Friday, October 29, 2010

Post Number 500!

This is the 500th post here on No Hassle at the Castle! The first one went up on February 7, 2007. I've been aware that this was coming up for the last couple of weeks, and spent a lot of time thinking about how to observe such a momentous occasion. I decided to celebrate with a poem!

As most of my readers know, I'm insistent that one should write about art using the plainest language available. If I wanted, however, I could go another route - here's a blueprint for a different kind of Hassle:

I could, if I chose,
embellish my prose, with
trenchant ontologies,
Jungian, Freudian, moody psychologies,
cosmic cosmologies,
stubborn tautologies,
jargon without no relief or apologies,
things that go bump in the post-modern night,
poly-syllabic vernacular frights!
Stern deconstruction and wild semiotics,
dense hermeneutics for learned psychotics,
tools to interpret hegemony's goals,
post-meta-narrative rig-a-marole!
Derrida, Wittgenstein, Barthes, and Foucault;
I'd quote them all just to show that I know
that it ain't just a game when you hang an art show.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paintngs I Like, pt. 62

Hans Hofmann, "Memoria in Aeternum," 1962. Oil on canvas. 84" x 72."

As much as I loved the Ab Ex show at MoMA, there were relatively few real revelations - most of the very best paintings in the exhibition were the ones that are usually on display (One and Vir Heroicus Sublimus in particular). They did bring up a few hidden gems from the basement, though, with this Hofmann being my favorite by far.

As I mentioned in P.IL. #61, the Achilles heel of much gestural abstraction is the problem inherent in mixing color on the canvas; any sophmore painting teacher will tell you never to do it, because the result will be mud soup. Here the 82-year-old painter and pedagogue shows that if you know what you're doing, you can throw the rules out the window. The vast majority of this 7' canvas is covered by a mudslide. And it's a beauty!

How can this be so? The mud is flowing upwards, which makes it feel weightless. It veils what appears to be another painting behind it, just peeking out the top, which makes it appear wafer thin, again, cutting down the visual weight. And most importantly the two rectangles of pure color are made all the more vibrant because of their drab environment.

The risk involved in the figuration, of course, is that the rectangles will dangle, like Christmas-tree ornaments, in front of the picture. But Hofmann integrates the two shapes in subtle ways - the red rectangle is almost identical in value to the ground, and the tiny wisps of yellow in the murky ground color create a strong visual tie to the yellow rectangle. Wow!

Mainly, I liked the nerve of this picture. To be able to pull something off like this, at this size, is something that I sincerely hope I can do when I'm in my 80's.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paintngs I Like, pt. 61

Williem de Kooning, "Painting," 1948. Oil and enamel on canvas, 43" x 56."

I just saw the Ab Ex show at MoMa, and the next few installments of "Paintings I Like" will be dedicated that fine exhibition. As I was deciding which picture to start with, I realized that Willem de Kooning has never been the subject of P.IL.

The de Kooning/Harold Rosenberg alliance and the Pollock/Greenberg allaince were sort of like the Beatles and Stones of Ab Ex (or maybe the Beatles and the Beach Boys? Anyway, you get my point). I always came down squarely on the Pollock/Greenberg side - I have real problems with Rosenberg's quasi-mystical prose, and de Kooning's women are Paintings I Don't Like. But de Kooning did lots of other stuff besides those.

De Kooning's European-style beaux-arts training permeated all his work, even the more strictly non-objective paintings like the one shown above. Even though there are no eyes, faces, or body parts, there are voluptuous references to all of them throughout the picture - he could rarely achieve the level of abstraction that Rothko, Newman and Pollock all seemed to have such easy access to. There was a time that I would have counted this as a flaw in the picture; the fact that he couldn't give up the last vestiges of representation (as was the case with many European Modernists, most notably Picasso). But now that making the ultimate abstraction is no longer such a life-or-death proposition, it really doesn't strike me as an issue any more.

Those loopy arabesques create a kind of photo-negative of a fast moving orgy; he continually provides his famous "glimpse" of actions just passed or about to happen. And it might be the sense of swirling motion, but the picture never gets weighed down by all that black - it's as light as a feather, which, as any painter will tell you, is no mean feat. I could (and did) circulate around those curves and drips for a very long time without tiring of the picture.

