Unreal Nature

September 30, 2015

Without The Safety Net of Form

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… [At the end of his life, he became] willing to allow his approach to be guided simply by the subject as it presented itself to his camera, without the safety net of form …

This is from the Introduction by Gilles Mora to Edward Weston: Forms of Passion (1995):

… The standard repertoire of “modern” objects never really appealed to him. He quickly tired of the few he did photograph (Egg Slicer, 1930 and Bedpan, 1930) and thought them unconvincing, facile stylistic exercises (“the egg slicer, one of my worst”). … He learned about the photography of the Bauhaus and László Moholy-Nagy through the modernist avant-garde set he cultivated in Mexico, but was underwhelmed by its “trivial mannerisms.” That may shed some light on his reticence about Germany’s New Photography. Despite the fact that both Albert Renger-Patzsch and he were interested in larger-than-life, clinical observation of objects at close range, Weston was concerned not so much with objects in themselves as with their form.

[ … ]

Henrietta Shore hit the nail on the head in 1927 when she told him, “I wish you would not do so many nudes — you are getting used to them — the subject no longer amazes you — most of these are just nudes.” Then again, take away form and Weston’s nudes are just this side of obscene. (Weston, who feared that most persons saw his Nude of Fay Fuquay, 1928 would “only see an ass,” realized this.)

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But that is not what made his approach to the nude so triumphant, no more than did unabashed display of pubic hair (which he once wryly misspelled “public hair” in an antipuritannical outburst sparked by Beaumont Newhall’s efforts to negotiate its removal from prints the public would see at the 1946 Museum of Modern Art retrospective). His triumph lies more in the compelling give-and-take he set in motion between form and desire, order and chaos, and in the resulting tension between them. In this respect, Weston’s nudes are very much in keeping with his general photographic take on the world around him.

When viewed in his ground glass, the merely physical presence we call an object emerged from the chaos of nature. Order/chaos: to Weston these were two sides of the same coin. Since nature is “crude and lacking in arrangement,” order separates out from chaos only through the process of human selection. If one object is chosen over another, it is primarily and fundamentally because it is formally significant.

[line break added] It is form, and form alone, that allows an object to stand out from the background and become expressive. … At the same time, however, Weston became increasingly aware of its pitfall: abstraction. … [T]hose who succumbed ran the risk of lapsing into what Weston quickly concluded were “intellectual juggleries” once he had tried them out himself in Mexico. Continuing in that vein, he feared, might drain objects of their very objectness and lead to the purely formal.

Instead of eliminating abstraction, Weston held it in check by redefining its role in photography as “elemental form” or “simplified form” and by underscoring the essential, ubiquitous part it plays in the natural order. He gave form its due, using its offshoot, composition, as a way to validate it and intensify its presence. In so doing he turned the photographed object into a photographic object. There was little to lose (because of the medium’s unerring precision) and much to gain (because by making an object’s form visible, photographic art expresses its “inner necessity”).

… [At the end of his life, however … ] Little by little, cracks began to show. There as a noticeable transition to less methodical composition, starting with the landscape photographs from the West (1937). Interest shifted from the emptied center of the image (San Carlos Lake, Arizona, 1938) and collected at its edges, setting up a boundary which, though uncrossable, might easily extend beyond the picture frame. Elsewhere, he gave his subjects more context; no longer do they seem to float in a sidereal void (William Edmondson, Sculptor, Nashville, 1941).

… With the coming of age and experience, Weston seems to have gained a deeper understanding of cosmic uncertainty, for it was around this time that he shed the photographic inhibition of composition. He was now willing to allow his approach to be guided simply by the subject as it presented itself to his camera, without the safety net of form: witness the Point Lobos photographs of cliffs, kelp, and debris. As his life drew to a close, Weston became absorbed in the same issues that preoccupied Walker Evans late in life: absence of form, the province of a pure photography beholden only to the laws of entropy and of the medium bearing witness to it.

Eroded Rocks, South Shore, Point Lobos, 1948 [the last photograph Weston ever made]




September 29, 2015

To Caress Rather than Belabor

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… How can we possibly recapture the total experience?

