Friday, November 17, 2017

"What was the artist trying to say?"

I overheard this again on Sunday at the Jasper Johns exhibition, and mused once more over why it is that some observers are so desperate to know what an artist is trying to communicate.  I know that when I am in the throws of making a piece, I am far from sure what I'm trying to say.  Indeed even after I've finished, if I have to write a few words for an exhibition, it often taxes me.
Julie Speed: Concertina (image from here)
Then when responding to a comment on my last post I was reading an interview on Julie Speed's website (scroll down the page past the videos to arrive at the interviews on the link) I came across an elegant way of putting it:

An Interview with Julie Speed: Part II
December 12, 2012 Ross Smeltzer  
The Search For Meaning in Julie Speed’s Works
Q.           What are you trying to communicate in your paintings? What do you want people looking at your work to think about and feel?
Julie Speed.        I’m not trying to communicate. I’m trying to solve a puzzle that is visual first and narrative second.  The elements are color, form, line, texture, bits from the news, light from the windows, what I just saw in the street or in a tree when I walked to town to get the mail, a book, a phrase, a shadow and a thousand other small observations, so many that I could never count them or quantify them but they all occur and combine in the present.  It’s a puzzle for me now while I’m working on it and it takes every bit of concentration to get the work right.  As a practical matter it wouldn’t be useful to me to try to factor in my guess about how someone else would think or feel about it at some future time.  It’s hard enough to tune out my own inner bullshit.
Q.           In the past, you have said there are no objective meanings in your works: you expect different viewers to produce different – equally legitimate – meanings. But, given your use of repeated symbols and images, do you think you are attempting to communicate certain meanings, thoughts and perspectives to those viewing your works? In other words, are all interpretations of your work equally legitimate and, if not, why not?
Julie Speed.        I do use certain images over and over but I’m not deliberately embedding symbols in some kind of code.   I repeat certain images because they’re useful compositionally or simply because I like to paint them.
However, while I don’t know exactly how or why, I do know that if I get the composition and content balanced just right then the work will sometimes strike a chord in another person – not in most people of course, just a few….but when that happens I like to hear what it is that they thought or felt.
It’s certainly just as valid and often way  more interesting to me than my own thoughts because I’ve already thought my own thoughts – they’re no longer new to me.

Julie Speed: Jawbone (image from here)
Critics and the art market do not help observers of art to enjoy the act of observation for themselves.  I am still fuming about the obscenity of the same painting being deemed worth over $400 million if it is by one artist, but only worth less than $100 if thought to be by another.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Enchanted encounters?

Three powerful visual story tellers whose work inspires me are Paula Rego, Ana Maria Pacheco, and Julie Speed.
Paula Rego: from the Jane Eyre series (image from here)
Ana Maria Pacheco: from Follies of a Guardian Angel (image from here)
Julie Speed: Beach (image from here)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A separate category



Jasper Johns: The Seasons (Fall) (image from here)
There are some artists who comprise a separate category for me - a more directly inspirational one.  There have always of course been artists whose work I have preferred more than others; but this new category began to form when I embarked on my own attempts at artistic self-expression.The members of the special category are not necessarily inspirational in the same way, for the same reasons, and do not all remain there for the same length of time.  But they all have a profound effect, and take over a lot of my thinking - especially just after having seen a significant display of their work.
Today I had meant to visit an exhibition nearby, but I do not want to diminish my thinking about Jasper Johns' work.  The exact opposite: I want to develop the thoughts that are forming from my looking and seeing on Sunday.  There is the possibility of so much high quality art input these days that I find it difficult to maintain a perspective about what I am doing - or trying to do - and whether I am succeeding in my own terms.  And so I'm finding it increasingly necessary to give space around significant input - and as a kind of contradiction to the whole of my previous life - to limit the range and quantity of input.  I'm paying more attention to quality over quantity.
Jasper Johns working on one of the Regrets (image from here)
There are several reviews of the Royal Academy exhibition, here, here, and here, and here, here, and here, but they do not come near to the positive reaction I have had.  There is an interesting article here
I am drawn not so much to the flags, the targets, the early Pop Art works; but to the re-examinations, the re-workings, the use of line and space, the careful execution, the attraction to typographic elements, the use of greys, blacks, and colour, the elegance of his thinking, ...
Jasper Johns: Ocean (working proof) (image from here)
... his fascination with optical illusions, the tricks of perception,  his borrowings from for example Buckminster Fuller (map as used in the print immediately above), Holbein, Picasso,  the John Deakin photograph of Lucian Freud which spurred the Regrets series, ... and how he very much made something so distinctly his own out of it all.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Engaging, enlightening, enriching, ... and somehow encouraging

Jasper Johns: 0 through 9 1961 (image from here)
Yesterday was a crisp, chill, sunny day with oak and beech leaves glowing gold.  We took ourselves to the Royal Academy in London to see the Jasper Johns exhibition.  Johns is one of those artists whose work I have long admired, and yet I have actually seen very few pieces for real.  A few here and there I saw in the USA, Tate has several, and I was fortunate to see an exhibition of his number pieces in Oxford many years ago.
Jasper Johns: Dancers on a Plane (image from here)
I found this exhibition at the RA to be an excellent display, thematically organised, making the most of the workings and re-workings - the explorations and the re-visitings.  I was keen to see the work he had done for Fiorades/Fizzles, the book with Samuel Beckett, and was delighted to see so much on display. 
(image from here)
Usually one has to put up with one double page spread open - more images here - but the limited edition had included a set of flat prints for exhibition.  Brilliant.
One of the Regrets (image from here)
There was so much that was worth the visit, and even so we found the exhibition to be greater than its parts.  It certainly made such an impact on me that I am still digesting, and find myself incapable of writing any more.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Monday, November 06, 2017

Snaps from a stroll after frost

Last night brought a hard enough frost to leave the ground white this morning, until the sun rose and shone brightly enough to entice me into the garden.  This year's weather has been peculiar - except that perhaps peculiar is becoming normal; the predictability of un-predictability.  October was warmer than usual, with many plants flowering still - or again.
Behind the beetroot the carnations are flowering in their pot.
The pink geranium blooms look rather too delicate for the cold amongst the stipa gigantia grass.
The rock rose has been full of flowers, but they look rather knocked by the overnight chill. 
The winter jasmine is flowering as expected, but has the companionship of the red blooms of the Dortmund rose, not yet gone to sleep.  But some plants are doing their thing for Autumn as usual,
such as the sedum,
the Scots thistle providing seeds for the little birds,
the mahonia developing the buds of yellow flowers which will fill the area with delicious scent over Winter, while changing its leaf colour to stunning red here and there.
The berberis berries are such an intense bright lipstick red amongst the few remaining red leaves.  The mass of arching branches makes a delightful screen in the strong bright sunshine.  (I can see it from the other side now when I'm in my sewing room behind those now opened blinds.)
And one indicator that it is not yet Christmas is the holly still covered in berries. 
The blackbirds and thrushes generally strip it just before Christmas Eve when I cut the greenery to decorate the house!  However, this year quite a few berries have fallen to the ground.  I hope that the birds are not going to miss out.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

More than just a good read

Albert Bartholome: The Artist's Wife Reading (image from here)
In 1967 I was at university, and one of my courses covered French literature.  As relaxation from the heavier literature and philosophy I used to enjoy reading Simenon's Maigret stories.  I loved the plots, the settings, the descriptions, and most of all the characters - their ordinary and extraordinary lives.
That same year a baby was born whose books in the same vein I now enjoy:  I read The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet yesterday and finished it this morning.  I immediately felt torn from the characters and the atmosphere he so brilliantly creates.  The crimes are the incidents around which ripples touch lives and knock them off course - a little, or a lot.  It is the characters we are interested in.  The crimes are interesting, but perhaps most because they are the glass through which we view the players. It is not the extraordinary which is the focus; Burnet makes the quotidian compelling.
I also very much enjoy the setting - in Alsace, in France but almost on the border with Germany and Switzerland - it feels like a small town that lives independent of worldly fashion, where everyone knows everything and nothing about everyone.  I so enjoyed this book that I have been unable simply to move on to another, and chose instead to distract myself from my sinus headaches by watching the tennis in Paris and pottering through blogs - all the time turning over thoughts about aspects of the novel.
I shall have to exert patience until the hinted-at next volume is published.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

That time of year again

This is the third year in a row that November has brought a head cold to me.  I thought that this time it was going to pass mildly by, but today, the third day is bad enough that all I can contemplate doing is abandoning my lists, and indulging myself by reading a whodunnit.  In looking for a suitable illustration I encountered this below from a blog also talking about light reading during a cold.
I can second her recommendation of Dorothy L. Sayers, but do not know The Ghost and Mrs Muir by R.A. Dick.  I am about to embark on the latest novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet: The Accident on the A35. I very much enjoyed his two previous novels, and this one is another told about the character from his first - the French policeman Georges Gorski in The Disappearance of Adele BedeauHere is a recent review of the latest novel.
Harold Knight: Girl reading (image from here)