Check out the work of Jacob Lawerence, particularly his Migration Series. This 60-panel epic was completed when he was only 23 years old.
Category Archives: Artists
Check out the work of Robert Reed, an alchemist of color and geometry. https://hyperallergic.com/491306/the-bauhaus-and-the-black-experience-the-magnificent-and-mysterious-robert-reed/
“In the illusory babel of language, an artist might advance specifically to get lost, and to intoxicate himself in dizzying syntaxes, seeking odd intersections of meaning, strange corridors of history, unexpected echoes, unknown humors, or voids of knowledge..but this quest is risky, full of bottomless fictions and endless architectures and counter-architectures…and at the end, if there is an end, are perhaps only meaningless reverberations…
Here language ‘covers’ rather than ‘discovers’ its sites and situations. Here, language ‘closes’ rather than ‘discloses’ doors to utilitarian interpretations and explanations. The language of the artists and critics become paradigmatic reflections in a looking-glass babel that is fabricated according to Pascal’s remark, ‘Nature is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’ Language becomes an infinite museum, whose center is everywhere and whose limits are nowhere.
Language is built not written… Words for mental processes are all derived from physical things.”
-Robert Smithson from “A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art”
The above image is the second of Julie Mehretu’s Mogamma, A Painting in Four Parts. These four paintings were created around the time of the Arab Spring and consist of a complex web of gestural marks and vector lines overlaying technical wireframe drawings of Al-Mogamma (a government building in Tahir Square, Cairo). Mogamma is also the Arab word for “collective.”
Like most art, Mehretu’s paintings diminish when not seen in person. Much of the meaning of her work lies in experiencing these complex images at their massive scale and being unable to take in their entirety at once. They read one way from a distance, but as the viewer approaches they must select a portion of the image to examine more closely. Because it is physically impossible to see everything at once, the viewer must slow down and allow their eye to explore and discover the painting. Each person will see something slightly different as no two people will examine it in quite the same way. As Mark Godfrey said, “viewers have to abandon the desire to fully master what they see.”
In writing about Mehretu’s work Richard Shiff said, “The culture is complex, contradictory, and commodious; for better or worse, it tolerates extremes of opposition, assimilating diverse impulses, nevertheless avoiding collapse. To navigate a hyperculture of this sort requires a hyperimage, a perspective far more complex than a map of eighteenth-century trade routes…” I think what I find so fascinating about Mehretu’s work is the way in which her paintings function as hyperimages that juxtapose our perspective of chaotic experience with the suggestion of an underlying order. Her paintings are models and metaphors for a way of thinking about culture and reality.
“I think architecture reflects the machinations of politics, and that’s why I am interested in it as a metaphor for those institutions. I don’t think of architectural language as just a metaphor about space, but about spaces of power, about ideas of power.” – Julie Mehretu
“The deployment of the geometric dominates the landscape. Space is divided into discrete, isolated cells, explicitly determined as to extent and function. Cells are reached through complex networks of corridors and roadways that must be traveled at prescribed speeds and at prescribed times. The constant increase in the complexity and scale of these geometries continuously transforms the landscape…Along with the geometrization of the landscape, there occurs the geometrization of thought. Specific reality is displaced by the primacy of the model. And the model is in turn imposed on the landscape, further displacing reality in a process of ever more complete circularity. ”–The Deployment of the Geometric
Peter Halley’s visual langue primarily consists of the cell and the conduit, executed with endless variation. In an age when so much art is charged with political content and images from popular culture it may seem that Halley is merely painting pretty pictures. However, his paintings acquire layers of depth the more one reads his theories on geometry, abstraction, and society. He uses the formal language of modernism, and particularly that of abstract expressionists like Newman and Rothko, but with the cynicism and ironic tone of post-modernism. His work stands as a response to the hopeful geometric mysticism of artists like Mondrian and the abstract expressionists’ vision of the sublime.