Continuing through Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004). This book uses extracts from other books to comment on the featured artists (I’m extracting from those extracts… ) If that text does not refer specifically to the MoMA art that is shown in the parent book, I may choose to use some other work by the artist to illustrate my post. Today’s first is from Jenny Holzer, writing in Contemporary Art in Context (1990):

Meret Oppenheim, Object, 1936

… The piece is sinister. It seems like a cup that could fight back. I suppose fur implies teeth, and so the cup could bite you. I also like that it’s repulsive. That’s always a good quality in art. I won’t even say one reason for its repulsiveness, but I was thinking that when you’re eating, there is nothing more disgusting than when you get a hair in your mouth. This is really an in-depth study in repulsion. … I like that the fur would be a way to muffle sound. It’s like she killed off the chit-chat part of the tea ceremony. I like also that it would be insulated by the fur — the thermos effect.

The next is from The Meanings of Modern Art by John Russell (1981):

Alberto Giacometti, Man Pointing, 1947

… Nobody was more inventive than he when it came to finding a metaphor for imminent doom; we remember here, the Woman with Her Throat Cut of 1932. But when that doom became a fact of political history with the coming to power of Hitler in Germany in 1933, Giacometti began to turn to quite another aspect of art.

“I knew that one day,” he said later, “I’d have to sit down on a stool in front of a model and copy what I saw.” His colleagues among the Surrealists were appalled — “As if everyone didn’t know what a head is!” was André Breton’s reaction — but to Giacometti it seemed that the most adventurous thing which remained for art to do was to reinvent the idea of likeness. On this one card, as Simone de Beauvoir said in her memoirs, he staked everything.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] He sat down and tried to say exactly what it was like to be in the presence of another human being.And he tried to do it as if no one had ever done it before: to start from zero. He did it, as he said himself, “with no hope of succeeding.” What do we really see? What do we mean by likeness? What are we to do with the formless, blubberlike space which separates us from the person we are looking at? How can we possibly recapture the total experience?

Last, this is from James Thrall Soby writing about Francis Bacon in MoMA: The Magazine of the Museum of Modern Art (1990):

Francis Bacon, Painting, 1946

… “I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them like a snail, leaving a trail of human presence and memory traces of past events, as the snail leaves its slime.” But what gives his art its extraordinary force is that it is expressed in seductive rather than satirical terms. His technical handling is so deft and magic that he seems to caress rather than belabor his monstrous subject matter.

My most recent previous post from Elderfield’s book is here.




September 28, 2015

The Face of Something Familiar

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… to examine depictions of the alien for images of oneself — to search the signs of fantasy for signs of life.

Continuing through High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik (1990):

… artists can, in the varied threads of their personal experience, find a way to bind together the contradictory pluralities of high and low that define the richness and contradictions of any human community, ancient or modern. No less complex than a wall with the marks of centuries [graffiti], no less encompassing than the city that holds that wall, are the potentials that may coexist within the life of one person.

[ … ]

… Modern art is full of funny faces. Women with both eyes on the same side of their nose; men with ears where their mouths should be; ordinary families with the eyes of desert rodents and the skulls of apes — a mixed-up face is the heraldic emblem of modern art in the same way that the beautiful nude is the emblem of antiquity, or the receding-perspective checkerboard the emblem of the Renaissance.

… We’re now liable to see caricature, like graffiti, as just another raw form that modern art has digested.

Yet even Dubuffet’s willfully crude, scrawled portrait of Fautrier represents — in contrast to the stereotyped, unvarying faces that actually appear in the graffiti on Parisian walls — a sophisticated transformation that is as unique to Western art as linear perspective: the adaptation of grotesque form to the ends of epigrammatic portraiture. For all its ferocious intensity, Dubuffet’s portrait of Fautrier involves a refined orchestration of visual puns and condensed observations — the self-assured head metamorphosing into a spider’s arms, the mad, asymmetrical scowl belied by the oddly delicate and feminine grasp of the cigarette …

Jean Dubuffet, Fautrier with Spidered Brow, 1947

… The story of graffiti and modern art was a chronicle of artists seeing the potential for poetic expression in something as old as writing itself, but always previously thought to lack any significant form. The history of caricature and modern painting and sculpture is a story of evolutionary transformation: a sophisticated and fully developed art form which had previously been allowed to do only one thing was made to do another, and a new kind of social institution grew up around that newly altered form.

