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Entries in painting (46)

Tuesday
Oct042011

Gerhard Richter's panoramas

Gerhard Richter. 
Stadtbild Paris, 1968 200 cm x 200 cm. Oil on canvas. Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart, Germany

The Tate Modern is holding a Gerhard Richter exhibition, Panorama, this fall.  He painted a townscape series in the late 1960s and early 70s, taking mostly aerial photos of cities and painting them on canvases in a way that the scale of the buildings is completely lost: one brushstroke, with all the scale of the hand and brush that made it, perhaps equals one side of a 30-storey building.  Yet the work retains its photographic clarity, mostly because of the high contrast between shadows and sunlight in the original photos, and because of the recognisable patterns that cities have, that no other organism shares (the actual patterns, not the ability to become abstract pattern).  

This, in the context of Piano's Shard in London, a kind of architecture where clarity is paramount, makes one wonder why we value clarity so much.  Complex urban landscapes are often not legible for a number of reasons, mediaeval security for one, such as one finds even today in Rio's favelas.  Or the illegibility of the POPOS landscape: privately owned public outdoor spaces presaged by Richter's blurred and ambiguous renderings.   

Yet, we understand such complexities if it is our own city.  We do not need a tourist map all laid out in graphic clarity telling us where we should and should not go.  Cities at ground level have millions of small clues that keep a kind of social order.  When something such as the Shard, or almost any new project crashes into this fairly delicate understanding, something is sterilised, made very clear.  It takes decades, if not centuries, for a re-colonisation of the area by the complexity of everyday life.

Monday
Sep262011

the Wilton Diptych

The Wilton Diptych (c. 1395–99), tempera on wood, each section 57 cm × 29.2 cm. National Gallery, London

The Wilton Diptych has come up a few times recently, on tv and yesterday as I was reading Alan Bennett's Untold Stories.  It is a fairly mysterious small pair of paintings, just 12 x 11" each, hinged, a personal altarpiece for Richard II, painted near the end of his reign.  He was born in 1367 and became king at ten in 1377, deposed in 1399 and died at 33 in 1400 of starvation, the imprisoned last of the Plantagenets.  

Not sure why it keeps popping up in public view all of a sudden unless it is part of a general reclamation of the past that underpins European's problems with multiculturalism.  'They want to change our culture', or our way of life, or our laws, or whatever it is.  I'm sure the British don't mean the culture of binge drinking and football hooliganism, no, it is glorious culture, safely lodged in places such as the National Gallery.  Genius, the series on British scientists introduced by Stephen Hawking, Downton Abbey, the bloody History of Scotland — Britain is intent on reminding itself, on television, just what it was that made it Great.

The diptych is a lovely thing.  On the left panel, the boy king kneels, flanked by his patron saints Edward the Confessor and Edmund the Martyr, both once kings of England, and John the Baptist carrying the lamb of God.  Richard kneels on stoney ground, not unlike Sudbury.  
On the right panel is a phalanx of angels, all wearing Richard's emblem, a white hart lying on the ground.  They, and Mary, stand on a carpet of flowers, their blue robes are Marian blue, the blue of heaven.  Their crowns are English roses, their powerful wings a fractal of feathers on a wing.

Richard's earthly life is being sanctioned by something on a completely different scale.  This is the power of faith, earthly life may be hell, but there's an end to it, and a field of flowers will be achieved.  This encourages endurance; a lack of faith perhaps encourages impatience with an unsatisfactory life in the here and now.
Our touching faith in technology as a solution to the energy crisis is cast as a kind of achievable heaven, but on such a different scale that there will be many generations whose lives are sacrificed while we plan for a future none of us will see.

Wednesday
Jul132011

Richard Wright: The Stairwell Project

Thomas Hamilton. Dean Orphan Hospital, Edinburgh,1933. Photograph from 1850

If there was ever a meditative painter it is Richard Wright, Scottish, who paints directly on walls.  He received the Turner Prize in 2009 exhibiting at that time No Title (05.10.09), a gold leafed baroque pattern blown up the size of a gallery wall, in fact laid onto the gallery wall and necessarily ephemeral.  

