Tag Archives: Figurative art

Aimless Winter Wandering

Wandering with wandering eyes brought us some fine amusements and nourishing reflections recently.

Marco Razo’s work at the Decatur branch library is worth pondering. The brush work suggests long experience, while the paintings’ forms seem to limit themselves to rudimentary symbolism.

Marco Razo, "Las Sandias"

Marco Razo, “Las Sandias”

Across the street from the library, Georgia Perimeter College’s 2-D design class is carrying out a participatory project consisting of two large chalkboards with writing prompts. See more at decaturseedthoughts.tumblr.com. Magnet for floating thoughts.

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Perimeter College design class project

Up in Buckhead, the relatively new Buckhead Atlanta development offers pleasing locations for selfies. Significant facade yardage is given to tasteful if unchallenging art. But then, you’re probably not there to be challenged except in your personal finance.

At Buckhead Atlanta on Buckhead Avenue near the Hermes store

At Buckhead Atlanta on Buckhead Avenue near the Hermes store

A pop-up gallery at Peachtree Road and East Paces Ferry looked promising but was closed temporarily, or perhaps they were “pop-down.” If the website is still up, you might see something useful at starkartpopupgallery.com. We could only peer through the glass door.

Just inside the pop-up appears to be a piece by Karl Kroeppler of Woodstock, GA.

Just inside the pop-up appears to be a piece by Karl Kroeppler of Woodstock, GA.

At the Alan Avery Gallery, Margaret Bowland’s oil paintings were exquisite and challenging. Her pictures of African American girls explore problems of human aesthetics, race, and the construction of identity. High-quality representational technique! On Bowland’s website she says, “I believe in that space—outside the golden circle inhabited by the princess.” We wish Bowland had stayed in the South.

Margaret Bowland, "The Tea Party"

Margaret Bowland, “The Tea Party”

The Bowland experience was heightened by our visit to Jackson Fine Art, with its preview of Gordon Parks’ photographs. Parks’ works are intimate, loving, unflinching, and therefore capture all sorts of dynamic beauties and contradictions.

Gordon Parks, "Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama"

Gordon Parks, “Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama”

We in these parts still have a lot of healing to do. Bless the healing image-makers and those who allow us to appreciate them in this place.

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Dutch Golden Age Paintings at the High Museum–On the Curators and Aging

The girl with a pearl earring is coming to get you, if she hasn’t already. Johannes Vermeer’s (1632-75) painting of a child in fanciful dress is the main point of marketing that the High Museum is using to draw visitors for its current leading show of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Her image is everywhere, and in supersized format.

High Museum's south entrance, June 2013.

High Museum’s south entrance, June 2013.

Other artists of note are on display in the show, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) for one. Rembrandt had a far longer career and produced a larger body of work than did Vermeer. Rembrandt, through work and perseverance, and by grace, became an old artist. Perhaps in his time, as in ours, being an old artist gained him courtesy from others, along with a good bit of the cold shoulder.

In the High’s show, Vermeer’s painting of the girl is his only work on display. And yet one entire room is provided for displays of background information about Vermeer and his methods. And another entire room is provided for more Vermeer facts and that solitary painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which measures 17.5 inches by 15.4 inches.

Visitors viewing "Girl with a Pearl Earring" at the High during Member Preview.

Visitors viewing “Girl with a Pearl Earring” at the High during Member Preview.

In the Rembrandt area of the exhibit, an information board asserts that artists’ work declines in quality as the artist ages. It then graciously allows that Rembrandt was an exception to that general rule. We would like to argue gently that there could be some age discrimination lurking in that statement.

If Rembrandt managed, in his last couple of years, to create work that reflected innovation, boldness of character, and sureness of method, such as in “Portrait of an Elderly Man,” it should be noted that advanced age is no obstacle to those values.

"Portrait of an Elderly Man," Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, 1667

“Portrait of an Elderly Man,” Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, 1667, via Wikimedia

Rembrandt seems also to have valued artistic honesty at the time he painted “Portrait of an Elderly Man.” His subject’s mood, dress and posture suggest that the plain presentation of the real man in a particular moment could be made exquisite. The honesty of that moment could in fact be as well valued as a portrait carefully posed with an evocative scarf and a provocative glance.

We probably see Rembrandt’s pursuit of honesty in a self-portrait he painted in the last year of his life.

Self-portrait at 63, Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, 1669

Self-portrait at 63, Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, 1669, via Wikimedia.

