Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Last Stand

Antique Torso, Charcoal
Fly Me to the Moon, Mixed Media Collage
My plan for 2010 was to finish at least 50 paintings! I did about 38, a mixture of good , bad and ugly! But fell short of my goal. For last couple of days I have been scampering to get a few pieces done! I know, creativity cannot be measured in numbers but if I did not give myself deadlines, I doubt, I would do much! Amidst procrastinations and sleeping sickness, I did manage to complete two paintings, albeit small ones and a drawing. At least that drags me into the 40s! I am still hoping to do a small drawing tomorrow but considering my little girl is likely to stay home, it seems unlikely! Ah well, here are the fruits of my efforts!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cave Art Masterpieces

What makes something a masterpiece? Is it the mystique involved with the art and the artist? Is it technique and finesse of execution or is it the ability to fascinate the observer? In my take, the so called masterpieces are arts that somehow touches the human soul and can engage human curiosity through ages! Monalisa by daVinci, the Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo, the Sunflowers by Vangogh, all has that same quality. They fascinates the viewer. The story behind the artwork and the artists who created them adds to the endurance of these pieces. If that is the case then I think some of the cave arts  should be called masterpieces as well. Some of the drawings discovered in the dark crevices at Chauvet, France, are nothing short of amazing pieces of artworks!
 I am not a anthropologist or a paleontologist, an archeologist or even a  an expert on cave arts! I am an artist who understands good art when I see one. And the amazing drawings at  Chauvet are some of the best drawings I have seen. I am not going to venture into the discussion why they were made! Were they shamanic or graffiti by teenage boys (they found adolescent foot prints in front of some of the drawings) or done by bored cave housewives! I doubt if all the scholars writing academic papers have any clear ideas themselves. They conjunct but there are always detractors who propose an alternative theory!

Horses, Chauvet Cave, France

Chauvet Cave Drawings, France

Rhinos, Chauvet Cave, France

Rhino, Chauvet Cave, France

 When Picasso saw the cave drawings in Lascaux, he exclaimed,“They’ve invented everything.” I feel the same way when I looked at the amazing Chauvet  drawings. Since they don't let people in the caves, my seeing them first hand doesn't seem likely but even the reproductions seem to writhe with life. If we look at the rendition of the horses, they were done with exquisite strokes, with sure hands! They have used shading as well as the lines with varying degrees of thickness to indicate volume......The way they have overlapped the figures of the horses or the rhinos and bisons, seem to show them in motion.I find them almost like animations The sense of motion is so palpable. If we listened carefully we can almost hear the thundering of the hooves! How many times in the life drawing classes we had to adjust the limbs of the model when they shifted position? Some of the drawings at Chauvet seems to be doing just that. The overlapping figures of the canine figures seem to indicate they were trying to capture their movement. It might be that these are symbolic paintings but the way they are rendered makes me think, whoever was in charge of making these drawings over the thousands of years, actually enjoyed doing them. They observed and took pains to draw the animals with precision! Heck, some of these drawings are better than many of my student drawings! I am just frustrated that I won't be able to see them first hand! Maybe when they find a system to control the climate down there, they might allow spectators in! Until then lets enjoy this simulated visit to the shrines of the oldest painters:

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year in Jersalem:NOT

Heroic Symbol, Photograph, Anslem Kiefer

I am not an expert on Anslem Kiefer. I know about him as much as the next person who is involved in the art world! Art critics have written about Anslem’s art ad nauseum! And the incident at the Gagosian has been covered by every one of the major publications, including NY Times. So why do I need to write about this? I frankly don't but since like everyone else, I have an opinion about everything, I thought I might as well air them!
Peaceful Activists at the Gagosian Gallery
Kiefer's art has always struck me as sensationalist at best. Born at the end of WWII, he portrays himself as being the bastard offspring of the Third Reich, with strong identity issues. I have still not been able to decide whether he was actually commenting on the Nazi culture by donning the  Nazi uniform and doing a Hitler salute or was that just a twenty something artists’ way to get attention (this was in the ‘60s)! According to the artist, these self portraits were his attempts to make his countrymen confront their shameful past. Whatever his motives, he comes back again and again to the same subject matter. 

