Sunday, 30 November 2014

Magic Door

I started off with high hopes with this picture.  I wanted originally to include a door that would close on to the picture  on the right then when opened close on to the picture on the left.  I don't have the skills to make such a door and without it the picture is unsuccessful.  Also I tried to create the ball on the left as a 3D image but it just doesn't work.  I was inspired by Anselm Keifer's work and wanted to include that heavy texture and some rhinestones, but the whole effect is clumsy.

The painting is meant to illustrate the following poem:

When life's horizon was hidden in haze
And no limits had been defined,
I lived in a haven I thought was a maze,
So I searched until I did find.

When an exit I saw,
With exuberance of youth
I ran through that magic door;
Only to find when I turned around
The door wasn't there anymore.

I envisaged using Picasso's Dove painting to illustrate innocent youth with the dove of peace, except that the background was hinting at a maze, to illustrate the poem.  The handle on the door has the look of an LED, therefore something slightly magical. The future of the person on the right is unknown, but there is an horizon, so she is aware of mortality and life's limited span.  Her path is picked out in rhinestones indicating hope of better things to come.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Jean Debuffet (1901-1985) and Daniel Buren (1938 - )

Jean Debuffet (1901-1985)

The general public in France soon after World War II sought beauty and redemption in art after the horrors that had just been confronted by many.  However Jean Debuffet was a contradiction and provided paintings that he regarded as honest and without pretense.  He used mediums which included gravel, straw and texture paintings that were primitive and opposed to the ideas of high traditional art.  This emphasis on “materiality” was a way of starting from scratch by ignoring the past, much as the Dadaist movement had done in its time, so the gritty texture and earth colours in his paintings was like the very soil itself a new beginning from the bottom up, as it were.

The “Hourloupe” style he developed from black lined doodles encouraged him to create sculpture using a similar technique as he felt these represented the way we perceive objects in the mind.  He was the pioneer of Art Brut, a way of seeing art at it’s most uncontrolled and primitive.  He promoted the work of children and mental patients, and influenced his own approach to art.  He says: “For me, insanity is super sanity.  The normal is psychotic.  Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity”.

Art Brut (Raw Art) coincided with the Italian Art Povera which in turn was a reaction against Abstract art in the 1950s.  The movement also refers to the “poor” materials used, i.e. burlap sacking, earth, rope, rocks, paper and clothing. Art Informel (mainly in Germany)  was similar in the sense of rejecting traditional art in favour of non-geometric Abstraction.  From these three art movements it is possible to see that post war European art had gone through a major change in its progression from “High” academic art to ground-breaking beginnings which are fuelled by a primitive base.  This echoes the desire of the Dadaist movement that wanted to reject previous art and start from the beginning.

It took a while before Debuffet overcame his doubt in art, twice he reverted to his father’s wine business.  But in 1942 he made his choice to pursue an artistic career, painting child-like images, and work influenced by the insane.  He also made assemblages of polyester sculptures.  There is an unsettling violence to his work that can often be attributed to similar paintings, for example using children’s dolls.

Daniel Buren (1938 -     )

Buren uses stripes as a neutral symbol in his sculpture, installing his art in and around Paris during the 60s.  He was commissioned to use striped columns at the 2012 Monumenta festival in Paris.  The latest installation at the Grand Palais has disks of plastic colours that fill the space and are mirrored from below.  I personally don’t find his work rewarding because I don’t get any message, and like others think it is repetitive, but he is regarded as France’s most important living artist.  His use of coloured plastic in the BALTIC Centre Contemporary Art exhibition reminds me of Matisse’s church windows that he produced at the end of his life.  The reflected light is joyful but for me is closer to interior design techniques than to art. It is interesting that his concern is mainly the “scene of production”, i.e. the process of making, rather than representing anything but the work itself, so a conceptual artist.  In terms of stripes, I think Bridgette Riley produces far more interesting work.

I am not sure what all this says about the late 20th Century, I suppose that people aren’t interested in ideas only material things and particularly processes that might relate to Information Technology;  people glued to machines and appended to their devices.  I am convinced the ‘computer’ will prove to be the womb of future art, but the gestation period seems a bit protracted. However we are starting from the beginning, which is of course the end, and the end is indeed the beginning”

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Anselm Kiefer Exhibition at Royal Academy

I really "get" this artist.  Some of his ideas about the cosmos and nature, life, death and renewal, chime with my own.  The scale of his work is breath-taking, quite literally.  One of the features of his work is its unpretentious honesty.  It is always seeking to explore elemental truths about the basic "stuff" of life and how it resonates within a vast spectrum of human history, legend, experience, yearnings and tragedies.  It somehow opens up the core of things to the spectator, and that is his strength.  Technically, the work is quite beautiful particularly some of his later work produced for the exhibition.  The texture helps to explore depth of meaning, and the choice of the materials  and mediums is exciting and tactile.

I left the gallery having gained an insight into full reach of his ideas, an infinite questioning of what is.  There is mention of a couple of things in the catalogue of Kiefer's work that touched me, in particular a quote about the child being able to put her hand over the viper's den, which was a quote from Revelations after the new heaven and earth had been formed, following the destruction of the old heaven and earth.  It echoes the optimism that is sought in Kiefer's work and alludes to the tragedy of his own time and country after the terrible events of the last war.  The cleansing that he pursues not just for himself but for his country is linked to this idea.   On the infinite scale of the universe the other quote was the one that says that "in the beginning is the end and in the end is the beginning"¹. There is something remarkably optimistic and profound about this statement too. It is symbolic of the Ouroboros, which is a symbol of the Alchemist, one of Kiefer's main pre-occupations.
The symbol denotes wholeness and infinity, as well as the idea of something constantly recreating itself, in a cyclical way. Carl Jung apparently interpreted the Ouroboros as an archetypal significance to the human psyche, representing the "dawn state" of mankind as well as the individual child. All of these ideas are reflected in Kiefer's work.

Kiefer himself says "When I use objects and substances such as straw and lead I distil from their spirit...I discover the spirit that is within these substances.  I upheave it and display it"².
I think this is exactly what Kiefer does, and for this reason it is possible to re-visit his work and sense different things because his paintings work on so many different levels to reveal that "spirit".  It is interestingthat he uses the word "spirit" because his work echoes earlier Successionist painters who fell into the Symbolist style.  His subject matter is dark and esoteric, and he paints woodlands invoking ancient myth and legend.

I feel inspired to grapple with some of the techniques that Kiefer uses to express my own work, but realize I could never achieve the same poignant resolve.

Reference: Ansem Kiefer  by Kathleen Soriano, Christian Weikop and Richard Davey,  published by Royal Academy of Arts on the occasion of the exhibition Anselm Keifer, 27 September - 14 December 2014
¹ p49, Chapter Title of the above catalogue
² p. 21 of the above catalogue.