Sunday, February 26, 2012

London Calling

My experience of traveling to London from New York and back...

American Airlines

St. Luke in Chelsea

South Kensington Station

Apartments outside of Saatchi Gallery

Natural History Museum


The Tate Modern

Heathrow Airport

American Airlines

US Customs

The City

Friday, February 24, 2012

Inside Outside

Two great shows are in London right now... Kusama at the Tate Modern and Freud at the National Portrait Gallery.  If I had to choose one to see I'd choose Kusama.  She is one of those rare artists that successfully straddles between being an Outsider artist and Art World Insider.  She creates her work from an inner necessity, her ideas are original, her inspiration is incessant, yet she allows influences from other artists to seep into her vision and is at the forefront of creative developments in contemporary art... and I think therein lies the key to her success.  Kusama's art is a product of the core of her being.  It comes from that mysterious place that gives the artist unbridled access to the subconscious.  But that isn't all that she is.  Kusama also uses the ideas of contemporary artists to help give form to her creative expression... she is constantly playing around with new ideas and recycling old themes.  She is not like Martin Ramirez who's vision alone was conjured within with little or no concern for what other artists were creating (he was a mental patient for many years and probably could not concern himself with much other than his immediate surroundings).  Kusama is also not an artist who makes work for the art educated only.  Kusama is what every great artist has... her creative mind is in the service of her heart; She is authentic and educated.

Kusama, early painting
Lucien Freud, early painting

Martin Ramirez, right

Other artists that I can think of who walk or have walked the middle line between the outside and inside art worlds are... Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Basquiat.  In an odd way, and to a much lesser extent, Lucien Freud is an outsider in his own right.  Freud, just like Alice Neal, was a portrait painter from the beginning and stuck to his guns even when his contemporaries were moving toward Abstract Art, Minimalism, and Pop.  Out of the 60 or so paintings of Freud's that were exhibited in London I thought his early work was the most creative and expressive.  When you see all of his work at the same time it becomes a bit repetitive and dry.  The wood grain, the blemished flesh, the starkness of subject and composition make seeing his body of work less and less interesting but at the same time gives it greater and greater integrity... I prefer Freud a little at a time.  The Kusama show in contrast gains momentum as you walk through a variety of phases of her work that encompass small drawings, large meditative paintings, sculpture, fashion, video, collage, installation, interactive installation, and ends with large vibrant paintings that are only a year old.

Yayoi Kusama
As an artist, I strive to maintain the balance that Kusama has had throughout her whole career.  She is genuine.  She is not afraid to try new mediums and sometimes radically changes the style of her art.  She does not repeat herself but instead plays with new ways of expressing familiar themes and concepts.  Freud is an artist I can never be like.  He is wholeheartedly devoted to one form of expression.  I suppose both Freud and Kusawa alike possess a quality that I can never possess... they're work is tedious and result of many hours of labor.  Thank you Lucian and Yayoi for sharing your art with me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Saatchi Gallery Stinks of Art

Isa Genzken
When in london this past week I visited the acclaimed Saatchi Gallery.  The Gallery is actually the wrong word to describe it... its much more like a museum.  The location and the architecture is wonderful.  Its the kind of space I wish SF MOMA had... spacious, fun to walk through, lots of natural light, and very open feeling.  However, the art in Saatchi didn't compare to the space.  In general it came off as so much trendy art work does, as cheap and under developed.  It was a bit like an MFA show at Hunter College... too self consciously artsy, as if they were pandering to an over-art-educated audience.  Simultaneously the art also came off as something that grade school students would expect art to look like.  Its hard to explain, but you know, its like an elementary art class where kids are splashing paint around, cutting up cardboard, and gluing random things together.  Don't get me wrong, it's lovely when you see kids working this way... but when I see adult artists doing this kind of stuff I can't help but to think that they've been duped in art school and had attained some career success to early for the success of their art.

Georg Herold
My reaction to Andre Butzer's work and Isa Genzken's work represents my feelings as a whole about the art at Saachi.  Both bodies of work lacked depth and looked too cheap and too random for me to properly enter into it.  Some work didn't seem to be in the right place; Jeppe Hein's work and Zhivago Duncan's work should both be touring with a circus and Georg Herold sculptures would be better suited for the outside of FIT or in the lobby of some other Fashion Art School.