… The comic tradition that begins with Leonardo and extends to Bernini and the Carracci and then in a different way to Arcimboldo and his followers is … not a tradition of “looking at” but one of “looking into”: the artist begins to search the fantastic, unnatural, and grotesque for reflections of this world. The birth of mocking portraits and composite bodies involves the invention not of a new kind of grotesque but of a new way of looking at the grotesque. From its birth caricature is not a formal, mathematical invention, like perspective, with rules and models that tell an artist how to construct an artifact; it is instead an exhortation to search for likeness in the seemingly abstract, to look for the individual in the generic, to examine depictions of the alien for images of oneself — to search the signs of fantasy for signs of life.

… It has no essence; its evolution tracks only the growth of extreme self-consciousness about style, and the proliferation of styles through mechanical reproduction. Its emergence as a popular style depended not on its sudden awakening to social responsibility but on a shrewd and essentially conservative parody of high art. Its history shows a fever chart of shifts in social uses, whose one continuous theme is the rationalization of the seemingly irrational. From Leonardo to Gillray, the story of caricature is like a variant of the Narcissus myth: an artist stares into a stream of form that seems completely independent of his own experience, and cries out as he discovers there the face of something familiar staring back at him.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




September 27, 2015

The Incognito of Everyday Noise

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:06 am

… it is the law of childishness to obliterate the consciousness that accepts what it ceases to condemn. Little by little poetic absence becomes absence of poetry, and this very absence loses all meaning …

This is from the essay ‘After Rimbaud‘ found in Faux Pas by Maurice Blanchot, translated by Charlotte Mandell (2001):

… Later, when the echoes of his glory seek to reach him in the confines of the world where he lives, far from being interested by this belated ray of light, he will demonstrate the surest scorn in indifference, and his “Merde pour la poésie” [Shit for poetry] expresses a judgment that reaches poetic truth as well as glory, and the totality of those who want to communicate through it. About the last Illuminations [Pierre] Arnoult writes: “The darkness did not understand his language.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] He was rejected, and his resentment stayed with him. There was nothing left but to dissumulate, to be silent.” At the time of the definitive silence he also attributes these words, which have the same meaning, to Rimbaud: “From now on I will keep my secrets. … It will be wonderful to be me, alone, witness to my glory and my reason.”

… The more he grasps the essence of what he is, the more he is threatened with losing it. He obeys night; he wants to be night himself, and at the same time he continues to assert, through language, his faithfulness to day.

… He who is above all others the poet whose poetry welcomes the inexpressible, he who gave language the assurance of not being limited to language, cannot content himself with this supreme conquest, and he rejects poetic silence while preferring to it the incognito of everyday noise.

Rimbaud’s fate has such a power of evocation because the matter-of-fact side of his life is no less mysterious than the poetic side. In one way he becomes a perfect Philistine, as Arnoult writes. He has renounced all the rebellion of his adolescence; he accepts the bourgeois ideal. He who wrote “I have a horror of all professions” is no more than a working man who earns a lot of money; he who expressed his dream, “To smoke everything, to drink strong liquors like boiling metal …,” is sober, greedy, hypocritical (“I drink nothing but water; at fifteen francs a month, everything is very expensive. I never smoke”).

[line break added] His regret is not to have a position; his ambition is to get married in Europe, have a son, make him an engineer. In this sense, by choosing banal silence, it is indeed the inauthentic life that he has chosen, that of action (“which is not life,” he said in the draft of Une saison, “but an instinctive way of spoiling an insatiety of life”). And yet it is obvious that private scandal, unrelenting misfortune, and who knows what horrible things followed him, veiling him forever from the brightness of day.

