Great Impressions

 

I decided to spend my Thursday afternoon doing a re-run of Musée d’Orsay. I went there on the 2nd day of my residency to see the Picasso, Blue & Rose special exhibition. To be fair, it was extremely crowded because Picasso was slated to close in 3 days.  I was also exhausted from travel and still adjusting to all of the new changes, including the time difference.

Today was a different story. I arrived at the museum right after lunch, walked right in the front door, no lines, no wait, no hassles, and no blockbuster exhibition. Things stayed pretty nice for about 3 hours and then I guess the school trips with students started flooding into the galleries. At any rate, this was a far more pleasant experience, than my first time there.

This museum is a renovated train station. It is brilliant. It has character. It has open space. It has nooks and crannies to explore.  The guidebook says to skip the traditional European stuff on the first floor; I didn’t follow the author’s recommendation.  I agree that Impressionism is “to die for.” But, I will never forget the scale of Courbet’s Artist’s Studio, and Burial at Ornans. The magnitude of these two French Realist works is impressive. It reinforces my belief that an underlying condition of great art is ambition. It is obviously not the only essential characteristic, but it must be present.

In addition, I was pleased to see the work embraced by the French Academy during the late 19th century on display. To my 21st century eyes, supported by the underlying values solidified by my art history training, the academy work, which embodies strong traditional draftsmanship with an emphasis on history painting, indeed looks stale. I appreciate the museum presenting this work so that I could make the comparison for myself.

All of the artists in this collection are great; however, the one that I have the closest personal affinity to is Manet. His paint application is generous and direct; he attracts my attention with delicious paint. The push and pull he achieves between the various planes and spaces, in his paintings, are contradictions of illusional space. In Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe he makes it all look so effortless. I think if I could take one painting home with me this would be it.  It truly is inventive. I was also thrilled to see Manet’s Olympia and the Balcony and additionally, several smaller still lifes.

The collection of Édouard Vuillard in this museum is impressive. I have seen numerous works by this artist in Washington, D.C. at the Phillips Collection and the National Gallery of Art.  My recollection of all of those works is that they were very modest in scale, typically small and intimate. The themes and palette here in France are similar, but the scale of many works surprised me. The seated figure in the photograph above was at least 5 feet tall.  I think part today’s experience for me as “Vuillard redefined.”

All in all, I left with a feeling that the late 19th century truly was a great period for painting. I hope I am still seeing them in my mind not only this evening when I close my eyes and go to sleep but I hope they continue to reside in my subconscious as I continue my quest as a painter.

 

 

 

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In the Studio

Cité internationale des arts

I have been holed up in my studio flat for a few days now. Saturday, Sunday, Monday and now Tuesday. Occasionally, I have gone out to the grocery and last night I attended two performances here at the Cité but that is about it.

I am painting. I brought with me as many sheets of Arches oil painting paper as I could roll into a tube. I took another 5 sheets, and cut them in half for smaller works. So the half-baked images you see on the wall are each 22 x 30 inches. I feel like my start has been slow, but I also think that is okay. As you can tell from my previous posts I have spent some of my time going to exhibitions before they closed.

So, up to this point, things have been a little uptight as I dive back into my passion. I am warming up. Ultimately, I’m am aiming for this this work to become more visceral and perhaps wind up in some territory where things are a little more abstract. I will say that I predictably responded well to the Basquiat show in terms of sheer power and mark making, so we will see how that goes. As far as these three works go, they are all from outside of my own backyard in the States and have been on the back burner now for a while; they may stay that way. Nevertheless, I am using them as a bridge, something to practice and explore until the real work emerges. The fourth one that is on the board at the moment is more improvisational. It has been a little different painting on this paper. There is no primer, so things are slightly more absorbent at first. I am also fighting with the limited territory of my palette and the smaller tubes of paint. I expect to adjust.

As I get back at it in a little bit, let me simply issue a caveat; what you see in this post is likely to undergo revision, meaning that all of this work can end up sacrificed for what comes next. I’ll keep you posted. Au revoir.

Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Fondation Louis Vitton

Wow. Yesterday, I approached and entered the Centre Pompidou and encountered no waiting. Today was a different matter. Today was cloudy, misting rain and bout 40 degrees. I went to the end of the line. I asked the attendant if I was in the correct line, and how long would the wait be? She replied respectively, yes and 3 hours. Well, I decided to stick it out. With an oatmeal raisin cliff bar in my pocket, I could endure anything! I suspected it would be crowded as the show closes in two days.

A few observations immediately came to mind for me as I waited: 1. Yesterday, by the end of my tour, I was pretty convinced that non-conceptual painting is no longer a priority, and 2. Gee, there are a lot of people here today standing in line to see two dead artists who put a lot of emphasis on physical process. 3. If one is going to have to stand in the cold with toes going numb, at least it is nice to experience the riveting and inventive architecture of Frank Gehry. My wait to get to the x-ray scanners was about an hour.

