work will ultimately have an unreal look, because you’ll have light coming from somewhere where it’s impossible for it to come from. When you’re dealing with natural locations, you have windows, and very few places you can put lights. Usually the places you will put them are the places where light would come from anyway. I’ve always liked shooting away from the studios better than shooting on a sound stage; I hate the fact that there’s a coffee machine right there and everybody goes and gets coffee, and there’s telephones, and friends are visiting . . it’s more like a commissary than a place to work. And when you’re working in a natural location it’s usually so crowded that you can’t tolerate visitors and extraneous people around. Natural locations often force the director to tell the story more simply, because he’s somewhat limited in what he can do. He can’t get tricky with camera moves and that kind of thing. [Conrad Hall in conversation with Michael Shedlin]

Contrarian and Heretical

RICHARD PHILLIPS: I’ll use multiple techniques within single paintings, because the paintings can be quite different, even in the course of a single show. The imagery can be quite diverse.  I would say it is a combination of pretty standard Venetian painting techniques.
BECKER: In what sense is it Venetian? You mean your use of grisaille? 
PHILLIPS: It’s Venetian in the sense that I use a restrained palette, working fat over lean. I only embellish the monochromatic under structure or grisaille layer toward the end of the painting. Brighter colors, and especially flesh tones, allow for that sense of realism to come from the feeling of the material itself, and not from the imitative quality of photorealism. I’ve been called a photo realist and a super realist but I don’t use those techniques at all. It’s just that the end result tends to visually refer to those methods, but they’re structurally built up like architecture of color and form and not really about the imitation of photographic effects. [Richard Phillips in conversation with Noah Becker]

“I’m interested in visual vocabulary, like Warhol was interested in that vocabulary of advertisements and television and pop culture. I do a great deal of tropes. This past decade has seen a new term, “meme,” which is exactly what I’m studying. In one picture or a few words, something can reference cultural stuff but at the same time exactly hit the button with a small cultural reference that is exactly what you wanted to say or understand. It’s a stepping point to continue the conversation. Why are there buttons that are so easy to push?” [Damian Loeb in conversation with Rachel Small]

Photographic realism was something no one really expected. Photorealist painting in the 60s was all about the process of making “real” – an exploration of the banal – images without narrative. But in the 90s things began to change. Painters began to learn from artists like Gerhard Richter, Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman who were using photographic images to examine the structures of narrative – particularly those kinds of images related to Hollywood, advertising and media sources. We hadn’t seen or experienced these kinds of pictures in paint, not for a very long time.

So much in these images remind me of movies. The camera pulls in to the subject – it moves in close to create a more tactile kind vision – the kind of vision that’s physically engaged. These images use cinema’s noir past and a light not unknown to Baroque painting.But instead of telling religious stories they move into our contemporary world, and we are lead to narrative structures through the richness of painted detail.

“OC: I find hyperrealist painting involves a critical dilemma: imagery is either read literally as formal content or viewed allegorically as a symbolic free-for-all. Where do you locate your work in this spectrum between empirical stock and interpretive association?
WC: There’s a lot of painting that would fit into that category (hyperrealist) for which the similarity to photography seems to be the whole point. In other words the way in which the painting is executed is more important than whatever imagery might be depicted. I see painting as story telling so for me the content is of primary importance and is served by the manner of execution. Over the last ten years I’ve moved more and more toward a very exact rendering of surface because the subject matter is better explained through that type of description. If for example I’m painting a landscape of glazed doughnuts that doesn’t look absolutely shiny, sticky, sweet, translucent, and vast, I haven’t told the story as completely as I could have. Of course once a painting leaves the studio it’s fair game for anyone to interpret as they will.” [Will Cotton in conversation with Otino Corsano]

Not only does Photoshop create an unreal yet apparently believable standard of beauty, it has ratcheted up the tension between artifice and nature to the extent that people are driven to reconstruct their own physical appearance to match its altered depictions by any means necessary, including liposuction, breast and butt implants, silicone-injected lips, and all manner of “cosmetic” surgical intervention, not to mention tyrannical fitness regimes, extreme diets, and regular depilation. We are now Photoshopping ourselves.
But where fashion photographers use Photoshop as an instrument for idealization, Minter uses it as a compositional tool, and her notion of beauty is contrarian and heretical. The exhibition’s title, “Pretty/Dirty,” is the only clue we need. Instead of cleaning up her women as fashion magazines do, or constructing a supermodel force field of unapproachability, Minter makes dirty pictures that invite joyous, rollicking intimacy. She embraces flaws and emphasizes them, glorying in indiscretions and the rushed chaos born of excitement. She finds earthy allure in the stubble of a shaved armpit, or a pimple among the freckles that have otherwise been banished from the canon of beauty. She revels in sidewalk grime soiling perfectly pedicured toes. Glitter, sweat, and smeared cosmetics conjure up honky-tonk women and Mardi Gras queens. In Minter’s tableaux, we are confronted with the history of sexuality, particularly American sexuality and its spectacular contradictions. Here are the ghosts of the stripteases and peep shows that haunt our imagination. Here is the troubling reality that some like it hot and some like it dirty. [Glenn O’Brien on Marilyn Minter]

… trifling, of no importance.