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art commissioned Wright to do a permanent work in the public stairwell of gallery, previously the Dean Orphan Hospital built in 1833.  Terry Farrell + Partners did the conversion in 1999, but it remains a classical Georgian building, tilting into the Victorian era, still full of light and space.

The Stairwell Project consists of small black twisting fleur-de-lys each positioned about  4" apart, but in no discernably regular pattern.  As the flowers are directional, it gives the surface of this stairwell a tension and a liveliness that paradoxically isn't actually determined by the architecture, although literally painted on it.  Rather, Wright's painting seems to sit on the surface, but is not of the surface.  

Now, clearly I'm intuiting all this from the photographs, but what strikes me about the project is that in its conceptual simplicity so many things happen: the moire patterns of any semi-regular array of marks, the references to death and the death of children: the flowers are black, the are small, they are faintly disturbing.  The daunting nature of the interior architecture, which has been considered inviolable for the last fifty years: Georgian classicism is considered a near perfect case of mathematical and cultural elegance.  The obvious quiet of the actual painting (small brushes, close work, unvarying marks: not expressionistic, narrative or biographical), just the process of painting each small  figure.  

It is meditative in the way that artisanal craft is meditative: there is a goal, and one's hands get you there, no matter how slowly.

Thursday
Jul072011

Cy Twombly (1929-2011)

Cy Twombly. Leda and the Swan (Part III), 1980. Oil on reverse of an artist's proof on handmade paper. 64.7 x 50.3 cm

Cy Twombly, died Tuesday at 83.  I had a note about him last fall  in the context of artists' lists.   Tacita Dean made a film about him recently, Edwin Parker (2011) showing all this summer at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.
Of all the artists of the 1960s, Ad Rheinhart's black canvases, Rauschenberg's dense messy collages, Frankenthaler's stains and Morris Louis's pours plus pop and op art – all exploring the carrying capacity of the canvas surface, Twombly was the most calligraphic, the most like writing and drawing: no erasure of the hand here.
The early work was so delicate, it seems to get louder and in a way angrier with each decade.  Young man's work in these two pieces.

Cy Twombly. Untitled 1970. Distemper and chalk on canvas. 70.5 x 100 cm

Monday
Jul042011

Virgil's muse

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. The Reader Wreathed with Flowers (Virgil's Muse), 1845. 34 x 47 cm. Louvre, Paris.

This is the painting for July on my calendar: Corot, The Reader Wreathed With Flowers (Virgil's Muse).  A realist portrait of a mythical subject: how tenderly it is painted.  Can one imagine going outside to read a bit, wearing a delicate circlet of ivy on one's heid?  well no, but why couldn't we?  Why couldn't we wrap our brows with cool leaves?  a garden crown.

Virgil wrote Aeneid (29-19BC), a bloody legend about Aeneas's travelling wars from Troy in what is now Turkey, to found Rome by way of Carthage, just outside what is now Tunis.  It starts with an invocation to the Muse:

I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate,
first came from the coast of Troy to Italy, and to
Lavinian shores – hurled about endlessly by land and sea,
by the will of the gods, by cruel Juno’s remorseless anger,
long suffering also in war, until he founded a city
and brought his gods to Latium: from that the Latin people
came, the lords of Alba Longa, the walls of noble Rome.
Muse, tell me the cause: how was she offended in her divinity,
how was she grieved, the Queen of Heaven, to drive a man,
noted for virtue, to endure such dangers, to face so many
trials? Can there be such anger in the minds of the gods?

ah.  It was Juno's fault.  We mortals are simply blown hither and thither by a quarrelling pantheon.

