Unreal Nature

September 28, 2016

With My Remaining Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… wipe the blood off, polish it with an oil-stained black cloth until it shines, and display it on the dark drawing-room table.

This is from the essay ‘Four Scenes of Hell I Saw Outside the Theater’ by Terayama Shūji [1968] found in Provoke: Between Protest and Performance: Photography in Japan 1960-1975 edited by Diane Dufour, Duncan Forbes, Walter Moser, and Matthew S. Witkovsky (2016):

[ … ]

The Third Song: Eyeball Repairer’s Phantom Crime

According to the eyeball repairer, the two eyes of human beings serve different purposes. One theory states that one eye looks at other individuals, while the other looks at the self. Another theory stipulates that one eye “discovers” while the other eye “abandons.”

Anyhow, if you find that the two eyes are imbalanced, you must scoop one of them out with a sickle. Then, for the eye that “discovers” the self, it is good to wipe the blood off, polish it with an oil-stained black cloth until it shines, and display it on the dark drawing-room table. I will keep on abandoning the world with my remaining eye, and maybe travel to Siberia. The one eye I’m left with will gaze at people endlessly in order to abandon them, and on the boundless clouds of the sunset in people’s hometowns.

It will count the number of swallows that are flying by, as I rest with my eye closed.

Amidst the comfort of a new darkness

A gentle, blindfolded era goes by … .

My vision will become that of a hawk, glancing at the horizon, at faraway winter fields. But the horizon of my imagination is vast and cold. I cannot spot the practitioner, and because of that the punishment still awaits!

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 27, 2016

A Place, Not a Landsape

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… I try to figure out what people do in a place like that.

This is from A Brush with the Real: Figurative Painting Today by Marc Valli and Margherita Dessanay (2014). In this book, each featured artist has a section where he talks about his or her work under somewhat (but not always) consistent headings. I’ve picked out the bits that I like. This first is from François Bard:

On creating a personal style

Work, work and work: through work I could gradually find a way to express my artistic intentions. I tend to be suspicious of styles. I try to remain as instinctive as I can. Style is too often confused with a personal technique, which is a big mistake.

Bard_laCroix
François Bard, La Croix, 2012

Process

It takes ma approximately a week to paint a portrait, with a model who sits for me three hours every afternoon. I also use these moments to take photographs of the models. Usually I pick my models from everyday life. Initially, their own stories don’t interest me. But the more I work with a model, the more I get to know them. They all have their own history and past, which eventually shows in the way they behave with me. At some point, whether I want it or not, this dimension, this human ‘effect,’ appears in the paintings.

From Tim Eitel. (The square brackets in the quotes are in the original.):

Narrative

Each work contains multiple narratives. The first of these is the fact that it’s a painting and I thought it had to be done and so I made it, and I want you to look at it. And you’ll see it as a painting and see where it fits within your conceptions of that. I don’t see any kind of underlying storyline [in the paintings] myself. Of course there is a lot of great art that tells stories we already know so you can pack a lot of action from the before and after into one pregnant moment. … But my interest is more in situations, in constellations [alignments of chance], in what meaning there is [left] when you strip them of all narrative.

Process

… I don’t do preparatory sketches. I feel like this would spoil the fun. I like the unexpected to happen. To finish a painting can take quite some time: up to a year. I know that it is finished when I experience the work as if somebody else had painted it.

From Maya Gold:

Beyond politics

I feel that as an Israeli artist I am always expected to refer to the complex political situation and to the occupation. This expectation can be tiring. I am sure one can find the influence of living in this reality in my paintings. Yet I wouldn’t like the discourse around them to be political. For me, art is beyond politics. My work deals with the connection between art and daily life, with the unique ability of art to be a part of daily life but yet be ‘unusual’ at the same time. My paintings depict ordinary moments that, through pictorial actions, such as changing the point of view or the perspective, lose their balance and thus are excluded from the pre-existing order.

From Serban Savu:

Process and subject matter

… The landscape is important: it acts like a character, defining the other characters and giving meaning to the whole scene. I deliberately choose a raised and distant point of view in order to have a better perception of the landscape. When I see a place in reality (I prefer to call it a place, not a landscape) I act like an X-ray machine, trying to understand why it looks like this, and I have to dig a little bit into recent history. Such a place often is a catalyst for a painting; I try to figure out what people do in a place like that. I follow that place from time to time to check out what’s going on there.

