o ART CRITICISM
GGABRIEL LADERMAN ON ART
Tradition and the Future of Art.
Every artist, especially right now, has to make his/her own tradition. The model of older artists and especially older artists and members of earlier generations, now dead, should be especially valuable. But each of these artists should be taken for what he/she is, a single example of a useful process, a model for our own action, but not a model primarily because of his/her specific choices, but because of the character of the process used.
Thus, it is clear that not everyone we like used the same models. Dufy and Bonnard certainly did not use the same models, nor did they use the models which Derain used. I would credit all three as wonderful models for us, without any negatives applied to any of the three. These are only three artists of a whole generation of useful ones. Among my friends who spoke of that generation positively, Leland also mentioned Vlaminck, Soutine, Roualt, Derain, Van Dongen, Matisse, Vuillard, Marquet, Modigliani [whose sculpture influenced Ulla], Giacometti, Morandi [for a number of years], Braque [selectively], Picasso [selectively], Leger [selectively]. Two younger painters were Helion and Balthus.
Leland always spoke positively of Paul Klee. A new jpeg showing a figure of his painted in a manner distinctly out of Klee has been posted on the Midwest Paint Group, and supports this. [Leland Bell 1.jpg]
This seems to me an unexceptionable list of School of Paris modernists. Only the surrealists are lacking. Morandi has been added, but Leland did not seem to know Di Pisis, whom I believe to have been the finest among the other Italian painters roughly of Morandi's generation. For me, the early figurative paintings of Miro also were important, Especially the Farm of 1923 and the small Farm of 1924 at the Guggenheim. He was formally a member of the School of Paris, and his proto-surreal figurative paintings open to inclusion, here.
For Leland and Al Kresch, Derain was the central influence. Leland was also influenced heavily by both Derain and Balthus, and, especially in his drawing, by Giacometti. Al, by Derain and more recently by Rouault. Both by Soutine, especially the late work. Ulla was a little different. She had a very big talent and often did life size standing premier coup self portraits which remind us of Nice Matisse, and the much slower painted Helion and Balthus figures.I doubt that any of the artists I have mentioned thus far would have a bad word for Renoir. Renoir was a great, rich, full blooded, sensuous artist. A master of figure painting and composition. Unlike Monet, he went right through impressionism and came out the other side with a new passion for ancient Roman fresco painting. He was a paradigmatic neo traditional painter, as well as a modernist. His late figures were influenced by such work as the painting from the Villa of Mysteries, to their and our advantage. One can get right through post impressionism into modern times on his paintings alone. In my eyes even the great Derains look a little shallow and thinned out by comparison. On the other hand Derain was fully aware of Renoir and his value, and did continue him. Nothing else does this to Derain, and he stands out for his own modernist return to tradition, and his own new reconstruction of figurative painting after Fauvism. It was a different but parallel method to synthetic cubism which added in other parts of the tradition of picture making before impressionism. Impressionism, as you know, for the most part, deprived itself of earlier picture making methodology. Monet was the most radical in this sense.
I believe that modernist painting prepared all of us for a potential return. Learning to paint as abstract painters, and from nature again with some share of post Fauve, Derainist, Matissist or Cubist sensibility or the work of Balthus and selected Helions, prepared us to look at great painting from every era. When I, in my early 20s, just after college, enrolled in courses taught by Richard Offner which emphasized 12th through 14th century Italian painting, and a little beyond for the Sienese, I was prepared to love Duccio, Lorenzetti, Sassetta and Giovanni di Paolo, to mention just a few, and to find in them models for my own work. I didn't need the intercession of any 20th century master. I already knew and cared for Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir, and the following generations, especially Giacometti. A specific path through 20th century modernism such as the different paths advocated by Louis Finkelstein, Mercedes Matter, Carl Holty [an early Hoffman student], Burgoyne Diller, Leland Bell, Fairfield Porter, or others, seemed unnecessary to me. That is the major difference between me and the students of Leland Bell.
But, at the same time I value Leland and his work, and the path he made through painting particularly highly. His own understanding of and painting through the formal issues of modernist figure composition seem to me, absolutely without peer in his generation, and on a level with his immediate predecessors, Balthus and Helion. His taste was impeccable, and his position regarding such issues as the use of the past, the rhythm of the brush throughout the canvas, color and value, seem to me exemplary. So he seems a very good model for younger artists. So does his life, in which he struggled with his talent and improved, enriched and fulfilled his work over a period of thirty or forty years.
But, do get it straight. I accept ALL of the fulfilled work done in ANY extension of modernist figuration into the present. Not just my students, or Leland's students, or the people from the Studio school. I believe that you all, should do that too.
That is one reason why, when I fell on the Midwest Paint Group it excited me so much, and made me so happy.
