Archive Page 2

Robert Ryman, 1930-2019

This is spot on. From an interview with Robert Ryman:

RYMAN: I came from music. And I think that the type of music I was involved with—jazz, bebop—had an influence on my approach to painting. We played tunes. No one uses the term anymore. It’s all songs now, telling stories—very similar to representational painting, where you tell a story with paint and symbols. But bebop is swing, a more advanced development of swing. It’s like Bach. You have a chord structure, and you can develop that in many ways. You can play written compositions and improvise off of those. So, you learn your instrument, and then you play within a structure. It seemed logical to begin painting that way. I wasn’t interested in painting a narrative or telling a story with a painting. Right from the beginning, I felt that I could do that if I wanted to, but that it wouldn’t be of much interest to me. Music is an abstract medium, and I thought painting should also just be what it’s about and not about other things—not about stories or symbolism.

ART21: You don’t think of meaning?

RYMAN: There is a lot of meaning, but not what we usually think of as meaning. It’s similar to the meaning of listening to a symphony. You don’t know the meaning, and you can’t explain it to anyone else who didn’t hear it. The painting has to be seen. But there is no meaning outside of what it is.

ART21: So, meaning is closer to an emotional reaction?

RYMAN: I think that’s the real purpose of painting: to give pleasure. I mean, that’s really the main thing that it’s about. There can be the story; there can be a lot of history behind it. But you don’t have to know all of those things to receive pleasure from a painting. It’s like listening to music; you don’t have to know the score of a symphony in order to appreciate the symphony. You can just listen to the sounds.

ART21: How does your work fit into the contemporary art world?

RYMAN: I don’t think of myself as being part of anything. I don’t get involved with art. I mean, I’m involved with painting, but I just look at it as solving problems and working on the visual experience. I’m not involved with any kind of art movement, and I’m not a scholar. I’m not a historian, and I don’t want to get into that kind of thing because it would interfere with my approach. So, it’s better that I not think of that. (LAUGHS)

Fruit and flowers

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, oil on canvas, Francisco de Zurbarán 

Zurburan’s fascinating, austere Still Life with Citrons, Oranges and a Rose hangs directly opposite the entrance of its period room so that it commands your attention as soon as it comes into view at the Norton Simon Museum. When I saw it a few weeks ago during our visit to the museum in Pasadena, I immediately recognized the work from its visit to The Frick a decade ago. What I actually remembered was Peter Schjeldahl’s review of the show and his justly ecstatic paean to this particular painting—similar to his raptures over Morandi in another essay. It’s simple, spare, and as perfectly balanced and restful as a Matisse, but also full of mysterious grandeur, in an almost ironic way, since it’s a depiction of the most commonplace things. It’s a surprisingly large painting by traditional still life standards, close to four feet wide, so that the depicted objects are larger than their actual size. The layers of Catholic symbolism—the objects standing both for the Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary—has little resonance now and yet the painting’s power and subdued beauty hasn’t diminished. Its simplicity feels as integral as ever, as if it embodies some kind of alternate mathematical axiom—five + seven + three = one. Stripped of its religious symbolism, it continues to shine with its intended spirit, as if Zurburan’s religion was merely a way of climbing a ladder, as an artist, to quotidian serenity not limited to its theological expression.

The ideas have fallen away leaving the perceptual power of the image to keep working on the viewer and marvelously urging the same orientation toward the world as the ecclesiastical one. The lesson has faded, but its wisdom remains: humility, self-abnegation, attention to the abundance of ordinary experience, and gratitude for any glimpse of ordinary goodness and truth and beauty. Both artist and viewer marvel at the generous luxury of the earth’s simple gifts, its fruit and flowers. These subjects still look like offerings on an altar but at the same time seem to be just the opposite: not sacrifices, but gifts going in reverse, from a greater to a lesser power—from one who can make a lemon to one who can make a picture of one—offered to whomever stands before them as sustenance for either body or spirit. 

