George Hofmann posted some older things on instagram a while ago – a series of paintings from 2010. Hadn’t seen these before – mysterious, late evening paintings – abstractions harkening back to the Spain of the late 18th & early 19th Century. This particular painting entitled “Shades” took my attention. The smokey gray brush strokes fill the shallow space, defining and occluding the picture plane. George is purposely using a Modernist gambit, a spatial ruse, a play of brush and surface to lock us in to the image and make us aware of those two delicate strokes, hanging like laundry just beneath the ashy field. Like Matisse’s Côte d’Azur balcony, we can not be sure of anything here – not the principles and values of 20th Century Modernism, not the expressionist field and not even the abstraction itself. All of that history is fading into the scraped atmosphere, awash in the wake of this shallow space.
Joe Packer’s Instagram is a dream – so many wonderful paintings. He manages to combine still life or landscape imagery into a laconic expressionism. His un-natural world is filled with strangely beautiful imagery – paintings overflowing with emotive atmosphere and unexpected light. The processes and the layering of the imagery over the structured surface in Joe’s “Blue Tree Study II” is masterful. We’re pulled along that chunky surface until we’re pushed back into the shallow natural space. But Joe’s complex textures and painted illusions never reveal the game – in this space nothing will ever be sure – we must accept and get used to ambiguity. What really attracted me to this work was the feel of early Modern influences – Corot, Cezanne, Gauguin, Vincent and Matisse – that era of French painting when process, imagery and reality mixed with abstraction to create strange and wonderful confluences of meaning.
When money and power are on the line anything goes – these days the wolves are loose and hungry. But here in the pandemic world – no one seems to be minding the flock. After the riot in DC and the war of narratives that has followed – everything feels compromised and weak in some way. American politics, in fact politics anywhere – is a dirty, filthy, duplicitous game no matter which side you choose. Oh, Dear – Adam Curtis critiques our global ambitions, economies and political constructs back in 2014. And frighteningly, this critique still makes perfect sense at this particular moment in time. Tracked by machines, communicating through compromised and surveilled networks, constantly barraged with fearful information, and held in place by nebulous and indirect threats to our health and safety – the ruling classes continue to tweak this script in order to remain all powerful and rich. After binge watching a few of Mr. Curtis’ long form movies I was left feeling used, useless, faceless and desperate. But you may survive these hard and heavy ideas differently – recommend that you give them a watch – especially the latest – “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”.
Finally, this small Cezanne painting in the National Gallery has stayed with me for many years now. If it were possible – would have nicked it in a heartbeat. And that painting would be sitting on the wall over my desk to this very day. Would never part with the thing – not for love or money. There are so many wonderful things going on in this painting (and you can read about it at the link to the NG,) but the thing that always stands out is the one golden eye looking right out at us. What a ballsy thing for a lowly painter to say to the world – “I see right through you!”
Paul wasn’t aiming his work at the corporate classes. Instead he was speaking directly to us, those who would carry on, and he did that on an intimate scale. Artistic ambition needn’t be about Neo-Liberalism’s fixation on size, grandeur and economics. From inside our quarantined studios those very things make our art world look a silly mess and Paul’s little paintings more – real.
Which brings me to this last observation – one of the great things about artists working during the pandemic is that many have re-discovered that innovation and beauty can be and probably should be, hand-held and pocket sized. Just look at the wonderful intimate work being made and sold (inexpensively) through the #artistsupportpledge. What a fantastic idea for artists this has been during this really difficult moment.