The May 2013 issue of ARTnews ran a piece by Hilarie Sheets asserting as established fact that “a striking number” of artists “have been highly productive and turned out their best work late into old age, including Bellini (who died at 86), Michelangelo (d. 89), Titian (d. between 86 and 103, depending on your source), Ingres (d. 86), Monet (d. 86), Matisse (d. 84), Picasso (d. 91), O’Keeffe (d. 98), and Bourgeois (d. 98).”

Beware, High Museum writers. We’re keeping our eyes on you.

The High Museum’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” show is on view through September 29, 2013.

“Enlightenments”: Gigino Falconi Paintings at Besharat Gallery

Gigino Falconi is eighty years old this year, with a long life of art behind him. His work demonstrates a vision unique to him, and his powers of drawing from life and nature help him to paint that figurative vision with clarity. In his work from the last decade now on view at the Besharat Gallery, Mr. Falconi’s view of women is the main subject. At the age of eighty, he continues to pursue an obsession around the power of sexual attraction to women.

If there is a unifying scenario in these images, perhaps it is this: I’m in a beautiful place near a natural harbor. It’s a broad harbor protected by low mountains. All sorts of boats come here to dock. As I stroll toward the shore, I notice a woman relaxing near some fishing boat docks. Then I come near enough to see her fully. She is very close to a boat dock, hidden from the dock by some large boulders that line the shore. She lies naked on a bed with sumptuous sheets. Yes, there is a bed there, out in the open. It’s not something a fisherman would have put there. The woman seems to have brought it there. As I come close to her, she looks at me, but she is not startled or concerned to cover herself. No, she welcomes me.

Il Porto, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 55.12 x 70.87 in., scan from exhibit catalog

Il Porto, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 55.12 x 70.87 in., scan from exhibit catalog

It’s a simple and cliché fantasy. It says far more about the viewer in the scenario than it does about the woman being portrayed. The viewer loves the creases of naked female flesh and the folds of comfortable cloth; loves the availability of silent, vulnerable women; loves to think it’s great to have sex in the open air.

There are no dangers to the viewer’s erotic arousal in that fantasy, especially not coming from the woman being portrayed. However, Falconi the eighty-year-old does see danger in the particular fantasies that these paintings display. Frequently the clouds in the open-air rendezvous are black with imminent violence. Sometimes a bright and mysterious, arced light falls on the woman, as if a giant flashlight were being pointed by God. The Flashlight of Judgment, or the searchlight of predatory fishermen?

Sometimes it’s just the folds of those plush sheets that suggest danger. For the most part the folds of garments and sheets are finely and delicately painted, as if to suggest the presence of contemplation. In some cases, though, Falconi draws the folds as if they had a life of their own and could mold into being certain unwanted, unshapely objects beneath the concealing cover of the cloth.

Sogno Bianco, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 78.78 x 37.40 in., scan from exhibit catalog

Sogno Bianco, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 78.78 x 37.40 in., scan from exhibit catalog

A similar danger is found in paintings simply portraying the harbor. Those boulders on the shore suggest a threat to the calm, anchored fishing boats. Beneath the silky, smooth skin of the water, one senses that hard, jagged objects lurk and wait to slash the hulls of the boats. In one painting even the sky is violated by a flying sea monster bent on finding prey (perhaps a reference to a legendary monster at Lake Como).

Falconi’s color palette ranging from black to blue to tan and flesh emphasizes the gravity of the erotic question he confronts. His division of some of the paintings with grid lines or wooden dividers suggests an attempt to find more distance on his subject.

The exhibit is called “Enlightenments,” which suggests that there are different types of epiphany. May I suggest the alternate title, Flash-lights?

“Enlightenments” is on view through May 31, 2013, at Besharat Gallery.

Painter from Tucker loves Walmart, is Profiled in The New Yorker

Painter Brendan O’Connell is featured in the current (February 11) issue of The New Yorker in a piece by Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief. O’Connell says he grew up in Tucker, Georgia, although in this New Yorker piece it is referred to as “Atlanta.” He lists a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Emory.

The hook for Orlean’s story, titled “Walart: A Career Epiphany in a Supermarket,” is that O’Connell paints scenes inside Walmarts. He loves the colors of products lined up in the aisles, and the sense that Walmarts are an important social meeting place comparable to the ancient markets of Europe.

You can see samples of O’Connell’s “Walmart Series” at http://www.brendanoconnell.com .

I have questions.

