holditnow

Tag: painting

Andy Warhol: Revisited

3

I went to go see Warhol:Revisited on August 6th. I remember the date, because that is in fact Andy Warhol‘s birthday. I didn’t do this deliberately, it was just a happy accident. Nobody in the gallery that day was making much of a fuss about it. I found this glaring omission a little odd considering the only artist Revolver Gallery collects is Mr. Warhol. Maybe I missed it, but you would think that the anniversary of the birth of the sole reason your gallery exists would warrant a little recognition. If anything, a potential marketing opportunity was missed, and the one thing that becomes abundantly apparent on visiting Warhol: Revisited is that: it is nothing but one giant marketing opportunity. The exhibit feels more like a vanity project for a single minded collector than a true reflection of one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. This is not a survey of an artist’s work, rather a survey of another person’s buying habits.

4

Phrases like ‘Museum-Style‘ exhibition get thrown about like advertising slogans; they ring as true as phrases like “part of a nutritious breakfast.” It begs the questions: if this is such an important exhibition why isn’t it in a proper museum and why the hard sell? During a TV interview; when asked about their decision to hold the exhibition in a former retail store in the heart of Yorkville, the organizers said” It’s what Andy would have wanted.” This statement makes my skin crawl, firstly the way they framed it: it equates art with commerce and secondly don’t speak for the dead, especially when the rationale caters to your self-serving agenda rather than a dead person’s wishes. The biggest misconception about Andy Warhol is that he was only concerned with surface and the business of art and this show kind of reinforces this notion. Don’t get me wrong, that was definitely part of his approach but I don’t think that it is the core of his work. Andy was an endless innovator who was very serious about being taken seriously. Maybe a better title would be Andy Warhol: Misrepresented.

1

The core of the problem is that this exhibition reflects one person’s collection and that this collection reflects the availability of Warhol work on the art market. It feels as though the work was bought solely for the name rather than the artwork attached to it. Frankly some of this stuff should never have left the studio and others are just rehashes of some of his most iconic images. There are a handful of nice pieces that demonstrate how good he really was, but the number of weaker pieces seems to dilute their impact. Don’t get me wrong, would I love to own a real Warhol? You know I would, but I feel you should love the work more than the name attached to it. (I’d take one those cows in a heartbeat though!)

2

All my ranting and raving aside, none of what I’m saying will prevent this show (already in its third month) from being a major success. While I was there it was packed: filled with some art lovers, some curious passers-by and a crazy amount of people wanting a selfie with a Marilyn or a Soup Can. Andy Warhol is an important artist and most of what he did deserves some serious contemplation but if you want to get to know the real Andy, take a trip to Andy’s hometown of Pittsburgh and visit the Andy Warhol Museum; ‘it’s what Andy would have wanted.”

Blue Crush

Blue Crush 2015

Blue Crush 2015

More work for the show in August with my father. Info can be found here.

The Pleasure Seekers

The Pleasure Seekers

The Pleasure Seekers  Digital Image 2015

Getting ready for a show in August.

W.T.G.A.: Michelangelo Vs Cézanne

michelangelo vs cezanneWhen the young Michelangelo approached his father with the news that he was planning on becoming an artist he was greeted with fists; his father was going to beat this preposterous notion out of him. Michelangelo took some time to reflect and then returned with the news that not only was he going to be an artist, but a sculptor no less. This time his uncle had the job of knocking some sense into the wayward youth. Michelangelo picked himself up, licked his wounds and went on to become one of the greatest artists of all time. Paul Cézanne didn’t fare much better than Michelangelo when it came to the patriarch of the family. Cézanne‘s father controlled the purse strings and his son with them. When Paul was implored to come to Paris by his childhood friend Émile Zola to experience the cultural revolution that was taking place, he was rebuffed three times by his father who refused to fund such frivolous endeavors. Cézanne eventually made it to the city of lights and found a surrogate father-figure in one of the founding members of Impressionism: Camille Pissaro. Cézanne would later go on and dismiss Impressionism as “silly” but Pissaro was instrumental in lifting Cézanne’s painting out the dark muck of his early work and setting him on the course to becoming the ‘father of modern art’. Both Michelangelo and Cézanne were strongly discouraged in pursuing a life in art, but both persevered and went on to make art history. Cézanne flattened space and changed painting forever and Michelangelo brought stone to life with a skill that hasn’t really been challenged in half a millennium, but who is the greater artist?

