In: Abstract Expressionism
February 3, 2017
Okay, there’s a lot of red… some nice white strokes, a hint of yellow, and… now they’ve all blended into orange and pink dripping endlessly down the canvas. And then there’s the black lines and swirls. Are they supposed to be scratches? What’s written in that corner? It’s all so big, I can’t quite make out the top…
I’m not sure I know what I’m looking at but, I can feel it. And that’s what makes the works of American artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) so significant. His energy can be as subtle as the breath of a mark on a cream-colored canvas, or as animated as the manic blood red loops of Bacchus (2005). No matter the intensity of his energy, one element remains coherent —the unpredictability of where his emotions will take him.
The Centre Pompidou presents an in-depth retrospective of the artist’s long career, beginning in the 1950s and right up until his death in 2011. The show revolves around three major cycles —Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), and Coronation of Sesostris (2000). The exhibition, organized chronologically, includes some 140 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs featuring well-known works such as Blooming (2001-08), as well as others never previously exhibited in France.
The journey begins with a step into the bare landscape of cream washes, imperfect whites, and clumsy scribbles. The first gallery encompasses Twombly’s early works from the 1950s. During this period he was still in his hometown of Lexington, Virginia and he also began his travels to Europe and North Africa accompanied by his friend Robert Rauschenberg. Often characterized as graffiti (a label which Twombly rejected), his erratic, aggressive lines fill the entire surface, almost as if someone was trying to claw their way out from behind the canvas.
Moving further into this strange new world we discover Twombly’s life-long muse —the Mediterranean. The artist was fascinated by it since his first visits to Rome in the ’50s, and this fascination intensified during the periods that he lived in Italy. The iconography, metaphors, and myths of ancient civilizations left a strong mark on his works. From Egyptians to Greeks, Romans, and Persians, Twombly acts as an archaeologist, layering references from the classical past while drawing connections to contemporary figures and painting practices such as abstraction and minimalism.
The subject matter of Twombly’s oeuvre suggests a vast literary knowledge and a deep understanding of the human psyche. He reinvigorates the ancient myths and histories of Achilles, Eros, Venus, Apollo, Mars, and Commodus with an instinctual understanding of not only their narratives but also their spirits, their dramas and traumas. We can feel the rage of Commodus, the cruel Roman tyrant, as he unleashes terror and chaos in Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963). With each successive canvas the battle between white (innocence and victims) and red (power and oppression) grows more aggressive. Textured paint is thrown back and forth until at last a fresh reddish-orange glistens with victory.
Perhaps the most intriguing and complex element of Twombly’s artistic approach is his use of language. He creates visual poetry by merging the principles of abstract expressionism and the lyricism of words. Coming off as difficult and rather unclear, his script is largely incomprehensible. A mishmash of singular words or illegible phrases float throughout his compositions neglecting any true syntax or logic. The words are activated and energized by the dynamic forms, expressive lines, and bold colors that accompany them. The ten-part series Coronation of Sesostris (2000) perfectly demonstrates how Twombly blends language and image so that each complements and fulfills the other. Referencing Egyptian sun god Ra, Egyptian king Sesostris I, ancient Greek poets Sappho and Alcman, and contemporary poet Patricia Waters, the series shows the artist’s unrelenting dedication to narrative and ancient civilizations.
Twombly is a modern poet. His work can most easily be understood as an emotional and intellectual reaction to an understanding of the past, expressed through the language of color, form, and writing. It possesses an archaic energy that surpasses traditional and one-dimensional representations of history and instead strives to express a universal essence. His work is as sensual and sensitive as it is intellectual and independent. Cy Twombly, a true maverick, interpreting humanity across time and space.
“Cy Twombly” is on view at the Centre Pompidou until April 24, 2017.
November 14, 2016
Abstract Expressionism was a movement dominated by male artists, talked about by male critics, with a discourse that emphasized ‘male’ attributes like scale, power, and dramatic gesture. This stereotype has been mythologized over the past half-century, but we cannot discount the many female Abstract Expressionist who were also part of this movement. These women were not taken as seriously as their male counterparts, even though they were creating, selling, and being written about at the same time as the men in the movement. This lack of recognition was due to the sexist nature of the art world in the 1940s and 1950s. Most of these women were written off as female painters rather than artists in their own right. Most of their work wasn’t even acknowledged until after their deaths. Only since feminist art history, recent scholarship, and a groundbreaking show at the Denver Art Museum in Colorado this year, have these women resurfaced in our art historical consciousness. Their work is as expressive, powerful, and emotional as their male contemporaries. The following four women are just a few of the many talented artists created Abstract Expressionist artwork during this time period.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Helen Frankenthaler studied at Bennington College in Vermont where she grew familiar with Old Master painting and techniques of Cubism. Afterward, she returned to New York to study with Hans Hofmann, and began painting with an entirely new technique. She would dilute her oil paints so that they would soak into the canvas rather than collecting on the surface; she called this her “soak-stain” method. She would then pour her thinned paint onto a canvas stretched out on the ground. Though she is often categorized as a color field Abstract Expressionist, her work bridges the gap between color field and gesture painting.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lee Krasner studied at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. She also studied with Hans Hofmann who once declared that one of her paintings was “so good you would not believe it was done by a woman.” Her work is quite rhythmical, with strong gestural brushstrokes, and thick texture. Her work is strongly influenced by the Parisian Avant-Garde and Surrealism, but ultimately she creates very abstract images grounded in reality. Her achievements were almost entirely eclipsed by her husband Jackson Pollock, until after both of their deaths. In a 1972 interview, Krasner said, “I think even today it’s difficult for people to see me, or to speak to me, or observe my work, and not connect it with Pollock.”
