Sunday, February 28, 2010

210 Gallery: One More Week

If you didn't make it over to see my current show at 210 gallery, boy, do I have great news for you! It's going to stay up until next weekend: regular hours will be Friday, 3/5, and Saturday, 3/6, or by appointment.

I'm planning to gallery-sit all day Saturday, so come join me for a glass of wine! Click here for directions and click here for a revised invitation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 50

Bridget Riley, Pause, 1964. Emulsion on board, 46" x 46."

Bridget Riley, Deny II, 1967. Emulsion on canvas, 86" x 86."

I spent some time thinking about who and what I would like cover in the 50th installment of "Paintings I Like." I've never really had a master plan for the series in terms of artists or periods, I've always just shown things that I was thinking about, or had seen recently, or both.

As I looked down the long list of posts, though, I realized that there are quite a few artists who are conspicuously missing; none more glaringly so than Bridget Riley and Gerhard Richter, both of whom I consider to be among the greatest living painters.

In the end I chose Bridget because she's such a huge influence on me, specifically on the way that I articulate pictorial space. In the '60's, her conception of an illusionistic space occupied by flattened, abstract motifs was very much at odds with modernist abstraction, which was moving toward a greater emphasis on two-dimensionality. The fact that her work was absorbed so quickly into the language of pop culture gave her detractors even more ammunition against her.

As time, passed, however, her reputation was resurrected and she's finally receiving some long overdue respect. Her retrospective at the Dia Art Foundation in NYC in 2000 was literally breathtaking, I remember getting butterflies.

I called one of my professors at the time to ask if he had seen the show yet. He had and I asked him what he thought. He said, "It was like being in church." I couldn't have put it any better myself.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Coats of Paint

Painter/writer/blogger Sharon Butler has picked up painter/writer Stephen Maine's review of my current exhibition at 210 gallery on Two Coats of Paint, her excellent blog. She's added a little commentary of her own about the emotional content of color, and I couldn't agree more. I've always felt that geometric abstraction generally got a bad rap about being cold and distant - you often simply have to look a little harder.

Thanks, Sharon, and thanks again, Stephen!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Paul on

Special thanks to writer/artist/curator Stephen Maine and editor David Cohen for a nice review of my show at 210 Gallery.

Obviously, I enjoy favorable reviews, but I really enjoy when someone truly gets it. Here's my favorite line from the review:

"Trained at RISD and Hunter College, Corio maintains close ties to the latter institution’s “color painters” and brings a hard-earned sense of humor and mischief to Josef Albers-derived abstraction rooted in the phenomenology of optical sensation, a branch of contemporary art not exactly known for big laughs."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 Updated

The Sons of Birdstone, 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 88" x 72"

I just updated with the rest of my output for 2009, including three of the larger pictures in my current show at 210 Gallery. Make sure to click "refresh" on your browser to see the new paintings.

I'd also like to take a minute and give a No Hassle plug to my photographer. I've worked with Steve Bates on and off for years, and during his brief retirement form art documentation, I was at a loss for good pics of my work. He's reasonably priced, very reliable and a nice guy - and I hasten to add that I'm not getting any discounts or freebies for saying this.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chomsky on Zinn

Noam Chomsky on Howard Zinn, from the Time/CNN website:

Historian Howard Zinn's remarkable work, including his most famous book, A People's History of the United States, is summarized best in his own words. His primary concern, he once explained, was "the countless small actions of unknown people" that lie at the roots of the great moments of history--a record that would be profoundly misleading, and seriously disempowering, if torn from such roots. Howard, who died Jan. 27 at 87, was devoted to the empowerment of these unknowns.

That was true from the days when, while teaching in the 1950s and '60s at Atlanta's historically black Spelman College, he participated in the early, dangerous days of the civil rights movement--and lost his job as a reward.

Wherever there was a struggle for peace and justice, Howard was on the front lines: inspiring in his integrity, engagement, eloquence and humor, in his dedication to nonviolence and in his sheer decency. He changed the conscience of a generation. It's hard to imagine how many young people's lives were touched by his work and his life. Both leave a permanent stamp on how history is understood and the conception of how a decent and honorable life should be lived.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 49

Veronese, The Dream of Saint Helena, ca. 1570. Oil on canvas, 78" x 46."

In Paintings I Like pt. 45, I pointed out just how much mileage Veronese could get out of a deceptively simple pictorial device; in the case of the Alexander picture in that particular post, it was two interlocking waves of value, dark on the bottom, light on top.