The 1840s: Nash was building in London, Ingres painting in Paris, the Irish famine occurred and Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre.  Georgian elegance and French empire neoclassicism were about to be pushed aside by a rough gothic realism.  Corot is sited between neoclassicism (mythological landscapes and gods) and impressionism (actual landscapes and people drawn from real life).  Virgil's muse is a rhetorical figure, but the painting of her is of a very real, serene woman, her foot firmly places on the earth, her broad forehead wreathed in ivy.  In the language of flowers, a Victorian conceit, ivy indicated both endurance and fidelity – there is something about Corot's muse that is as solid and as still as a rock.  

Tuesday
Mar222011

Vivienne Koorland

Vivienne Koorland. Close Your Little Eyes, 2010. Oil on stitched canvas 31" x 27" inches (79 x 68 cm) Collection the artist

Vivienne Koorland works in New York, is currently showing in London at East Central Gallery and grew up in South Africa, leaving it before the end of apartheid.  Her mother was a hidden and smuggled child in Poland during WWII, ending up in a Jewish orphans home in South Africa in 1948.
 
Koorland's work is characteristically complex where everything from the kind of marks made, the material they are made with, the canvas or burlap or bookcovers they are made upon is heavy with historical memory, from her own conflicted childhood in Africa to her mother's loss of childhood and family to her own exile and homesickness for an impossible childhood that cannot be revisited.  
It is not just Germany, or just the holocaust, or just apartheid, or just the unfairness, or just the loss of material goods, or talents, or love; it is all these things, constantly jostling on the crowded historical surfaces of her work.  Letters, writing, ledgers, sheet music, popular songs, maps – they all lie together.  

Her working method reuses her own rejected drawings and paintings, burlap rice bags are stitched together to make a full canvas, their printed labels worked into the content.  Her work is constantly being remade and re-referenced.  
Although nominally about the past, it is the present that is often discussed: a magnificent gold map of Africa is so simple, yet so complex in reference to gold mining, to a shimmering beautiful potential and a hateful process of extraction.  This is work that sinks in complexity rather than skimming on a too easily grasped surface. 

Vivienne Koorland. Gold Africa, 2010. oil and pigment on stitched burlap. 68.5 x 61 inches (27 x 24 cm) Private Collection, London

Friday
Feb182011

spies

James Hart Dyke. Contact, 2010For the centennial of the British Secret Service, James Hart Dyke was commissioned to shadow MI6 for a year, recording the sense of espionage work.  He is an architect by training, a painter in practice.  After years of watching Spooks in all its precise television definition, these works of Hart Dyke appear as mysterious renderings of banal streets, hotel rooms, landscapes.   The whole series can be seen on his website.

Who knows how many transactions happen on the streets we walk down every day, how many simultaneous lives are being conducted in the cities we take for granted just because we live there.  

Tuesday
Jan112011

Friedrich to Gropius: winter tragedies

Caspar David Friedrich. background detail of das Eismeer, 1921

C D Friedrich's das Eismeer is explained at length in an entry on de.wikipedia.  The English wikipedia entry is about 3 paragraphs, the German one is a great long essay that links the tragedies of Arctic exploration with the tragic failed hopes of the German state, plus a lot of painting analysis, studies, influences, parallel works, modern reinvestigations.  The google English translation of this long entry is anarchic in the extreme, sometimes giving up and leaving whole chunks in the original German.  It says something about the metaphoric habit of critical writing on art that a word for word translation is so hilarious. 

The proportions of Friedrich's das Eismeer are very familiar: a great pile of rock or ice leaning to the left, seemingly aspirational but looking backwards.  The focus is at the right hand base of this great pile.  It is a diagrammatic lens that painters still use for the Rockies, especially Mt Rundle which from the Trans-Canada highway lookout, leans steeply to the left and could be neatly mapped onto das Eismeer.

The entry includes Gropius' 1922 Monument to the March Dead in Weimar, memorialising the victims of the Kapp Putsch – again, failure, conflict and defeat.  The vantage point of the photograph take at the time shows the same left-leaning precipice. 

