1970s – Redux

David Reed #112 1976
“Dorothea Rockburne and Ralph Humphrey showed their work uptown at Bykert Gallery, where, like other young artists, I could walk into the director Klaus Kertess’s office to chat with him about his and other shows. In those years, within the painting community, there was a sense of shared concerns that could be debated and discussed. I could join in the ongoing conversations of friends and colleagues as I viewed shows. We often disagreed, but because we had a mutual vocabulary, the con- versations continued—anyone could join.”
[David Reed Streets and Studios Abstract Painting in the 70s]

“The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled even the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those who were left behind filed desultory missing-persons reports, then moved on themselves.”
[Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem 1967]

Lynda Benglis created this lava-like form by pouring a foamy polymer and allowing gravity to help direct the final shape. She then cast the form in aluminum, giving the sculpture a new sense of permanence that connects to a long history of cast sculptures, which often stand erect on a pedestal to boldly announce their presence. Benglis created this work when clean lines, rigid grids, and the removal of the evidence of making were the prevailing approaches in creating art. 
[Lynda Benglis Eat Meat 1973]

Outside in the streets, Arnett saw Russian-made trucks rolling through the city “loaded with young North Vietnamese in battle garb, their green pith helmets tilted back as they peer in wonder at the tall buildings they are passing, probably the first they’d ever seen,” as he recalled in his new book, Saigon Has Fallen. He watched a separate set of soldiers, from the South Vietnamese military, strip off their uniforms and discard their weapons as they scampered away.
“I couldn’t comprehend it,” Arnett told me. “That I was seeing, I was seeing, this happening in a city that, to me—it had been inviolate forever. But when you consider the kind of effort that was put in to maintain the independence, this wasn’t a place that was just thrown away. I mean right at the end, there was an enormous effort.”
“And yet,” he said of the communists, “here they were.”
Arnett recalled locals standing around him, “mouths agape.” He went back to the office. “I was just, I was sort of almost overwhelmed with feeling. … And I’d never felt that way in my life before. … But I was able to actually, you know, shout out to George Esper, our wonderful bureau chief, ‘Saigon has fallen. Call New York.’”
[Kathy Gilsinan on the Fall of Saigon]

So the idea of the photograph was a huge influence on my thinking, but not only me, the history of painting. If I had to state the one most important influence on painting, it would be the photograph. When the photograph was invented and artists saw what the photograph could do, it changed the course of history, I’m telling you. That’s where it starts. That’s where it starts. I think a lot of art historians will back me up on that. Photography changed the course of art history in painting and it’s been an ongoing process.”
[Jack Whitten Chinese Sincerity 1974]

Dean: All right, after rejecting that, they said, “We still need something,” so I was told to look around for somebody that could go over to 1701 and do this. And that’s when I came up with Gordon Liddy, who– they needed a lawyer. Gordon had an intelligence back- ground from his FBI service. I was aware of the fact that he had done some extremely sensitive things for the White House while he’d been at the White House, and he had apparently done them well. Uh, going out into Ellsberg’s doctor’s office…
President: Oh, yeah.
Dean: … and things like this. He’d worked with leaks. He’d, you know, tracked these things down. Uh, and (coughs) so the report that I got from Krogh was that he was a hell of a good man and, and not only that, a good lawyer, uh, and could set up a proper operation. So we talked to Liddy. Liddy was interested in doing it. Took, uh, Liddy over to meet Mitchell. Mitchell thought highly of him because, apparently, Mitchell was partially involved in his ev–coming to the White House to work for, for Krogh. Uh, Liddy had been at Treasury before that. Then Liddy was told to put together his plan, you know, how he would run an intelligence operation. And this was after he was hired over there at the, uh, the Committee. Magruder called me in January and said, “I’d like to have you come over and see Liddy’s plan.
President: January of ’72?
Dean: January of ’72. (Background noises) Like, “You come over to Mitchell’s office and sit in on a meeting where Liddy is going to lay his plan out.” I said, “Well, I don’t really know as I’m the man, but if you want me there I’ll be happy to.” (Clears throat) So, I came over and Liddy laid out a million dollar plan that was the most incredible thing I have ever laid my eyes on. All in codes, and involved black bag operations, kidnapping, providing prostitutes, uh, to weaken the opposition, bugging, uh, mugging teams. It was just an incredible thing.
[Nixon Tapes Transcript March 21, 1973]