In other words, even without all the intellectual trappings that gave Zuburan a pretext for making this painting, they pass along the same monk-like devotional intensity—in the assiduously achieved formal qualities of the painting, the long hours of solitude in the studio—without consideration of his religious justification for painting them.  They stand as an example of how the greatest art embodies a life that spills up over the lip of every meaning and purpose meant to contain it—and meant for it to contain—conveying a quality of attention that operates as a moral and spiritual corrective in and of itself. A great still life conveys psychological qualities that have moral consequences—silence and calm.  The painting stands as one of the supreme justifications for the still life genre—not nearly as congenial and charming as Chardin, but just as magical as the French master’s best. The humblest and most commonplace objects, simply by reflecting light a certain way, seating themselves naturally in their space, bearing the pull of gravity in their own particular ways, can convey the quiddity of life itself, long before the mind has time to go to work breaking down what it sees into what it ostensibly means and, in the process, gets further and further from the actual work—and life—itself. 

20th century mystic

Concert, oil on canvas, George Braque, Janice and Henry Lazarof Collction, LACMA

On my visit to LACMA last month, I was delighted most by the work in two particular areas of the museum: Fantasies and Fairy Tales, a themed exhibition of arresting prints and the small wing devoted to the Janice and Henry Lazarof Collection. The latter had the feel of those private collections converted into museums–the Frick, the Phillips–where the taste of the collectors is tantamount to a class on how art should be made. Nearly everything in the Lazarof Collection begged to be photographed, but when I tried to take a shot of the Braque above, the guard hurried over and chastised me, which was a surprise, because the wing appeared to be a permanent installation of work–a way of sharing the vision of two insightful collectors with the public–not a temporary exhibition, which seems to be the only shows that prohibit photography now in an effort to increase catalog sales. I asked, therefore, if there was a book available, and he directed me to the shop where it was on sale and for a discount. It was a fortuitous purchase because it includes a long essay on Picasso, so prominently featured in this collection, that turned out to be an indispensable aid to the thinking I’ve been doing, since my visit to Los Angeles, about one particular Picasso print I saw elsewhere at LACMA–it changed my understanding about that painter whose fame and position in the history of 20th century painting has always, for me, eclipsed the aspects of his work that have turned out to be most powerful and intriguing.

So I purchased a book simply to bring home an image of this particular still life by Braque, which was done toward the end of his most fertile period, from his move toward synthetic Cubism through the more and more idiosyncratic interpretations of pedestal tables, the “gueridons,” his most personal motif, especially with a guitar on board. It preoccupied him for at least twenty years; the most representative and familiar example of this series is The Gueridon at the Phillips. What’s astonishing about this work, for me, is that everything in the paintings from this period–with a few exceptions–seems to have been invented perfectly, naturally, as if Braque were proceeding like a scrupulous realist, where you know the work is great because the proper marks are the ones that most faithfully reproduce exactly what’s seen. The rules are obvious and simple. Here, none of that is the case, there is no common sense guideline for what makes a Braque so manifestly perfect–everything he sees or imagines is flattened into an essentially arbitrary pattern, and yet though every shape and line and color seems the outcome of improvisation, the final result looks inevitable, almost immutable and right, but also deeply felt in a way that seems in a class of its own next to all the other work that sprang from the Cubist movement. How a painter achieves this is the great mystery–on a par with the question of how Vermeer enabled a fleeting moment in an average day to look eternal. Braque’s own enigmatic journals only deepen the mystery and suggest that his path, once he broke with Picasso, took him more and more deeply into the region he entered via synthetic Cubism–a long, meditative and assiduous creative exploration during which Braque rightly felt infallible without ever letting his ego know what he was up to. He’d reached the artistic equivalent of a state of grace:

On this painting, from Envisioning Modernism, p. 62:

The viewer is thus forced to focus on the tenuous relationship between the still life and its environs, demonstrating what Braque called his “great discovery”: “Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them or between them and myself. When one attains this harmony one reaches a sort of intellectual nonexistence–what I can only describe as a state of peace–which makes everything possible and right. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry.”