From Liu Xiaodong:

Against style

… The history of painters is merely the history of forming one’s own style. But once a style is formed, it is difficult to reflect directly and effectively on contemporary society. To reveal the truth, painters must undermine their own style at any given time. This is the hardest problem for an artist to handle.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 26, 2016

Their Homeliness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… They are not ugly ducklings that will grow up to be swans but what the French call “jolie-laide,” that particular kind of beauty for which unapologetic imperfection provides the most striking and original features.

Continuing through the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):

… Neither chaotic nor reliably structured, Murray’s ensembles remain open to as many interpretations as they suggest correspondences and discharge intense sensations.

If Murray were more sober and decorous in her way of playing with forms and symbols, the analogy I have drawn between her work and that of conceptually oriented artists of the same period might seem less far-fetched. But the purpose in forcing the comparison is to remind those with doubts about the ambition and complexity of Murray’s work that the ability to address fundamental issues in art is not circumscribed by choice of medium, style, tone, or intellectual manner, or even by the disinclination to do so.

[line break added] Rather, it is determined by the ability — whether programmatically set forth or empirically and intuitively arrived at — to seize upon the aesthetic givens of one’s time and milieu and first reconsider, then refashion them in previously unimagined ways.

murray-bop
Elizabeth Murray, Bop, 2002-03

… It would be easier to argue this if Murray’s mud-pie way of dealing with life and art made for neater, less raucous, more consistently ingratiating products, or if, following Greenberg’s defense of Pollock, one could promise that what looks “ugly” today will be acknowledged as beautiful tomorrow. (The truth of the matter is that many of Pollock’s most original and forceful paintings still look ugly.) Murray’s paintings have their beauties — of drawing, color, surface, and spatial interval — but their homeliness is every bit as essential to their integrity and power.

[line break added] They are not ugly ducklings that will grow up to be swans but what the French call “jolie-laide,” that particular kind of beauty for which unapologetic imperfection provides the most striking and original features. In any event, undistracted by thoughts of what she ought to have done or how her paintings should have looked to please the average taste, Murray has proven herself to be an undeterrable force in the rejuvenation of painting in New York in the last quarter of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 25, 2016

The Believed-in

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… it collects the audience’s magic mind, its imaginative attention; it puts one into another time sense than that of practical action.

This is from ‘A Letter on New York City’s Ballet’ [1952] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

I hadn’t expected so intense a pleasure, looking at New York again [Denby had been abroad for four years], in the high white February sunlight, the childishly euphoric climate; looking down Second Avenue, where herds of vehicles go charging one way all day long disappearing into the sky at the end like on a prairie; looking up a side of a skyscraper, a flat and flat and a long and long, and the air drops down on your head like a solid. Like a solid too the air that slices down between two neighbor skyscrapers.

… And the faces on the street by day: large, unhandsome, lumped with the residue of every possible human experience, and how neutral, left exposed, left out unprotected, uncommitted. I have never seen anything so marvelous.

[ … ]

… [At the end of a Balanchine ballet] I was too absorbed still in the solemnity of the vision to wonder then how Balanchine could have circumvented my tense mistrust at the beginning, and made me accept his magic; and grateful to him too, because though I knew what I had seen was real, he at least assured me it was just a trick. Balanchine’s gift for seriousness in the theater is a rare one.

[line break added] While anything happens it looks like ballet, like a step or a joke or a grace; but when it is finished it suddenly can look serious and real. The victim has been struck square. By the time it is over, the immolation has been thorough. Look at it in Orpheus, Prodigal Son (where it is a conversion), or Fairy’s Kiss.

Prodigal Son is told, since it is about good and evil, in two kinds of pantomime: the dry, insect-like, insect-quick elegance and filth of atheism, and the fleshy biblical vehemence — so Near Eastern and juicy — of sin and of forgiveness, the bitter sin and sweet forgiveness. Still bolder as an image seems to me the leisure in the pacing of the scenes, which transports the action into a spacious patriarchal world, like a lifetime of faith.

[line break added] Very different is the ancestral religious Greece of Orpheus. The overslow adagio motions at the beginning and again at the close evoke the magic passes and stalkings of ritual — Orphic and Orthodox both. The forest creatures who witness Orpheus’s grief appear in this magic slowed-down time from so remote and so pristine a country, it feels like a pre-Homeric Parnassus. (And don’t they form a kind of protopediment or roodscreen?)