Rimbaud selfie, Harar, 1883 [image from Wikipedia]

… The acceptance of the inauthentic gives him a superior authenticity, creates the only possible value; the acceptance of everyday talk places him above poetic silence. Still, it is the law of childishness to obliterate the consciousness that accepts what it ceases to condemn. Little by little poetic absence becomes absence of poetry, and this very absence loses all meaning, is no more than an anguishing torment, unknown, “without name.” After Rimbaud there is still Rimbaud, but a Rimbaud who must “die in harness,” who can no longer speak except to say: “What boredom! What fatigue! What sadness. … “




September 26, 2015

God in the Charcoal Dust

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… the pressure for something to be there: the need …

… The meeting of the paper, the membrane between what is us, and what is outside us …

Continuing through Six Drawing Lessons: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012 by William Kentridge (2014):

… We anthropomorphize the animal, not to say it is like us, but to get closer to that part of it and us that we cannot reach.

[ … ]

The Panther at the Jardin des Plantes
Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris 1902

Ceaselessly the bars and rails keep passing
Til his gaze, from weariness, lets all things go, for
it seems to him the world consists of bars and
railings, and beyond them the world exists no more.

Supple, strong, elastic is his pacing
and its circle much too narrow for a leap
like a dance of strength around a centre
where a mighty will was put to sleep.

Yet from time to time, the pupils’ curtain
rises silently. An image enters, flies through
the limbs’ intensive stillness
until, entering the very heart, it dies.

…………………………………. (translation by Richard Exner)

… I first saw the poem with the precise lines of [this] English version … in 1984. It was as if those lines were being waited for. They were like advice that we only hear or heed when it corresponds to what we already know. The sense that the lines fit a space waiting for them. So one thinks, “How can a poet writing in Paris in 902 have such a sense of who I am in Johannesburg in 1984?” A point of connection.

… What caught me when I read the poem in 1984 was not the description of the panther as camera, as photographer [i.e. the last verse], but the two lines:

Like a dance of strength around a centre
Where a mighty will was put to sleep.

They correspond so closely to what it felt like to be in the studio. The urge to make something, a gathering of energy around … Around what? The blank page, the empty paper. An energy gathered, but not knowing what it should do. The impulse to make something, to draw or to paint something; but waiting for a clear instruction. What is to be done? What are the images to be made?

… In the studio, this manifested itself in the split between an energy of tensing of muscles (sometimes this energy and impulse to work are located here, at the edge of the pectoral muscles, where we can almost taste the activity to come) — a split between this energy, and a lassitude, an inability to keep awake, that would sometimes come over. A defensive sleeping. An inability to know what should be made, or how to make, or why it should be made, masquerading as tiredness. A real tiredness, masking a fake tiredness. The need and not-need to make something. This is not an image I am burning to show, or story or experience I need to tell: this is the not-need; but the pressure for something to be there: the need.

Rilke wrote the poem “The Panther” when he was working as a secretary for the sculptor Auguste Rodin. He was stuck with the WHAT of writing: knowing he was a poet, and not knowing what the words should describe. Rodin sent him to the zoo, with the instruction not to come back until he had written about something he had seen. This is one of the great poems of the last century, and it started life as a homework exercise.

… God in the charcoal dust. The pacing, and the gap. The meeting of the paper, the membrane between what is us, and what is outside us, what we can comprehend, and the animal unconscious, unknowingness that sits inside of us. Here is not just a distant sending of signals from the outside world to us, but something that pulls the two together.

My most recent previous post from Kentridge’s book is here.




September 25, 2015

To a Philosophical Spider

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

This is from The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley edited by Kenneth Heuer (2002, 1987):

… Last evening the largest house centipede I have ever seen died peacefully on our bathroom rug.

It is a strange thing to record the death of a centipede with the reluctance with which one speaks of the death of a pet sheepdog, but at the last I think I may have been a little confused on the whole subject. Toward the end this centipede was very tired, and like two aging animals who have come into a belated understanding with each other, we achieved a mutual tolerance, if not respect. He had ceased to run with that flowing, lightning-like menace which is part of the horror of centipedes to man; and I, in my turn, ceased to drive him away from the woolly bathroom rug on which his final desires had centered.

scutigera coleoptrata [image from Wikipedia]


“What if there are only spiders there?” a man once asked. “We always think of eternity as being vast, vast. What if it’s one narrow room, like a bathhouse in the country, black and grimy with spiders in every corner?”