It is the Werther at the heart of the German soul.

Walter Gropius. Monument to the March Dead, 1921-22. Weimar, Germany

Monday
Jan102011

Caspar David Friedrich: winter

Caspar David Friedrich. Skizzen von Eisschollen zum Gemälde das Eismeer, 1821. Hamburger KunsthalleFriedrich's studies of ice floes on the Elbe, 1820-21.

Monday
Nov082010

William MacDonnell

William MacDonnell. The Wall, 1994. Canadian War Museum AN19970054-001A week of thinking about wars.  This one, the Bosnian conflict in the former Yugoslavia 1992-95.  MacDonnell was in Croatia with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry of the Canadian Forces. 

He is quoted in Legion, “What struck me was the fact that the worst aspects of the war seemed to be based on the destruction of each other’s culture. It was always churches, schools, libraries and monasteries that were being destroyed, sites that were hundreds or even thousands of years old with no military advantage. When you understand that it’s a cultural war, the whole thing seems to make some kind of horrible sense. You begin to understand the fear and how it works….”

Monday
Sep272010

Driss Ouadahi, Densité

Driss Ouadahi. Fences 4, 2010, oil on linen, 70 x 79 inchesFifteen large oil paintings of Driss Ouadahi are on exhibit at Hosfelt Gallery in New York.  The press release states:
Ouadahi's exploration begins with images of the enormous public housing developments in Algiers that had been modeled on France's habitation à loyer modéré (housing at moderated rents). In North Africa, these monoliths accommodate displaced rural populations; in Europe, they house immigrants from former colonies. 
 
Ouadahi studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Sigmar Polke, Andreas Gursky and Katharina Fritsch.  Well, the press release says they were at the Kunstakademie when Quadahi was there, then it veers off into unforgivable editorialising:
 Ouadahi's oil paintings of the ubiquitous high-rise, the legacy of Modern Architecture's failed promise to improve the human condition, are renderings of impenetrable boundaries of steel, glass and concrete. They are symbols of the politics of class, religion and ethnicity. Reminders of "otherness."

Maybe.  Poor old modern architecture, what a scapegoat.  This is Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles that is being talked about here.  Granted not all habitations were as well considered, but did they ever intend to be symbols of class, religion and ethnicity?  No, quite the opposite and perhaps in their very even-handedness there was nothing definitive or positivist enough to withstand the blaming of modern architecture for social ills. 
Every European city has dreadful zones of low-income, immigrant housing towers.  The banlieus of Paris are the sites of much North African immigrant unrest, although those on the streets are French-born, and seemingly without prospects in contemporary French society.  Modernism's great delusion was that it could solve social problems.  It can't.  It can only house social problems that must be solved elsewhere.  

Wednesday
Sep152010

Emma Lake: Pamela Burrill

Pamela Burrill. 'Distant Prospect', 1988. 86 x 119 cm acrylic on canvas.

More on Emma Lake: Pamela Burrill was a geologist, retired by time she painted this in 1988.  Really, everyone should paint their environments.  According to how one sees a landscape, whether as a geologist, an architect, a gardener, a cook, a plumber, we might start to understand the complexity of land, rather than its instrumentality.  I mean, does this look like Saskatchewan of the wheat fields?  No, and this perhaps tells us something about how we perceive this country, generally as a set of clichés endlessly reproduced on whatever the equivalent is today of hardware store calendars.   As with all our cultural products, there is a handful of well-known artists known across the country, and hundreds of others known only in their own regions, and often only by their own generation. 

I find much of the Emma Lake work really startling, incredibly beautiful, very cognisant of contemporary art movements in whatever era the work is from, and almost completely unknown. 

