11 replies on “Detail of work in progress

    1. Good ole Leon Golub. I’d forgotten about him. He’s fallen so far from favor that I just haven’t seen him alluded to anytime recently. Or perhaps it’s because he died more than a decade ago. I think he was mostly known for his content –which could justify his work as politically relevant in an era when only political art was taken seriously. If he hadn’t painted mercenaries, his style might be seen to have some weaknesses. His use of color is rather basic = (faded) primary colors over black and white. His style allows him to get away with not having mastered color or anatomy in images which nevertheless extensively use or demand anatomy and color. I often see artists stopping/settling with a manageable signature style, and at any stage in their careers, rather than pushing themselves to be broader. The paradigm of the branding of artists by the art market is largely to blame. Artists search for a signature style, rather than to make the best art they can. I notice this with a lot of amateur artists. If they can’t do lighting and shading, they work in a way that it doesn’t matter than they can’t do it, rather than tackling it and expanding their game. Art is a bit like MMA, and the more skills you have, the move you can bring into the ring. Anyway, sure, I can see the Golub, but the more conspicuous influence for the painterly treatment of the figures is Van Gogh (which is more apparent when zoome in closer to actual pixels). Perhaps it’s a bit of both with a sci-fi element thrown in.


      1. I’m confused: is it a good thing that he’s fallen from favour or a bad thing that he was in favour?
        I must say that I don’t remember a time when political art was in favour that much anyway, at least from the 1980s onwards. Unless we’re to count the micro-politics that took over from politics that involves nation states or any appeal to humanism that can transcend nationhood. That’s pretty much the state of affairs that I see in exhibitions today. Though not often. Most art now seems to either local community art (esp. in smaller galleries) or art about itself (esp. in institutions). In the latter case, art about art seems to be in the sense of art about things that concern artists in respect of art (via referencing, abstract ideas, micro-political statements that ‘raise issues’). I can’t recall the last time I saw a show in which an artist was concerned about technique in the way you mention. David Hockney does this, but I find his subject matter 19thC, pretty, and underneath those colours, it’s all beige.
        I know what you mean about the striving for style. Amateurs often have this idea that ‘if only I had a style of my own’ which implies ‘then I’d sell my tasteful landscapes and escape my boring day job.’
        I mention Golub because, like your own work, there are appeals to universal ideas that have been largely dropped in contemporary art. It also appeals to empathy, and isn’t decoration that anyone could hang in their dining room.


      2. Hi Jeff. I’m not really sure where I stand on Golub. I would probably need to see some in person again, and give it some careful consideration before hazarding a definitive opinion. I find it interesting that he’s completely off the radar now, and that may be due to the focus on multi-million dollar art extravaganzas, or the reclassifying of pop celebrity costumes and hairdos as art (see Bjork retrospective). Let’s face it, Leon Golub is literally a “dead white male”, and a painter.

        If you don’t remember a time when political art was fashionable, that’s probably because you weren’t a “fine art” student. When I was in grad school ONLY political art mattered, and ONLY the political art of women and marginalized people. This was an offshoot of Postmodernism, and the notions that traditional art was connected with cultural imperialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. We learned about artists like Barbara Kruger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, David Wojnarowicz, the Guerilla Girls, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jenny Holzer, Hannah Wilke, Karen Finley, and Allan Sekula… This is still popular today. Just have a look at Hyperallergic [http://hyperallergic.com/], and you will find lots of articles on rabidly political art (ex., performances by Black Lives Matter), or just politics. Most the articles share the same Postmodern + identity politics paradigm running through them. I’m sure you’ve heard of the highly fashionable political work of Ai Weiwei. Or is this what you mean by “micro-political statements that ‘raise issues’”.

        You wrote: ” I can’t recall the last time I saw a show in which an artist was concerned about technique in the way you mention. David Hockney does this…” I think what I say is so obvious that it seems like I must mean something else. Hockney has never particularly interested me at all, but that is partly just his sensibility. I love Faulkner, but have difficulty mustering any enthusiasm for F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hockney is just too light and fluffy for me. When I address technique I don’t mean virtuosity, which can be a rather hollow spectacle, and would also tend to fall into some form of hackneyed academic realism. Conservative critics may lament that there isn’t much art like Raphael, but this is like wishing there was more contemporary music in the vein of George Frideric Handel. It’s a peculiar hankering after dusty classicism.

        When I talk about technique, it’s about making good imagery using visual language, as opposed to, say, a polemical installation about the refugee crisis. It’s like talking about good musicianship, as in music that sounds good. You can play music well, like, let’s say, Bob Dylan, without being able to rip through chords at breakneck speed. Art is not an Olympic event.

        If Hockney is the only artist who is recognized for making good-looking art, that is like having only Barbara Streisand to listen to in music: a sad, sad state of affairs. I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. Conceptual art has nothing to do with visual art, and no more replaces it than it replaces music, tennis, or dentistry. This confusion in which Duchamp somehow invalidated visual art is a joke for the aesthetically myopic, akin to saying that Cage’s silent concerto for piano did away with music forever.