I suppose that to a philosophical spider such a notion of the universe would seem a tidy and cosy one.


In a New York subway several days ago I saw a man with a gibbon hand. Unfortunately, in the crowd I could see no more. The hand was clinging to the subway hanger. Amazing resemblance to a primate hand — long palm, almost footlike, short fingers.


A university is a place where people pay high prices for goods which they then proceed to leave on the counter when they go out of the store.

My most recent previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.




September 24, 2015

It’s Not Real Life — That Came and Went a While Ago

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… The magic mirror on the wall, the movie screen, was where everyone seemed to want to be because there we could be represented on its surface the way we were told people should be represented.

This is from the author’s interview with George Kuchar in Adventures of Perception: Cinema as Exploration by Scott MacDonald (2009):

[ … ]

MacDonald: Could you talk about the experience of showing Weather Diaries at the [forty-second Robert] Flaherty [Seminar in 1996]?

Kuchar: As I’ve mentioned before, I was never made so aware of the perceived differences between people (skin color, sex, class distinction — all surface features). It was not a celebration of the differences, but, rather, a way to isolate people from one another, a way to view other people as an enemy. The films and videos I saw seemed to be programmed to create a feeding frenzy of hatred. From the remarks I heard in and out of the theater, the enemy was identified as the “white male oppressor.”

During the discussion after Weather Diary 1, I refused to answer a question posed to me by a handsome, Middle Eastern-looking man, because instead of simply asking how I felt when I was in a particular location that I had videotaped, he put too many adjectives into his question: “How do you as a white male … ” There was no me in the question anymore. To answer his question would have meant that I accepted the role he was implying with those adjectives: the role of the white oppressor.

George Kuchar

… what I detected throughout the screenings was a mood of escalating political unrest, a pervading PC toxicity, and a trigger-happy tendency to take aim at our shadows. Our shadow selves had to be murdered to protect the Clean. The magic mirror on the wall, the movie screen, was where everyone seemed to want to be because there we could be represented on its surface the way we were told people should be represented. There was no more need to look out a real window to see what real folks were all about.

In that rectangular reality lurked the enemy, too. The enemy clubbed and smashed heads. Nobody seemed to turn off their camera and help the poor smitten victims. I mean, what can we, the audience, do when we se these films? Walk into the movie and help out? No. All we can do is watch it. It’s not real life — that came and went a while ago. Everybody gets worked up and mad, but nobody, evidently, has a solution for all these turf wars and injustices.

During the discussion of Weather Diary 1, someone else expressed shock that I would dare to use a phrase in my video, a phrase even more awful, apparently than the “n” word: “Dairy Queen Fatso.” It was all getting too ridiculous and sadder by the minute. Who was training these young people to think like this? And why did the elders sit silently?

Anyway, at the Flaherty, I saw films and videos that were doing a lot of good in the world, and I expressed that to the makers individually. But there was something wrong.

… I didn’t want to personally attack individuals during the Flaherty because I don’t want to squash people. There’s too much killing of the human spirit in our schools today as it is. I liked a lot of these people because they were very idealistic, sweet and beautiful souls who were somehow being corrupted by a twisted education that was making them all talk alike. I’d heard it all a thousand times before — stock responses full of stock phrases and a lot of silliness. And, as a facet of human nature, mean and rotten. But we’ve got to see all the facets of this nature of ours, and so I hope it was a learning experience for all [Kuchar spoke his mind during the seminar discussions].

I’m just as rotten as everyone else, but at least I have the courage to show that on the screen and not try to clean it up for the TV public. But I hope there’s a beauty there, too.

My most recent previous post from MacDonald’s book is here.