[line break added] Eurydice writhes at her husband’s feet like a mountain lioness in heat, like the Worm of Death, like an eternal image. A pity the Furies’ dance in Hell is of no value. But on earth the Maenads shudder possessed, swallow the spurted blood. Different again is the brutal romantic Switzerland of Fairy’s Kiss. It is a land of fairy tale, reduced from the country of myth by industrial encroachment.

[line break added] Here the poet is only unconsciously a poet; as long as he may he thinks of himself as an average mill-owner boy. Poignant as is the reduction of consciousness, it is in this particular “world” that the image of looking under the bridal veil in horror becomes so grandiose and takes on so many tragic dreams. And the world of the believed-in fairy story is evoked by the nineteenth-century style of Fairy’s Kiss.

… Dance rhythm is a power that creates the validity of the grand style. It is not rhythm used as a wow effect; I think it begins instead by quietening the audience; but it collects the audience’s magic mind, its imaginative attention; it puts one into another time sense than that of practical action.

[ … ]

… but individuals isn’t what this letter is about, as I said to begin with. I love them all. I went by the air station when the NYC [Ballet] was off for Spain and when your Juniors were off to London, and how ravishing they looked, at the station full of dancers both times; such an elegant and rich habitual way of moving, the little faces green from the farewell parties the night before, but the bodies delicious to watch in their unconscious young feline assurance. So they flew up into the sky.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 24, 2016

The Tactile and the Poetic

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Materiality, representation, and imagination are not separate worlds …

This is from the essay ‘Terra Fluxus’ found in The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990– 2010 (2014):

… apparently incoherent or complex conditions that one might initially mistake as random or chaotic can, in fact, be shown to be highly structured entities that comprise a particular set of geometrical and spatial orders. In this sense, cities and infrastructures are just as “ecological” as forests and rivers.

… We have yet to understand cultural, social, political, and economic environments as embedded in and symmetrical with the “natural” world. The promise of landscape urbanism is the development of a space-time ecology that treats all forces and agents working in the urban field and considers them as continuous networks of interrelationship.

[ … ]

… There is simply no point whatsoever in addressing any of the above themes for their own sake. The collective imagination, informed and stimulated by the experiences of the material world, must continue to be the primary motivation of any creative endeavor. In many ways, the failing of twentieth-century planning can be attributed to the absolute impoverishment and incapacity of the imagination with regard to the optimized rationalization of urban development practices and capital accumulation.

[line break added] Public space in the city must surely be more than mere token compensation or vessels for this generic activity called “recreation.” Public spaces are firstly the containers of collective memory and desire, and secondly they are the places for geographic and social imagination to inspire new relationships and possibilities.

[line break added] Materiality, representation, and imagination are not separate worlds; political change through practices of place construction owes as much to the representational and symbolic realms as to material activities. And so it seems that landscape urbanism is first and last an imaginative project, a speculative thickening of the world of possibilities.

In conclusion, I would return to the paradoxical separateness of landscape from urbanism. Neither term is fully conflated into the other. I do believe that this paradox is not only inescapable but also necessary to maintain. The failure of earlier urban design and regionally scaled enterprises was the oversimplification and reduction of the phenomenal richness of physical life. A good landscape architect must be able to weave the diagram and the strategy in relationship to the tactile and the poetic.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 23, 2016

The Age of Gesture

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… if outer posture is affected by the photograph, so with our inner postures and the dialogue with ourselves.

This is from ‘The Photograph: The Brothel-without-Walls’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… If the phonetic alphabet was a technical means of severing the spoken word from its aspect of sound and gesture, the photograph and its development in the movie restored gesture to the human technology of recording experience. In fact, the snapshot of arrested human postures by photography directed more attention to physical and psychic posture than ever before. The age of the photograph has become the age of gesture and mime and dance, as no other age has ever been.

… the logic of the photograph is neither verbal nor syntactical, a condition which renders literary culture quite helpless to cope with the photograph. By the same token, the complete transformation of human sense-awareness by this form involves a development of self-consciousness that alters facial expression and cosmetic makeup as immediately as it does our bodily stance, in public or in private.