Among untrodden ways

Zurich Box, oil on canvas, detail, Ken Townsend

I’ve been reading, with greater and lesser pleasure, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, which–throughout the series of fictionalized memoirs–has repeated references to Romanticism, especially in painting. In the narrative, he’s regularly moved by images that convey the implacability of nature–and these moments, not of epiphany, but of emotional release, baffle him because the author has no way of making sense of his deep response to nature through these paintings, in contrast to his almost Beckett-like exhaustion with the daily life he so tediously represents in thousands of pages of prose. My response to the series of books is similar to my reaction when I look at artwork created in devotion to an invariable idea–in other words, a fair amount of work done over the past 150 years–once you grasp the idea, if it’s merely the illustration of an idea, why keep reading or looking? What’s fascinated me about Knausgaard is his deep ambivalence about modernism and the way it has set ordinary human emotions aside in favor of general artistic principles (though his own artistic principles seem, in the course of the work, to be destroying his own family so that maybe has more in common than he thinks with the modernism he distrusts). Hence, his retreat, emotionally, to Romanticism. Yet, in the final volume he seems to see his florid outpouring of feeling in reaction to certain poetry and painting as delusional, or at least negligible–leaving the reader with a vision of his creative work as a pointless exercise in obsessive attention to his own life, out of a conviction that life is essentially meaningless. Not exactly where I had though he might be going.

Three artists on view now at Oxford Gallery are equally drawn to the beauty and grandeur of nature–Ken Townsend, Charles Houseman, and Sean Wituck–and don’t quite distrust their passion the way Knausgaard does. And there’s an appreciative realism involved here, a friendly humility in the face of nature, that seems more contemporary than the era evoked by the quote from Wordsworth Jim Hall has used for the show’s title. Their work hints back to the Romantic love for nature, but not in a way that evokes the Hudson River School, nor the sublime of Edwin Burke or Kant, where nature is great beyond comprehension. Turner’s storms are nowhere to be found here. Nature is beautiful in their paintings, and in some cases, as indifferent to human comfort and scale as it is in the Romantics, but it’s also still, inviting, and serene–a setting for human purposes, on its own terms. The painting that most interests me is what appears to be a diptych depicting a spot on the coast of Maine, at Acadia National Park by Houseman–enormous rocks, typical of Maine’s fractal coast line of glacial rock. The massive boulders at the center are surrounded by tidal pools covered with a thin layer of autumn leaves–the leaves are what make it inviting. It’s a glimpse of an outcropping that could serve as a seat for a hiker’s quick lunch in October, or could just as easily be what was visible twenty thousand years ago, when cave paintings were the only contemporary art. I suppose that’s a roundabout way to say the current show at Oxford offers a glimpse of what’s timeless everywhere around us, with a hint that our time is brief, compared to the tenure of sky, earth, ocean and trees. Maybe that’s a Romantic insight after all.

Face to face

Dora Natella’s work in Similitude

Manifest Gallery has a new show, Similitude, through Feb. 22, devoted to contemporary portraiture. I wish I could get to Cincinnati to see it and another show revolving around the subject of sinks and chair. Sinks are a fascination for me, though I’ve only painted one from different angles and in different lights. Here is the overview of the show from the folks at the gallery:

The Contemporary Portrait

As we stated four years ago when we last approached the theme of portraiture, technology exacerbates people’s retreat into the upper limb of their body, encouraging portraiture on a mass scale in the form of social networks such as Facebook and Instagram with their flood of ‘selfies’. Facial recognition tools which help sort photos of friends and family based on images of their face, and ‘facetime’ calling also put the focus on the front of the human head, and puts a premium on visual identity. The center of our humanity has coalesced into the mind, behind the face. When we think of each other, we (usually) start with the face. 

Recognition matters. Throughout art history the ability of the artist to not only capture a likeness but also the character and spirit, if you will, of the subject has defined whole careers.