        So, when I say that Golub didn’t use color very effectively, that is as compared to someone like Bacon, who was a master of color. If I want to see an exhilarating use of color, I’m not going to ever get that from Golub. I will, of course, get that from Monet. And I do think if Golub had a better grasp of color he could have made more compelling canvases. Visual art is a bit like good, and, for example, if your food has no spice, it’s just not going to have the same kick as some other cuisine. Or as I more often compare, art is like mixed martial arts. If you don’t have a ground game, you are not as good of a fighter. In this way I also think that H.R. Giger would have been better if he could have used color instead of always relying on monochrome.


      3. I’m not sure why all these things have to be exclusive of each other in the way your suggest, but then, a certain exclusivity is operated by the major museums, as you also suggest. They’re chasing what the art market considers to be the most cutting-edge art of its time. Which is to say that they, as institutions among others, are also part of the process of defining what cutting-edge is supposed to mean.
        Yes, what you describe as rabidly political art is what I mean by micro-political. It’s a term shared by Foucault, Deleuze & Guattari and other 1970s / 1980s theorists. These theorists are only mentioned in the kinds of magazines that are pretended to be read by artworld professionals, magazines such as Hyperallergic. It’s all single-issue stuff. It’s put together under the same roof with the implication that it all shares the same kind of liberal sensibility.
        I’m not so sure it’s what dominates unless it’s what jumps out for you. There’s a lot of work on show that’s less political. There’s certain themes that crop up a lot. Memory, for example, which usually means collections of personal effects arranged in some way. This can cross-over with the political if those effects are remnants of some kind of mass or ethically centred suffering. But there’s also memory as a personal phenomenon. Graduation shows, for example, usually have someone exhibiting a large dolls house that uses sound / projection, whatever, to suggest some kind of childhood horror has taken place. The same shows also usually have someone exhibiting a large unprimed canvas with some pencil marks and map pins. The notice will say something incomprehensible that mentions Cy Twombly. I’d suggest the reason ‘International Art English’ evolved was to find new ways to describe these regurgitated tropes.
        I must admit that I’ve lost a lot of my interest in art in recent years. Some of this is down to the repetition of the above as well as the overload of right-on-ness that you describe. I roll my eyes every time I’m confronted by yet another projection room with a black curtain and ominous rumbling or screams emanating from within. And it’s not as though painting does much for me either.
        To be honest, as someone looking at pictures by Giger, I’m not bothered about whether he should or shouldn’t have done this with colour, or that with form, or something else. It’s drained and evokes a certain weirdness that makes it apparent how much we take biological reality for granted as the thing it is rather than the myriad things it could have been. But we put art like his on a pedestal and tire it out by recycling it in exhibitions when little new comes up to take its place.
        The thing that strikes me as I currently read about art forgery is how much art today is becoming a mass exercise in forgery. Should I worry myself about what objects count as ‘art’ or ‘the cutting edge’? These seem to me to be insiders’ concerns. It’s entirely up to me how I receive it. Sure, as a gallery visitor, I’m going to be lobbied furiously. But for me, the artworld has become yet more ‘lifestyle’ stuff while, oppositely, congratulating itself on its own importance. It’s supposed to be BOTH accessible AND exclusive. Maybe this assumption of importance has come about because artists like Barbara Kruger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Carrie Mae Weems, etc. etc. have commanded ever higher prices. I don’t know. Art seems to have unintentionally and unwittingly become the highest form of comedy.
        I’m thinking here of Billy Connolly’s idea of comedy being the difference between who we are and who we think we are. Maybe this was always there? Maybe it’s just more apparent when it’s more visible because there’s a gallery just about everywhere (despite the recession). Maybe it’s things like the recent debates about artists getting paid a salary by the government? Or maybe it’s just that most people outside of well-off metropolitan communities have little or no connection with art in their lives. Who is anyone to tell them that they’re impoverished?
        Getting back to Golub, I quite like the way he takes media images and composes them into confrontationally violent representations of realities that, at some level for both perpetrators and viewers alike, have a degree of fantasy and imagination going on in them. It puts you in the heads of psychotics, to an extent. I don;t know if that’s the point of them, but I suspect it’s part of their unsettling quality. What I couldn’t do though is speak about these paintings, for or against, with anything like the passion that people involved in the arts often do. The competition for art’s hierarchy of importance is a symptom of art being steeped in inequality at every turn. Even art that’s supposed to oppose hierarchy becomes artefactual within a commodity culture whose express intent is to place one person’s viewpoint and profile above that of others. At every level, exclusion and exclusiveness are central aims in art.
        The difficulty that object makers like yourself face is in being caught up in a competitive system of objects, their makers’ reputations, and the ways they’re both evaluated. The difficulty that community artists face is in overcoming charges of being patronising. The difficulty that facilitator or campaigner artists face is in professing to not come across as people with special talents while at the same time making something happen for individuals or groups with clear aesthetic and people skills. I’m glad I’m not an artist today. The difficulty for non-artists like myself is in not getting sucked into some kind of creative practice that turns its practitioners into one-person marketing operations.
        Bit of a ramble there, but there you go!


