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a blog of painting, abstraction, and contemporary art
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Yuko Ueda

Yuko Ueda / Memento / 36 x 44 inches / mixed media on canvas / 2008 / yuukoueda.com

Yuko Ueda / Memento / 36 x 44 inches / mixed media on canvas / 2008 / yuukoueda.com

What I focus on is expressive colors and harmony of materials. I use plenty of water with acrylic paint, making many thin paint layers to achieve depth of color and luminousity. Inspiration always comes from nature, life and the human spirit. With acrylic paint, I often use pastel, sand, metals, fabrics, paper and pencil. I try to reach a beauty of natural harmony by combining these materials with various colors. {Read More…}

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December 11, 2008   No Comments

Painting is not old fashioned

This is a great little video from the Tate of british abstract painter Fiona Rae talking in her studio. It is always great to see how other artists work. It would be nice though if we could all have ginormous studios with 8 ft. palettes and 10 ft. rolling brush carts, instead of our tiny hovels in the shadows of “luxury artists lofts” that sell for $1 mil+ to the now unemployed hedge funders! Anyway, she has some really delicious things to say at about the 2:45 mark.

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December 5, 2008   1 Comment

the throbbing samba

Beatriz Milhaze / Mariposa / 2004 / Acrylic on canvas / 98 X 98 inches / James Cohan Gallery

Beatriz Milhaze / Mariposa / 2004 / Acrylic on canvas / 98 X 98 inches / James Cohan Gallery

Unfortunately I missed her recent exhibit a James Cohan Gallery, but Joanne Mattera has a great post about the show on her blog, from which I stole the title for this post.

Also from Carol Kino’s review in the NY Times comes this great quote:

“In the beginning,” she said, “I felt a connection between Spanish Latin American and Brazilian, which is more Portuguese: the Baroque churches, the costumes, the ruffles, things that have volume or a sculptural shape.”

But ultimately, she said, although she wanted to incorporate all those things into her work, “I wanted to put them together based on a geometric composition. Because at the end of the day, I was only interested in structure and order.” {Read More…}

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December 3, 2008   No Comments


Ingrid Calame / From #258 Drawing (Tracings from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the L.A. River) / 2007 / enamel paint on aluminum / 72 X 120 inches

Ingrid Calame / From #258 Drawing (Tracings from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the L.A. River) / 2007 / enamel paint on aluminum / 72 X 120 inches / James Cohan Gallery

I came across Ingrid’s work yesterday. I am not familiar with her and have never seen her work before. I spent some time looking at her work online trying to engage with the paintings themselves, which of course is impossible online. If nothing but intrigued, I read a bunch of reviews, mostly mixed with critics bemoaning the conceptualism of her work. This made me laugh because I had just read a piece by the poet and writer David Lehman this morning referring to the joke that if you crossed a mafioso and a deconstructionist, what you got was someone who makes you “an offer that you can’t understand.” So I began to think that maybe that’s why I couldn’t really make heads or tails of this work, because the deconstructionist mafioso got crossed with a painter, which is certain to be messy.

Anyway, John Yau, whose writtings I really enjoy, opened a review of Ingrid Calame’s work for the Brooklyn Rail with the following quote from James Hillman, “We sail against the imagination whenever we ask an image for its meaning—requiring that images be translated into concepts.” I thought this was a great thought/observation. He goes on to conclude with the follow:

When you stand close to one of Calame’s visually packed paintings, you are likely to forget that you are looking at a brightly colored copy of stains. It is in the small areas that the juxtapositions of color and layering become visually engaging, and you might get lost in the looking. Standing near to the surface, and narrowing your focus, you don’t see what looks like a big tire track and immediately think speedway. This enables you to overlook, if only briefly, that the painting is made up of literal signs that are meant to remind you of all the little details of everyday life that you failed to notice. After all, there is something contrived and didactic about this equation. With their faint traces of brushstrokes, Calame’s densely crammed surfaces really are something to look at. And spatially, the unpredictable shifts between small and large, near and far, defy any simple reading. The forms begin to float free from their literalness, while the staccato colors and asyndetic transitions bounce you all over the place. Calame ought to aim for more than being mentioned in the same sentence as Pollock, who has seldom been given credit for all the different ways in which he worked.  {Read More…}

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December 3, 2008   No Comments

reflecting pool

Video of the day.

Bill Viola, Reflecting Pool

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December 1, 2008   No Comments

Khaled Al-Saai

Khaled Al-Saai / The Sea: Poem by Mahmoud Darwish / watercolour, aquarell on paper / 2006 / Kashya Hildebrand

Khaled Al-Saai / The Sea: Poem by Mahmoud Darwish / watercolour, aquarell on paper / 2006 / Kashya Hildebrand

Al Saai works in an astonishing range of styles, from decorous classical modes, which he often uses for quotations from poetry, to radically inventive compositions, in which lettering is fragmented into fantastical, almost pictorial compositions. The breathtaking beauty of his work makes it immediately accessible to all.