Mythic landscapes

Status of Persephone, etching, Gillian Pederson-Krag

From Matt Klos, of Exeter Gallery, in Baltimore, on the gallery’s current show:

Accidents of TimeMagnolia Laurie & Gillian Pederson-Krag

January 11th – February 28th

Magnolia Laurie’s paintings and Gillian Pederson-Krag’s prints present landscapes that feel immutable. The landscapes are poetic and, at times disquieting. Often monochromatic, and grand even at a small scale, each work possesses a profound stillness. Magnolia presents paintings on panel excepting two large oils on canvas. Each panel features subtle washes which form reticulated edges where the puddles of pigment end. The fine networks at these perimeters form distant blurred treetop canopies or the appearance of pulled cotton where clouds give way to sky. Her paintings feature volcanic mountains, scorched earth, and in “To Weight it Down” a forested space with what could be police tape cordoning off a crime scene. This is what remains after the cataclysmic event. Nature remembers the action lest we forget. Gillian makes meticulously crafted etchings. These dense and expertly arranged tangles of linework describe landscapes of bare tree branches, rivers, and ruins. Thin filaments run behind thicker ones creating a deep quiet space. In an amber toned etching a statue of Persephone sits with one leg crossed over the other holding a fruit amongst an overgrown thicket. She presents bounty from nature as nature itself threatens to overtake her. Many of these landscapes bear the mark of humankind. Human elements create the formal structure which carries one’s eye throughout the scene.

In Laurie’s works towers and fences serve as this device while in Pederson-Krag’s ruins and weathered statues are featured. Our affect on nature is front and center in current scientific and political conversations. If a monomyth is present here perhaps it reveals that our striving, our monuments, our self-importance, and our collective self, will eventually pass away. The landscape of tomorrow will contain our ashes and dust. “The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man. The objective world remains what it was, but, because of a shift of emphasis within the subject, is beheld as though transformed. Where formerly life and death contended, now enduring being is made manifest – as indifferent to the accidents of time as water boiling in a pot is to the destiny of the bubble, or as the cosmos to the appearance and disappearance of a galaxy of stars.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pg. 28 

Intriguing work at Main Street Arts

Bradley Butler, acrylic on panel
Life Is (And Isn’t) Meaningful, acrylic on panel, Bradley Butler

Over the past few years, Bradley Butler has been doing a marvelous job in Clifton Springs of creating some excitement about visual art in this region. Playing hard to get to may be part of his gallery’s cachet: it requires a bit of time to get there from either Syracuse or Rochester. It’s almost always worth the drive. This new Small Works exhibition offers work from 103 artists, residing in 26 states, chosen by Rick Pirozzolo, executive director and curator at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, NY., with great work from many regional artists, along with a sampling of representative work from across the U.S. 

Bill Stephens and Bill Santelli both offered first rate paintings: Santelli’s Awake in the Night was a departure from much of his usual style, a small black monolithic canvas bisected by an aperture through which a new light seemed to break through. With Into the Deep Woods, Bill Stephens has laid down some of the most effective color I’ve ever seen in any of his precise, surrealistic improvisations of natural forms and human figures. The warm tones hover in the background while the vegetation in the foreground of his dreamlike copse were done in cool blues and greens—the inversion of warmth at a distance and chill tones up close made the background seem to advance as the foreground receded. The effect was to create a unified sense of potential energy, everything poised, ready to change places as soon as one looked away. 

The masterful and restrained Self Portrait, by John Van Houten, of Buffalo, winner of Best in Show, is actually Tonalist in spirit, so dimly lit as to require some moving around to see through the glossy shine of the surface in order to simply make out the face. It evokes long-lost virtues, a quiet and humble sort of patience and forbearance and modesty, and the image served almost as an emblem of core values seemingly abandoned in our shrill and combative social media culture. It’s gratifying to see a painting without a trace of modernist or post-modern pretensions getting top honors while holding its own as entirely and justifiably contemporary. Nearby, Rubicite Earring, by Zach Koch, was a simple but eerie evocation of a weirdly serene but ominous rapture: a face in which the features seemed to be masterfully drawn and then blurred, except for the nose and the gumdrop stone affixed to the beautiful subject’s earlobe. The bright

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Henry Miller

The artist is the opposite of the politically minded individual, the opposite of the reformer, the opposite of the idealist. The artist does not tinker with the universe, he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life.  —Henry Miller

Rare Porter

Fairfield Porter

This work by Fairfield Porter is startling in its bold freedom, the almost arbitrary way he represented the flowers, the saturated tones, the almost splattered looking petals in contrast to that marvel of a jar used as a vase. I’ve never seen this painting through any channel other than this page eight years ago from Art News. I recently found a stack of magazines and tore out half a dozen pages from this 2010 spring issue. I will post iPhone shots of them now and then in the future. Just thumbing through the ads in Art News was best way to explore unfamiliar work and learn a few things, while diligently ignoring the text. Sort of the way most of us boys engaged with Playboy back in the day.