Alma Thomas began her professional painting career a lot later than one might imagine. Born in the Georgia, Thomas studied fine art at Howard University and was an art teacher for 35 years in Washington D.C. before she dedicated herself solely to painting. Thomas’s style expanded on Abstract Expressionism by creating patterns of color, shape, and line. Not only did she have to seek recognition during a movement that was dominated by white men, but she had to overcome the stigma of being of an older generation, being a person of color, and being female. Her images are simultaneously loosely painted and meticulously formulated swatches of color that sprawl over the canvas. The most recent retrospective of her work is closing at the Studio Museum in Harlem on October 30th.
Elaine De Kooning
Similar to Lee Krasner, Elaine De Kooning was outshone by her painter husband Willem De Kooning for most of her professional life. As a fine arts student at the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School in New York, she took drawing classes from De Kooning, who would quickly bring her into his social circle of Abstract Expressionist painters. Elaine De Kooning’s own work was heavily influenced by Cubism and abstract art. Her images are composed through rapid brushstrokes, wild color, and dynamic intensity of emotion. She also worked as an art critic and editorial associate for ArtNews for a period of time. She was also influenced by the American southwest, during her time as a professor at the University of New Mexico. Her most high profile work as commissioned in 1962, she was asked to paint a portrait of President John F. Kennedy for a presidential library.
November 12, 2016
Are you bored of seeing the same types of paintings over and over again, flat and on a regular canvas hung up on a white wall? Or are you an artist in need of some inspiration to move past the traditional image of a painting? Here is a list of artists from the past century that approached the flat surface in innovative ways, leaving behind conventional practices and taking their works to a whole new realm.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Matisse was one of the first to depart from the classic method of applying paint onto canvas. While he is known for his “traditional” paintings, towards the very end of his life he broke away from this and pulled out the scissors. With the help of a large crew of assistants, Matisse created what are known as the cut-outs. For these cut-outs, he and his crew hand-painted white paper using brightly colored gouache paints, then proceeded to cut these painted papers into simple geometric and organic shapes. These cut-out pieces were then either pasted onto canvases and paired with other materials such as charcoal or, for the first time in art history, pinned directly onto the walls of the museum or gallery.
Georges Braque (1882 -1963)
Along with Picasso, Braque made some of the first collages in art history, also known as papier collé. As part of the development of Cubism, Braque introduced other materials and patterns onto his canvases, suggesting the subject through the use of found flat materials instead of describing the subject-matter through paint. This may seem like a simple idea, or resemble an art project you did with your kindergarten teacher, but it was a true innovation at the time. This idea soon evolved and inspired other artists to further explore it by introducing three-dimensional objects in their works.
Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
Kurt Schwitters came from a very academic background, but around 1920 he became very involved in the Dada movement in Berlin, which mocked academic practices and provided artists with the opportunity to approach visual arts with complete freedom. Schwitters brought to this movement what is known as assemblage. Assemblage is linked to the concept of papier collé, but instead of using found paper materials, it consists in fixing actual found objects on the flat surface. Schwitters’ work plays with the shadows made by the objects stuck to the canvas, shadows that move and change depending on the light hitting the pieces.
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Fontana went one step further in the use of scissors. Instead of simply cutting shapes and placing them onto the canvas, like Matisse and Braque had done, he cut the canvas itself and punctured purposeful holes into it. Fontana saw this acts as a means of building a bridge between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in art. He referred to these series of works as Spatial Concept, and was quite proud of himself for discovering the power of the tagli (“cuts”). He stated “my discovery was the hole and that’s it. I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery”. Some of these cut canvases are painted in a single color, some are simply left white. These white canvases in particular evoke the sense of destruction of the pure as a vehicle to progress into the sculptural realm.
