Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Paul on Geoform


I'm very happy to have been invited to participate in Julie Karabenick's online curatorial project, Geoform. My page can be found here.

It was also occasion for me to do something new: write an artist's statement. Regular readers of No Hassle at the Castle know that I write about art quite a bit, but rarely my own - I allow people to simply infer how my opinions affect my studio practice.

So here's the statement I wrote for Geoform in it's entirety (which, of course, can also be read on my Geoform page). It's very nuts and bolts and reasonably brief:

My work is principally about color; specifically, the use of carefully mixed sequences of color that create the illusion of atmospheric space and spreading light. I use geometric figuration almost exclusively, although more recently I've been experimenting with the use of lettering. The lettering, however, is made from the same geometric building blocks as the abstract pictures.

Color wants very much to be a descriptive property of an object as opposed to an entity unto itself - red will quickly become a modifier of an apple or a fire truck rather than maintain an identity of its own. This phenomenon extends to many strains of abstract painting as well; energetic gestures and overtly biomorphic abstract forms tend to make color jump in to the back seat almost as efficiently as representation. Geometric forms are sufficiently abstract to allow color to function as the primary aspect in a picture.

I don't have a strong interest in purity as it relates to abstract painting, which was the motivating factor of many of the early exponents of geometric abstraction. Where my interest does link up with this mode of thought, however, is in the issue of scale. I like the forms in my pictures to be an indeterminate scale. A circle is not non-referential in the autonomous, modernist sense - quite the opposite, it has so many references of so many different sizes (the head of a pin, Jupiter, etc.) that it can't be pinned to any one.

The space I'm painting is quite plainly illusionistic, but the standard identifiers of scale are missing. My pictures then, can be read as literal in size, or a blow-up of something small, or a reduction of something huge. This is how I came to incorporate lettering; it was the only figuration I could think of besides geometry that didn't suggest a specific size and scale.

The other key component to my work is suppression of hand and surface, again, in the interest of presenting color as the dominant aspect. Gestures, besides courting the type of organic representations that relegate color to a secondary role, also tend to function as a kind of self-portrait, sort of like signing one's autograph all over a picture. Ideally, I want the viewer to have a strong, and hopefully emotional engagement with my picture, and not with me using the picture as a kind of proxy or stand-in.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 59

Edgar Degas, "The Fallen Jockey," 1896-98. Oil on canvas, 71" x 59."

In this picture Degas is making full use of the flattened, cut-and-paste space that his good friend Manet had mined some 30 years earlier. It certainly doesn't seem especially radical now, but placing things in the rectangle according to where one wanted them, and ignoring the spatial and perspectival inconsistencies that it created was still an eyebrow-raiser at the end of the 19th century.

And no, I'm not putting this picture up strictly for its horse racing content. As a matter of fact, when I went searching around the net for the picture's exact size, I found some of the most nonsensical analyses of the subject matter; that the horse represents the triumph of death and blah, blah, blah. The subject matter is quite secondary here - this picture is an arrangement of shapes and colors; representation teetering on the brink of abstraction which would arrive in about ten years.

Take a good look at the family resemblance between the Degas and this Ellsworth Kelly, painted about 65 years later:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ornette Coleman Sextet, Germany, 1978 (pt. 1 of 3)



If you click the "Watch on Youtube" link in the lower right of the video, then scroll down and read the comments, you'll see that Ornette still has the ability to generate controversy, more than fifty years after his first records as a leader. The world is a richer place for his being in it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 58

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598-99. Oil on canvas, 57" x 77."

I recently went out with a few of my artist cronies, and we drank and talked and drank. At the tail end of the beery night, at a bar called Puffy's, we all came to a general agreement that each of us would die some day. This was, of course, a blow. There was also broad agreement that this is wherefrom art gains its special significance.