Monday
Sep132010

Emma Lake: Wynona Mulcaster

Wynona Mulcaster. Prairie Riot, 1988. 91.5 x 120 cm. acrylic on boardEmma Lake was a northern Saskatchewan artists workshop started in 1934 by an  immigrant English landscape painter, Gus Kenderdine and the art school at the University of Saskatchewan.  When one thinks of how dire prairie circumstances were in the 1930s it was a truly civilised act.  Originally meant to train Saskatchewan teachers to teach art, it was a camp: tents and a dining hall at the next door Anglican Church summer camp.

After WWII, the romanticism of Kenderdine was superseded by a more vigorous Saskatchewan school consisting of what became the Regina Five: Kenneth Lochhead, Arthur McKay, Ronald Bloore, Ted Godwin, Morton, several US artists and Roy Kiyooka.  In 1955 Lochhead re-initiated the Emma Lake Artists' Workshop, bringing in an interesting list of modern abstractionists, often from New York, and famously, Clement Greenberg, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland and Anthony Caro.

The effect of these powerful proponents of colour field painting, abstract expressionism and general postwar surface exploration and mark-making on the romantic landscape tradition of Saskatchewan has produced a long generation of artists that see landscape in the most interesting ways. 

Wynona Mulcaster uses acrylic like water colour in  'Prairie Riot' of 1988.   Mulcaster, born in 1915, had been one of the early Emma Lake participants, a teacher with a wartime BA from the University of Saskatchewan and discussed in Clement Greenberg's 'View of art of the prairies', 1963.

Prairie fields as, literally, a field of marks is also found in the work of Reta Cowley, Dorothy Knowles and, bringing us up to a young generation of Saskatchewan painters, Rebecca Perehudoff. It is a way of registering the detail of the landscape without painting the details.

Wednesday
Sep082010

prairie landscapes

Greg Hardy. Distant Rain Across the Marsh, 2008. Acrylic on Canvas, 32" x 64"That carving out a little corner of the wilderness in which to live, seen in colliery and garrison towns and which Margaret Atwood's Survival, her thematic examination of Canadian literature, discusses in depth, has never really been how Canadian prairie artists have seen the landscape and their part in it. 
Perhaps this is because settlement of the prairies, much later than that of eastern Canada, was facilitated by the CPR which didn't carve out settlements, but rather overlaid the great plains with the Dominion Survey Grid, charting the land with a system that made everything equal in importance. 
The land, indifferent as ever to ill-prepared settlers, was, by virtue of its abstract delineation, made to seem disinterested in the people living on it.  The relationship between town and land was not precise: the Homestead Act clustered services at the grain elevator and around the railway tracks.  The land was simply the surface upon which such things occurred. 

Compare this Greg Hardy 2008 painting with the 1962 L S Lowry painting, Hillside in Wales.  Lowry is looking at the land and human occupation, Hardy is looking at the weather.  Lowry's horizon is up near the top of the frame, Hardy's is at the bottom.  This is what I mean about the indifference of the land on the prairies to our little struggles: it floods, it dries out, it freezes, it is hailed upon— all these things would happen whether we were there or not.  Yet the mindset of the early immigrants to the Canadian west had developed in the impacted landscapes of Britain, where centuries of manipulation of the landscape had occurred.  One is constantly driving over surprising hills that turn out to be fragments of Hadrian's Wall or some such thousand year old installation.  People and their activities, their material culture, their animal husbandry, their system of fields, crops, stone walls and complex hedgerow cultivation – all that was irrelevant here.  Wind-scoured fields hundreds of acres square was how the prairies were farmed, and how they are still painted.


Monday
Aug302010

colliery landscapes

L S Lowry. Hillside in Wales, 1962. Oil on canvas, 762 x 1016 mm. Tate Collection T00591The 1824 drawing of Bath reminded me very much of the 1962 L S Lowry painting of a coal mining village,  believed to be near Abertillery in South Wales.  It is another town carved out of the rural landscape: tight, dense and relentless.  Do we mistake this density for a kind of urbanity or should it be more realistically considered expeditious worker's housing, one step up from the hostels of Fort MacMurray, or South Africa.
Lowry didn't include the rest of the colliery landscape, seen in this photograph below, with the pit head at the end of the terrace.
It is this historic spatiality that allows England to fit 51 million people into an area a bit larger than Vancouver Island and still have huge agricultural landscapes, estates and forests. 