Michael Zahn sent along some thoughts, images of wonderful new work, and Susan Sontag’s article on the Aesthetics of Silence. A quick chat and a deep read later and feeling more human. SO in the hopes that you’re all well and at ease in your quarantine – here’s a quote from the article, and it’s recommended you go and read Susan’s thoughts a bit longer, a bit slower, and with a bit of circumspection – link here or below.

Rimbaud has gone to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the slave trade. Wittgenstein, after a period as a village school-teacher, has chosen menial work as a hospital orderly. Duchamp has turned to chess. Accompanying these exemplary renunciations of a vocation, each man has declared that he regards his previous achievements in poetry, philosophy, or art as trifling, of no importance

But the choice of permanent silence doesn’t negate their work. On the contrary, it imparts retroactively an added power and authority to what was broken off — disavowal of the work becoming a new source of its validity, a certificate of unchallengeable seriousness. That seriousness consists in not regarding art (or philosophy practiced as an art form: Wittgenstein) as something whose seriousness lasts forever, an “end,” a permanent vehicle for spiritual ambition. The truly serious attitude is one that regards art as a “means” to something that can perhaps be achieved only by abandoning art; judged more impatiently, art is a false way or (the word of the Dada artist Jacques Vaché) a stupidity. 

Though no longer a confession, art is more than ever a deliverance, an exercise in asceticism. Through it, the artist becomes purified — of himself and, eventually, of his art. The artist (if not art itself) is still engaged in a progress toward “the good.” But whereas formerly the artist’s good was mastery of and fulfillment in his art, now the highest good for the artist is to reach the point where those goals of excellence become insignificant to him, emotionally and ethically, and he is more satisfied by being silent than by finding a voice in art. Silence in this sense, as termination, proposes a mood of ultimacy antithetical to the mood informing the self-conscious artist’s traditional serious use of silence (beautifully described by Valéry and Rilke): as a zone of meditation, preparation for spiritual ripening, an ordeal that ends in gaining the right to speak. [Susan Sontag The Aesthetics of Silence]


Perhaps you’re underestimating the positive effect that your career transition can have on your children.
The positive effect? I make about 90 grand a year now. Unemployment is what – 250 bucks a week? Is that one of your positive effects? We’ll get to be cosier cause I’m not gonna be able to pay my mortgage on my house. So maybe we can move into a nice fucking one-bedroom apartment somewhere. And I guess without benefits, I’ll be able to hold my daughter as she, you know, suffers from her asthma that I won’t be able to afford the medication for.
Well… tests have shown that children under moderate trauma have a tendency to apply themselves academically… as a method of coping.
Go Fuck Yourself. [Up in the Air]

More than 80% of the benefits of a tax change tucked into the coronavirus relief package Congress passed last month will go to those who earn more than $1 million annually, according to a report by a nonpartisan congressional body expected to be released Tuesday.
The provision, inserted into the legislation by Senate Republicans, temporarily suspends a limitation on how much owners of businesses formed as “pass-through” entities can deduct against their nonbusiness income, such as capital gains, to reduce their tax liability. The limitation was created as part of the 2017 Republican tax law to offset other tax cuts to firms in that legislation….
The analysis included the impact of another tax change in the coronavirus relief legislation that allows firms to write off 100% rather than 80% of their losses, reversing another change in the 2017 tax law…
It also included more than $500 billion in tax cuts, including a payroll tax holiday for employers and tax incentives for employers who keep workers on the payroll. Republicans used the must-pass legislation to make tax code changes they had sought for years, including returning to policies from the 2017 tax law. All Senate Democrats also voted for the legislation.” [Jeff Stein Washington Post]

