February 19, 2012

Book Review: John Berger, Ways of Seeing

This book argues that painting, and today advertising and the printed image, have mucked around with how literally we see, as a conditioned act. They have done this by concealing in them ideologies that have become so ubiquitous we no longer notice them, like computers have become environmental when only a few decades ago they would've freaked anyone out.

Berger says the female nude is not naked, without clothes. She's something else, invented, not herself.  The female nude is a "convention" cooked up by painters and their patrons. She knows she's being looked at by men and she submits to their feelings or demands. "Nakedness reveals itself," explains Berger. "Nudity is placed on display."

The book - I should say tract - is rife with these sorts of claims.

On landscape painting: "They show him [the lordly European buyer of the 17th century] sights: sights of what he may possess."  And, "Oil painting, before it was anything else, was a celebration of private property."

On commercial art: "Art is a sign of affluence; it belongs to the good life; it is part of the furnishing which the world gives to the rich and beautiful."

The most powerful chapter is one on advertising. Berger looks at how advertisers have pillaged art's past for visual tropes that have primed us for sensations advertisers want, such as power, pleasure, and envy.

Ways was first published when people still said things like capitalism. While generalizations that lead to easy thinking are annoying, the book is a good thought piece. It convinced me we need a lot more visual literacy to protect ourselves.

February 14, 2012

Shelldale Open House

Last week I received the wonderful news that the new Guelph Community Health Centre Shelldale Branch, located in the Willow West area, had purchased two of my paintings and commissioned me for a third.  I'm honoured to have been selected from the long list of entries and to now have my work displayed in a public institution that plays such an essential role for Guelph and for my own family.

This Thursday from 3 pm to 6 pm the centre is hosting an open house at which the new art will be revealed.  Come on out!

Happiness in a Corner at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts

The postcard for my show at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts is out.  As you can see from the image, the work will be slightly different than my usual. 

The opening reception is March 16, 7-9 pm.  I hope to see you there!

February 12, 2012

Battle of the Brushes - Again

My second Battle of the Brushes at the Hamilton Art Crawl.  Lotsa fun.  And the popular vote went in my favour.

About to spear my painting with shiny eyed zombies crowding in.

What I pulled off in a half hour.  In the light, the colours were so different than what I thought I'd used I thought the work wasn't mine.  In the previous shot you can see how dim it was while in action.  Thanks M for buying the painting!

February 5, 2012

Book Review: The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell

"Give up one's being to the enterprise and see what lies within, whatever it is. Venture, don't look back. Do not tire. Everything is open."

The enterprise is painting. It's 1965, America. Motherwell launches a project to paint a 1000 pictures on paper, but he stops at 600, never to finish the project. The American sculptor David Smith, his friend in a long line of such artistic adventurers, has died.

If you've never heard of Robert Motherwell, he was



Motherwell would have liked his life depicted as tragic. He was an abstract painter, a founding member of abstract expressionism and its most articulate practicing spokesperson. While his companions - Rothko, Pollock, Gorky, Baziotes, Smith - threw their health before their art and in instances died tragically, he endured, and seemed to have kept his soundness and lucidity till the end.

Like all avant garde art, Motherwell's was a protest, in his case against "naturalistic descriptiveness as the most adequate vehicle of expression for the modern mind."

Motherwell wanted to inhabit the meaning of "modern," the essence of living in the present. He believed painting's job was not to "represent" the exterior world, but to express how it was felt and experienced.

"I can't help believing that what the art situation in America needs most is to get art away from the universities and museums back into the hands of painters and poets."

And: "In our society art is most integrated in persons under seven, and in patients in hospitals, and these two classes have by far the highest percentage of true artists."

Repeatedly he brings up that the true artist is not clouded with theories and techniques about what constitutes proper art. The true artist taps into a primordial self. Motherwell used free association, or psychic automatism, to get down deep.

I choked up on this passage where he describes his art as a moral struggle for an almost unattainable end: "The struggle has inexorable moral values - no nostalgia, no sentimentalism, no propaganda, no discourse, no autobiography ... no clich├ęs, no predetermined endings, no seduction, no charm, no relaxation, no mere taste, no obviousness, no coldness; or, oppositely, for me, it must have immediacy, passion or tenderness, beingness ... detachment ... true invention and search, light, an unexpected end, mainly warm earth colors, and black and white, a certain stalwartness."

I loved reading Motherwell. He says he wrote reluctantly, out of a kind of intellectual responsibility. Only poetry could approach what he was trying to do. But his regular words navigate the hairball of arts writing with refreshing clarity.

As for his "silent poems," I yearn to experience them.