De Kooning used black and white paint at this point in his career because of poverty, but it suited his gestural style exceptionally well - there was no possibility of making mud-pies, as was the case with many of the woman pictures and some of the early color abstractions. Wet-into-wet black and white paint can only make grey - no worries!

The painter would come to a splendid accord with color late in his career, but by the time he figured it out few people cared. Such are the vicissitudes of a life in art.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Five Uses of a Knife:" Michael Brennan at 210 Gallery

Michael Brennan, "Blue Practice Painting," 2010. Oil on canvas, 20" x 16."

I've heard it said that the vast majority of abstract painting is landscape in disguise, and I've always been inclined to agree with this view. Certainly, Michael Brennan's paintings have traditionally courted a landscape reading, particularly in his use of horizontal formats and long horizontal stripes, as seen in his last exhibition at 210 Gallery in Brooklyn. In his new solo exhibition, however, landscape gives way to a reference seldom seen or felt in "pure" abstraction: portraiture.

The eight paintings in the show are all in vertical orientation, around the size of a head, and are hung at eye level. All but one feature a single central "figure" derived with various strokes of a palette knife in oil paint (hence the show's title). The spectral figures never exactly coalesce into a face or head, but the reference is strong enough that it raises a raftload of tantalizing issues. You simply can't approach them as you would a more traditional abstraction even though the pictures remain non-objective in the strictest sense.

A big reason that abstract painters have resisted portraiture is because it's quite difficult not to address and evaluate a portrait psychologically. A painting whose primary thrust is shape, color, light, and space will quickly find those issues diminished by the presence of a human face - the viewer will inevitably begin to look for emotional content in the eyes, the expression, and the mode of representation, rather than in the paint. But in a kind of deft slight of hand (and knife) Brennan uses the reflexive search for a face as an excuse to roam around the varied textures of paint; sometimes dry and showing the canvas texture, sometimes wet and ribbon-like, sometimes textured like brains or broccoli. There are no eyes or ears in the pictures, but enough things that begin to look a little like them to keep you searching, and the search is a grand tour through endlessly interesting paint applications - a kind of crafty aesthetic bait-and-switch. The relatively small scale of the pictures invites you to step up and get a really good look at all the nuances in that paint.

Brennan's pictures court a paradoxically photographic look - the facture is quite evidently paint, but the impression they give is often that of black-and-white photography, and the tension between those two readings has always been one of my favorite aspects of his work. The strong pull that these pictures display toward portraiture, coupled with the highly muted monochromatic palettes, stark white framing devices, and relatively small scale, call to mind photographic portraits, specifically those associated with cinema; I'm thinking of the black-and-white stills that were traditionally released by film studios in advance of a new release prior to the days of the internet (Cindy Sherman famously found inspiration there as well). The drama and subtle humor that these photographic and cinematic references add provide another layer of interest to these pictures. Not surprisingly, Brennan is something of a cinephile.

In the end, the pictures are visual - paint on canvas. If any of these sly references overcame the paintings and became subject matter, the pictures would suffer. But the tightrope act they walk, making veiled nods to cultural referents outside of the frame adds an irresistible richness. I really liked these pictures.

The show had six "Razor Paintings" and two "Practice Paintings" (these titles were appended by the color used and with a number if there were more than one with the same palette). Five of the "Razor Paintings" fit the description above, with "White Razor Painting 1" being my favorite. The low contrast made the picture just a little more spectral and slippery than the darker incarnations. "White Razor Painting 2" broke out of the portrait mold just a little by presenting a row of marching "X" shapes across the bottom center - an unexpected device that pushed the portrait-like figure back into the space. "Graphite Practice Painting" was much more stark in its dark/light contrast and presented a figure that looked like it might be speedily escaping the frame. "Blue Practice Painting" moved away from the muted palette that specifically courted the resemblance to b/w photography. The "figure," central and resting on the inside bottom of the white frame, was much more self-consciously volumetric than in the other pictures, and created a shape that could be construed as a hand or crown or flame. The electric blue was glowing, fluid and transparent, a real grabber.

210 Gallery is located at 210 24th St. in Brooklyn and is open Friday to Sunday from 12-6 or by appointment. The show stays up until Halloween, which seems oddly appropriate for these pictures. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dennis Bellone at Henri Art Magazine

The latest installment of Henri Art Magazine's new series on artists in their studios features a painter for whom I have a great deal of admiration: Dennis Bellone.