How have you been spending your time in self-isolation?
It depends how much you count the time you spend sulking. Let me put it this way: when they compile a list of the heroes of this era, I will not be on it. Mostly I’ve been reading. Also, taking phone calls from people who for the last ten years have told me they hate to talk on the phone. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to think about this, because it is a very startling thing to be my age—I’m sixty-nine—and to have something happen that doesn’t remind you of anything else…
How do you see New York City being transformed on the other side of this? You mentioned restaurants, but there’s also the arts: galleries, theatre companies.
It depends what you mean. These big New York art galleries, they’re so rich. I’m not worried that they’re going to close, and, if they did, so what? There will be art galleries. There aren’t very many small ones anymore, and that was caused by contagious unfettered capitalism, not a virus.
New York City is pretty much unrecognizable from when I was young. I don’t expect it to be more unrecognizable at the end of this. It’ll be different… [Fran Leibowitz in conversation with Michael Schulman]

During the record-stretch of low unemployment and solid economic growth before the coronavirus spread, it was easy to look past the savings shortage. But after at least 17 million people lost their jobs in recent weeks, many of those without much financial cushion will struggle to make ends meet, even with the expanded unemployment benefits and other forms of government assistance included in the $2 trillion legislative package enacted last month.
Many are lining up at food pantries. And many will fall behind in their rent, loan payments and other bills, amplifying the economic damage. [David Harrison on our economic contingencies]

Town’s in Tatters

“10 West Nile Virus I wish people would stay indoors all winter, too.” [Glenn O’Brien’s Top 10 List December 2000]

In Jerry’s requiem for the Neo-Liberal Art World he lets us know – “…while my memories of the 1970s make me sure artists will survive, even thrive, under any circumstances, there is one big thing about the world in which they operate that does worry me. Over the last decade or so, the art world in peril has seemed to lose the ability to adapt. Or, rather, it now seems able to adapt only in one way, no matter the circumstances: by growing larger and busier. Expansion and more were the answers to everything.” [Jerry Saltz The Last Days of the Art World]

But I think Jerry’s tribute to Glenn O’Brien may have as much if not more meaning for us at this moment. In that piece Jerry touched on something ineffable and overlooked about New York’s “High Times Hard Times” of the 70s. “As I watched all this at Campbell, a melancholy thought took hold of me. I’m not even sure what it means — only that it’s been going through my head ever since. I thought, “This is the avant-garde that lost.” Before you get all angry with me, let me say, yes, I understand that the avant-garde flame has seemed to go out at least once in every generation since the term was first used to describe artistic radicals in the 19th century; and that especially since the end of punk, there has been a sort of endless drumbeat of complaining that radical culture is no longer possible (given, you know, late global capitalism). But for a couple of hundred years, fire-eating generation after fire-eating generation of vanguard, underground, combative artistic movements arrived on the outskirts of contemporary culture and made their mark before dissipating; the generations I saw gathered at Glenn O’Brien’s memorial arrived, made their mark perhaps closest to the center of that contemporary culture, and yet no clear successors followed them.” [Jerry on Glenn 2017]

In the West Village across the way from the AIDs Memorial is the Lenox Hill Health Emergency Room. And on that street between that small memorial park and the medical facility is a refrigerated semi truck trailer. The sound of that running refrigerator motor has been unforgettable. Jerry wants to offer us hope for some future that’s unknown and unseen by us. He’s seen hard times, sad times in the past. He’s saying that we should embrace the moment and find our way through. And for most of us, well, we are more than willing to believe that change is now inevitable. But in order to make that change it’s important that we understand and recognize that not everyone survives. And no matter how smart or strong or capable or clever someone might be – not everyone is lucky. The motor keeps running.

The Village has seen its share of triumph and tragedy over the last 30 years. Sadly, this place is no longer what it was – filled as it is with the extremely wealthy and the false antiseptic world that global wealth creates. Today it’s been remade as a museum – you have to look hard to find bits and pieces of its more louche and generous artistic past. The social and cultural history of New York is buried here – many of our great writers, playwrights, musicians, poets and artists spent time walking these streets, living the la vie bohème and making art that changed the culture.
But it’s difficult to think clearly these days. The time allowed outside to do the Tiergarten walk during quarantine is short and purposeful. There are only furtive trips to the grocers, masked and gloved walks through the neighborhood to stretch computer legs, watching the light move through my small studio, and unconnected thoughts about the past and the future. And the biggest questions that come up again and again are which past, which history do we use as a foundation for Jerry’s promised “future” – which history can we build on? How far and how deep dare we go? What will it cost? What has it cost?