East Meets Midwest
I guess I can't wait for other people's comments and will comment myself. There is something fundamentally different from the midwestern scenes and the New York and the East coast scene. In the midwest, nearly everyone who went to art school who continued as a knowledgeable modern figurative painter studied at KCAI. Although Wilbur, Lester and others were important, Stanley seems to have been a requirement for everyone who continued to paint figuratively. So, having almost all of those who are in the midwest and went to school out there as former students at KCAI makes absolute sense . The same is not true in New York. Neither the Studio School nor the Parsons program in which Leland and Resika taught were essential. Other schools where the requisite knowledge could be found were Queens College, Boston University [when James Weeks taught in the graduate program and don't forget, both George Rose and Langdon Quin were teaching undergraduates for a number of the same years], The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, with Larry Day, and some of his students; Goddard College, with Jim Gahagan, and Yale to some degree [especially because of Andrew Forge, Lester Johnson's drawing course, and seminar teachers like me].
Despite news from elsewhere, I did a good bit of teaching at the Studio School. I also taught in the Parsons program regularly after Leland got too sick to do so, taught with some regularity at Yale, and full time at Queens where other faculty included Cajori, Rosemary Beck, Louis Finkelstein and Marvin [Buddy] Bileck. All of these schools produced active, exhibiting figurative painters. None from Queens or Phila. are included, and few from BU and elsewhere. Some of those from Parsons have not been exhibiting, whereas several of those not included have reputations based on a dozen shows or more. So, I think the NY grouping is cliquish, but not the Midwest grouping (Midwest Paint Group).
By the way, none of this is a qualitative judgment. The large standing nude by Donald Beal who is one of the Parsons people unknown to me seems to me work I should know. The torso is particularly well realized, and the painting flows. It looks good across from Bob Brock's landscape.
Still, I believe that Simon and John have purposefully misrepresented the New York scene to make their friends and special colleagues seem much more important and singular in New York, than they are. There are people across the board whose work fits, and who have laid their own trail to get where they are, such as Peter Heineman, Richard LaPresti, [with a wonderful recent show, probably his 12th], Barbara Goodstein, John Dubrow. These are not necessarily friends of mine. I hardly know two of them. I have not always liked Heineman's work. He is an independent, self made artist. We should encourage more of these.
East meets Midwest / New Visions of Figurative Painting
This is the title of an exhibition which began first, I believe in Chicago in The Beverly Art Center Chicago, IL [April 14 - May 9, 2010]. It goes to Hoffman-LaChance Contemporary St. Louis, MO [July 9 - August 15 2010]. Then Westbeth Gallery New York, NY [Sept 11 -)ct. 3, 2010] and finally Andrews Gallery College of William and Mary Williamsburg, VA [Jan. 26 - Feb. 17, 2011]. I was given an early catalog by an exhibitor. I intend to list the organizers and the exhibitors as they are listed in the catalog and then repeat their names in order with the information which is given about them on their pages. If any one would like to comment on this information I would suggest that they do so at their own or another site. I seem to be unable to deal with that here. But I would love to have the information that they have done so, here and be able to go and look at what they say. Eventually I may get around to saying something about their comments and the show.
[Last page of catalog]
East meets Midwest / New Visions of Figurative Painting
This exhibition organized by
[From the beginning with information as given] [the first, third artists etc are NY choices, the second fourth artists Etc. are Midwest choices]
A true alternative to the avant-garde idea.
I am not sure exactly how to start because a lot of this was covered in two beginnings which I can no longer find on the blog.So I will assume they are gone and begin from scratch. First of all While all of us believe that the avant-garde rubric under which the art establishment has operated since its pallid acceptance of AE after the fact, is phony, no one has, as yet, spelled out what the differences between the two are and also given an alternative ideology.
First of all the avant-garde began with the impressionists, and in my view ended with AE. In every case the artists produced work which the official as well as most of the unofficial art loving and art buying public, the museum directors and their curators, and the critics believed to be terrible art. Sometimes it wasn't even worth writing a word about. Sometimes it was worth a diatribe. Usually a different group of people from those in the official art world were the early collectors, they were often foreigners to the country in which the art was created and the artists developed. Eventually some large portion of the work was seen to possess virtues which gave it merit beyond all of the establishment work being produced, and it became the art of its period, while the establishment art became the footnotes.
I will not spell out the differences, socially, economically and politically between that scenario and that of the work which is now going by the rubric of Avant Garde as it also garners all of the attention of publicly funded gallery spaces, foundations, and of course the critics, collectors and museum people. It is a huge difference. The use of the word can not stand the comparison.
But on some levels, all of these people, who want to buy contemporary art and help define the artistic future, the critics, curators and collectors are people we can be proud of. They badly want to do something for contemporary art in their own countries and across the world. They mean to do good, but in fact they are doing ill.