      4. Thanks for the rant. I rather enjoyed it. Had a cup of tea while reading it. I’m fine with you saying that kind of work is “micro-political”. I’m not particularly a fan of it. It is however the complete rubric of my graduate art education, which is why I’m so familiar with it. And yes, Foucault, Deleuze & Guattari, Lacan, Judith Butler, Bell Hooks, and other Postmodernists, feminists, and identity politics theorists were read rather than any art critics or theorists. Art was in the service of politics, or irrelevant. No exceptions. I reject this paradigm because it categorically rejects me (as the evil other, and the norm), and because I persist in existing, without choice. My mere existence invalidates it. I had to repudiate it in order to survive my graduate education.

        I’m not such a big fan of “visual art” recently, either. I only really got back into it in the last few years – possibly because I discovered I could share work online – though I always kept my hand in it. I’m much more a fan of music, as you probably know. And yes, that includes painting. There’s not a lot of painting, or other image making, that I really get into. It’s a tough medium to work with, and as someone wrote the other day in a comment, most our teachers couldn’t paint and were incapable of really helping us in that department. Another artist also shared, a while ago, that his teachers would sooner support painting with peanut butter than really learning how to do shading, or something along those lines.

        Anyway, let’s get to where we may disagree. My positions are pretty straightforward, and I’m surprised if people don’t find them obvious once I’ve expressed them. You wrote, “I’m not sure why all these things have to be exclusive of each other in the way your suggest”. I’m not sure exactly what you are referring to here. I’m going to guess it’s my insistence that conceptual art and painting don’t belong in the same category. Well, if the category is “things that go in a museum” than they do, and maybe that’s how people think about it. The problem, and I’m sure you’ve read me saying this before, is that conceptual art is thought to have replaced painting and rendered it irrelevant. Since you don’t need to draw or paint at all to do conceptual art, they are about as related as cooking and music. It would be one (ridiculous) thing to say that rap music invalidated rock and made it obsolete, but it would be perverse to say that scuba diving rendered all music moribund. It’s a completely different skill set. If anything, I am dismantling the specious rhetoric that privileges non-visual “visul art” and excludes painting and other image-based art. One kind of art is intended to be looked at, while the other is intended to be seen. If we want to lump them together, why not lump music and film together, or dance and poetry? As someone who’s done both conceptual art (including performance, happenings, and installation) and image-making [and, to remind you, my graduate thesis was an installation which my three mentor teachers really liked], I can say first hand that while both conceptual art and painting/image-making require creative thinking, the similarities end there, and conceptual art and image-making truly are as similar as ballet and literature. And thus it should be painfully obvious why I don’t think painting should ever be seen as replaced by conceptual art.

        As for Giger, I’ve always found him a bit boring. I thinks he’s underrated by the art community, and overrated by the general public. I’d say the same of Alex Grey. Giger’s kind of like a visual equivalent of Black Sabbath. I really enjoy some Sabbath, but, they don’t have the breadth and scope of, say, Zeppelin. Sorry for the rock examples, but, late 60’s and early 70’s rock music is one of my very favorite art forms, and visual art produced little or nothing to keep up with it (and this because, as I mentioned before, it just wasn’t being nurtured in the art schools). So, yeah, Golub and Giger are good, but neither is on a par with Francis Bacon. Both those guys could have done some work in the styles they are famous for, but then moved on to new challenges. Same goes for Pollock.

        About color. Today I was walking around the temples in Siem Reap, and taking pictures of (aside from the temples) puddles, mud, moss, lichens, rice fields… just because of the colors. As I was looking at puddles produced by motorcycle wheels in the mud (it was raining), and the subtle gradations of color, including the rust pools, and a more beige/grey variety, I wondered at visual artists who don’t get seriously involved with color at any stage. It would be like being a musician who doesn’t use chords.

        It seems like artists get locked into easily recognizable signature styles, and the idea of art is to come up with such a style, rather than to continue to develop. For another rock analogy, the Beatles would be an example of artists who continued to develop and didn’t stick to a signature style or content. To me this seems the way to go: not to define a narrow niche for oneself, but to keep expanding and exploring, gaining more skills, integrating what one has learned, and creating hybrids. Something like Mondrian’s mature work, or Pollock’s (much as I like it), seems too limiting to be satisfying for very long. Art is more than a postcard in a pigeonhole of styles, and the artists who go beyond trying to find that core niche for themselves don’t restrict themselves and inhibit their own development.


      1. Ah, you sounded like you were attacking him in your other comment. I take what you say about anatomy, painterly craft etc. But the imagery and the violence in the scraping back of paint seems to me to be more relevant than ever.


      2. Maybe the scraping adds something. In his best pieces it works. And generally we think of artists in terms of their best half dozen or so images. But I tend to find the result of his technique is that his figures look dirty, and the victims are virtually indistinguishable from the perpetrators. Does that dirty, cut-out, scratchy look bring us closer to the subjects in his paintings, or keep us at a distance?

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great references, thanks.
    You said that you are working in layers. I think the layering is often important in the process. The obvious being that it gives more depth to the image – especially with translucent paints, but in this case I think that it allows you to build up not only the depth of color but the depth of the character.
    If that makes any sense to you. LOL


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