Great art acknowledges our inescapable fate with sharp-focus lucidity, but then softens the edges with a heightened sense of the radiance of the moment. This, I believe, is what Aquinas was referring to with his conception of the third component of beauty, claritas. All of the very best art is imbued with claritas.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Joyce on Aquinas on Aesthetics


I recently read James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" for the first time (which I'm a little embarrassed to admit). There's a beautiful passage toward the end where Stephen Dedalus explains his interpretation of Thomas Aquinas' aesthetics to an inquisitive but slightly less bright schoolmate.

Besides its poetic content, it's a gorgeous glimpse of Joyce squaring his own highly modern approach with his Catholic background. Much of Aquinas' medieval and theological view of the aesthetic can be easily and somewhat surprisingly reconciled with the budding formalist aesthetics of key members of the Bloomsbury group - I'm thinking specifically of Roger Fry and Clive Bell. These writers coincided with Joyce in terms of time, aesthetic temperament, and geography, with the obvious asterisk that the Bloomsbury writers were British and Joyce was quintessentially Irish.

Aquinas had three criteria for the aesthetic: Integritas, consonantia, and claritas. The first two are can be translated from the Latin without much ado as wholeness and harmony, but claritas can be interpreted as the ordinary "clarity," or the more metaphysical and theological "radiance." Joyce opts for the latter, but not exactly as one would expect. For those interested in the subject, Umberto Eco wrote a terrific little book about it: "The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas" (Harvard University Press, 1988). The entire passage in "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is on pages 204-215 of the Penguin paperback edition (the one with the blue cover), and here is a climactic excerpt:

-To finish what I as saying about beauty, said Stephen, the most satisfying relations of the sensible must therefore correspond to the necessary phases of artistic apprehension. Find these and you find the qualities of universal beauty. Aquinas says: ad pulcritudinem tria requiruntur, integritas, consonantia, claritas. I translate it so: Three things are needed for beauty, wholeness, harmony, and radiance. Do these correspond to the phases of apprehension? Are you following?

-Of course, I am, said Lynch. If you think I have an excrementitious intelligence run after Donovan and ask him to listen to you.

-Look at that basket, he said.

-I see it, said Lynch.

-In order to see that basket, said Stephen, your mind first of all separate the basket from the rest of the visible universe which is not the basket. The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An esthetic image is presented to us either in space or time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space. But temporal or spatial, the esthetic image is first luminously apprehended as selfbounded and selfcontained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which is not it. You apprehend it as one thing. You see it as one whole. You apprehend its wholeness. That is integritas.

-Bull's eye! said Lynch, laughing. Go on.

-Then, said Stephen, you pass from point to point, led by its formal lines; you apprehend it as balanced part against balanced part within its limits; you feel the rhythm of its structure. In other words the synthesis of immediate perception is followed by the analysis of apprehension. Having first felt that it is one thing you feel now that it is a thing. You apprehend it as complex, multiple, divisible, separable, made up of its parts, the result of its parts and their sum, harmonious. That is consonantia.

-Bull's eye again! said Lynch wittily. Tell me now what is claritas and you win the cigar.

-The connotation of the word, Stephen said, is rather vague. Aquinas uses a term which seems to be inexact. It baffled me for a long time. It would lead you to believe he had in mind symbolism or idealism, the supreme quality of beauty being a light from some other world, the idea of which the matter is but a shadow, the reality of which it is but a symbol. I thought he might mean the claritas is the artistic discovery and representation of the divine purpose in anything or a force of generalisation which would make the esthetic image a universal one, make it outshine its proper conditions. But that is literary talk. I understand it so. When you have apprehended that basket as one thing and have then analysed it according to its form and apprehended it as a thing you make the only synthesis which is logically and esthetically permissible. You see that it is that thing which it is and no other thing. The radiance of which he speaks is the scholastic quiditas, the whatness of a thing. This supreme quality is felt by the artist when the esthetic image is first conceived in his imagination. The mind in that mysterious instant Shelley likened beautifully to a fading coal. The instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani, using a phrase almost as beautiful as Shelley's, called the enchantment of the heart.

Stephen paused and, though his companion did not speak, felt that his words had called up around them a thoughtenchanted silence.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010