The Thulth style of calligraphy is the strongest of the Arabic calligraphy styes, created during the Abbasid period in the 9th century in Baghdad.  Most of the letters in this style are the shape of a triangle at the top and the vowels are added as decoration.

The Diwany Jalii and the Thulth styles are the most decorative. They are influenced by three Islamic schools of calligraphy (Arabic, Persian and Ottoman).  Diwany evolved during the Ottoman Era (1670 to 1700). {Read More…}

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November 19, 2008   1 Comment

An Other Space

Annabel Emson / After Dark / oil on canvas / 2008 / 214 x 244 cm / Wyer Gallery

 Annabel Emson / After Dark / oil on canvas / 2008 / 214 x 244 cm / Wyer Gallery

 Teetering on the edge of abstraction and representation, Emson’s paintings reflect the patterns that arise naturally in the structure of the world around us. However, despite drawing inspiration from both the natural and manmade environment, she does not depict recognizable landscapes in existence somewhere but, working intuitively and spontaneously from memory, alludes to some less tangible or fleeting place or space, rooted in memory perhaps but which has become something other, independent, self-determining and lawless.

Her paintings seem to reflect a joy taken in the physicality of painting as well as paint’s material possibilities. She plays with juxtaposition of colour, its temperature, intensity and emotional pitch; the manner and form of the application of paint and the part played by rhythm and sound, both in the process of painting itself and the form and structure of visual composition. This experimentation with the language and application of paint has lead to an ostensibly disparate note in a collection of canvases that differ in scale and style and where abstract works containing broad, energetic or gestural brushwork sit alongside others in which more considered figurative ideas have worked their way in alongside layers of abstraction to suggest a narrative or something more descriptive.

However diverse at times, the works are linked to each other by an index of recurring motifs and images, referencing and building upon each other as part of an extended conversation. Reduced to their core, these are paintings about their process and each work a consequence of a new question that is understood most fully in its relation to its counterparts.{Read More…}

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November 19, 2008   No Comments

Yi School – 30 Years of Chinese Abstract Art

Because of isolation lasting centuries, Chinese artists have developed their own world of images, without connections to what is produced in Europe and the United States. The case of the Yi School is highly significant. Although it was born at the margin of the abstract art and conceptual art that have dominated the Western art world in recent decades, it maintains points of contact with these two. It is art lived as an experience of retreat and meditation that explores contemplation, unity and harmony. The extraordinary development of the People’s Republic of China in recent years and the opening of new pathways of communication and business with the West have stimulated the world’s interest in Chinese culture.  After its presentation in Barcelona, ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects is taking to CaixaForum Madrid the first major exhibition of the Yi School outside China, organized jointly with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and the Beijing Culture & Art Foundation. The exhibition introduces eighty-two works by forty-eight Chinese artists of the last thirty years, divided into three periods. Yi art from the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) until the 1980s is characterized by an idealized humanism in opposition to the revolutionary slogans (Yi xiang, “mental image”). The second period is when art at a time of urban and cosmopolitan expansion recovers private spaces and incorporates Eastern symbols and writing (Yi li, “mental principle”). The third period, Maximalism (Yi chang, “mental environment”), arose at the end of the 1990s and devotes its main attention to the process and the context of the art work.

A few months ago, to coincide with the opening of a Representative Office of ”la Caixa” in Beijing, an exhibition of fifteen works by international artists from the ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Collection of Contemporary Art was put on at the Beijing Art Museum of Imperial City. The Yi School: Thirty Years of Chinese Abstract Art represents its counterpoint. It is designed to bring the general public in our country closer to an artistic school that has had decisive weight in Chinese plastic art from the 1970s until now and to make the work of some of today’s leading Chinese creative artists better known.

The Yi School is defined as an artistic tendency in China, based for the last three decades on the aesthetic essence of Yi. It is distinct both from contemporary literature and conceptual art and from Eastern abstract art. In Chinese aesthetics, Yi does not mean just subjective thought, even though it is a fruit of our mind. It is not precisely equivalent to the terms concept, idea or significance, but represents a state of contemplation and meditation by creative artists, the way that artists or poets think about their surroundings or observe them. In this respect, the Yi School is the artistic style best suited to expressing meditation.

