ARTIST STATEMENTS: General, Painting, Sculpture, Furniture
WHAT IS GREAT ART?
THE MASTERS SPEAK
WHY VAN GOGH WOULD CUT BOTH EARS OFF TODAY
Today’s artist is obliged to identify the personal aesthetic which defines his work. Among the many 20th century options — from Cubism to Constructivism, Pop to Op, Conceptual to post avantgarde, etc. — he finds a single common thread: the New. The modern artist, unless he is resigned to being dismissed as derivative and therefore “unimportant,” strives to produce work which is, above all, “new.”
But after a century of unprecedented artistic inquiry and innovation, is it possible to produce work that is truly new? Has everything been done? At what point does an aesthetic reorganization or synthesis become so radical and systematic — Cubism, Surrealism, Abstraction — that a truly new art form is born? Can today’s artist hope to conceive comparable new forms? If so, will his innovations be identified empirically, on the surface of the work ; or intuitively, by what is at the heart ?
The doctrines of the original modernists — whether composed by poets and intellectuals (Appollinaire, Mallarme, Breton, etc.); critics (Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg); or the artists themselves (Kandinsky, Klee, Motherwell, etc) — defined and systematized a new aesthetic, put it in the context of art history, and, generally, made its work seem more like methodical experiment than autism. In short, the doctrines functioned as both tools of education and tools of propaganda.
Since that time, the critics have developed a dogma and arcane vocabulary which has become so self-enamored that it refers more to itself than the art. We are subjected to dissection of an artist’s “voice”, “iconography”, “diction of line”, “dialectic of color”, “the rhetoric of his brushstrokes”, and ultimately his “Zeitgeist”.
As Barnett Newman said: “Art criticism is as useful to an artist as ornithology is to a bird.” So, in the end, we must consult the founders of 20th century art to find out what it is all about.
“Never the brain’s logic: but the logic of the eyes. That’s where the material of our art is: in what our eyes think.” Cezanne.
“The picture is complete when the idea is obliterated.” Braque.
“Good painters don’t know what they think until they paint it.” Motherwell.
“What you do when you paint, you take a brush full of paint, get paint on the picture, and you have faith.” de Kooning.
In short, current doctrine has a way of distorting the subject by both over-complicating and over-simplifying it, and artists of today must take especial care not to be seduced by academic commentary, especially when it plugs their inventions.
For me, art both in the creation and the observation, is a living experience which loses meaning and impact to the extent that one attempts to explicate it, much less throw empty terminology at its mysteries.
The roots of modernism are found in Africa, New Guinea, and the caves of Lascaux. All elements of perception are united in the work of primitives: the object itself, the subject’s emotion, psychology, and metaphysics. An aboriginal work is the result of a spell cast on the artist by nature which is simultaneously impressionist, expressionist, surrealist, and abstract.
Where contemporary art has splintered into movements and counter-movements which have explored each of these facets microscopically, the art of the future must move toward synthesis. Indeed, Baselitz, Kiefer, Schnabel and other members of the current Transavantgarde are already on this path.
Similarly, I regard my own work as a synthetic. Primitive to the extent that it tends to the animistic. Medieval to the extent that it tends to the hierarchical, allegorical, religious. Expressionist to the extent that it is hermetic, violent, extremist. Surrealist to the extent that it is hallucinatory, rooted in the Unconscious. And abstract to the extent that it is metaphysical.
An extension of Abstract Expressionist color field painting, my technique was born while I was experimenting with the application of enamels, resins and solvents on melamine board, vinyl floor tile, sheet metals, glass. I found that pigment “cocktails” (both spirit and water-based) applied in monochrome layers will, under certain conditions, blossom or exfoliate within one another when solvents are introduced. Kaleidoscopic effects result which are reminiscent of both microscopic images (viruses, bacteria) and macroscopic (stars, planets, constellations).
With unorthodox paint mixtures and applications, I try to achieve the brilliant richness and depth of glasswork, cloisonné, and high-fire ceramics. As with ceramics, every work is unpredictable and one-of-a-kind due to the many variables involved: the “ground,” the glazes, means and timing of applications, heat, humidity, curing procedure.