South Wales mining valley, early 20th century.

Tuesday
Jun012010

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

 

Sophie Fiennes. Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, 2010Sophie Fiennes' Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow is a documentary about Anselm Kiefer's vast workshop, installation and landscape at Barjac which he worked in and on between 1993 and 2009.  It shows not just the scale of his work, but the violence with which the work is made: blowtorches, sliding concrete, molten lead, shattered glass, ashes treaded into enormous canvases which are slowly raised to vertical, the ash falls away from a charred forest.  Violence isn't the right word. Primitive industrial processes make the work: they are manual, physical and involve much breakage: of buildings, of materials, of ideas, of clarity.  Paintings emerge as pieces in just one of many stages of construction. 

Barjac was an abandoned silk factory, and has been abandoned again.  Evidently, from a Guardian interview with Fiennes, the film is near wordless – an interview with a German journalist, but otherwise, just Kiefer working.  From the clips on the Over Your Cities website, the film watches, the filmmaker's gaze is intense and calm.  Sophie Fiennes has made two documentaries with Slavov Žižek, which perhaps is why Kiefer appears deceptively un-theorised in Over Your Cities: there is no critical voice-over telling us how to consider his relationship to Germany and Naziism, to ideology and interpretation.  There is just the material experience of Kiefer making art.  The critical stance is in how the film presents Kiefer – a Lacanian position, knowing that the interpretation of the work is both inevitable and uncontrollable. 

Kiefer's project is enormous – it is the investigation and recovery of a German history that was suppressed for his generation.  For those born just after the war and living in reconstructed, prosperous, blithely a-historical West Germany where the war was blamed on the Nazis, not the Germans, just how consequential the historic narrative of German supremacy at the heart of national socialism had been led to the rejection of any kind of symbolism, national narrative or mythic structure.  Kiefer's work is about such things, while rejecting such things.  This gives it its confrontational duality, while its physicality is how Keifer speaks.

Tuesday
May252010

Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer. Zim Zum, 1990. oil, crayon, shellac, ashes, sand, dust and canvas on lead 3.8 x 5.6 m. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Yesterday after thinking about the large Gursky photographs and standing around in galleries looking at very large things I thought about Kiefer.  So I wrote the post below, and now find it has sucked all the light out of the day.  Too much Sturm und Drang for me.  I'd rather be looking at Ocean III.  However.

The first major Anselm Kiefer exhibition I saw was at the Saatchi Gallery in conjunction with several Richard Serra pieces – great slabs of steel balanced on their corners against the wall.  Someone had been injured in the installation.  Seeing the Kiefers was something like when an earlier generation first saw Mark Rothko's enormous, ambiguous colour fields at the Tate.  Kiefer's paintings cover whole gallery walls; one cannot get enough distance from them, one is completely humbled by them.

Much is written about the symbols and myths of German history and the Holocaust in Kiefer: Zim Zum, above, is from the Kabbalah and refers, roughly, to destruction and creative rearrangement.  And there appear to be many debates about whether a German can do anything with German myths and not be a closet Nazi.  Kiefer's work is both textual in that it insists on working with both Teutonic and Jewish history, and in its messy application of straw and mud, paint and dust, often to make great ploughed fields that appear to be totally barren, devoid of life, incapable of resurrection, work shouts out about the destruction of Germany.  It helps to know that Kiefer studied with Joseph Beuys. There is a sensuality that is not romantic in this work – perhaps it is the sensuality of melancholy and despair. 