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Jackson Pollock took his very large canvases and placed them on the floor instead of upright on an easel. Photographs of his creative process have circulated thoroughly. Once the canvases were on the ground, Pollock used paint brushes to drip and splatter paint across these large white surfaces. Pollock is a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement, an artistic current that seeks to represent ideas and emotions using abstract forms and color instead of a figurative and realistic representation. Anyone interested in this important figure of American art can now visit the studio where Pollock worked, where you would find evidence of his technique.
Takis (born in 1925)
This artist ties together art and science. He is known as the first person to “send a man into space”, six months before Yuri Gagarin, during a performance. Takis’ work explores magnetic field energy, which he uses as a tool for altering the shape of the canvas. Takis transforms his canvases into sculptural pieces through the use of magnets, creating works that are a sort of magic trick. He often hangs small three-dimensional magnetic objects from the ceiling using thin wire strings, creating the illusion of floating geometric shapes in front of large brightly colored monochromatic surface. These geometric shapes are held up through the use of magnets on the back side of the canvas, which in turn is slightly pulled by the magnetic forces around it.
Yves Klein (1928-1962)
Yves Klein used the body as a paint brush, transforming the act of painting into a performance. Klein experimented with his “living brushes” technique in small apartments in Paris. He would invite women to strip, dip their naked bodies in paint and press themselves against large white canvases. This, of course, became quite the hip thing to witness, and thus the creation of these pieces became a performance accompanied by live music that was also filmed for us to watch to this day. These pieces were kept very simple, with only one to a handful of single imprints of female bodies per canvas. For these, Klein used very strictly the color now known as International Klein Blue, whose significance for the artist is unclear and highly debated.
Günther Uecker (born 1930)
Günther Uecker used yet another surprising material in place of paint on his canvas: nails. He became obsessed with purification rituals, especially those used in religious contexts such as Buddhism. He used the hammering of nails as a meditative practice that eventually monopolized his artistic works. The canvases are supported by wood paneling in order to make this process possible. The nails create organic shapes through systematic and repetitive patterns. Most of his work is completely monochromatic, meaning the nails and the canvas are painted in a single color, usually a play off of black or white. After a full career of hammering nails to canvases, Uecker eventually progressed onto land art.
October 5, 2016
Autumn. The season of cooler weather, multicolored leaves, long strolls in the Heath and marrons glacés, the time when we all start reminiscing about our summer fun and get ready for winter. However, the fall season is not only warmer clothes and hot chocolate, but also the time for major art happenings around the world.
Autumn, and especially October, is the time to follow new fashion trends at fashion weeks in the major cities, and to enjoy weeks of art. The Old World’s art capital – London – started long ago to prepare for the first week of October, aka the busiest and most stressful time in the art world.
The annual arrival of Frieze – the art fair opening in Regent’s Park October 6-8th – and it’s daughter Frieze Masters trigger parallel art happenings, such as the most important contemporary art evening auctions, art festivals, art shows and a myriad of talks and events throughout the capital, in order to benefit from the arrival of the art world’s mighty and try to get a piece of that juicy cake.
Find below a list of TOP artsy things to do this October in London and, believe me, you will want to be one to visit them:
Arguably the most well-known art fair today, though not the most visited one (according to the annual report by ArtVista) Frieze opens for the 13th time this October at Regent’s Park.
Note-by: if you feel unsure about spending 60 pounds on combined ticket to both Frieze&Frieze Masters, make sure to stroll in Regent’s Park – Frieze Sculpture Park is free for all and this year features canonical artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Ed Herring, and Lynn Chadwick just to name a few. The Sculpture Park will be on view for you to visit until January 8th, 2017.
The fair of contemporary African Art, 1:54 will return for the forth time to Somerset House this October. Representing over 50 African countries, 1:54 breaks the traditional approaches to art fairs and delivers a must-see program. The largest edition yet, the fair takes over the whole Somerset House this October and showcases 40 galleries.
Note-by: stop by the open-air installation by Zak Ove at the Somerset House’s courtyard, as well as by the unmissable exhibition of the exceptional Malick Sidibé (Malian photographer) – the exhibition will be on view for you to see up until January 15th, 2017.
Presumably you heard of the name Pollock. Or you heard that one of his paintings titled No 5 (1948) is one of the most expensive paintings in history and was sold for $165.4 million at an auction. Or maybe you didn’t. But the fact is that this exhibition is the first major retrospective of the Abstract Expressionist art movement in the UK in 70 years. Think abstraction, color fields and visual travel. You ought to see it.
Note-by: The most interesting part is the inclusion of not only famous names like Pollock and Rothko in the exhibition, but also of other artists who contributed to the movement.
This must-see exhibition presents just how talented Picasso was. The show will display portraits created during every stage of the artist’s career and will showcase famous masterpieces, as well never seen before works from private collections.
Note-by: the granddaughter of the artist, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, will be in conversation with the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Nicholas Cullinan, on the 6th of October at 7pm, giving her views on Picasso’s portraiture.
Another must-visit show in London focuses on Caravaggio. It is important to note, though, that the primary accent will be given to the influence that the artist had on his contemporaries by showcasing the works of lesser-known artists of the time. So-called Caravaggism will be explored throughout the exhibition and bring together works by Caravaggio and his European followers.
Note-by: The National Gallery created a series of events and talks to introduce visitors to the Caravagesque style and to Caravaggio himself throughout the month of October. If you are a fan of Baroque art, or just a curious soul, make sure to check some of them out.
March 17, 2016
nd In the words of Spanish Golden Age dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, “Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” In the words of Oscar-winning actor/environmental activist/heartthrob Leonardo Dicaprio, “green is my favorite color. It’s the color of nature and the color of money and the color of moss!” In honor of St. Patrick’s day, let’s talk about green! The color has been associated with everything from nobility (think Mona Lisa’s dress) to the pastoral, and commonly symbolizes rebirth, renewal, and balance. With spring just around the corner, it seems to be an appropriate topic.
Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Ruth Asawa, and Frank Stella are famous by abandoning conventions such as figuration and pedestals, and by incorporating sleek, simplified forms, and emphasizing the most fundamental aspects of art: line, form, and of course color. James Turrell’s light-based sculpture Stuck (Green) could be one of the highlights of the notion. Back in 1966 working in Santa Monica, CA, Turrell began experimenting with light and its ability to artificially define a space. Unlike some other light-based artists, Turrell creates spaces that seem immersive, allowing the viewer to not just see, but also experience color.
Whenever I see a Turrell, I cannot help but be reminded of color field painters like Mark Rothko and his “multiforms” or Barnett Newman. Even though Minimalists like Turrell were reacting against the theatricality of the Abstract Expressionists in favor of a reductive aesthetic, I believe Turrell’s work is in many ways a continuation of the color field painters’ attempt to create the illusion of vibrating colors in space. He accomplishes this feat in Struck (Green) as you do feel as though the dim color situated in the corner of a pitch black room slowly begins to radiate outward and envelop you. Whether you find this experience soothing or jarring, the light demands attention and lets you interact with color in a way that you would not be able to in the natural world. Would you expect anything less from a Minimalist?
March 7, 2016
When Damien Hirst announced his new gallery space in London the question was, who would get the inaugural exhibition? The answer: John Hoyland. Newport Street Gallery is in Vauxhall and it acts as a ‘the realisation of Hirst’s long-term ambition to share his art collection with the public‘. Hirst has made his admiration for Hoyland quite public throughout his career and has been seen affectionately referencing his work, talking about how he is ‘an artist who was never afraid to push the boundaries‘ and how ‘his paintings always feel like a massive celebration of life to me‘.
Hoyland has often been characterised as one of the leading painters of his generation and his work impacted the world of contemporary art by showing how simple bold colours can have such a powerful visual effect. Up until ‘Power Stations‘, his last solo show was back in 2006 at Tate St. Ives, so I believe Hirst’s selection of artist’s works is particularly powerful as it brings the artist back to the greater art scene.
Hoyland studied at Royal Academy Schools in London before bursting onto the art scene at the forefront of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the midst of the 1960s. Hoyland’s work was mostly influenced by such artists as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, nonetheless, the artist carries his distinct personal style; he totally relies on colour and shape without any distractions.
Hoyland once famously said ‘paintings are there to be experienced … [they] are not to be reasoned with, they are not be understood, they are to be recognised‘ and I think it is very important to adopt this mindset when viewing his pieces. Large scale paintings look striking within vast spaces, therefore, the relationship between the artist’s work and the space they inhabit is perfectly structured. The bold colours light up within the gallery due to high ceilings, allowing the visitor to appreciate the depth of each piece and explore each painting down to the tiniest details. It can be challenging to look at Hoyland, and many people have questioned his integrity as an artist while they struggle to view blocks of colour as being ‘real art’, but thought is the key and you must embody the open and expansive outlook that Hoyland himself seemed to possess.
Hirst’s selection of the pieces for this exhibition is important because it exposes new works from the artist and gives substantial insight into one of the most important periods of Hoyland’s life and work, from 1964 to 1982. Throughout the gallery, rooms are designed to take the visitor on a journey through colour. The highlight of the exhibition featured a collection of paintings showcasing Hoyland’s use of a colour palette made up of soft, pastel tones such as pink, lilac and white. As Hoyland usually prefers a bolder more striking palette that centers on reds, oranges and greens, this softer use of colour showed a drastically different side to his work.
Showcasing an array of some of Hoyland’s most compelling pieces, The Newport Street Gallery is an absolute must-see. “Power Stations” on view until April 3rd, 2016.