My larger compositions are puzzle-like assemblies of these “color tiles” with other luminous materials: acrylite, exotic hardwoods, brushed aluminum and stainless steel. Smaller, solitaire pieces include decoupaged and overpainted fragments from Renaissance masterpieces, as well as my own surrealist watercolor portraits.
I try to create never-before-seen works of imagination. Work that is not merely novel, but – technically and conceptually — truly individual and new. Art should revitalize perception by returning to it what our intellect steals: magic. In other words, beauty. Simply put, when I paint I hope to capture this magical natural beauty.
Mine is the art of creating skeletons of imaginary creatures. In this I am inspired by the magic of African primitives, the minimalism of Modigliani and Giocommeti, and the mysterious biomorphs of Henry Moore. My intent is to create gracefully sensuous yet ethereal structures – incarnate ghosts, if you will.
Bone is the ultimate sculptural material for this art. Not only is it the perfect marriage of form and function, it is a one-of-a-kind interplay of stark, subtly-hued surfaces and planes. In short, it is classically beautiful, pure, enduring. To my knowledge, few contemporary artists are using unadorned bone as a medium of sculptural assembly.
I gather bones from the wild. The seasoned remains of cattle, deer and whale are cut, carved, reshaped, and then joined using steel pins and epoxy compounds. A structure of a reincarnated creature evolves: a vertebra or pelvis becomes a honeycombed head; jawbones and ribs become legs; shoulder blades become torsos. After assembly, the sculptures are sanded and burnished to an ivory luster. The weathered, variegated whites are complemented and accentuated by ebony and other exotic hardwoods, black and clear acrylite, stainless steel, and travertine marble.
The most powerful art is not an effect or pop manipulation, but a force of nature like rain, wind, thunder. I try to revive these bones in structures which seem created not by hand but by the elements themselves.
My furniture design is inspired by the marriage of the classical and the contemporary. Most of my pieces combine exotic hardwoods with steel and/or acrylic. I try to orchestrate the dramatic hues and grain patterns of highly figured tropical woods such as cocobolo, bloodwood, zebrawood, purpleheart, and others.
Generally, my woodwork is sculptural and minimalist. I avoid unnecessary detail or superfluous decoration. Less is more. I work mostly with hand tools. I use no jigs, templates, schematic drawings. Each piece is one-of-a-kind. Trial and experiment is involved in every creation.
My inspirations and tastes are eclectic – from African primitives, to the Shakers, the Bauhaus, Mackintosh, Eames, and contemporary Italian. But above all, I strive for the unique, elegant, and timeless. In short, to make my craft an art.
WHAT IS GREAT ART?
Every artist strives to produce quality work according to his or her personal standards of what great art is.
Inspired by the masters — Bosch, Breugel, El Greco, Grunewald, Rembrandt. Corot, Van Gogh, Utrillo, Modigliani, Munch, Nolde, Corinth, Kokoschka. Rouault, Sautine, Vlaminck, Ensor, Picasso, Klee, Kline, de Kooning, Rothko, Dubuffet, — these are my standards of great art:
- Great art revitalizes perception by returning to objects what our intellect steals from them: magic.
- Great art reveals a vision; mediocre art showcases a technique.
- Great art has the power and inevitability of a force of nature. It is never merely an manipulation of materials for a novel or whimsical effect.
- Great art has no subject matter outside itself. It creates and occupies its own universe, and contains all the tools necessary for its own understanding. It needs no comment or “explanation” because the image itself is its own comment and its own explanation.
- Great art states nothing, implies everything.
- Great art is an equation of form: it poses a problem of line and color, and shows the process of solution or unsolveability.
- Great modern art is an order of disorder, a method to madness. It catches the animal, but lets him run free at the same time.
- A concentrated form of energy, great art operates according to the laws of nuclear physics — gravity, mass, relativity.
- Superseding aesthetic schools, vogue and propoganda, great art is a unique synthesis of the four ways of seeing: impressionist, expressionist, surrealist, and abstract.