In the Dream of Saint Helena, He harnesses two of picture-making's most basic truisms to great effect. Horizontals and verticals give a picture stability and sturdiness; the refer to both architecture and the picture's own framing edges. Diagonals suggest motion, and make pictures feel alive and dynamic.

Veronese gets the full benefit of both with the reversed "L" of window, and the flying "X" of the cross. The two separate motifs are reflected in and connected by Helena: her straight back and left leg mimic the architecture, and her right leg, right arm, and neck pick up on the diagonals of the cross.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Hassle at the Podcastle

The nice folks at Brooklyn Art Alternative put up a podcast this week discussing my show at 210 Gallery. It's quite strange to listen to people talking about your work without you - happily, they got it. The style is informal, but their observations are sharp.

Paintings I Like, pt. 48

Hans Holbein the Younger, "The Ambassadors," 1533. Oil on wood, 81" x 82"

Edouard Manet, "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere," 1882. Oil on canvas, 40" x 51."

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Team No Hassle at the Castle recently took an action-packed trip to Paris and London, looking at art every single day. I'd seen the Parisian collections before, but it was my very first visit to the Mecca of fish and chips, and I must confess that I just didn't know so many paintings from art history 101 texts have their permanent address in London. This was made all the more surprising by the fact that so few of the important pictures were made by British artists - after Turner, the quality and notoriety tends to drop off quite a bit. The depth of the collections gives you a sense of just how much money and power England had when they took their turn running the world.

Two pictures that I've always wanted to stand in front of are in London: Manet's "A Bar at the Folies Bergere" is at the Courtauld Collection, and "The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein the Younger is at the National Gallery. There were both marvellous, fabulous, wonderful, and so on, and I couldn't possibly skip them in Paintings I Like (FYI: my rule for the "Paintings I Like" series of posts is that I will only write about paintings I've seen in person, not solely in reproduction).

But what is there left to say? These paintings along with Las Meninas, Luncheon in the Grass, The Mona Lisa, and the Arnolfini Portrait have already had thousands of gallons of ink spilled over their every detail and mystery.

After thinking about what my angle would be, I decided that I would contrast the vastly different ways that Holbein and Manet painted stuff, or more specifically the surfaces of stuff. I'm not going to talk about the iconography of the stuff, I'm not going to say much about the skull in the Holbein, and I'm going to essentially skip the skewed perspective in the Manet along with the shadowy figure in the mirror.

Looking at the pictures in this way says a lot about how painters of different eras depicted the physical world and what devices they took to be best suited to naturalism in their particular moment in time. The following is from Rudolph Arnheim's "Art and Visual Perception:"

"Boccaccio tells in the Decamerone that the painter Giotto 'was a genius of such excellence that there was no thing of nature... that he did not depict with the pencil or the pen or the brush in a manner so similar to the object that it seemed to be the thing itself rather than merely resembling it; so much so that many times the visual sense of men was misled by the things he made, believing to be true what was only painted.' The highly stylized pictures of Giotto could have hardly deceived his contemporaries if they had judged lifelikeness by direct comparison with reality. Compared with the work of his immediate predecessors, however, Giotto's rendering of expressive gestures, depth, volume, and scenery could indeed be considered very lifelike, and it was this deviation from the prevailing norm level of pictorial representation that produced the astonishing effect on Giotto's contemporaries."

In spite of the different eras and modes of representation, both the Holbein and the Manet have a very similar spatial arrangement: shallow and frontal, they have the feeling of stage sets. The curtain in the Holbein is an especially strong reference to theatrical staging, but the mirror in the Manet which reflects people watching a show also emphasizes theatricality, and flattens the space even as it depicts people and things at a relatively large distance.

The stars of the two shows are the men in the Holbein and the barmaid in the Manet (with the mystery man acting as co-star, more so perhaps in the literature about the picture than in the picture itself). But the supporting cast in both paintings is a large catalog of surfaces - In the Holbein: fur, wood, marble, bone, skin, gold, hair, paper; in the Manet: marble, velvet, glass, gold, foil, orange peels, flower petals, organza, skin, hair, paper, wood.

