I was unfamiliar with the work of Hurvin Anderson before I made my way up to the 5th floor of the AGO’s contemporary section. I was immediately struck by the similarities to a painter I greatly admire: Peter Doig. It then came as no surprise that Anderson was actually a student of Doig’s back in his native country of England during the 90’s.
Backdrop which was first shown at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis consists of a collection of drawings, sculptures and photographs but it was the paintings I was most excited about. Anderson’s approach combines loose flourishes with flat passages that evoke both energy and control. His subject matter ranges from the Jamaican/Trinidad countryside to residential attic barbershops to the filtering of experience through barriers, fences and pattern.
Anderson’s paintings allude to the vulnerability of the sitter in a barber chair. There is an unspoken conception of trust and renewal. His barbershop patrons floating on flat backgrounds reminded me of another British painter: Francis Bacon.
Painting is alive and well at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Hurvin Anderson makes the case loud and clear.
May 19 – August 21
Between 1890 and 1891 Claude Monet (the father of Impressionism) painted roughly 30 paintings of Haystacks. They were the first of many series he would devote his life to. Not as beloved as his Waterlilies or showy as his Cathedral of Roen, the Haystacks signify a sea change in his approach to painting. The subject matter took a backseat to concept and technique. This was not lost on the critics of the day who immediately picked up on what Monet was pursuing. Monet wasn’t trying to capture the everyday banality of the rural French countryside, but rather the fleeting effects of light and time. This was and still is a radical idea.
Not everyone was as impressed with the idea as the critics: namely some of the farmers whose fields art history was being rewritten in. They would intentionally tear the stacks down to keep Monet out of their backyards. Luckily, enough of them didn’t care or in the case of the winter scenes were paid to leave them up. See, snow isn’t that great for your hay but Monet wanted to capture the effects. A few francs later and we now have some of the most dramatically orchestrated winter images in the history of painting.
In 1891 when they were originally exhibited, it was the first time an artist had shown a suite of paintings of the same subject matter that were intended to be shown together as a group. The subject was the same but the effects were diverse and varied. Colour was set free. Monet found the violet in the shadows created by the yellow sun, and notoriously swore off black stating ‘there was no black in nature’. Black eventually found it’s way back in, but near the end of the 19th century Monet wouldn’t even put it in his paint box when he left the studio to go capture the day’s light.
And capture the day’s light he did. Over the years my feelings towards the Haystacks have grown considerably. What I at first mistakenly perceived as too simplistic drawing, I now admire for their abstract qualities. In this day and age the Impressionists have been so universally accepted that it is easy to forget just how innovative, groundbreaking and polarizing they truly were and Monet’s Haystacks were on the forefront of that wave.
Marcel Duchamp was her art adviser, Max Ernst was one of her husbands, she once got drunk with James Joyce, she lived in Paris in the 20’s during the golden age along with the Fitzgeralds and the Josephine Bakers, Man Ray took her picture, Samuel Beckett was one her many lovers, her father went down on the Titanic, she was the first to show: Hoffman, Rothko and Pollock at her New York gallery Art of the Century, she referred to one of the great architectural triumphs of the 20th century as her ‘uncle’s garage’; Peggy Guggenheim’s life reads like a who’s who of artistic spoils and the new documentary Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict by Lisa Immordino Vreeland gives us a small glimpse into this extraordinary woman’s life.
If you’ve ever been to Venice then chances are you may have visited her wonderful museum there. The walls within house one of the finest collections of Modern Art to be found in any place. She collected Magrittes, Miros, Picassos, Ernsts, and so on and so on. The majority of her collecting took place in an eight year window during and shortly after WWII. She stayed in Paris to last possible minute before the Nazis arrived to ensure her artwork made it out safely along with procuring some last minute deals in the process.
Vreeland’s documentary does a wonderful job showcasing her collection and painting the backdrop of her life but in the end I felt no closer to really understanding the woman. A few talking heads like Marina Abramovic and even Robert DeNiro (she collected his parent’s paintings) weigh in on her, but everything veers towards her reputation rather than her true self. Even an audio interview with Peggy that runs throughout the film doesn’t really give you any insight into her motivations and place in history especially pertaining to some very rich topics.
Peggy Guggenheim was in the right place at the right time and clever enough to know it. She had very forward attitudes towards art and sex, which I believe can be very threatening to some. Many tried to marginalize her but she persevered through it all. The film gives us a brief glimpse into what it was like to have been there at the time surrounded by some of the biggest names in history through the eyes of someone who lived it, and that is worth the price of admission.
These were the 3 most viewed posts on holditnow in 2015.
Birdman: “a thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) slowly unravels like a sweater caught on a nail. Birdman unspools relentlessly through a continuous maze of backstage corridors and claustrophobic dressing rooms of a Broadway theatre that could easily stand in for the mythological labyrinth of Minos. Michael Keaton is Riggan Thomas, who is Birdman; who may have or may not have been Icarus. Birdman reads like a Fable. Birdman felt more like a performance than a movie. While watching Birdman, I didn’t want it to end, right up until it did.
It’s the classic boy meets girl story. Married by a curator/collector in 1927 resulting in a relationship cemented by sentimentalism; Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy 1770 and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie 1794 have been eternally entwined in the collective consciousness of the wigs and keys crowd since the early twentieth century. They are the subjects of endless reproductions, porcelain figurines, commemorative plates and all manner of kitsch. Two youths betrothed to one another by the place they shared on a museum wall. The girl in pink and the boy in blue; how perfect is that?
Van Gogh and Picasso are two of the most recognizable names on the planet. Countless books and millions of words have been devoted to their lives and work. Their art changed the way people see the world around them. This fact is no small feet and these men were 2 in 107,602,707,791. There weren’t billions of people waiting in line for Picasso Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris in Toronto or for Van Gogh: Up Close in Ottawa but at times it felt like there was. The big names bring the big crowds. For me this is a mixed blessing. I love the fact that people are going en masse to experience art and taking the time to truly look at things but it can make viewing the art troublesome. This summer has been a spoils of riches for the art going public, with two blockbuster shows just four hours away from one another. So, this past week I made my pilgrimage to spend time with two of the icons of western art.
Happy New Year and see you in 2016.