[line break added] This fact can be gleaned from any magazine or movie of fifteen years back. It is not too much to say, therefore, that if outer posture is affected by the photograph, so with our inner postures and the dialogue with ourselves. The age of Jung and Freud is, above all, the age of the photograph, the age of the full gamut of self-critical attitudes.

… “A place for everything and everything in its place” is a feature not only of the compositor’s arrangement of his type fonts, but of the entire range of human organization of knowledge and action from the sixteenth century onward. Even the inner life of the feelings and emotions began to be structured and ordered and analyzed according to separate pictorial landscapes, as Christopher Hussey explained in his fascinating study of The Picturesque. More than a century of this pictorial analysis of the inner life preceded Talbot’s 1839 discovery of photography.

[line break added] Photography, by carrying the pictorial delineation of natural objects much further than paint or language could do, had a reverse effect. By conferring a means of self-delineation of objects, of “statement without syntax,” photography gave the impetus to a delineation of the inner world. Statement without syntax or verbalization was really statement by gesture, by mime, by gestalt.

… The photograph might be said, also, to have brought to human attention the subvisual world of bacteria that caused Louis Pasteur to be driven from the medical profession by his indignant colleagues. Just as the painter Samuel Morse had unintentionally projected himself into the nonvisual world of the telegraph, so the photograph really transcends the pictorial by capturing the inner gestures and postures of both body and mind, yielding the new worlds of endocrinology and psychopathology.

To understand the medium of the photograph is quite impossible, then, without grasping its relations to other media, both old and new. For media, as extensions of our physical and nervous systems, constitute a world of biochemical interactions that must ever seek new equilibrium as new extensions occur. In America, people can tolerate their images in mirror or photo, but they are made uncomfortable by the recorded sound of their own voices. The photo and visual worlds are secure areas of anesthesia.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnture.com/

 

September 22, 2016

What Is Necessary

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

Bresson’s attempt is to insist on the irrefutability of what he is presenting.

This is from the essay ‘Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson‘ by Susan Sontag found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998). Note that I changed my mind and will not be giving more from last week’s Ayfre essay:

Some art aims directly at arousing the feelings; some art appeals to the feelings through the route of the intelligence. There is art that involves, that creates empathy. There is art that detaches, that provokes reflection. Great reflective art is not frigid. It can exalt the spectator, it can present images that appall, it can make him weep. But its emotional power is mediated. The pull toward emotional involvement is counterbalanced by elements in the work that promote distance, disinterestedness, impartiality. Emotional involvement is always, to a greater or lesser degree, postponed.

The contrast can be accounted for in terms of techniques or means even of ideas. No doubt, though, the sensibility of the artist is, in the end, decisive.

… In film, the master of the reflective mode is Robert Bresson.

… Jean Cocteau has said that minds and souls today “live without a syntax, that is to say, without a moral system. This moral system has nothing to do with morality proper, and should be built up by each one of us as an inner style, without which no outer style is possible.” Cocteau’s films may be understood as portraying this inwardness which is the true morality; so may Bresson’s. Both are concerned, in their films, with depicting spiritual style.

… While Cocteau’s art is irresistibly drawn to the logic of dreams, and to the truth of invention over the truth of “real life,” Bresson’s art moves increasingly away from the story and toward the documentary.

Bresson’s attempt is to insist on the irrefutability of what he is presenting. Nothing happens by chance; there are no alternatives, no fantasy; everything is inexorable. Whatever is not necessary, whatever is merely anecdotal or decorative, must be left out. Unlike Cocteau, Bresson wishes to pare down — rather than to enlarge — the dramatic and visual resources of the cinema. …

True, in the last, most ascetic of all his films, Bresson seems to have left out too much, to have over-refined his conception. But a conception as ambitious as this cannot help but have its extremism, and Bresson’s “failures” are worth more than most directors’ successes. For Bresson, art is the discovery of what is necessary — of that, and nothing more.

[line break added] The power of Bresson’s six films lies in the fact that his purity and fastidiousness are not just an assertion about the resources of the cinema, as much of modern painting is mainly a comment in paint about painting. They are at the same time an idea about life, about what Cocteau called “inner style,” about the most serious way of being human.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 21, 2016

Laying a Trap for the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… Today, at this very moment, language is losing its material basis — in other words, its reality — and floating in space.