If we think that Yi is related not just to the thought of the artists, but also to the real environment and the objectives of meditation, the Yi School cannot be defined by any modern Western concept such as realist art, conceptual art or abstract art, even though it may look like all these tendencies, especially abstract art. In reality, the Yi School brings together almost all the characteristics of these three tendencies without restricting itself to any one of them in particular. This responds to a norm that has always governed traditional Chinese aesthetics, to stop art becoming excessively diverted towards the extremes.

In terms of expression of Yi, the artists have focused in different periods on different aspects of Yi. For example, at the end of the 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution, a series of non-official artists sought individual freedom in opposition to Mao’s propagandistic art. In this context, the Yi School focused on the search for individual expression and for “pure art” against “conceptualized” political art. The Yi School was expressed in the aesthetic form of Yi xiang or “mental image”. Artists sought unity and harmony between concepts and objects of nature, during the process of thinking about and observing the external world. Then the representatives of the Yi School at the end of the 1980s paid greater attention to expressing their ideas about the way to reform reality and cultural modernity through cultural signs. In this period, the Yi School defended symbolic concepts, the essence and start of an ideal culture and society. As such, the Yi School during this period is called Yi li or “mental principle”. Thus the Yi School of this epoch represents Yi Chiang or “mental environment”. Creating works of art is equivalent to meditating in a private space.

Yi School – 30 Years of Chinese AbstractArt
4 June – 21 Sept 2008.
Av. Marqués de Comillas, 6-8

Read a nice review of the show at Blog on Art in Barcelona

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November 18, 2008   No Comments

Merrill Wagner

Merrill Wagner / Large Flower Small Owl / 2006 / Paint on steel / 87.75 x 82.25? / sundharamtagore.com

Merrill Wagner / Large Flower Small Owl / 2006 / Paint on steel / 87.75 x 82.25″ / sundharamtagore.com

I checked out this show this past week. I wasn’t familiar with Merrill Wagner’s work, but I loved how she painted with the steel. It’s interesting, Richard Serra’s work makes you really feel the presence and the weight of the steel, whereas with Merrill’s work I found myself enchanted with the surface, the rust, the marks left by the heat of forging, etc. There was a delicacy and lightness about the steel.

Wagner’s oeuvre explores the possibility of steel and slate as a painterly surface. Wagner begins with found materials, either die-cut scraps of steel, or pieces of slate, and transforms them into abstract landscapes or flowers. She imbues the surface with an unexpected softness yet still maintains an architectural form. Painted directly from nature, her forms allude less overtly to geometry than to a structural topography. Her assemblages are suspended by magnets giving them a floating quality. Her innovative utilization of the dichotomy between the softness of the pigments and her subject and the rigidity of her surface has earned her the acclaim of the art world.

Merrill Wagner @ Sundharam Tagore, 547 West 27th Street, through 10/15

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October 6, 2008   No Comments

cecily brown @ gagosian

Cecily Brown / Untitled (#38) / 2007 / Oil on linen / 12-1/2 x 17 inches (31.8 x 43.2 cm) / www.gagosian.com

Cecily Brown / Untitled (#38) / 2007 / Oil on linen / 12-1/2 x 17 inches (31.8 x 43.2 cm) / www.gagosian.com

A number of people have been asking lately why I haven’t posted anything recently. The answer is that I have been meaning to, but I’ve just been super busy and the blog has gotten the short end. Anyway….

I’ve been down to Gagosian a few times over the last couple of weeks to see the Cecily Brown show. The first time I went I was impressed with the work but something bothered me and I couldn’t figure out what it was. After going back and spending a good amount of time looking at the work and being in the space I realized the problem, the lighting in the gallery kills the drama of the paintings. It is just too bright in the gallery to really enter into the paintings. The drama of her paintings is in the swelling volumes and the internal character of the light she creates. The bright lighting of the gallery illuminates the dark areas, renders visible all the brush strokes, and the reflected light off the white walls of the gallery overwhelms the light areas of the canvas. The overall effect is to flatten the canvas into a collage of energetic brushstrokes with color.

This actually struck me when I was looking at some of the smaller canvases in the show. Looking at these works I could really see the connection to Rubens, Tintoretto, El Greco, both in the compositional structure and the swelling weightless forms hovering and suspended in space. I also began thinking about how those paintings were painted for candlelit cathedrals and castles. How the dim lighting of the space really elevated the drama of the darks and lights, allowing the swelling figures to really explode out of the canvas. When I turned around to look at the larger works in the show, especially the Sam Mere series, I really felt like I was missing something.

I’ve often read Cecily Brown’s work compared to De Kooning’s, and while they both engage in figurative abstraction, I think it will be interesting to examine their approaches over the next few days to see how differently they put paintings together. In the meantime, definitely check out the show.

Cecily Brown @ Gagosian, September 20 – October 25, 2008, 555 West 24th Street

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October 6, 2008   1 Comment