“While the analysis of themes in the mass media is no doubt significant, an ideological exploration of geometry can be still more so for despite the profusion of media images in contemporary culture, geometric signs still remain the most ubiquitous and influential in our society. At almost every instant, we are confronted by countless geometrical signs, even in environments that are free of media signs….it is geometric signs in the form of art, architecture, and statistical analyses that the managerial class reserves to communicate with itself.” –The Crisis of Geometry
His work explores our fascination with the language of our enslavement. Or, to put it in his own words, “the very object of discomfort, geometry, is transformed into an object of adulation.” He questions whether geometric form is really the true essence of things or if it is merely the most expedient method of control. He asks the questions: “to what purpose is geometric form put to in our culture? Why is modern society so obsessed with geometric form that, for at least the last two centuries, we have striven to build and live in geometric environments of increasing complexity and exclusivity? Why has geometric art been so widely accepted in our century, and why has geometric imagery gained an unprecedented importance in our public iconography?”
“Space became geometrically differentiated and partitioned. Circulatory pathways, the omnipresent straight lines of the industrial landscape, were established to facilitate orderly movement” –The Crisis in Geometry
“The cell. Its ubiquity reflects the atrophy of the social and the rise of the interconnective. At the same time that the advent of piped-in “conveniences” has made it unnecessary to leave the cell, it has also made it impossible to leave the cell…In the planar universe, only color is capable of coding the linear with meaning: Colored lines on maps distinguish the character of highways. Wires are colored to mark their purpose. In hospitals, one can even follow colored bands on the floor through labyrinthine corridors to one’s destination.”–On Line
While the human figure never appears in his work, I find it interesting to consider how we increasingly conceive of ourselves in mechanistic terms. We use the language of “hooking up” or “recharging” to describe physical actions. We think of our brains as computers, even though they function in very different ways. Halley’s paintings visualize this language we have adopted to describe ourselves.
“The modern conception of man as a machine is more economic than biological in its accent. It refers to the human robot rather than the human animal, and suggests an efficient control of the costly movements of the body, a submission to some external purpose indifferent to the individual. . .Thus the social is finally becoming the site of “pure abstraction.” Each human being is no longer just a number, but is a collection of numbers, each of which ties him or her to a different matrix of information…With Mondrian, a decade later, any reference to specificity is gone and the world is described as an utopian grid of abstract flows and forces.”–Notes on Abstraction
You can find more images of his work and the complete essays quoted here on Peter Halley‘s website.
“Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: first, nature, which affects us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and with his materials; and third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world…The impulse of nature, fused through the personality of the artist by laws arising from the particular nature of the medium, produces the rhythm and personal expression of a work.”
It should be noted that what Hofmann means by “spiritual” should not be confused with the religious use of word. For him the spiritual is an emotional and intellectual synthesis of relationships perceived in nature, rationally, or intuitively.
“What makes us feel liberated is not total freedom, but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves.” – Andrea Zittel
Andrea Zittel works from the self-proclaimed “Institute for Investigative Living” in Joshua Tree, CA. She is part prophet performing acts that point to alternative modes of being, part Bauhaus guru fusing art and craft, and part desert hermit humbly dedicated to the art of living. Her property, A-Z West, is a fifty acre site in the California desert and is an “enterprise that encompasses all aspects of day to day living. Home furniture, clothing, food all become the sites of investigation in an ongoing endeavor to better understand human nature and the social construction of needs.” Since fall of 2000 it has been “undergoing an ongoing conversion into a testing grounds for living, in which spaces, objects and acts of living all intertwine as a single ongoing investigation into what it means to exist and participate in our culture today. ‘How to live?’ and ‘What gives life meaning?’ are core issues in both Zittel’s personal life and artistic practice. Answering these questions has entailed the complex relationships between our needs for freedom, security, autonomy, authority, and control, observing how structure and limitations often have the capacity to generate feelings of freedom beyond open-ended choices.”
Her work is a fascinating investigation into the border between representation and the literal–a collapse of the space between viewing and experiencing. A-Z Carpet Furniture is an excellent example of this collapse. It “ highlights the slippage between represented space and literal space. It hovers between being a representation of something (it can hang on the wall or lay on the floor) and the actual thing itself, and it is meant to be used just like any furniture.”