This is from the essay ‘Me to me narazaru mono (Eyes and Things That Are Not Eyes)’ by Taki Kōji [1970] found in Provoke: Between Protest and Performance: Photography in Japan 1960-1975 edited by Diane Dufour, Duncan Forbes, Walter Moser, and Matthew S. Witkovsky (2016):

… If we start by speculating that we are overcome by the world, caught up in the deceitful overflow of audio, visual, and other signs, we can consider countermeasures to trick the world to expose its deceptions. Conventional uses of photography yield ambiguous effects in the outside world that often deceive us. We can devise a method from this [awareness], and respond by laying a trap for the world.

… When loading film in the camera, you must first shoot several blank frames before taking any photographs. In this process you may end up capturing your own feet or the ground, or sometimes people, animals, or cars that happened to be there, or slanted horizons or buildings that look like failed shots. Have you ever felt a strange realness in these? Have you ever analyzed such sentiments?

If you have, then there must be contexts in which these meaningless frames — with images that are just faintly dangling in the corners — can acquire meaning. For us, it is crucial to discover these contexts. I sometimes realize that I have only chosen frames that would undoubtedly be thrown out according to usual standards. For instance, as depictions of people, I would rather choose images that are blurry over accurately focused images and choose those images that feel somewhat insufficient or compositionally lacking, over those that are well composed.

[line break added] This selection process is unconscious and intuitive rather than deliberate. However, it applies to the process of selecting negatives and not to the shooting. Such photographs would acquire meaning once we understand that our own existence is defective, and realize that we should not be passionate about the things that constitute the world, but rather recognize the world’s imperfections and feel a deep attachment to them.

The following is from the Preface to Provoke 1 [1968] by Takanishi Yutaka, Nakahira Takuma, Taki Kōji, and Okada Takahiko:

The image in itself is not an idea. It cannot attain the totality of a concept, nor can it be a commutative sign like a word. Its irreversible materiality — a reality that has been detached by the camera — exists in a world opposite that of language, and because of this it sometimes provokes the world of language and concepts. In such instances, language transcends its fixed, conceptualized self, and is transformed into a new language, or rather a new idea.

Today, at this very moment, language is losing its material basis — in other words, its reality — and floating in space. We as photographers must capture with our own eyes fragments of reality that can no longer be grasped through existing language, and must actively put forth materials that address language and ideas. This is why we have been so bold as to give Provoke the subtitle Provocative Materials for Thought.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 20, 2016

Make Them Stop Talking

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… It took a while for me to understand that what I am doing is shifting from showing to seeing, and that this makes sense to me.

This is from A Brush with the Real: Figurative Painting Today by Marc Valli and Margherita Dessanay (2014). In this book, each featured artist has a section where he talks about his or her work under somewhat (but not always) consistent headings, given in bold. I’ve picked out the bits that I like. This first is from Eduardo Berliner:

Process

A painting begins long before one applies paint to canvas. For about fourteen years I have maintained the daily practice of making notations in notebooks. For the most part these are drawings. Some of them are made from memory, others from observation, and still others can arise from a simple mark on the paper. These drawings spring from the act of drawing itself, and sometimes I look at them and don’t quite understand where they came from. But once they are in the world, I must live with them.

I take my camera wherever I go. Some of the pictures I take are based on ephemeral situations, others record objects — photographs of people, animals, architecture, changes of lighting. Each month I choose a large number of photographs, which I print and leave around the studio, and use them as a basis to begin to draw and make small watercolors. Sometimes I mix parts of different photographs in the same drawing and complete it with a drawing from memory. At other moments I become aware that an image has started recurring.

[line break added] When it arises from a mental image, I feel the need to find something in the world that serves as a visual reference to begin a painting or take it forwards: I perceive a great power that arises from the borderline territory between what I see and what I imagine; between what the things are and how they function as a mirror of what lives in my thoughts and my memory. But a moment comes during the process when I begin to be guided by the material information on the canvas and by the relationship between my body and the support.

I believe that throughout the painting process something unforeseeable needs to happen: it is at these moments that a painting comes into its own.

berliner_woman_dog2009
Eduardo Berliner, Woman with Dog, 2009

This next is from Anna Bjerger:

Process

The process of collecting photographic material (from out-of-date reference books and magazines, for example), looking through images, finding arbitrary connections and making a selection of what to paint, is a big part of my work.