The newest exhibition “New Year in Jerusalem" at the Gagosian gallery, NY, explores the same theme of devastation unleashed by the absolute State. Ironically, the events that unfolded at the  Gagosian, made the theme of the show a mockery! On December 18th, the closing day of the show, the gallery workers decides to mix things up by unleashing the NYPD on a few unsuspecting activists. These anti-war activists were not doing anything other than donning black t-shirts with “New Year in Jerusalem” written on them in English, Hebrew and Arabic. They were going round looking at the art or conversing with people who approached them with questions, nothing to disturb the peace in the gallery. The NYPD gleefully shoved and manhandled the activists and an officer eventually ended up hurting a German woman who was not even one of the activists! This incident would not have been so disturbing if it did not come right after the incident at the Smithsonian, where recently a silent activist was thrown out for showing the video Fire in My Belly on his Ipad.
The two incidents are quite different from each other in scope but are they that different when it comes to our right to expression and peaceful assembly? I would understand completely if the Gagosian wanted the activists out, were they making trouble for the other gallery goers. But it seems to me that the gallery does not know the meaning of peaceful assembly. Apparently the activists were told that  they were causing trouble in a place of business. But looking at art and making a commentary(they were silent!) on them does not seem like disrupting someone’s business! Maybe I don’t understand what is going on in the larger art world, where museums and galleries feel they need to put up a show of power!

I really want to make sense of what is happening in the art world!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hide/Seek- An update

The controversy is still raging regrading the Hide/Seek exhibition at the Smithsonian. I am not getting into the the whole thing today, but just wanted to share this with you. AA Bronson, an artist and the director of the Institute of Art, Religion and Social Justice, has requested the National Portrait Gallery to pull out his work (“Felix, June 5, 1994″ ) that was on the Hide/Seek exhibit. Bronson posted the following on this facebook status, "I wrote to the National Portrait Gallery this evening requesting that they remove my work “Felix, June 5, 1994″ from the “Hide/Seek” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. As an artist who saw first hand the tremendous agony and pain that so many of my generation lived through, and died with, I cannot take the decision of the Smithsonian lightly. To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful."

I think it is noble and courageous on part of Bronson to be doing this! Who knows what the fallout is going to be on his career?1 But I love the fact that he felt strongly enough to be able to take this decision! I wonder if I would have been able to be so strong? 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 - An Odyssey

2010 has been an incredible year! I missed being Times "Woman of the Year", but I have come a long way! At the beginning of this year I was still suffering from identity crisis. I did not know how to answer when someone asked what I did for a living ..... Should I say I am a relapsed artist and a stay at home mom? Or that I am on a sabbatical? Or should I just plain say, I have no idea.  After graduating from art college in 2007, and having a baby in 2008, I could not say with confidence that I am a "professional" artist! I still had that student mentality and felt odd calling myself an artist! And I did not want to define my existence around my child. For some reason I dreaded the "stay at home mom" badge!

At the beginning of 2010, I have had enough and had to shake of the apathy that had completely taken control of my mind..... I started reading about art and artists and visited museums and galleries with a screaming baby strapped to my chest! The more art I saw, the more motivated I became. I started painting everyday, between my daughters naps and after my husband came home. I hired a nanny to stay with my daughter for few hours a day, so I could paint. Now at the end of 2010, I know I had done the right thing. I have to be happy for my daughter to be happy. No one wants a grumpy mom! Alyson Stanfield, in one of her blog posts posed the question about what we had  achieved this year and I can say that I have achieved a lot more than I thought I will at the start of 2010.

The most important thing that I am doing is painting everyday! I have set studio hour and I stick to it! I have a couple of galleries showing my works....I am also a part owner of a gallery! I could not even imagine at the beginning of the year that I will actually own a business! I barely had any idea what a blog was, for that matter! I thought you have to be really "cool" to actually have a blog! What can I possibly say in a blog? As it turns out, a lot! I even have a facebook fan page! I did not know much about facebook, let alone a facebook fan page! I have made so many friends this year that it really blows me away! And many of these people , I have never even met in life! All and all, I don't feel completely discontent with this year..... I have a long way to go before my aspirations are fulfilled but at least I am moving in the right direction! I hope 2011 will be even more productive in  both personal and professional field. One thing I really need to work this coming year is on myself and I am sure things will fall in place. I wanted to include a few paintings I did this year that  shows my development as an artist this year! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Citrus, Oil on Panel, 8"x16"