High renaissance painting concerned itself largely with naturalism, and painters from different regions achieved it in different ways; the Florentines were intoxicated by perspective and the Venetians gravitated to the depiction of light and atmosphere, but the northern renaissance painters used the lushness of oil paint to depict things with obsessive accuracy; not just in terms of shape and proportion, but with a special emphasis on surface. The Holbein must be counted as the apotheosis of this approach. The marble is hard and somewhat reflective, but not so much so as to be mistaken for glass. The wood is hard, but not quite as hard, and throws off less reflection. The satin is satiny, the furs are unbelievably furry, and there are several grades of sheen in between, from shiny to matte, on the various textiles in the painting. And the skin, what DeKooning said that oil paint was made to paint, looks like skin. Brushstrokes are meticulously suppressed.

This last point is where Manet's catalog of surfaces and Holbein's diverge drastically. Holbein was trying hard to play the role of the yet to be invented camera, recording and cataloging reality with the greatest possible faithfulness. Manet actually lived in the era of the camera, and his depictions of the various surfaces took advantage of how the eye, as opposed to the camera's lens, records reality. A close inspection of the Manet shows that the glass, the foil, the marble, the semi-transparent ruffle on the girl's neckline and cuffs, the orange peels, and all the other surfaces in the pictures are made up of rough scumbles - no attempt is made to hide materiality, and in the near view these things just look like hastily applied paint.

But at the optimal viewing distance, these things all magically transform in to the varied surfaces listed above, all in their way as convincing as those in the Holbein. How can this be?

I would like to lay claim to the following explanation, but an excellent art history professor of mine from grad school pointed this out to me in relation to a particular Velazquez: When you stand at a comfortable viewing distance from a given picture, there are actually two different measurements at play; one actual, one optical. The actual distance is the one between your eyes and the surface of the picture. In the case of the Manet, this was, if memory serves, about six or seven feet. Then there is the fictitious distance between the picture plane and figures and objects in the painting. If you imagine that the surface of the Manet is not a painting, but a real window looking into the Bar at the Folies Bergere, then girl and the things on the bar would have probably been anywhere from six to ten feet back from the surface of the window. This would make the total distance between you and the girl, the glass, the foil, etc. anywhere from 12 to 17 feet. At that distance, your eye cannot record detail as well as a camera or Hans Holbein - the seemingly hasty, sketchy approach is a lot more like what the eye would actually record. By using this loophole, Manet's realism rivals Holbein's with an incredible economy of means.

Different eras call for different approaches to the same issues. One of the many things that I love about painting is the huge variety of methods there are to skin the proverbial cat.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 47

George Stubbs, Whistlejacket, 1762. Oil on canvas, 115" x 97."

I tend to evaluate paintings based on what I see - I essentially never make judgements based on subject matter. So there I was at the National Gallery standing in front of this large canvas by a somewhat obscure 18th century painter of animals, trying hard to sort of my muddled feelings. Was it a good picture, or did I like it because it's a careful life size rendering of a champion race horse?

First a little history: George Stubbs was born in Liverpool in 1724. In his late teens he was briefly apprenticed to a painter in Lancashire, but found the work tedious, and had no more formal training afterward. By the 1760's, he was one of the leading horse painters (!?) in England.

Whistlejacket was owned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, and his most famous win was in the 1759 2000 Guineas, the first leg of the English Triple Crown. The Marquess Commissioned Stubbs to paint a life-size portrait in the very early 1760's.

On to the painting: The ground is flat and I mean flat - despite the passing resemblance to an earth-toned, Velasquez type of ground, it has little space, little atmosphere. The stubborn flatness is only briefly hollowed out by the two short cast shadows under the rear hooves.

And the cropping is odd. Whistlejacket appears to be lowering his tail in order for it to fit into the picture; it falls to a nearly perfect vertical, and shows no motion despite the fact that the horse is rearing. And although he's somewhat crammed in by the left-hand framing edge, he has plenty of room over his head - the enormous expanse of negative space over his back, neck, and head goes on for quite a while and threatens to make the deadly change from negative space to blank space (but doesn't).

The real star of the show is the rendering of the horse's coat. That particular satin sheen of a healthy horse is on display in all its glory, painted with great skill. And clearly, this is what either Stubbs or the Marquess wanted us to see, because there's no much else in the picture to look at.

So is it a good picture? Well, I like it quite a lot, but if it was a painting of a dog, hamster, or giraffe, I bet I wouldn't have spent much time in front of it to see if there was anything to like. And if that sounds like a dodge, it is, but it's still my final word on the matter.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 46

Veronese, The Wedding at Cana, 1563. Oil on canvas, 262" x 390."

At 708 sq. ft., this painting is vastly larger than most NYC apartments: