Unreal Nature

October 28, 2014

Stop Watching Himself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… Only let him stop watching himself, let him stop thinking of painting himself through.

This is from ‘Review of Exhibitions of William Baziotes and Robert Motherwell’ (1944) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

Baziotes, whose show closed last month, is unadulterated talent, natural painter, and all painter. He issues in a single jet, deflected by nothing extraneous to painting. Two or three of his larger oils may become masterpieces in several years, once they stop disturbing us by their nervousness, by their unexampled color — off-shades in the intervals between red and blue, red and yellow, yellow and green all depth, involution, and glow — and by their very originality. Baziotes’s gouaches had their own proper quality, which is the intensity of their whites and higher colors.

William Baziotes, The Parachutists, 1944 [image from WikiArt]

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But many of his pictures were marred by his anxiety to resolve them; the necessity of clinching a picture dramatically, also the sheer love of elaboration, led him to force his invention and inject too many new and uncoordinated elements into the coda, so to speak. This coda was usually found near the upper left-hand corner of the canvas, where shapes would first appear, while the remainder of the surface would have been dealt with in terms of the division and texture of area, and asked to be resolved according to the same logic. Baziotes will become an emphatically good painter when he forces himself to let his pictures “cook” untouched for months before finishing them. He already confronts us with big, substantial art, filled with the real emotion and the true sense of our time.

Robert Motherwell, Joy of Living

Motherwell is a more finished but less intense painter than Baziotes, less upsetting because more traditional and easier to take. One is Dionysian and the other Apollonian. Motherwell’s watercolor drawings are of an astonishing felicity and that felicity is of an astonishing uniformity. But it owes too much to Picasso, pours too directly from post-cubism. Only in his large oils does Motherwell really lay his cards down. There his constant quality is an ungainliness, an insecurity of placing and drawing, which I prefer to the gracefulness of his watercolors because it is through this very awkwardness that Motherwell makes his specific contribution. The big smoky collage, Joy of Living — which seems to me to hint at the joy of danger and terror, of the threats to living — is not half as achieved as the perfect and Picasso-ish Jeune Fille, yet it points Motherwell’s only direction: that is, the direction he must go to realize his talent — of which he has plenty. Only let him stop watching himself, let him stop thinking of painting himself through. Let him find his personal “subject matter” and forget about the order of the day.

Robert Motherwell, Jeune Fille




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