Walmart, surely, is not the only place, even in rural America, where colorful products and chance social encounters are on display. Why does O’Connell return again and again to Walmart? Orlean believes it safe to say that O’Connell has visited more Walmarts than anyone who doesn’t work for the company.

He claims to be neither an apologist nor a defender of Walmart, which has come under attack for everything from its labor practices to its environmental policies. Yet he argues on his website that “Walmart is the most visited interior architecture on the planet, and it is quite possibly the most democratic.”

Let us not pre-judge, but for all his claimed neutrality on Walmart politics, you have to wonder about the possibility that an artist could borrow upon a super-retail brand for the advancement of his work.

Another question: Was his suburban Atlanta background a factor in his adoration of big-box retail? Unfortunately, Orlean did not press the artist on this urgent issue. Did she even visit Tucker? Did she call? Did she e-mail?

O’Connell no longer lives in Tucker, and we don’t know how often he returns to visit. According to O’Connell’s website, he has shown his work at galleries in Atlanta, but it has been awhile (Reinike Gallery, 2001). Next time he comes to Atlanta, let’s take him to American Chainsaw & 2-Cycle. It’s right there in Tucker’s zip code.

Susan Cofer’s “Draw Near,” an exhibit of drawings at the High Museum

In Susan Cofer’s drawings one finds a range of composition from mild and gentle to bold and troubled. They range from figurative to abstract and their approach to their subject matter leaves a curious viewer with plenty of room to wonder–about creation, sin, beauty and the fragility of life.

Most of Cofer’s drawings in this survey since about the mid-1980’s are composed of vertical pencil strokes carefully applied to reveal both imaginary and realistic detail. In an interview on the High.org website, Cofer said that her preference for vertical strokes comes from her feeling that they are easier than horizontal strokes, allowing a meditative process. Perhaps similar to the chanting of a mantra, the repetition of a standard stroke may induce a mood of calm. I’m not sure I agree that a vertical stroke is, in general, easier than a horizontal stroke. Still, as with a meditative mood, it may be that the vertical stroke encourages a movement of diving downward; meeting the surface of a thing and then going beneath that surface; going deep.

Some of the drawings display natural landscapes that are mostly devoid of evidence of a human presence. The view tends to be from a great distance. A view from the middle distance is rare. The vertical strokes suggest motion, perhaps the vibration of the earth, a motion-pattern apparently knowable through observation, though the knowledge gained is not explicitly set out here. Most of the other drawings take their small subjects in close-up view. From the mid-1980’s forward we see so many drawings that take as their subject: a seed, a fruit’s flesh, an embryo of uncertain species, womb-like abstractions, some phallic shapes. Perhaps the artist’s meditation on a landscape leads to meditation on one small element of that landscape. This may lead to a problem: Diving below the surface for answers, we frequently find . . . more surfaces.

In my view the pivotal series of drawings here is the set of 16 drawings that focuses on the story of Eve’s time in Eden. Again we see the fruit, the womb-like images, and a snake. The drawings’ titles remind us of the natural setting of a wooded paradise, mostly devoid of people; of the innocence of exploration, of questions borne of curiosity. In one drawing there appears a small, dark, beastly face-shape. We know that sin is present, the danger of fatal punishment, and sinister purpose.

After viewing the Eve drawings I sensed that Cofer’s art wants to make a path toward the secrets of creation. The images of embryos and vessels and reproductive organs and early stages of biological development seem to be crucial as subjects because of their apparent proximity to creation. The artist is passionately curious, wants to “Draw Near,” as the exhibit is called. And yet there is hesitation in the work. Cofer’s colors are very mild, and perhaps even vague until the mid-1990’s, when we begin to see purer greens, violets, and reds. Is that a hesitating shyness, or is there an ethical concern about curiosity here? Perhaps the artist imagines that Eve was punished for being curious, and if so, couldn’t the artist be punished for the same offense?

This is only my speculation about Cofer’s drawings. Still, it seems to me that the limitations and dangers of curiosity are very relevant to our time. Intellectual inquiries are frequently dismissed as pretentious or even dangerous to creativity and productivity. On the other end of the scale, science is testing the limits of ethics with its study and use of reproductive technology.

For me, Cofer’s work stimulates questions about whether curiosity is always innocent, among many other compelling themes.

Susan Cofer’s “Draw Near” was on view at the High Museum through February 10, 2013.

Resource: To view the interview with Cofer currently (early February 2013) on the High Museum’s website, http://www.high.org, visit http://youtu.be/sAM7wgw951s .