September 23, 2015

What You Might Believe

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

In the picture, you have the object. But you have in the object, or superimposed on it, a thing I would call the image, which contains my idea. And these things are present at one and the same time and there is a business going on, a conflict, a tension. — Aaron Siskind (1963)

This (with the exception of the above quote) is from the essay ‘Aaron Siskind: A Demanding New Photographic Order by Gilles Mora found in Aaron Siskind: Another Photographic Reality (2014):

… A kind of third way between illusory, distanced documentary verism and a vainly mannered hankering for art, Siskind’s intense, difficult expressionism helped guide American photography toward an experiment-inflected visual mastery with a unique, specific language, increasingly receptive to other art forms, of which he was one of the founding fathers.

Gloucester, 1944

Siskind … was aiming at something other than the approximate expression of moods through photography. It is now a commonplace that Stieglitz’s nebulous, intentionally abstract series [his Equivalents] made metaphor — a concept taken from linguistics — a more or less happy stylistic device within American photographic modernity. With its help, the photographer — Edward Weston, for example, or Minor White — could try to infuse the inherent objectivity of his medium with an extra dash of soul, a guarantee of subjectivity that would seem highly unlikely to any believer in the expressive muteness of the photographic recording process. In photography, metaphor — proceeding by free association, often highly formalized, concentrated in a single image rather than a series, and resorting to a symbolist vocabulary that borrows as readily from painting, music, or poetry — had been the key to all sorts of more or less successful visual solutions.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Walker Evans was the first to abjure this pseudo-poetic language, with its exaggeratedly artistic and inevitably limited effects. In its place he offered a documentary style just as capable, if not more so, of successfully investing areas that hitherto only literature had seemed able to address: meditation on time, history, the breakdown of capacity for resistance of the individual faced with collective anonymity, the status of the object — the vernacular object in particular — in the modern social environment, the archiving of such objects, etc. These were the exigencies that linked Siskind to Evans, who, apart from Frederick Sommer and Harry Callahan, was the only photographic influence Siskind ever acknowledged. But while Evans denied all artistic pretensions, Siskind made his claim frankly and openly.

New York, 1951

… “I think a picture is a kind of result of a conjunction of circumstances of which you are one. A picture is basically not a statement of what you believe but rather a kind of indication of what you might believe, or what you might be believing, or what you didn’t know you believed.”

We have lost the habit of this kind of credo: it belongs to a modernist past which, nonetheless, for two decades engaged American photography in a venture of revelation of the self and the world, taking it down trails as different as those blazed by Siskind, [Harry] Callahan, Minor White, Emmet Gowin, Robert Frank, and Diane Arbus.

New York, W1, 1947

Siskind begins by freeing things from their weight of space and time and, thus allowing them to transcend their material condition, sets them communicating among themselves inside a new system of references, a parallel world of interacting signs within the contained flat space of the print. He calls this “conversation,” that is to say, dialogue between fields of tension …




September 22, 2015

Such as We Trap Occasionally in Revery and Dreams

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… before it has been hatched into the recognizable coordinates of everyday experience.

Continuing through Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004). This book uses extracts from other books to comment on the featured artists (I’m extracting from those extracts… ) If that text does not refer specifically to the MoMA art that is shown in the parent book, I may choose to use some other work by the artist to illustrate my post. Today’s first is from Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage by William S. Rubin (1968):

… [Magritte] sought an almost total prosaism in the things he represented. … In his greater closeness to de Chirico, Magritte distinguishes himself from the other Surrealists by the technical devices — frottage — and aesthetic formulation — biomorphism — he eschews.

… The paintings produced during the first three years of Magritte’s maturity were dark in mood and in color. The … frustrating isolation of The Lovers [is] more intense than the impersonality, irony, and dead-pan humor his later painting allowed.

René Magritte, The Lovers, 1928

Next is from Miró in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (1973) by William S. Rubin:

… An extraordinary challenge to the conception of easel painting that obtained at the time, The Birth of the World was to enjoy an underground reputation among a handful of the artists and critics who saw it in the studio in 1925-26. However, the response of most viewers — even of those interested in Miró’s work — was negative, and until after World War II this was the prevailing attitude toward all of Miró’s paintings in this style. René Gaffé, the pioneer Belgian collector who purchased The Birth of the World the year following its execution, spoke of the reactions of his collector and critic acquaintances: “It goes without saying that they took Miró for a madman, a hoaxer, or both. But they took me for an even greater fool for having bought the picture. The informed opinion of the day was that I had been taken.”