Elizabeth Murray Southern California 1975
JH Let’s go back to what you said about being self-conscious. I wonder if I would have done all the work I did—because I went ahead and did it anyway and I didn’t stop to think: Well, how come I’m the only woman invited to read at poetry readings? There’re twenty guys reading and there’s only one of me.
EM I was in that situation many times in the seventies, I’m sure you’ve heard: “You’re the only one who’s any good. And it has nothing to do with gender, it’s that your work is the strongest.” And of course, there’s a part of me that was very flattered — “Thank you, boys.” And I think there is a part of me, and I’m older than you are, who’s always really wanted the guys to say, “You’re great.” It’s like wanting your Dad to say, “You’ve made it, you’re one of us,” because it’s as if women are one gender, but men encompass everything. When you talk about humankind, you talk about men. You read stories to your kids, and everybody’s a boy. With my daughters, I used to change it so that there would be girls in the stories. Even in the eighties, and even in the books written by women, the little animals, the deer, the bunnies would all be genderized into boys. Now, at 56, I consciously know this, but you can’t let that be an embittering factor in your work. And I won’t say it doesn’t make me angry, but you can’t let yourself be pulled down by it. It’s a fact of our existence, like the rain, and if it’s raining, you take your umbrella and you go out. You can’t let it stop you, but you can’t be a Pollyanna about it either. All I know is that there are more younger women artists around and they have a different viewpoint from mine. They seem much tougher and more dismissive, and they know it, too. To me that seems better. [Elizabeth Murray in conversation with Jessica Hagedorn]

“They have arrived like a new immigrant wave in male America. They may be cops, judges, military officers, telephone linemen, cab drivers, pipefitters, editors, business executives — or mothers and housewives, but not quite the same subordinate creatures they were before. Across the broad range of American life, from suburban tract houses to state legislatures, from church pulpits to Army barracks, women’s lives are profoundly changing, and with them, the traditional relationships between the sexes. …1975 was not so much the Year of the Woman as the Year of the Women — an immense variety of women altering their lives, entering new fields, functioning with a new sense of identity, integrity and confidence.
It is difficult to locate the exact moment when the psychological change occurred. A cumulative process, it owes much to the formal feminist movement—the Friedans and Steinems and Abzugs. Yet feminism has transcended the feminist movement. In 1975 the women’s drive penetrated every layer of society, matured beyond ideology to a new status of general—and sometimes unconscious—acceptance.” [Time Magazine Women of the Year 1976]

Mary Heilmann 1970s

So what are the schematics for abstraction? How many sketch books by abstract artists have little 2″ x 2″ hand drawn thumbnails of geometric forms arranged on a plane – tiny representations of possible paintings to be machined into 6′ x 6′ productions. Most of these abstractionists erase their hand from the final work, and the wresting with the ideas inherent in the quick sketch is perfected. But what if it wasn’t? What if all that geometry, all that flat even surface, all those 90 degree corners are better when they are imperfect, wonky things formed in the translation from the mind to the hand? What if these small dashed-off ideas are in fact the things that should be made just as they have been drawn? What if an artist finds a landscape in the closet?

‘That distinct lack of preciousness and a delight in elements of randomness and chance is what makes Heilmann and her work so charming. Nothing is precise, either in form or application of paint; and you get the sense that she’s not a woman who would make you take your shoes off when you walk in the door. The show opens with two canvases, The First Vent from 1972 and 1973’s Little 9 x9 which were both created through primitive, messy finger painting. “I was working with kids at the time,” she explains. “We were spending a lot of time at Max’s Kansas City [a New York bar and venue] in the evenings, getting drunk and people would get into fights, but in the day I was teaching children. It comes from everywhere, my ideas.”’ [Emily Gosling on Mary Heilmann]

“My vision of what it was to be an artist,” Mary Heilmann writes, “was to be quietly moving around the studio all alone, energetically fabricating assemblage-type sculptures, or smoothly streaming brushes across canvas panels leaning against the wall of a rough barn. My identity was that of a solitary person, shielded from the world. Because of that, I moved to Long Island. At the time of the move to Bridgehampton, however, my identity began to evolve from silent loner to someone energetically engaged in the discourse surrounding the practice of art.” [Dia Art on Mary Heilmann]