• Great art has the power and inevitability of a force of nature. It is never merely an assemblage or manipulation of materials for a fortuitous, “novel” effect.
• Great art is obligated to enrich the observer’s sensibility. Putting a pedestal under an already existing object — natural or from the streets — does not fulfill this obligation.
• Great art is characterized by ambition. It is always far out on the limb: desperate, passionate, dependent on miracles. Bad art — glib, facile, and without edge — never ventures beyond the narrow circumference of its technique.
• Great art has nothing to do with art school buzz words and concepts — “plasticity,” “painterliness,” “motif,” “narration,” “iconography,” “diction of line,” “Zeitgeist,” etc. As Barnett Newman said: “Art criticism is as useful to an artist as ornitholigy is to a bird.”
• Great artists produce. Pretenders pontificate.
THE MASTERS SPEAK
– On the whole, in painting, one should look more for suggestion than for descriptions.
-Color, which is vibration, just as music, is able to attain what is most general and yet most vague in nature: its interior force.
-The artist must take nature’s elements and create a new element.
-Never the brain’s logic: but the logic of the eyes. If the artist feels correctly, he will think correctly.
-Painting is, first of all, optical. That’s where the material of our art is: in what our eyes think. Nature always shows us what she means.
-We are an iridescent chaos.
-Being an artist is a matter of learning, and perhaps relearning, the language of writing by lines. Artistic creation acquires quality only when it comes up against difficulties.
-Color helps to explain light. I do not refer to the physical phenomenon of light but, rather, the only kind of light that truly exists, that of the mind of the artist.
-An avalanche of colors never has any force. Color attains its full expression only when it is organized, when it corresponds to the intensity of the artist’s emotions.
-As for myself, I hold in high esteem the values of savagery: instinct, passion, capriciousness, violence, and delirium
-Painting is a much more spontaneous and direct language than spoken words. It is nearer to a cry or a dance.
-Ideas are but a faint puff of air. It is when visions disappear that ideas emerge along with the blind fish of their waters, the intellectual.
-Art should not announce itself. It should emerge unexpectedly, by surprise.
-In art, mathematics must be subordinate to phantoms. The good painter is the painter who buries a color every day.
-The hand must venture into the unknown, it must remain alive to the danger it is courting, it must sense the brink.
-A painting is the image of someone, a projection of the person in his entirety, devoid of lies or hesitation, with his flaws and assets alike. Painting can brook no lies.
-I cannot conceive of an artist who is not in the midst of an adventure.
-I like the rule that keeps emotion in check. One cannot always hold one’s hat in one’s hand. This is why hangers were invented. As for myself, I have found painting to be a means of hanging up my ideas.
-The picture is complete when the idea is obliterated.
-The artist who no longer encounters any resistance approaches perfection. But only a technical perfection.
-With age, art and life become one.
-It is a question of penetrating the entire cosmic system of laws that govern the rhythms, the energies, and the substance that make up the world’s reality, from the ugliest to the most beautiful — everything that cries out to us: this is life itself. In order to express everything, we must know everything.
-There is no such thing as different syles, and never was. Style is the expression of a bourgeois content, and its various nuances are what we call taste.
-Too often, by a twist of thought, we tend to reduce what is strange to what is familiar. I endeavor to restore the familiar to the strange.
-The mysterious is not just one of the possibilities of the real. The mysterious is what is absolutely necessary for the real to exist.
-I always try to make painting something that will not be noticeable, something that is the least visible possible — on the verge of disappearing
-If one knows exactly what one is going to do, what is the sense of doing it? Since one knows it, it has no value.
-What is terrible today is that nobody speaks ill of anyone. If we believe what we read, everything is fine. Nobody kills anybody anymore, everything is equivalent, nothing is thrown on the ground.
WHY VAN GOGH WOULD CUT BOTH EARS OFF TODAY
Contemporary art is governed by aesthetic anarchy.