Joan Miró, The Birth of the World, 1925

Last, this is from Matta by William S. Rubin (1957):

… The title, The Vertigo of Eros (Le Vertige d’Éros), a pun on the phrase “Le Vert-Tige des Roses” (The Green Stem of the Roses), relates to a passage in which Freud located all consciousness as falling between Eros and the death wish — the life force and its antithesis. Afloat in a mystical light which emanates from the deepest recesses of space, an inscrutable morphology of shapes suggesting liquid, fire, roots and sexual parts stimulates an awareness of inner consciousness such as we trap occasionally in revery and dreams. Yet this imagery is wholly opposed to Dali’s “handpainted dream photographs” or Magritte’s dreamlike mutations and confrontations of objects in external reality.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The components of everything we “see” in a dream, whatever their juxtaposition or distortion, are present in waking life. The flames and giraffes of Dali’s noted enigma are in themselves visually commonplace. But Matta’s language transcends this ultimately prosaic level of imagery. His invented shapes constitute a new morphology that reaches back behind the level of dream activity to the central and latent source of life, forming an iconography of consciousness before it has been hatched into the recognizable coordinates of everyday experience.

Matta, The Vertigo of Eros, 1944

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




September 21, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… the painterly gestures of the artist have connotations of an assault on the legibility and integrity of the assembled materials — a kind of vandalism.

Continuing through High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik (1990):

… Most important, for all of them [poster artists Hains, Villeglé, and Rotella], the writing on the wall did not consist of gouged-in markings that harked back to Pompeii and the caves, but of the daily accretion of mass-produced contemporary ephemera — bold and sensationally up-to-the-minute, but at the same time thin, fragile, and almost instantly tattered and replaced. These poster-tearers became annexed to Pop art after 1960, and were touted for their precocious embrace of popular culture. But seen in the context of the 1950s, their interleaving of paper dreams of abundance with physical realities of transience and decay seems less than wholeheartedly optimistic …

by Raymond Hains

… the work of the affichistes abandoned the idea of “raw” street culture that had surrounded previous approaches to graffiti. The walls from which they extracted their work were not shaped by isolated “street artists” but by an anonymous collective of forces, including chance. The artist, in turn, acted as a collector or commentator rather than as an individual generator of meaning. The model of linguistic activity within which graffiti was seen as operating had shifted from one emphasizing innate creativity to one emphasizing social interaction and the manipulation of culturally determined conventions. These artists wanted to disrupt established language, rather than revert, as the Surrealists hoped to do, to pre-verbal “handwriting.”

[ … ]

Robert Rauschenberg, Rebus, 1955

… In an image such as [Rebus], however, the artist as rag-picker and riddler is joined with the artist as defacer. The element of paint is itself double-edged in Rebus. The inclusion of strips of color samples refers both to the commercial, pre-prepared nature of the medium of painting itself and, in a subversive and deflating way, to the notion of purely abstract art; while the prominent, seemingly spontaneous and gestural brushwork, like the improvisatory nature of the work as a whole, honors the lessons of Abstract Expressionist painting.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But here as in other related Rauschenberg works, the painterly gestures of the artist have connotations of an assault on the legibility and integrity of the assembled materials — a kind of vandalism. That use of painted marks and scumbled lines as cancellations or negations was intentionally contrary to the Abstract Expressionists’ will to invest the calligraphy of brushstrokes with autonomous meaning; and it was entirely consistent with Rauschenberg’s earlier, infamous stunt of erasing a drawing by Willem de Kooning.

Rebus evokes the look of a posted urban wall, and involves somewhat the same combination seen in the affichistes, of an interest in dealing with impersonal, found material and an aesthetic attuned to the full-field, painterly abstraction of the postwar years.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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