After finishing her graduate work in sculpture at the University of California, Berkeley, Heilmann moved to New York City in 1968. Soon after her arrival, she was eager to engage with the artists occupying the Minimal and Postminimal art scene. As Heilmann describes in her memoir, The All Night Movie, it was difficult to break into the scene at that moment, and her status as both a woman and an outsider did not help in her quest to become a recognized artist. Disappointed at being excluded from several important exhibitions (including Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1969), Heilmann made the decision to turn her focus to painting. Within the context of the time, her decision can be described as provocative, contrary, or, in her own word, “rebellious,” turning to a critically maligned practice as a means of stridently defining herself and her work against the norm. [Dia Art on Mary Heilmann]

“The image and the style of painting are simple—it is the layering of the paint, the textures along two thickly painted strokes, and the gradual fading away of the stroke at the end of the canvas when the paint runs out, which are interesting. For example, a stroke finished off at the top left hand corner of a painting looks more as if it was improperly silk-screened (like the under-inking of Warhol) than painted robustly with a wide brush. As in Warhol, the “mistake” takes on the quality of the handmade, the human, the fallible.
Heilmann’s strongest point is her craftdoing things with materials which repudiate the impersonal and machine-made. Again, this brings us back to the last painting style which was founded upon the notion of the individual “touch,” Abstract Expressionism.” [Jeff Perrone on Mary Heilmann – December 1976

Mary Heilmann on ‘Looking at Pictures’ at the Whitechapel Gallery

Most of the abstractionists that I know – those who are pure and those who are not so pure – all have great respect for Mary Heilmann’s work. These paintings seem easy enough – bright, abstract, beautiful. There’s the connectivity to past greats – Ellsworth, Piet and Barney. She also earns props for mixing it up with the towering douche bag contemporaries of the time. She went looking for trouble at Max’s and jousted with Smithson, Marden and Serra. Mary Heilmann was taking no prisoners.
But there’s one connection a bit further back that I like – Matisse – and one bad ass “painting” in particular – “The Snail“… In fact much of Mary’s painting has the flavor of Matisse’s late work – the same kind of hand-edged color and an insouciant disregard for style and form. But her works have a different energy and play. They are ironic and knowing, cheeky and subversive while being extremely open and attractive. In fact most times after seeing her work I’m left with a very pleasant memory, like a wonderful holiday romance on the Cote d’Azur. Until it begins to dawn on me… my clothes are not on the chair, the money’s gone, the plans have been stolen, and I’ve been seduced and left to settle the bill for my uptight Modernist expectations … “Yes – Isn’t she wonderful!

Philip Guston 1970s

Philip Guston Waking Up 1975

You’ve managed to find your way. Your work has been collected in depth by all the right people, all the right institutions. You could easily ride through to the end – making the same work, making money, collecting accolades – following the same pathways. And yet, you’ve seen something in the mirror. You’ve caught a glimpse of some other thing that you had left aside long ago. Now that thing is staring you down, demanding your attention and it’s in your face – everyday. What do you do?

“This was the last period in American culture when the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow still pertained, when writers and painters and theater people still wanted to be (or were willing to be) ‘‘martyrs to art.’’ This was the last moment when a novelist or poet might withdraw a book that had already been accepted for publication and continue to fiddle with it for the next two or three years. This was the last time when a New York poet was reluctant to introduce to his arty friends someone who was a Hollywood film director, for fear the movies would be considered too low-status.” [Edmund White on 1970s New York City Culture]

Philip Guston: For the most part, they said I was finished, I was through. The New York Times attacked the show – the headline was, I think, ‘From Mandarin to Stumblebum.’ Since then, Dore Ashton has written a book about me,* and a few others have written sympathetically. There seems to be about an eight–to ten—year lag. For a while I was with no gallery, but that made me feel good. Freedom is a marvelous thing. You know that old chestnut, that people are afraid to be free – well, it’s true. When I had my first show in the new figurative style in about 1970, the people at the opening seemed shocked. Some painters of the abstract movement – my colleagues, friends, contemporaries – refused to talk to me. It was as if we’d worked so hard to establish the canons of a church and here I go upsetting it, forgetting that that’s what good artists should do. At the opening only two painters, David Hare and Bill de Kooning, acted differently. It wasn’t necessarily that they liked it. De Kooning said something else. He said, ‘Why are they all complaining about you making political art, all this talk? You know what your real subject is, it’s about freedom, to be free, the artist’s first duty.’ [Philip Guston in conversation with Mark Stevens]

Painters were turning away from Modernism. Not like Philistines. It was just done, it was over. It had reduced everything away – no space, no light, no illusion, no images. That’s OK, but many painters desperately wanted to speak, to tell stories, and find new ways to examine their lives AFTER the endgame. The seventies was about discovering the old forms, the older world of painting and art. Could those things find their way back into the world of painting? Could imagery be just as affecting and real as a box on the floor or a rectangle on the wall? What would a painting look life if it wasn’t Modern?