I think of this process — painting a photograph — as a way of deciphering an image. I want it to be an intuitive and almost subconscious act, which is why I like to start a painting in the morning first thing when I get into the studio. I don’t think of it either as an original, or a copy — the painting is a hybrid. When I paint the photograph I don’t change the composition or the framing, but I might exaggerate certain areas.

The process of collecting photographic material and looking through images is meditative and allows me to think about my practice in a constructive way. Spending time with images, reversing them, imagining scale and becoming familiar with the details, the color, the light — to me they are a great inspiration. If I were thinking in terms of painting ‘live,’ I would find it daunting to consider the boundaries of the space I am depicting [to frame the image.]

The following is from Ulrich Lamsfuß:

Technique

My painting technique is basically non-existent. It’s just about putting the right color directly on the canvas exactly where I find it on the original. It is more about plotting. I want to have a straight, non-artistic, dry, honest and evident surface. You can follow every brushstroke, you can see and understand how it is done. No tricky tricks. So my artistic development is just about getting more exact. My drawing technique is the opposite. It is more spontaneous and juicy and faulty: it is therapy.

It took a lot of willpower to ‘keep on keeping on.’ It took a while for me to understand that what I am doing is shifting from showing to seeing, and that this makes sense to me.

[ … ]

On the choice of subject matter

It is more about themes, about zeitgeist. I am more interested in subtext than in the story and in the end everything is media. I can read everything, but the point is that the painting does not talk. Actually, the contradiction and diversity of the subjects is meant to make them stop talking.

My previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 19, 2016

Every Aspect

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… the work was a composite “thing,” of which the painted facade was only the most visible dimension.

Continuing through the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):

… While rehearsing arguments based on Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque paradigms for opening up abstraction to the pictorial depth that formalists had so long deemed anathema, Stella makes this aside: “In addition to volume and interior space, abstraction must pick up on another aspect of illusionism: its success at caricature, at catching everyday associations, recognizable sparks of life.” That is as good a definition of what Murray had achieved by 1985 as any that one can think of. But she had only begun to map the ups and downs of the territory that spread out before her.

… As violent as things could get, Murray had found a means of holding the world together. The tug-of-war between dissolution and cohesion is her fundamental subject; her work is an object lesson in how ingenuity, indifference to theoretical “musts” and “shoulds,” irrepressible but often sardonic humor, and utter seriousness about the stakes for art can lead out of the cul de sacs into which painting has been prone to wander in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

murray_atwork

… If her procedures were initially a relatively simple matter of torqueing and layering her panels, by the middle of the decade she was engaged in a phased, laborious process of conceiving and fabricating the support that preceded but always anticipated the actual painting process.

Roughly speaking, the stages went from small, loose notebook sketches and more worked-out drawings to small reliefs made of unfired clay on a stiff mount. (A friend of the artist’s once said that “Elizabeth has a mud-pie approach to life.” The strength of that hands-on-who-cares-about-the-mess approach is most vivid in these maquettes, and in the act of painting itself.) Next the image was blown up into more precise contour drawings, templates for carpenters who, under Murray’s supervision, used them to cut the basic forms out of plywood.

[line break added] Built up in layers, these plywood sheets were subsequently beveled, chiseled, and planed to arrive at and refine the swell and curve of the irregular volumes of the clay maquettes. The frequently rough facture of these elaborate supports testifies to the improvisation that continued throughout their evolution, and to Murray’s preference for muscularity and immediacy over standard shop finishes.

Once the support was realized to Murray’s satisfaction (though surgery was occasionally done later on), canvas was stretched over and stapled onto it. Rather than folding the canvas around the side of each unique stretcher, thereby obscuring its vertical “foundation,” Murray, following the precedent of Gorchov, often left the edges of the support exposed, underscoring the fact that the work was a composite “thing,” of which the painted facade was only the most visible dimension.

[line break added] Her habit of letting the separate layers of paint show along that same edge — one presumably picked up from Johns and Marden, whose early works often feature bare canvas and drips at the bottom margin — carried that lesson farther. In Murray’s case, though, this awareness of the object’s constituent materialities went to extremes rarely witnessed before, since the surface qualities of the painted coats ranged from drizzly to riverbed dry, from pavement gritty to beat-up-leather-jacket smooth.

… every aspect of the painting that one can see is truly there to be seen and to contribute to the overall perceptual experience, and so to the work’s meaning — which in part consists of reminding the viewer of his or her own lumpy, perhaps lopsided physicality.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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