I've never seen much renewal in Kiefer's work, although the symbols of such are supposedly all there in it.  This is one of the issues with text-based work and criticism: the work becomes the vehicle for another kind of project whereby the physical painting is cast as a cipher to a larger, off-canvas discourse which can change with political rapidity.  Meanwhile, one is left standing in front of a 3 x 5 m work which is unbearably, unrelentingly dark.  I think this has to be taken seriously as an end point: war destroys, and whatever replaces whatever is destroyed is never enough.  

Tuesday
Apr062010

Angela de la Cruz

Angela de la Cruz. Self Flat AshameA new exhibition in London of Angela de la Cruz is written about in the Guardian today.  de la Cruz does broken canvases on stretchers, starting off with a regular painting and then breaking it, literally, apart.  Then she breaks other things apart, notably chairs, which collide with the canvases, canvases collide with the walls and so on.  It appears to be powerful work; she's been working this way for 15 years.  One of the pieces, Flat Stuck is shown here in the background of the image of Self Flat Ashame above.  Flat Stuck is the collapsed orange stacking chair.

I don't think this chair is one of the old Eames fibreglas shells, or one of its plastic knock-offs, but it is similar: a bare bones chair, the most vulnerable point being where the legs attach to the shell. 

de la Cruz is saying a number of things in her work about vulnerability and about the act of selection that transforms a throw away bit of ruin into an intentional art piece.  Duchamp lives, but his ideas are so naturalised that they rarely are acknowledged any more.  de la Cruz herself talks about the problem with painting: slashing a canvas animates it: painting's grandiosity is removed and although it is still a painting, its object nature is made extreme.

I must agree.  After thinking about this work and then going back and looking at a conventionally hung flat canvas on the gallery wall, it does seem to be arch, coy, carrying ambitions on its surface it cannot possibly fulfil.  

Wednesday
Feb102010

Marilyn Bowering

Marilyn Bowering. Visible Worlds.  Harper Collins 1997
Paterson Ewen.  Halley's Comet as seen by Giotto, 1979.

Most memorable image of this book is of a woman skiing over the North Pole from Russia to Canada.There are twins, in a Winnipeg immigrant family, one joins the Nazis in Germany, the other is locked in a struggle with something – I'm not sure – but he does think a lot.  And then there is Nathaniel Bone.  This is a book in the wide-ranging tradition of Canadian literature where the story covers an enormously complex world of multiply connected and layered stories.
Bowering is a poet, first, and her writing although prose is a long, beautiful extended poem where time and narrative are endlessly fluid.  Meanwhile Fika checks her bearings and moves on after chipping ice from her skis.  She is the background, her epic journey, to everyone else's complex histories of emigration, loss and displacement.
Richard Bingham, the cover designer, but a Paterson Ewen painting on the cover.  Ewen is a strange fellow, most of his very large paintings are made by grinding lines in sheets of plywood with a router, then painting over the sheet, routing a few more lines, adding some paint.  They are like huge wood blocks after much printing.  The work is passionate and muscular, magical and haunting.  It is a good tough accompaniment to Bowering's poetic, detailed complexity.

Friday
Jan222010

Jaclyn Shoub

Jaclyn Shoub. At This Point in Time. 2004Jaclyn Shoub works with large photographs, removing information in a process of distillation.  They are highly painterly as the removal of much of the photograph is done with a brush and solvent: one knows one is looking at a photograph, but so much content is leached from the surface that these landscapes become magical.  Shoub removes everything about the landscape except for the marks of human occupation which appear small and fragile.

For On Site 23: small things, we have been sent a narrative, a short story written in notes, as the beginning of an architectural process.  This narrative, which you will read when 23 is published in May, also has a delicacy – it describes the process of removing a building from public perception, so that the architecture is everything but the building. 

Both these two works are the opposite of abstraction, where one thinks of an essence and then displays that essence.  These start with the large and complex environment, urban or rural, and remove everything but a thin line of meaning.  What we are looking at is almost incidental to the fullness of life and world but, incidental or not, is extremely important to us.