Throughout this hot and stifling summer the late works of some of the Modern masters have been a focus – particularly their later works.
What has been important over this time has been Picasso in the 60s and 70s, Matisse’s Odalisque paintings from the 20s through the 40s, Magritte’s Sunlit Surrealism, Picabia’s mania for kitsch painting both figurative and abstract in the 40s, and finally and importantly, the elderly Monet’s, Renoir’s and Cezanne’s paintings from the last decade of the 19th Century and the early years of the 20th.
What’s been interesting is seeing how these aging Modern artists pushed against their pasts, changed their techniques, and created different approaches to their work in order to capitalize on their histories and experiences. These artists found different ways to express complicated ideas about light, color and space, images, narratives and critiques.
For the most part these later works look and feel off-kilter and unexpected. They can also be indecorous in both imagery and technique. These paintings risk “ugliness” and banality, challenge precedent from strange angles and weird viewpoints, and at times, they openly court vulgarity.
These lessons from the Modern Masters’ late works have been taken to heart. It would be interesting for painting, abstract painting especially, to find its way to a more clumsy, indecorous and indiscreet form. What is wanted, and maybe needed, is an abstraction that wants to risk an incongruity with its recent history and push the legacy of Modern imagery into a new form. At this particular moment in time this approach feels like an abstraction worthy of exploration.