Life Gives You Lemon, Oil on Canvas, 11"x14"

Candies for Sale, Oil on Canvas, 18"x18"

Liquid Candy, Oil on Canvas, 18"x24"

Falling Leaves, Mixed Media on Paper, 12"x16"

Melodies, Mixed Media on Panel, 8"x10"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Drawing again

 I let the ball drop on drawing yet again! I was supposed to do at least one finished drawing a week and somehow December is proving to be not such a creative month! All the social engagements and the shopping has cut into my studio time, it seems!!
Last night I was at an artist gathering at my gallery and as we talked about our art, the issue of drawing came up again and again! All of us agreed on the importance of drawing well! And doing it frequently! Diane Aeschliman (a fine draftsman), Jan Blencowe, and master pastellist Claudia Post, all agreed that drawing has played a major role in their becoming good painters! I have talked about this issue in another post and I am not going to bore you with that again! But last nights discussions with other artists has sort of propelled me back to my drawing board! SO here goes my latest effort!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Brugghen and Caravaggio- A brief Comparison

A research on Caravaggio and Caravaggism brought me to this painting by him. It is called the Calling of St.Mathew.    

Calling of St Mathew, Caravaggio, 1599-1600, Rome

This is a typical Caravaggio with strong chiaroscuro and dramatic gestures. Not to mention non-idealized figures. And my search for Caravaggism also brought up another  Calling painting.

Calling of St Mathew, Brugghen,, 1621, Utrecht

At the first glance of course, I thought this was another one of his painting, slightly altered for another patron. Wrong. This one was done by an Utrecht painter called Hendrik ter Brugghen (1588-1629)! He is one of the first Dutch followers of Caravaggio. It is known that he spent some time in Italy, but art historians are not sure whether he actually met Caravaggio. Not that it matters much. His sojourn in Rome must have given him ample chance to look at the master’s paintings and also that of his many followers.

Whenever I think of Dutch painters of that era, soft subdued paintings by Vermeer come to mind. We don’t really associate Dutch paintings with strong chiaroscuro and flamboyance like that of Caravaggio. Brugghen of course painted popular subject matters like the one below- including musical scenes and houses of ill reputes. Even though the subject matter here is typically Dutch, the treatment still remains very Caravaggesuqe! Strong single source of light and rich darks being the hallmark of Caravaggism.

The Concert, Brugghen,1626

  In both  Calling of St. Mathew and The Concert, one thing that distinguishes Brugghen from Caravaggio is the composition. He paints massive forms very close to the picture plane against mostly light background. His dramatic cropping gives the pictures more intimacy. While Caravaggio's paintings are awe inspiring and intense, Brugghen’s paintings are dramatic but more accessible.

If we look at both the Calling paintings, we see that Brugghen has toggled Caravaggio's composition! But he did retain the other painter's repoussoir, which is pushing back of the figures inside the picture plane to create space (it is my opinion that Caravaggio creates space more effectively than Brugghen). Brugghen  also used  Caravaggio’s penchant for putting figures in profile. But Brugghen’s painting is not just a plagiarism of Caravaggio’s work. His modeling of form is more subtle, with amazing handling of light and shadow which is heightened by his handling of highlights! The fabrics are modeled delicately with bluish gray undertone. The cropped figures close to the picture plane makes the viewer a part of the painting, whereas Caravaggio’s painting is almost theatrical with viewer standing off the stage.  In other word's Caravaggio's painting is more cinematic.