The perfect flow of paint

Mark Tennant’s recent work

Mark Tennant posted this painting on Instagram a little while back, and I’ve since gone back to it many times with pleasure. At first, it suggests an almost clinical distance from his subject, a hauteur about a fragment of past American culture, which he’s isolated for observation. In this case, he seems to be looking back at a middle-class couple, standing proudly in front of their tract home and new car, circa 1960—he with beer in hand, she in pumps that aren’t even indicated except by the tiptoe slope of her feet. It’s all imbued with a cool, dubious squint of someone who doesn’t share the enthusiasms he depicts, a clinical detachment present in some of Tennant’s more erotically suggestive work, much of which has a muted, colorless sheen reminiscent of Gerard Richter’s early portraits based on media photographs of Baader-Meinhof terrorists. In this clinical mode, Tennant picks subjects that seem selected to provoke a raised eyebrow or a half-smile of condescension—as if he’s looking down, rather than head-on, at whatever he’s showing. It reminds me of what Martin Mull has been doing in his work—purchasing collections of family photographs from garage sales and flea markets to use as source material for his own surreal, emotionally detached and dreamlike visions occasionally on view at Hirschl & Adler.

Still, though I doubt this is the response Tennant wants, I react to this painting with nostalgia for those brief post-war decades when America was genuinely thriving, leading the world in building a middle class that was actually earning more than what it needed to get by. What drove productive lives wasn’t false hope back then. This proud couple could easily have been living on one salary at Eastman Kodak here in my hometown, with its generous wages and annual bonuses for workers, when a household could thrive on a single income, earning enough to get a mortgage on a new house and even buy a new car every few years. Over the past few decades, that level of material comfort could be sustained only on higher and higher lines of credit and more than one wage. The middle class has waned though it remains to be seen if it’s down for the count. Simple bourgeois comforts, along with an occasional luxury, are certainly as illusory as anything else on this spinning planet—so Tennant is perfectly justified in suggestions of sic transit gloria mundi, especially when the glories are so humble. He casts a cold eye on this moment of celebratory happiness yet it feels like something most people wouldn’t mind working toward now as much as they did in the 60s, and rightly so. It’s precisely what people who flee into our country are hoping to find. But what’s going on in this image has gotten harder and harder to make happen.

That said, this painting is different from what I consider Tennant’s usual mode and that keeps me coming back for another look. It’s far more colorful than most of what he posts. His technical MORE

More lilacs and geese

September Apples, Igor Shipilin

Another find from Lilacs and Wild Geese.

Glorious paint

I can’t find a name for this painting anywhere, even with a Google image search. It’s Robert Henri, from the cover of a book he wrote.

More is more: Stooshinoff

Green Hill, Harry Stooshinoff. 8″ x 8″, acrylic on board

Harry Stooshinoff is a Canadian painter who has conquered the way of a picture-per-day. I hate looking at his Instagram feed because it makes me feel like a total slug, the guy is so incredibly prolific and fast, but also, worst of all, masterful. One glimpse of Harry S. and I just want to give up. Fast is the hardest thing to be as a painter, but he’s flawlessly so. He’s the ultimate premier coup painter, everything done in one sitting. His work looks like en plein air but I think he simply does studies and sketches on site and then improvises from his notes in the studio. You can read a great explanation of the thinking that goes into his process in a well-written little statement here. He posts and sells quite a bit of work online, I gather, for prices that are feudally cheap, but he lives by an economics I find admirable—he can apparently afford to aim high in his work and sell low on the market, which both moves the work and makes it almost universally ownable. It’s a generous strategy that reminds me of Jim Mott’s gift economy. I suspect a lot of teaching in the past is what enables him to do all this now. He can’t be living that far north of Rochester, so I ought to track him down and shake his hand at some point but knowing me, I probably won’t. His methods look utterly transparent, the way Fairfield Porter’s seem to in his best work—no cards pulled out of sleeves, no mystery about how or why that slash of paint happens to be there or do what it does—but try to paint something in such a self-evident way and you will see how Stooshinoff is nearly without equal. Welliver had that quality: you can see what he’s doing all along and would love to do it yourself—“no going back over”—but try it and see what a mess you make.