Dennis has made some terrific contributions this blog; scroll down to the "Contributors" section on the lower right to read his essays.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Paintngs I Like, pt. 60

Caravaggio, Young Sick Bacchus, 1593. Oil on canvas, 26" x 21."

In terms of self-portraits in the guise a seriously ill faun/troll/god of wine, this picture pretty much rules the category.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Paul on Henri Art Magazine

Henri Art Magazine is one of the more consistently compelling blogs about art, one that I visit regularly. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Mark asked me to contribute a piece for his series about artists in their studios.

Click here to read my piece, and click here for the Henri home page (which is well worth a bookmark).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010


After a rough start, I managed to eke out a small profit for the day after Haynesfield's gutsy wire-to-wire win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It's so nice to be the beneficiary of an upset instead of the victim! Click here for full charts from today's card at Belmont.

In other horse-racing news, the stellar Zenyatta extended her unbeaten streak to 19-0 by taking down the G1 Ladies Secret Stakes today at Hollywood Park. This hot on the heels of the announcement of Rachel Alexandra's retirement from the races after a disappointing 2010 campaign, and squelching all of the ongoing speculation about if and when Supergirl and Wonder Woman would ever meet on the track.

Video of the Lady's Secret will be posted when it becomes available, check back soon.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 10/2/10

Blame, above, beating Quality Road in the Whitney Handicap, and simultaneously burning a large chunk of Paul Corio's bankroll.

The rain is finally supposed to end tonight, giving way to a sunny fall sky for the grade one Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park tomorrow. Hooray! I'm going to need to adjust some of my choices on-site based on track conditions - I'm assuming things are still going to be quite boggy and soggy, especially early in the day. By the time the big race comes around at 5:48, though, I'm assuming the track will be dry, fast, and ready to rock.

Blame is the overwhelming favorite in the big race, and deservedly so; he's coming off a string of wins in graded stakes all festooned with gaudy three-digit speed figures - quite clearly the one to beat on paper. But horse races aren't run on paper. Regular readers of Paulie's Picks may remember that the last time I loaded up on a seemingly unbeatable favorite in a G1 race was Quality Road in the Whitney at Saratoga on August 7th. He was beaten by a head by none other than Blame! If I fall for the same old thing by the horse that spoiled the party for me last time, the layers of irony would be too much to bear.

You'd be a fool leave Blame out of the mix, but if you're looking for somewhere else to go, there are two other horses worth checking out:

The logical pick for the upset is the second choice in the morning line; Rail Trip. He's got some early lick, some nice speed figures, and some graded stakes victories out in California. The only problem is that he's never run on dirt; only on the synthetic surface they use on the west coast. Sometimes a horse's form translates well from one surface to the other and sometimes it doesn't. 5/2 is a little stingy given this big asterisk - I would want more generous odds before I took too big a stab. I'll definitely be using him in my exactas and trifectas, though.

Haynesfield, on the other hand, is opening at a very generous 8-1. He broke through the gate prior to the start of the Whitney at Saratoga in August, and had a crummy race after things were reset. If he can return to his form prior to this mishap he's a real contender, and you're getting a nice price for the risk. I'll have a few bucks on that one.

Here are Paulie's Picks for tomorrow's entire card:

1st race:
7 - Bank Heist
1 - Frenchonionsoup
6 - Launch N Relaunch

2nd Race:
1 - Lookin At Her
3 - The Roundhouse
9 - Southern Exchange

3rd race:
6 - Callide Valley
3 - Keep Me Informed
1a - Jackson Bend

4th race:
4 - Above the Call
11 - Irish Lady
10 - Hear Her Roar

5th race:
8 - Derby Kitten
9 - Mister Pippit
12 - Gold Trader

6th race, The Vosburgh, G1:
1 - Driven by Success
2 - Girolamo
6 - Snapshot

7th race, The Flower Bowl Invitational, G1:
7 - Shared Account
6 - Forever Together
8 - Keertana

8th race, The Beldame, G1:
4 - Unrivaled Belle
1 - Life At Ten
6 - Persistently

9th race, The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, G1:
4 - Treat Gently
10 - Winchester
9 - Paddy O'Prado

10th race, The Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, G1:
2 - Blame
6 - Haynesfield
1 - Fly Down

11th race:
4 - Runaway Jim
8 - Just a Dab
3 - Fourseventeen

Tune in tomorrow night for results and video.