Even though Brugghen is a close follower of Caravaggio, I think trained eyes will be able to differentiate the paintings For the less initiated the difference would seem very minimal. To me the most important distinction between these two is their modeling of form. The starkness of Caravaggio and the subtle modeling of Brugghen is something that differentiates these two. And it seems to me that Caravaggio’s palette is dominated by ochre whereas Brugghen’s is dominated by cooler colors like lavender gray. But then again, I am looking at reproductions! I hope someday, I will be able to stand in front of these paintings and can give a more authentic account!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Restless Leg Syndrome

I am wondering if all artists are restless or is it just the society in general? It seems to me that I am always rushing! Always running around to get things done or generating more things to do! I remember as a chhild growing up in India, we would lie down on the roof and watch the stars. Those hot humid nights are some of my most treasured memories..... I don't think I have stared at the stars for last ten years at least! I am always  running, so how can I look at the stars?
 I have this deadline for myself that I will finish at least one painting a week! If I paint for 6 hours a day then I should be able to finish a painting in 30 hours......SO I am always anxious to "finish" a painting, it seems! This ridiculous self imposed deadline means I am not enjoying the process as much as I should! It has become a race against time, rather than  slowing time down!
It should be one of my new year resolution, to pace myself, so I can enjoy life. What does it matter if I don't seem so busy after all? What if I take some time to seat at Starbucks and just stare at the wall? What if I leave my iphone at home and disconnect for a day? In the large scheme of things, in 20 years will it matter that I did not finished a painting a week? But it will matter hugely to my daughter, if we found the time to lay down on the grass and stare at the stars!
This weeks painting is below. I will try to stress less if I am not able to meet my "quota"!

Flight, 8"x16", Mixed Media Collage, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Art and Censorship

 "Artists must continue the conquest of new territory and new taboos"
- Norman Rosenthal, Director of the Royal Academy of Arts, London

The blogosphere today buzzed with controversy at the Smithsonian! The Smithsonian finally bowed to the pressure from the religious groups, specially the Catholic League, and removed a 4 minute video, which according to the right wing sensibility is "anti-religion".The NPG was showing an excerpt (the original is 30 minutes long) from a piece titled "Fire in My Belly" which gay artist David Wojnarowicz made in honor of Peter Hujar, his lover and fellow artist ( Hujar  died of AIDS in late 1980's). For few seconds, the video, shows a crucifix, crawling with ants! I obviously did not find any anti religion overtone in that short excerpt! If anything the whole thing reeked of human sadness over losing a loved one! It does not have the  blatant disrespect of  Andres Serano's Piss Jesus, done more  for sensationalism than anything else!
Boner,( ooops, I meant Boehner) and his right wing cronies soon jumped on the bandwagon and  turned the whole thing into a media circus! David Wojnarowicz, has been dead for 20 years and obviously can't defend his art but  I (and many others, I am sure) feel strongly that the Smithsonian should not have caved to political demands! But then Smithsonian is a not a bastion of free thinking! The fact that a four minute video was removed  is not really as concerning  as the fact that at end of the first decade of the twenty first century we are still plagued by bigotry! A work of art does not defile religion. Intolerance does.

The Holy Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili (Part of the Sensation Exhibition. The black Madonna made with elephant dung was one of the controversial images)

I remember the huge controversy surrounding  the Sensation Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum! The major player was  then Mayor of NYC, Giuliani! He condemned the show as "sick" and tasteless and  threatened to cut funding from the museum! May I add, he did not see the show prior to making the accusations! Steven C. Dubin, a writer for Art in America observed "Art critic, landlord, social worker and sponsorship scold: Giuliani tried on all these hats and more, desperately hoping to find one that fits".
 Another such controversy was in  1989,when  the Corcoran Gallery of Art announced that it was canceling the Mapplethorpe Retrospective because it hurts the sensibility of the public and it did not want to "adversely affect the NEA's congressional appropriations". Artists, students and gay and lesbian rights activists picketed the Corcoran, while slides of Mapplethorpe photographs are projected on the museum's facade. Just another example of censorship at play!

David Wojnarowciz (Silence\Death)

My point is,the Smithsonian incidence is not the first time American politics has affected art! And if we think this controversy will be the last one, then we are mistaken! I understand if religious groups find it objectionable that their revered symbols are being used, well , not "religiously"! But I think they should take it as it is! Just an expression of an individual artist! If their belief system is strong and  deep enough, they can take these minor things in their stride! My only concern is that, if art has to bow down to religious and political pressure, will a day come when self expression  withers away? Does anyone else think this smells like the Nazi oppression of art and artists prior to WWII? America would hopefully not follow down that same disastrous path! One thing that makes America great is the freedom of Speech and Expression. If we take that away, don't we lose a moral ground? Food for thought.....