Belfast Bay

Belfast Bay, Matt Klos, oil on canvas. Absent inches, let’s just say very very small.

This may be, so far, my all-time favorite painting by Matt Klos, which I’ve seen once in a show he had at Oxford Gallery early in this decade, a tiny work, probably done on the spot when he was overseas, I’m not sure. The way he scumbled the paint to allow the canvas to peek through the porous medium gave a perfect shimmer to sea and sky, but it’s the way he used color that really knocked me out. I took a shot of it at the show and have kept it filed away ever since.

Timeless classicism

Another page torn from that 2010 issue of Art News. Every time I think Picasso was the most over-rated painter in the history of Western art, I come across something that makes me think again. This is almost a riposte to Braque’s Canephorae. It was from the Guggenheim’s Chaos and Classicism exhibitionI have to say I prefer this to Braque’s figures–someone once pointed out that Braque invested all of his sensuality in his still lifes, not his nudes–though in almost every other respect, I expect Braque will outlast his rival. But something far more lasting that eroticism shines in this one from Picasso, even though it often seems nearly everything he did had some tangential link to sex.

The light of Piero, circa now

Head, oil on linen, Kathleen Carey Hall

A mother-daughter exhibition at Exeter Gallery promises to be something exceptional for anyone interested in perceptual painting: Eternal Sun, Paintings by Linda Carey and Kathleen Carey Hall. Matt Klos, the director of the gallery, sent out an announcement of the new exhibition last week and included a small sample of what’s on view. One of these paintings is to blame for a string of as-yet unchecked items on my To Do list—I spent much too long for my own good admiring this portrait, entitled simply Head.

The mother-daughter pairing feels like an interesting offshoot of the shows Manifest regularly puts together combining work from teachers and students. From the images Matt sent, these two painters have clearly mastered perceptual painting and used its tropes and techniques to create an individual vision. Both have spent time studying and painting in Italy. Time abroad in that particular nation seems to be one of the best things a painter can choose to do these days—judging by the quality of the work it nurtures, glimpses of which are readily available in the feeds of many painters on Instagram.

On the strength of the images Klos sent along, this is a show not to be missed. One of the two images, this particular portrait of a young woman—self-portrait maybe?—is a marvel of what the perceptual painters advocate. There’s a hint of pentimento, various self-evident ways of making paint itself as much of the point as the image it renders. There’s a deep tension between precision and looseness—or between predictable effects and seemingly risk-taking paint handling, daring the unexpected happy accident to emerge—and it gives a tremendous energy to what is an image of almost absolute stillness. The sitter’s expression is wonderfully ambiguous, serious and a bit lost in thought, but with a smile that seems to be just dawning, though if you try to pin down where this is happening, it’s tough to locate the particular signs of it in her face. It isn’t quite the Mona Lisa smile—somehow it’s even more ghostly and elusive. The background is a layering of so many tones—greenish blue, taupe, a spot of cerulean, pink and almost a stripe of pale rose at the far right, echoing all the colors in the face and lace-collared dress. That collar is wonderful, the way she has dragged the paint lightly over the darker blue of the dress underneath, so that the porous oil hints just enough at the filigree of the fabric to create a totally convincing impression of lace, and somehow—how?— it even looks a little starchy.

The handling of tones is marvelous. Over almost the entire surface, she works in the mid-range of values, keeping the tones muted and the saturation of the paint in the mid-range. But the color of the face itself is slightly more saturated in color and precise in form and line, and as a result it projects out toward the viewer, almost as if the sitter is peering through one of those cardboard images with a hole cut out for the head—but this works in a perfectly natural and evocative way here. As the skin tones come forward, vibrant and alive, the hair and the eyes are filmed in such a way, the tone is so much in the upper registers, that the pupils are entirely obscured and the color of her eyes is entirely indeterminate. Blue? Brown? Are we seeing a faded periwinkle glow reflected off the eye’s surface rather than the color of the iris itself? The effect of all this isn’t just technically impressive, but poetic. It creates that look of being absorbed, absent, remembering, but it also detaches the entire image from the present, so that one is justified in feeling as if this could even be the sitter’s grandmother as a young woman. In a similar way, the hair is almost entirely without detail and in a very light tone, so that in the entire painting there are only two spots of paint that might be considered relatively dark. This, as much as anything, is what I think Klos means in his lyrical appreciation of the two painters, when he writes that the sun of the Renaissance illuminates the work of these two. Piero’s work had this same kind of beatific luminosity.