Madonna of the Stairs 1491

Madonna of the Stairs 1491

Michelangelo’s genius was evident from very early on. At the mere age of 16 he completed Madonna of the Stairs and never looked back. Many of the hallmarks of his later work are already present: dynamic figuration, the uncanny ability of transforming stone into flesh, the pursuit of ‘ the beautiful’ and his knack for creating a narrative that infuses spirituality with an underlining sense of humanity. Michelangelo’s figures seemingly interact with one another revealing histories and relationships that are easily relate-able. We’re initially drawn in by his skill but remain for his insight.

Girl at the Piano 1868

Girl at the Piano 1868

Cézanne‘s genius on the other hand took a while to develop. His early works were slathered with paint done in a very heavy handed manner with an extremely dark palette. Early in his career, he applied to have his work shown at the Paris Salon but was rejected. He was later publicly ridiculed by a Parisian newspaper of the time for what they perceived to be his lack of skill. This wouldn’t be the last time the public mocked and misunderstood his work. With some advise and guidance from Pissaro he slowly introduced brighter colours and the landscape into his paintings. He eventually showed with the Impressionists but even there he didn’t feel like he fit in. Over the course of his life Cézanne withdrew more and more from society preferring solitariness to interacting with other people: including his family. Near the end of his life a retrospective of his work was staged in Paris and hailed as a triumph. Cézanne viewed this event as too little too late, and didn’t bother showing up for the exhibition. Cézanne was a difficult man who valued art over all else.

Tomb of Lorenzo de Medici 1520-1534

Tomb of Lorenzo de Medici 1520-1534

Michelangelo was also a notoriously difficult individual. His artistic vision had him dueling with Popes and head’s of states alike. He had one way of doing things – his way. Sometimes his ambition outweighed what was physically possible. His original plan for the Medici chapel was to include 6 tombs. Only two were completed and he personally didn’t see to their installation. Michelangelo‘s skills were in constant demand so his time was never his own. His patrons were always asking him to perform feats that were beyond his experience. They assumed that because he was such a gifted sculptor he could naturally paint or design architecture. Michelangelo would rage and refuse but eventually concede to their wishes and then  go on to create something extraordinary.

Apples, Peaches, Pears and Grapes 1879-80

Apples, Peaches, Pears and Grapes 1879-80

Extraordinary would also be the word to describe Cézanne‘s still-lifes. As great as his Card Players, landscapes and to a lesser degree his bathers and portraits are; it’s his still-lifes that steal the show. What at first appear to be loose spontaneous flourishes are actually meticulous set pieces that in some cases took months to execute. Fruit would notoriously rot in place while Cézanne slowly brought them back to life with exquisite colour and confident brushstrokes. Long gone are the thick swabs of paint, sometimes he would even leave areas untouched allowing the bare canvas to show through. He played with perspective tilting objects towards the viewer so they could get a better look. Those innovations opened up the flood gates of experimentation and artistic freedom for every artist that came after him. Without Cézanne we wouldn’t have Picasso.

detail of Sistine Chapel 1508-1512

detail of Sistine Chapel 1508-1512

But how can bowls of fruit compete with the Sistine Chapel? Both demonstrate artist as innovator. Both redefined working methods and creative solutions. Cézanne had come so far from his early paintings and his growth as an artist is astonishing. To stand in front of a Cézanne still-life is not unlike a religious experience, but Michelangelo‘s genius presented itself early and never faltered. I believe Cézanne himself would concede to the Renaissance man. Early in his career, during his first trip to Paris; Cézanne would visit the Louvre on a daily basis where he would sketch from the collection. He was enamored with Delacroix Courbet and unsurprisingly Michelangelo.

Winner: Michelangelo

Related: Michelangelo vs Matisse

Cezanne vs Kandinsky

Who’s the greatest artist?

