Unreal Nature

January 16, 2017

In This Way, Nothing Is Left Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… “Do not form habits. You do not possess a way. You do not possess a style. You have nothing finally but some ‘mysterious’ urge — to use the stuff — the matter.”

These first bits are from ‘The Figurable’ by Achille Bonito Oliva found in Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston edited by Peter Benson Miller (2014):

… A gesture of sane discretion attends to Guston’s work, which does not dramatize the encounter, nor does it attenuate it; if anything, it makes visible a figurative, precarious, and problematic possibility: the figurable.

… In the work there exists the double requirement of art to assert itself and to bear witness to the world. In this way, nothing is left out.

Next is from ‘Guston and Central Europe: On Germany’s Response to Guston’s Work’ by Christoph Schreier:

… “Bad Painting” offers a disrespectful and cheeky criticism of all the utopian claims formulated by modernism. Against modernism’s pictorial dogma aiming for clarity and purity of expression, the proponents of “Bad Painting” — be it Picabia, Polke, Jorn, or Schnabel — cultivate an aesthetics of calculated stylistic inconsistencies and breaches of taboo (not excluding the ugly). Even if one prefers not to subsume Guston in these categories, his own art is also one big settling of accounts with modernism’s holy cows: consistency, purity of style, and refinement.

[line break added] Accordingly, in a famous statement directed against the purity laws of Clement Greenberg, he pleads for “impure painting”: “There is something ridiculous in the myth we inherit from abstract art: that painting is autonomous, pure and for itself. … But painting is impure. It is the adjustment of impurities which forces painting’s continuity.”

Hence, purity of style and artistic accomplishment are being replaced by a painterly process that cannot be controlled by the artist, one that lacks a clear aim. In this sense, all that remains for the artist is, and here I quote Guston again, “the nervousness of the maker [ … ] — very little else. [That’s why I tell myself] do not make laws. Do not form habits. You do not possess a way. You do not possess a style. You have nothing finally but some ‘mysterious’ urge — to use the stuff — the matter.”

[line break added] This sounds “dark,” perhaps also a little resigned, but it can also be understood as a plea for artistic freedom that has broken free of dogmas. This is at least how Guston’s attitude was understood by a younger generation of artists active since the 1980s. These artists no longer want to follow any stylistic precepts and have left behind the battle of the isms of twentieth-century art. They paint without a “concrete image in their head,” as Albert Oehlen said, and appreciate therefore the openness of Guston’s work.

oehlen_borntobelate2001
Albert Oehlen, Born To Be Late, 2001

It is for this reason that Guston is “one of my favorite painter,” according to Oehlen, who began to paint in the year of Guston’s death and who is among the most important artists of his generation in Germany. This esteem manifests itself, as I said above, not in stylistic emulation but in “the eros of impurity and of provocation” that guides Oehlen’s creative work. He describes it in a definition of painting that could have been uttered by Guston: “I think that the formal burden and pestering that a work of art can endure defines its dignity.

[line break added] Also in the sense of blotchiness. And this blotchiness means openness.” What this means on an artistic level is illustrated by Oehlen’s art that moves between crude figuration and “post-non-figurative” (Oehlen’s term), but it might also be visualized in a single picture, such as Born to be Late. It defines itself as a mixture of different imagistic languages, as a sensual playing field of painting in which the gestural and the geometric, the formless and the formlike, the abstract and the figurative blend into each other.

[line break added] Does Oehlen thus draw conclusions from Guston’s work? This thesis certainly seems a little audacious, but Guston counts without question as one of the precursors of this “impure,” undogmatic painting. It ensures for Guston a topicality in discussions of art that one cannot concede unconditionally to Pollock and Newman. While Pollock’s furor and Newman’s spirituality appear somewhat aged, Guston’s works document a freshness of artistic expression from which young and younger generations of artists can still draw inspiration.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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