The only point in the painting where the paint’s value reaches an extreme is in the tiny highlight, not swimming on the surface of the sitter’s eyes, but in the inside corner of one eye—such an original touch, perfectly natural and completely realistic, but almost a modest, easily-overlooked stylistic tour de force, to apply that pinhead of pure light right there, at the corner of the eye rather than somewhere on the cornea, where one would always expect to find it. I’d love to think it was the last mark she made. Once you notice it, the entire painting seems to pivot around that little glint of pure white, serene and blank, where all the other colors in the painting are hidden.

A stumbled-upon Tumblr

Eyvind Earle (United States, 1916-2000) Golden Hills

“Beauty will save the world.” –Dostoevsky

This and a slew of images to come are from a Tumblr I stumbled onto in the past year, and it has turned out to be a pretty consistent delight for a number of reasons. Its most notable quality is that its contributor often finds and posts work by artists I don’t know or else from a familiar artist I haven’t seen before. I like almost all of what appears here, with an occasional exception, but it’s never predictable and always interesting. The fact that whatever you see at surprises me is probably indicative of the limited scope of my knowledge, the massive and perpetual surplus of great painting all over the world from the past couple centuries, and/or the remarkable angling ability of this fisher of artwork, whoever he or she is. There’s a mind behind this site, called Lilacs and Wild Geese, on constant lookout for what French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard called the oneiric quality, the aura of the waking dream, which really for me is the universal element of great painting that isn’t agitprop or snark or dutiful transcription of what’s seen. But even that last sort of diligence can’t help but become a dream thanks to its idiosyncratic shortfalls. From a Tumblr bearing an epigram from Dostoevsky and a URL from Walt Whitman would one expect anything less?



James Valerio, Self-Portrait, 1998, pencil on paper, 21” x 23”

In his studio, Tom Insalaco has a little poster pinned up near a reproduction of an astonishing Franz Halls painting. This drawing was used to promote the show that included it twenty years ago at George Adams Gallery, when it was at 41 W. 57th St.

Things being just what they are

Optimistic Tumbler, Joshua Huyser, Watercolor, 2018

Mrs. Glass had undressed the package and now stood reading the fine print on the back of a carton of toothpaste. “Just kindly button that lip of yours,” she said, rather absently. She went over to the medicine cabinet. It was stationed above the washbowl, against the wall. She opened its mirror-faced door and surveyed the congested shelves with the eye–or, rather, the masterly squint–of a dedicated medicine-cabinet gardener. Before her, in overly luxuriant rows, was a host, so to speak, of golden pharmaceuticals, plus a few technically less indigenous whatnots. The shelves bore iodine, Mercurochrome, vitamin capsules, dental floss, aspirin, Anacin, Bufferin, Argyrol, Musterole, Ex-Lax, Milk of Magnesia, Sal Hepatica, Aspergum, two Gillette razors, one Schick Injector razor, two tubes of shaving cream, a bent and somewhat torn snapshot of a fat black-and-white cat asleep on a porch railing, three combs, two hairbrushes, a bottle of Wildroot hair ointment, a bottle of Fitch Dandruff Remover, a small, unlabelled box of glycerine suppositories, Vicks Nose Drops, Vicks VapoRub, six bars of castile soap, the stubs of three tickets to a 1946 musical comedy (“Call Me Mister”), a tube of depilatory cream, a box of Kleenex, two seashells, an assortment of used-looking emery boards, two jars of cleansing cream, three pairs of scissors, a nail file, an unclouded blue marble (known to marble shooters, at least in the twenties, as a “purey”), a cream for contracting enlarged pores, a pair of tweezers, the strapless chassis of a girl’s or woman’s gold wrist-watch, a box of bicarbonate of soda, a girl’s boarding-school class ring with a chipped onyx stone, a bottle of Stopette–and, inconceivably or no, quite a good deal more. Mrs. Glass briskly reached up and took down an object from the bottom shelf and dropped it, with a muffled, tinny bang, into the wastebasket. “I’m putting some of that new toothpaste they’re all raving about in here for you,” she announced, without turning around, and made good her word. 