Thomas Zipp
On a positive note, I spent the most time looking at Thomas Zipp's work.  His exhibition was organized well... it had sculpture, installation, and painting.  The sculptural elements were great fun to walk around and touch with your eyes, while his portrait paintings were moving, and his drawings hung on the walls of his installation were imaginative, simple, and interesting.  Thomas Kiesewetter's metal sculptures were well done.  Max Frisinger's work presented an interesting way to make sculpture 2-dementional.  However... the best work in the show was done by a 15 year old as part of their School Prize exhibition.  And unfortunately I must confess that I seemed to have missed Richard Wilson's 20:50 which I am ashamed of.  It seems like a great work of art from what I hear.

James Wallis
Overall, Saatchi Gallery was yet another example of a very powerful gallery exhibiting work that "stinks of art".  Sure, Damien Hirst's work "stinks of art" too, but thats what Damien's art is all about, and his stench is deliberate.  The artists at Saatchi this time around didn't know their art "stinks of art"... and sometimes, especially in the contemporary world of art, "knowing is half the battle".  Congrats James Wallis!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jean-Thelonious Van Doyle

In how few words can you sum up your art?  Say you had 5 seconds to explain it to someone.  I'd go with ... contemplative of the real world, deliberately "naive", void, and Jazzy.  Or if I had to give my art a name people would understand I'd name it Jean-Thelonious Van Doyle... by the way Doyle refers to Sam Doyle, a semi-well know outsider artist from the island of St. Helena.  But I must say I absolutely detest explaining my work in relation to other artists.  Why?  Because then people stop thinking and cling to what they already know... or cling to what they think they already know.
Sam Doyle

Sunday, February 5, 2012

From Renaissance Genius to Beautiful Loser

DaVinci, 1515
Just after I finished watching a Nova special on PBS titled "Mystery of a Masterpiece", which is about a supposed unknown work of Leonardo DaVinci's, I put on the documentary "Beautiful Losers".  This acclaimed movie is about the coming together of a group of underground artists and designers making it big in the art world in the late 90's.  In the very beginning of the movie while introducing Chris Johanson, one of the featured artists, the screen flashed an image of one of his works.  The painting had written across it "I'm fucked up".  I stopped the video and pondered this crude work of art while I still had DaVinci's technical mastery fresh in my mind.

Chris Johanson, 2010
It's a bit overwhelming and perplexing to ponder the "evolution" of art from DaVinci to Johanson.  To the un-art-educated it must seem that art has lost its brilliance and mutated into a degenerate state.  But Chris Johanson, and anybody knowledgeable about art, would tell you otherwise.  Johanson's art is what it is because of the Western Canon of painting... because of artists like DaVinci who came well before his time.  His work wouldn't make the slightest sense if it were not in juxtaposition with the old masters work.

The curious concept that we've stumbled upon is know in Chinese philosophy as Yinyang.  Put it this way... in the spectrum of art DaVinci would be placed on the far end of one side of the spectrum representing the pinnacle of high art, while Johanson would be placed on the far opposite end representing lowbrow art.  In Yinyang terms, to illustrate their opposition in style, lets say DaVinci is represented by the white half of the circle and Johanson the black.  Now the interesting part of the Yinyang is the little black dot inside of the white area and vice versa.  This essentially means, as pertaining to our example,  that inherent in the definition and nature of high art is lowbrow art and inherent in lowbrow art is high art.  This is so because you cannot have one without the other... there is a secret dependence the two have with each other... a kind of pact that is essential for each.  If you remove one from the equation the meaning and significance of the other ceases.  Think of it like this way, if there were no Johanson's and everyone created art like DaVinci, Leonardo's art wouldn't be so interesting.  What makes every great artist's work worth experiencing is its uniqueness.  What is often forgotten is that the most unique artists are often the most knowledgable of art history.  This is because they define themselves in opposition to other styles of art.  And this in turn makes them even more inseparable from the Canon.

Chris Johanson, 2002
In conclusion... when viewing art like Chris Johanson's or other artists work, which at first glance might appear to be too crude to be considered art, remember that you're viewing just the tip of the iceberg.  Beneath the surface is DaVinci, Rembrant, Van Gogh, and others whom are all in relation to one another.  In other words, all art works are visual end points of an infinite web of relationship.  Perhaps there is only one kind of artist whom stands outside of this web... this is the naive artist... which is a whole other blog essay.  Until then, check out "Mystery of a Masterpiece" and "Beautiful Losers".