“I live out of town, and driving down to New York City I go down the West Side Highvvay. There are all these buildings that look as if they are marching. You know, by painting things they start to look strange and dopey. Also there was a desire, a powerful desire though an impossibility, to paint things as if one had never seen them before, as if one had come from another planet. How would you paint them; how would you realize them? It was really a tremendous period for me. I couldn’t produce enough. I couldn’t go to New York, to openings of friends of mine like Rothko, de Kooning, Newman. I would telephone Western Union with all kinds of lies such as that my teeth were falling out, or that I was sick. It was such a relief not to have anything to do with modern art. It felt as if a big boulder had been taken off my shoulders.” [Philip Guston Talking]

Julian Schnabel 1970s

All through the 70s painting had been struggling. However in the middle of the decade something began to happen. Younger artists had been making their way to New York – and they came with a different attitude toward imagery, Modernism and Art History. These artists had no intention of continuing the endgame of Modernism, and they felt that everything, absolutely everything, was up for grabs. No one wanted painting anyway, so why not paint anything in any way one wanted? There was absolutely nothing to lose, because absolutely no one thought painting could be any good.

“I went to the Venice Biennale of 1978. I wasn’t in it. I was a nobody just looking, just another tourist. There was a heavy cloud of enthusiasm and national pride hovering above the heads of the Italian artists. They were all wearing white linen suits with Campari stains. There was a sense of historical endowment around these participants. Being an unknown, I could see the double standard for known and unknown artists. There was a lot of posturing in the Piazza San Marco by curators, art dealers and small-time art politicos, culture lobbyists who were lobbying a partisan parochial doctrine that out of fear rejected any kind of work that didn’t look like, or fit into, the particular time capsule of the generations that was occupying its own glorious moment. Maybe I would have had a different attitude if they were patting me on the back. I don’t know.” [Julian Schnabel CVJ 2015 ed.]

Julian Schnabel Pisa 1977.

After the reductionist 60s and endgame abstraction of the 70s – Julian Schnabel’s painting’s must have been a real shock for the New York art community at the end of the seventies. A young, brash artist who was interested in a kind of historicism and painting that was at odds with everything that everyone expected – unthinkable… All that refined geometric abstraction sitting politely on the walls – asking you, the viewer, to find the art history, connect the dots, maybe have a prescribed experience of this history and your esoteric understanding of that history. But suddenly, out of nowhere it seemed, there was a small gallery on West Broadway filled with giant, imagistic, Jolie Laide painting which was joyfully poking a hole in the ultra-refined abstraction of the time.

“Prejudice based on decades has created an unnatural distance between artists of different generations. The reasons are almost extraneous to the act itself.
The fear of being replaced is a product of believing in the art world. This belief destroys the natural dialogue between generations. It is healthier for the older artist to be curious even if it’s for the selfish reason of finding a young person to talk to. Good conversation is scarce and there are so few people who know how to make art. An older artist can nurture and make something bloom in a younger one. It’s more interesting than trying to erase everybody with a glint of talent, so that you imagine you have no competition, that way being a very lonely and miserly way of living in the world. If you are worried about losing your place to somebody who might be more talented than you are, they you have already lost it.” [Julian Schnabel CVJ 2015 ed.]

“Julian Schnabel and Sir John Richardson” by Porfirio Munoz

Julian is an artist whose personality is so large and confident that anything that he experiences in life becomes a subjective narrative force in the work (read a few of the titles for a bit of understanding – you won’t find “Number 245”, “#333” or “Untitled”.) In the seventies he wasn’t abstracting his existence into geometries, he was lionizing his experience in imagery. Everything he used was found, antiqued, handmade, wonderfully, willfully amateur and full of lived experience. When these paintings work, they’re marvelous. If not – then there’s a lot to criticize. But this is the curse of the home run hitter – either it’s out of the park or just out. There’s nothing cold or reserved about Julian’s work, and because of this heat, his paintings stood out. His work began to fill the art world with an uncomfortable and unfamiliar experience of painting, and this set off a vehement debate about its value and its place in the Modern canon. We’re still having that debate.

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]