–Zooey, J.D. Salinger

It’s a bit like an Antonio Lopez Garcia scene, the passage from Salinger where Zooey is smoking in the tub behind a shower curtain and his mother is replenishing the bathroom’s stock of toothpaste. What’s always baffled me, with delight, about J.D. Salinger’s prose is how he can take a deadpan catalog of items in a 1950s medicine chest and bring it quietly to life, until it seems you are watching the cast of a Pixar movie where absolutely nothing happens. Nothing moves. Nothing breathes in there behind the mirror. In this case, nothing moves even when the lights go off. But every one of those little objects has somehow absorbed the life of the people who brought home those notions and creams and razors, concealing them behind the glass in which they see themselves every morning. In a less distinct way, the reader sees those characters too—Zooey and Franny and Bessie—even in this passage, glimpsing them in these simple things that share their life. It’s more than verisimilitude at work here. Somehow, in the way he offers this roster of humble, innocuous Glass family artifacts, though they would have been hardly different from the content of anyone’s medicine chest at the time, Salinger makes them luminous with a quality that’s impossible to name—they are little idiosyncratic treasures of fascinating intricacy, almost human in their individuality, though all of them were mass-produced. You feel as if you’re seeing them for the first time; as if you’ve never quite looked at a nail file before, even though he says nothing more than “a nail file.” They are nothing but what they are; stand for nothing beyond themselves. Yet they seem blessed by the author’s attention, somehow, marvelous because of their ordinariness. You see them the way you would if you’d been brought home after a last-minute pardon on the gallows and were thankful for every least thing in the world. But then everything in Salinger is like that.

That’s how a still life ought to work. It introduces you to the most mundane tokens of life in a way that doesn’t make them into anything they’re not. His prose somehow reveals how incredibly fine it is that they are so perfectly whatever it is they are. I think medicine chests are fast disappearing from this world, but I never open any of the remaining ones without seeing what’s inside with a heightened awareness of the world it embodies and how, in its own way, it shares my time on the earth. Sometimes, thanks to Salinger, what were formerly throwaway moments—applying a Band-Aid, say, or putting to use one of those other assorted less indigenous whatnots—become as worthy of attention and gratitude as anything else I might be doing.

This is all pretty darn close to the way Joshua Huyser’s watercolor portraits of everyday things work. Each time he posts a new painting on Instagram it’s a treat. He doesn’t mess with his subject. He reduces his picture to little more than the thing itself and nothing much else except maybe a shadow. His methods begin to seem like a sort of apophatic discipline, saying no to nearly everything but that quiet little yes in answer to the humble can or bowl or glass he meets gently with careful affection. He’s especially good with glass as if somehow the fact that it verges on total transparency, that it almost isn’t there—like his medium itself and the minimal means he employs—makes one of his paintings a lesson in the actual reality of things and people, all of us here, but oh so tenuously, and so easy to miss. Look at enough of his unspectacular still lifes, and you feel as if his subjects are only ostensibly inanimate objects. They are actually more like living companions on the daily journey, fellow travelers from 6 a.m. to curfew, friends to keep one company in the lonely sort of loving awareness that makes possible painting and a few other things maybe even more worthwhile involving actual, breathing people.

Robert Mielenhausen

“Let’s Go” 61” x 84” Triptych, acrylic

Street Wise, a solo exhibition of paintings and mixed media by Robert Mielenhausen. He’s moving in different directions from when I knew him as a fellow member at Viridian Artists and it will be interesting to see what he’s up to. The Alfred Van Loen Gallery, South Huntington Library, Nov. 2-Dec. 5. Opening reception, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2-4 p.m., 145 Pidgeon Hill Road, Huntington Station, NY, 11746.