Another dichotomy she explores is our complex desire for art objects. We want beautiful objects to interact with in our day-to-day lives. Yet, we also want those objects to be loaded with ideological or philosophical significance and positioned in the forefront of artistic tradition. She answers that complex desire with her Parallel Planar Panels which “evoke manifold types of physical fields: abstract paintings, walls, floors, furnishings – as well as offering metaphors for the multifarious ‘planes’ of human experience. They reflect an enduring interest in the porous boundaries between distinct modes or genres – whether between abstraction and figuration, or the decorative and the functional. Rather than seeking to deconstruct categories and taxonomies, strategy of careful syncretism are honed adopted.”
In her video Dynamic Essay about the Panel, Zittel notes that it is the limitations and definite boundaries that define the use and relevance of manifestations of the planar form. She describes horizontal panels (tables, rugs, floors, etc.) as “energetic accumulators.” They are the support structures on which we live. On the other hand, vertical panels are vehicles for meaning and messages, which she labels “ideological resonators.” I highly recommend watching this short video in which she explores the profound ramifications of such a simple structure in our daily life.
The Wonder Valley Experimental Living Cabins are the most recent addition to the Institute for Investigative Living. “The cabins are located in a remote part of the Mojave, 40 minutes from Joshua Tree, off-the-grid, without power or running water. In lieu of these amenities, the cabins offer the vastest of space—an instance when patterns and routines are stripped away, allowing a new kind of awareness to emerge. Conditions are minimal, but all basic necessities are provided, including water, light source, bedding, seating, composting toilet, cooking tools and utensils.”
All quoted text from http://www.zittel.org/
Thanks to Maria Popova at Brain Pickings I recently discovered a whole series of Salvador Dalí’s illustrations for classic works of literature. Click on the caption to see the full complement of images.
Also as a bonus check out Dalí’s twelve signs of the zodiac.
I am a huge fan of Matt Kish and I just discovered a fantastic tumblr project he’s involved with, Seeing Calvino.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is a fictitious dialogue between Marco Polo and the emperor Kublai Kahn about the fantastic and impossible cities Polo has purportedly seen in his travels. It has influenced countless architects and artists with its alternative approach to thinking about what cities are and how they function.
“Seeing Calvino is an attempt by the artists Leighton Connor, Matt Kish, and Joe Kuth, to “see,” through the creation of illustrations responding to and exploring the ideas in the texts, the work of writer Italo Calvino. The tumblr began in April 2014 with illustrations of Calvino’s Invisible Cities. A new illustration will be posted every Wednesday.”
“If, dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other beams. ‘What meaning does your construction have?’ he asks. ‘What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?’
“‘We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now,’ they answer.
“Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. ‘There is the blueprint,’ they say.”
“Summoned to lay down the rules for the foundation of Perinthia, the astronomers established the place and the day according to the position of the stars…Perinthia – they guaranteed – would reflect the harmony of the firmament, nature’s reason and the gods’ benevolence would shape the inhabitants’ destinies.
In Perinthia’s streets and square today you encounter cripples, dwarfs, hunchbacks, obese men, bearded women. But the worse cannot be seen; guttural howls are heard from cellars and lofts…
Perinthia’s astronomers are faced with a difficult choice. Either they must admit that all their calculations were wrong and their figures are unable to describe the heavens, or else they must reveal that the order of the gods is reflected exactly in the city of monsters.”
“This belief is handed down in Beersheba: that, suspended in the heavens, there exists another Beersheba … They also believe, these inhabitants, that another Beersheba exists underground.”
There’s a great interview with the artists here. Be sure to check out this blog and follow it if you’re a tumblr user.
Quote from Bruce Herman: “the artist stands in relation to her art much as a parent does to her child: ‘I have not created you; you came through me, not just from me.’ But for this to happen, the artist must stand in a tradition that lends meaning to her work. Hence, the very uniqueness of the art is a dependent thing—dependent upon a past, even as it moves us into a future…our debt to tradition (whether conscious or not) ought to make us humble enough to acknowledge our debt to one another, as well, in the making and “using” of works of art. We are, all of us, both transmitters and recipients of the tradition as it lives in us, offering us, as we embody it, something authentically new. ”
You can find the complete essay here.