Primavera

Primavera 2015

Primavera 2015

Autunno

Autunno 2015

Autunno 2015

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now is the Time at the AGO

jmb

Oh the eighties, what a decade; a decade of excess – “Everything counts in large amounts.” From the hair to the shoulder pads to the laser discs, everything was bigger and bolder in the eighties and the art market was no exception. The stock market was booming, Japanese investors fell in love with everything Impressionism and art became a status symbol along with an appealing place to invest your money. In the seventies the highest price paid for a piece of art at auction was 5.5 million for a Velasquez. The eighties would shatter that record repeatedly with paintings going for 10 times that amount. Van Gogh‘s Irises was the big winner but everyone benefited from the trickle down effect. Contemporary art of the time reaped the most rewards. If you can’t afford a real Van Gogh, how about a Van Gogh in waiting. Nobody wants to be the one who passed on overlooked genius. Collectors and dealers were ravenous for the next big thing and many artists of the eighties both cashed in and were cashed out because of it.

Number 4  1981

Number 4 1981

This was the climate when a 20 year old Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) took the art world by storm, burned bright, started to fade and then was dead only 7 years later. 27 years after his death, The Art Gallery of Ontario is staging the first major retrospective of his work in Canada entitled: Now is the Time. They have assembled an impressive collection of roughly 85 works consisting of both paintings and drawings spanning his entire career. Unfortunately his entire career was a mere 8 years long, cut short by a drug overdose. It begs the question – what could have been? He is now and forever: a young talent never allowed to fully develop as an artist, eternally suspended in a decade of contradictions.

A panel of Experts 1982

A Panel of Experts 1982

The major contradiction that can be observed about the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat is that it can be misconstrued as simplistic, childlike or poorly executed by the casual observer; when in fact he is in complete control, a savvy and clever draftsman who orchestrates what he decides to put down or omit. (He would intentionally cross words out to draw more attention to them.) Basquiat is a self-taught artist whose compositions are constructions comprising of expressionistic flourishes of paint, wordplay, sketchbook drawings and iconography. They are all done with a sense of urgency and an almost disregard for themselves that make them crackle with energy. Now is the Time does a wonderful job of channeling that energy.

Quality 1983

Quality 1983

Part of that crackle I believe comes from Basquiat’s roots as a street artist. He started on the streets of New York as a teenager spray painting social commentary on the sides of buildings under the name SAMO. Graffiti by its nature is a speedy process that translates in his technique and onto his canvases.  The early eighties saw the first big boom for the gallery system to adopt street artists with Jean-Michel and Keith Haring being the standouts. As much as Basquiat was initially brought in as a street artist, his influences also included Picasso, Jean Dubuffet and the Art Brut movement along with mark makers like Cy Twombly. His art is steeped in art history along with what was going on in New York at the time. Throughout his career he employed a cut and paste sampling approach to composition not unlike early hip-hop records of the time.

Horn Players 1983

Horn Players 1983

Basquiat was heavily influenced by music – especially jazz. He embraced it for both its improvisational qualities as well as where it fits into the story of black history. Music and professional sports were two avenues afforded to young black men to improve their stations in the racially biased society of the mid 20th century. These are motifs he returns to again and again throughout his career and Now is the Time (which is a Charlie Parker reference) does a wonderful job of highlighting this through the inclusion of many works and accompanying commentary. Race and racism also factor into the work of Jean-Michel. Being among only a handful of recognized black visual artists at the time, he was in many ways a lone voice using his art to draw attention to the inequalities inherit in the system.

Black Soap 1981

Black Soap 1981

When it comes to assessing the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. No one piece leaves me gob-smacked but seeing so many works together provides the proper breath and scope of what his contribution was. Over the course of his brief career he created 1000 paintings and 2000 drawings, not all with the same results. In some cases his critical filter may have been impaired by the drugs along with the huge market demand that he constantly repeat himself and not allowed to fully develop made the work suffer. One of his dealers at the time notoriously would sell his works as the more desirable “early Basquiats” (1981-1984) as opposed to the “late Basquiats” (1985-) while he was still alive. Some feel that he may have been exploited by an art world that only saw dollar signs.

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat Win $1 000 000 1984

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat Win $1000000 1984

An artist that was no stranger to dollar signs was Andy Warhol. In the mid eighties the two artists struck up an unlikely friendship and collaborative practice. Critics accused Andy of using Basquiat by riding on his popularity and getting his name back in the headlines.  Its obvious by looking at their 4 collaborations in the show that the two are having fun and their relationship was based more on friendship than business. Of the many works they did together the juxtapositions are kind of interesting but mostly fail to live up to either of their solo work.