The revolution began years ago when academic technique, fidelity to nature, and “beauty” were scraped in favor of subjectivism. The public now relies on critics to tell it what art is. Responding to the mandate, the critics have developed a dogma consisting of an arcane vocabulary which has become so incestuously self-enamored that it refers more to itself than the art. Still, the rhetoric gives an air of science and unimpeachable method to matters of taste.
Today’s artist must identify the personal aesthetic which defines his work. Among the many 20th century options — from Cubism to Constructivism, Fauvism to Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism to Post Painterly Abstraction, Pop to Op, Conceptual to post avant-garde — the artist searches for a common thread. S/he finds it in the New. All modern styles have shared a passion for progress. Burying the old, enshrining the New. The contemporary artist, therefore, attempts — unless s/he wishes to be dismissed as “unimportant” — to produce work which is, above all, “new.”
This imperative presents daunting problems, practically no less than philosophically. To the extent that innovation challenges prevailing aesthetic dogma, it is often initially condemned as an aberration, and its authors as impostors. Van Gogh, Picasso and Braque, Kandinsky and Mondrian, Pollack and de Kooning were less than the toast of the town when fathering Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, and Abstract Expressionism. But more recently, by way of contrast, Johns, Warhol, Stella, Schnabel, Koons have enjoyed christenings at Studio 54 for Neo-Dada, Post Painterly Abstraction, Pop, and the Transavantgarde.
The first group changed art at the center, challenging popular culture and threatening dogma, creating the New. The second played with the surface, welcoming popular culture and inveigling dogma, creating novelty.
Artists’ ambitions have, in turn, influenced their aesthetics. Modernists, content to survive, explored the unknown. Pops, craving attention, attended cocktail parties. And now post-modernists, wanting sensation, devise promo strategies in hope of inspiring another rebel-artist or auteur personality cult.
Somewhere in this process, as the new has been replaced by novelty, doctrinaire has unseated legitimate aesthetics.
The doctrines of the original modern art movements — whether composed by poets and intellectuals (Appollinaire, Mallarme, Breton, etc.); critics (Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg); or the artists themselves (Kandinsky, Klee, Motherwell, etc) — defined and systematized a new aesthetic, put it in the context of art history, and, generally, made its work seem more like methodical experiment than autism. In short, the doctrines functioned, simultaneously, as tools of education and tools of propaganda.
With the advent of Pop, however, doctrine, in an attempt to disguise the vogue of substancelessness and petty novelty, has become more important than the art which it endeavors to justify, making one wonder which is the real issue. Second, it has become more propaganda than education. Third, regarding education, it is larded with art school buzz words which have little relation to the work itself, or, in any case, no cash-in value.
Contemporary doctrine and criticism are stunning for their flatulence. The issues of “frontality”, “flatness”, “edge”, “scale”, “plasticity”, “painterliness”, “pictoral space”, “compression of motif”, “metaphysical multivalence of parts”, and “optical fibrillation” are debated. We are subjected to dissection of an artist’s “voice”, “iconography”, “diction of line”, “dialectic of color”, “the rhetoric of his brushstrokes”, and ultimately his “Zeitgeist”. If Rauschenberg or Johns come up, Kiefer or Baselitz, Salle or Fischl, or any other member of the postmodern pantheon, their pictoral space is invariably compared to that of Poussin, Caravaggio, Ingres, Delacroix, Vermeer, Valaquex, or Pierro della Francesca.
In short, current doctrine has a way of distorting the subject by both over-complicating and over-simplifying it, and artists of today must take especial care not to be seduced by the fashion critics of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Art is above all, both in the creation and the observation, a living experience which loses meaning and impact to the extent that one attempts to explicate it, much less throw vocabulary at its mysteries in hopes of revelation. When a real practitioner is in front of a canvas the furthest thing from his mind is “frontality,” “pictoral space,” “rhetoric of brushstrokes,” or his “Zeitgeist.. He is an animal rediscovering instinct, the more primitive the better. It is no mistake that one of the most brilliant movements of the century was that of the Fauves, “the wild beasts.”
But, in the end, as Dutch expressionist, Asger Jorn, once observed: “There is no such thing as different styles, and never was. Style is the expression of a bourgeois content, and its various nuances are what we call taste.”