First of all let us define the work process of the artists after romanticism began, but before the rise of the avant-garde. Romanticism was the movement which began by calling for new art and new sensibility. It also was a movement which initiated the use of the word "interesting", rather than the word "classical" as a value word of approbation for new work and new motifs. Another of its words was nature as in natural. Natural opposes artificial, thus rendering work more acceptable because of its more "natural" rendering of nature. When the first Constables reached France early in the 19th century, one of the things which so awed the French was Constable's ability to paint rain on the foliage placing the painting just after a shower. His "natural" brushstroke was influenced by William Gilpin's idea of the picturesque "roughness joined to irregularity," and found also in Gilpin "on Prints" as "the artist's sketch, his first statement is preferable to the final work because of its roughness.[this is my approximation]" So, Constable already had new ideas about painting articulated by a well established countryman of his, whose reputation, especially for landscape gardening stretched all over Europe. They led to his larger brush stroke, and his freer work from the motif. Although his work did fit into the establishment of his time, some of his ideas were more acceptable to the French than the English. He became a member of the Royal Academy with the support of the genre painter Charles Robert Leslie, also his biographer.
A number of the other radicals, on the French side of the channel, Delacroix, Gericault, Corot and Courbet. had some new strategies for self development. Between the four of them there was without doubt many fewer years of study at the Academy than among an equal group of the more conservative painters of their time. Neither Courbet nor Corot had recognized teachers for most of their study years. Courbet never had one. Both Gericault and Delacroix were known to have produced hundreds of painted studies of the model in teacher-less classes, and studies from the old masters in the Louvre, also the favorite place for study for both Courbet and Corot. They taught themselves, but in the context of great renaissance and baroque art. When they finally began to exhibit, the work in each case was radical including both landscape painting directly from nature, and carrying into larger paintings many of the qualities of the sketch. Even though Corot's sketches were similar to those of classicizing landscape painters of his and the previous generation, it was work which none of the classicists would ever show. Also he was working towards a complete painting, therefore his sketches use the pictorial devices for a fully developed painting, but within sketch size and paint application. When they finally became well known it became clear that much of their quality was the result of a radical restatement of baroque and late renaissance models, French, Italian, Flemish and Dutch. Their chosen models were often not the same paintings by their sources to which the academics gravitated. Nor were all of them relating particularly well to the same pictures. Their choices were idiosyncratic. Thus it would be fair to say that, while they were each looking for models for their own future work, the combination of their art culture [what they looked at and what it meant to them] and their idiosyncratic desires for themselves as artists within the great tradition, bore the largest responsibility for how their work turned out.
Now, most of the artists whose work I respond to the most of my generation and younger can be called post abstract painters. This is true of all of the Jane Street GAllery members [Kresch, Bell, Blaine, Matthiasdotter, Rothschild]. It is also true of Larry Day, Natalie Charkow [a sculptor], George Rose, and a little younger, Stanley Lewis, Richard Chiriani, Richard LaPresti, Stanley Friedman and Barbara Goodstein [a sculptor]. It is also true of the members of the Midwest Paint Group and many of the members of the Bowery GAllery, some of whom were students of Leland. What that means is that the opening to figuration which they followed included a sense of the abstract construction of the forms and colors and their rhythm in light and space. This kind of construction was not only found in abstract art, but in the first 40 years of the 20th century it was found in figurative painting by the master painters of the school of Paris.
Now, what is my alternative to the theory of the present and future belonging to the avant-garde?
Clearly, the model of pre Avant-Garde procedures for development are a much better model for us now and in the future. These include, as of most importance, knowing your own pictorial culture, studying it intently and with the desire to learn what makes it make pictorial sense. A painting like Courbet's Les Demoiselles a bord de la Seine which is full of non perspectival ways of describing both space and form is a development out of much earlier work where these methods were mixed with perspective. His radically develops out of the existing pictorial tradition. Similarly, to begin with the degree of quality blended with our own vitality in our brush stroke and and its rhythmic flow, we need time studying the masters who already had it. But it seems to me that from such a process blending work from the masters and from the motif, the most intense and full future may come.
At this moment with so much abstract art full of cliches, and even worse being made by artists who have never even heard of the need for painting to express, through its actions, the subject. We must realize that this is one of the two elements which must remain paramount in our work. The other is our full involvement in the quality of the painting of our motif. This will be also basic to the fulfilled quality in our work. It seems to me that with this renewed contact and achievement within nature, we should become truly fine artists. But we must have the highest possible standards for a completed work, and keep it up there and try always for more, or the work will not justify a new success for us.
We should also realize that this is an alternative to the Avant-Garde ideal which is behind all the nonsense covering so many establishment walls. Is it possible to be an abstract painter, today? It is, but if the artist is so involved with his own pictorial verities to ignore the pressure to become an eccentric, and his work is ultimately independent of his original sources, without negating their value. Such artists are probably rarer even than we are. And their process more restricted, limited by all of the success images on gallery walls.