Big obvious question: the Walt Whitman poem is a beautiful one with many possible readings, what made you choose it? 
‘Song’ has love, and lovely words overflowing, and represents ardent unashamed people abounding, people of all sorts, and that is how and what the memorial must be. My friend, the poet Henri Cole, made the welcome suggestion of ‘Song of Myself’. Another friend, Nick Morgan, and I cut the poem slightly to fit the site, the times and the purpose. 
Finally, can you share one personal memory from the time? 
Various friends, associates, and I waited to learn if we would die. Some died, and the rest of us were changed and do not forget. [Jenny Holzer in Conversation Mat Smith about the AIDs Memorial ]

“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.” [Walt]

Body II

In 1993 it was bleak in NYC. I mean economically dark. Galleries were closing. Careers had dried up, artists, good ones, were leaving the city. And painting was the last thing that anyone wanted to look at – particularly abstract painting. That year the Whitney presented a different kind of art – art that didn’t look like or act like the art that had been presented over the last 15 years. It was art about worldly issues – angry art – overlooked art – and art about life – the hard parts of life that are ignored when working in rigorous color combinations, second generation conceptual abstraction and expressionistic narcissism. And it broadened our ideas of what art might do.
Sue Williams’ work was hard, real and personal in ways that art hadn’t been during the money hunger 80s. She wasn’t interested in presenting the meaning of a brush stroke or the pentimenti of a worked surface. It was confession and complicity that interested Ms. WIlliams. These paintings spoke harshly and bluntly about difficult and consequential problems. Her paintings looked like drawings torn from a diary. Her imagery elided the personal and the political. And they were a real thumb in the eye when encountered for the first time. These images made us bring our vision back to earth in a visceral way. This wasn’t expressionism – not in the way we had seen it. Rather these images were hard, harsh and truthful – something painting, particularly abstract painting, was not doing, and maybe had no business doing. And if that was the case – then we had to rethink the meaning of painting – what it should do and what it could do.

“Clinging relentlessly to the role of bearer of bad news, for example, she calls to mind Cady Noland, another diehard pessimist. Like Noland, Williams treats the spectrum of interactive behavior today as symptomatic of a broad-based conspiracy of violence. But where Noland places herself in a position of unquestionable moral superiority over her subjects, Williams charges her work with the guilt of long codependency. Williams’ work also picks up where the stream-of-consciousness blue-collar anarchy of Mike Kelley’s rambling, conspiratorial texts left off a few years ago. And she helps herself to generous dollops of the idea of collective victimization explored in Barbara Kruger’s all-purpose use of the term “we.” Unlike Kruger, however, whose work always suggests some sort of authorial distance, Williams never strays far from what she herself has tasted and touched; and compared to Kelley, she is relatively little interested in class rage. Rather, she is committed to subject matter that most artists reared in a male-dominated society still refuse to go near: the ritualistic need experienced by many of us, both male and female, to build ourselves up by tearing women down. Such violence is not ancillary or saved for special occasions, but is part of the social contract. This strikes Williams as so unspeakably sad she just can’t seem to stop laughing.” [Dan Cameron on Sue Williams]

Nancy Spero: All women carry this inherent knowledge, that we can be raped, that we are in danger. We’re both figurative artists and very personal, although my work comes from an entirely different impetus. I have wanted always to override the personal, to step into a more public arena. But it was also this reluctance to turn attention to myself.
Sue Williams: I didn’t want people to know my personal victim history. But this show was explicitly about violence. And I got such a reaction. I started talking to women. I was so surprised to find out how many people have had to deal with incest, have been molested or raped. I couldn’t believe it. People almost take it in stride. And that’s the way it is, it’s always been this way. This is a horrible thing that I went through. I had no awareness of my rights as a person, I did the classic thing. It’s so humiliating. People would ask me, “He beat the hell out of you and you went back to him?” I thought that this person loved me and that this was my home. I didn’t like it, but I was used to it.

“Sue Williams has taken doodling to remarkable places, the grimmest areas a mind and body can go, or rather the doodle has taken her and her audience there. Tidbits of her autobiography—that she was physically abused by slimes—are by now well-known. In her paintings trauma is viewed with both objectivity and a dark mirth. Part of their power, why they have worked, is in their presentation of a type of comedy no one had really seen before—what Americans are now afraid to call black humor—especially from a woman, and in what medium? Painting? The bluntest approach to picturemaking in a long time.
The particular settings of Williams’ aesthetic violence continue to be freefloaty surfaces: the canvas as bedroom/ notepad/brain, with no furniture. Figures masturbate and horse around in cruelty. Her new paintings—even without Williams’ familiar writing—still have the fresh informality of her older works. But if they seem to have gone mute, the images alone, in flat constellation, show and tell each other their sex parts: lots of leg, haunch, and butthole. The figures are displayed in precarious repose, in weird outfits, psycho tops, testicles drooping below the hemlines of faceless figures in ultragirly dresses. A horse’s narrow head atop a bloated body, a vagina resting high on the crotch with pubic hair like parentheses. I’d like to say they look like the distracted sketches of an evil fashion designer.” [Benjamin Wiessman on Sue Williams]