Now is the Time does a nice job of surveying the work of an artist who was gone way too quick. Make sure to make your way to the Art Gallery of Ontario to feel that crackle, if only for a brief moment.

Feb 7- May 10

 

The Genie Sea: Digital Painting

The Genie Sea 2015

The Genie Sea  2015

Still working away. I updated my website with some of the new work. You can find it here.

High Wire Expectations

High Wire Expectations Digital image 2014

High Wire Expectations        Digital image 2014

Michelangelo and Alex Colville at the AGO

Michelangelo Studies for the head of Leda 1630

Michelangelo Studies for the head of Leda 1530

The work of Michelangelo doesn’t like to get out much. There are a few exceptions: France won the lottery  with the acquisition of his Slaves that now reside at the Louvre and even The National Gallery in London has a few unfinished paintings, but the majority of his work hasn’t left Italy. Its keepers tend to keep it close to home. There are no major works of his in North America, even the great Met in New York only has a scant few sketches. So I have to admit I got a little excited when I heard that the Art Gallery of Ontario was going to have a show of his drawings; the Casa Buornarroti in Florence had graciously lent the people of Toronto 29 of their drawings from Michelangelo’s personal holdings.

Michelangelo Nude from the Back 1505

Michelangelo Nude from the Back 1505

The curators of the exhibition had the misguided task of taking a little and trying to turn it into a lot. The mistake they made was: they had a lot and they turned it in to a little. They tried to fill the plate by adding artworks that represented his influence on other artists specifically the work of Auguste Rodin. No disrespect to the Frenchman but, when Michelangelo’s name is on the marquee, nothing else matters. The exhibit needed to focus, be more intimate and let the drawings speak for themselves. Michelangelo famously took a museum’s worth of drawings and set them ablaze near the end of his life, so to say they are rare is an understatement and to have them on our doorstep is a privilege. Having said all that- Studies for the Head of Leda is worth the trip alone.

Seven Crows 1980

Alex Colville Seven Crows 1980

Along with Michelangelo, the AGO has a major retrospective of one of Canada’s most revered artists Alex Colville (1920-2013) on at the moment. All the greatest hits are here and it’s a must see. Colville is a master of atmosphere; he can take the mundane and turn it into mystery and intrigue. Sometimes his figures float in their backgrounds casting no shadows like ghosts, and sometimes they stare out of the picture plane directly confronting the viewer.  He routinely and deliberately obscures the focal point by turning the protagonist away from us or putting something directly in front them. He has a way of capturing the exact moment between banality and conflict with the precision of a master storyteller.

Soldier and Girl at Station  1953

Soldier and Girl at Station 1953

Alex Colville started his artistic career as an artist for the Canadian Armed Forces. He used his brush to document the reality of war, sometimes with horrifying affect. He had the devastating job of chronicling the nightmare that was Auschwitz.  After the war he returned to Canada and became an instructor at Mount Allison University in Nova Scotia. He taught into the 1960’s and then focused his full attention to painting for the remainder of his years.

Dog and Priest 1978

Dog and Priest 1978

I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years back. I was taking a group of school children to see an exhibition of his at the Art Gallery of London in London Ontario. We had arrived early and we were making our way through the show. We turned the corner and found a lone solitary man sitting in one of the galleries. I couldn’t believe my eyes: it was Alex Colville. He was gracious enough to talk to us and I shook his hand. One of the students asked him if that was his dog in one of the paintings and he smiled and said “Yes it was.” Alex Colville had an intimate relationship with everything in his works. His wife figures prominently, along with his children, pets and surroundings.

Skater 1964

Skater 1964

The survey of his work is tremendous, but just like the Michelangelo show the curators felt the need to add a little more: this time in the guise of pop culture references to his work. They were trying to make the weak argument that somehow Colville’s work influenced scenes from films by Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. Colville’s paintings do in fact appear in The Shining, but the other two are a stretch at best. For a show this strong, it was an unneeded add on.

Couple on Beach 1957

Couple on Beach 1957

Dear AGO, you’re putting together a great schedule and the number of wonderful shows in recent years has been inspiring, but for the future: could you drop the up-sell and just let the work speak for itself.