Once inside, I headed for the information desk and then to the galleries. In terms of  crowds, this was pretty much the same as the Picasso show I saw last week. Inside of these galleries, one is still not safe from pick-pocket thieves. Not only is it a challenge to simply see the work, one also has the regular patron who has to extend that cell phone camera into the line of vision; it is fascinating to see how inept people are with their cell phones – mostly bad framing. In blockbuster exhibitions of the past, one only had to content with perfume cacophony. Now, we get see how the Pixel 3 competes with the Samsung Edge. Oh, and generally there is a work of art at the other end, a guard, and an alarm beeping. Aesthetic experiences have changed.

With all of that being said, Schiele was quite the draftsman. He was dynamite the the contour line and so confident in his practice, that he could even nail things with a blind-contour line.  He was sensitive not only to the forms, but to the attitudes and postures of his sitters, including himself. He strikes me as kind of frail, maybe sometimes less than secure, and he was being honest to allow these revelations to come forward.  For whatever proportional distortions come forward in his figures, there is a lovely accuracy in his observations. I am really happy for the amount of attention given to his drawing in this show.

For Basquiat, the power of the mark, the relationships to individualized handwriting, the juxtaposition of bold symbolic images with larger passages of expressionist paint, and sheer scale of his work delivers a raw and powerful effect. He works with larger themes of minority issues, relationships with religion, mythologies and cultural mores. His transition from NYC street graffiti to large canvasses make a lot of sense and the decade of the 1980s (with the context of Neo-expressionism) was perfect for him to emerge. He built on and fused the traditions of Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly. I could probably go back and look at this exhaustive show over and over and find new things revealed. There is no way you can leave without be confronted with questions of economic and societal unfairness. The big question since this work was made in the 1980s is, “have we really made any improvements in terms of equal opportunity for all?” By taking it off the street walls and delivering it to an art audience, the right people might at least be seeing the message. It is possible that it carries more weight when the audience has to shell out 16 euro to see the message.

Lastly, this is one of those museum experiences where the museum itself is a work of art. So I have included some pictures of Frank Gehry’s innovation of space. It is big, it is grand, and it is very organic. Once inside, the structure allows for the transition of all of that vast space, down to the most sensitive Egon Schiele line. A couple of works commissioned for the space that enhance the organic theme are the oversized rose by Iza Gensken  and the layered garden piece by Adrian Villar Rojas.  Thanks Paris, for taking these risks to elevate the human spirit through art and architecture.

A Day at the Museum – Centre Pompidou

I read about how this building is designed and functions before I went, so my initiation should have gone well, and for the most part it did. First things first, there is a system of exterior escalators that takes one up to the various levels. But first, one must go inside to get the ticket?…Yes. After the ticket booth, one goes back through a controlled exit to the exterior magical tube. In some ways it reminded me of a plastic habitat system my brother had for his pet hamster when I was growing up. I finally got to the the Musée national d’ art moderne, submitted my ticket, and I was IN. Things got easier from this point on. All of the guide books point out that it is one of the largest comprehensive collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. It is big. It has a lot of space. Nevertheless, a great deal of the collection is in storage. For this blog, I’m knocking it all down to ten pieces. Given another visit, I might very well pick differently but here it goes:

  1. Initial impressions are always fresh, so I enjoyed some Derain, Modigliani, and then she-bang, really hit it off with this wall of Matisse. The one on the left is such a perfect setup for one of my painting heroes, Richard Diebenkorn (I might add, they did not show a Diebenkorn, so this is as close as I got, today). The color in this work simply sings beautiful melodies and harmonies. The structure is impeccable and the paint quality is delicious. And the goldfish are alive, which is miraculous.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2906
  2. One of Wassily Kandinsky‘s Improvisations.  He made this work after his Blue Rider Period and it represents a period where expressionism takes off into something more spiritual in his art. He is a fascinating artist who started out in Russia. Once he got to the Bauhaus in Germany his ideas became more structured. This one represents a sweet spot in his career in terms of expressive mark making, color, and pure abstraction that is analogous to music.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2912
  3. Georges Braque Still Life, is one of the best I have ever seen. Turns the world into multiple vantage points and reminds me of collage, even though it is painted. It’s also very dark, and I like very dark. Its also pretty cool to think that one use to be able to paint this kind of subject matter and not be raked over the coals by some post-modernist critic. 2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2925
  4. Picasso: How do you pick a Picasso? I suspect that the museum curators think the same thing.  This one seemed alive for me. I’ve never seen it before. It has the cubism style, great color, and bold shape. The mirror is a nice touch.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2963
  5. Cy Twombly: Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus. The painting is large. The painting is epic. The painting is economical. Okay, he was from Lexington, Virginia (so I am biased)  and evolved into a European and ultimately an international art star. There is nothing else that looks like his work, but he was likely the only person who ever understood it; the rest of us simply want to. He was clearly influenced by history and the classics. In the process, he transformed those ideas into a new and highly individualized form of painting/drawing.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2959
  6. Claude Rutault: Please simply make my painting the same color as your wall. It’s your choice.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2938
  7. Sol Lewitt: To start, if you are suffering from gallery fatigue, you might just accidentally miss this one, even though it commands an entire wall. Here are the instructions; now, do it yourself.  Lewitt sends the gallery a very specific diagram, and specifies the exact colors and the brand of pencil. Gallery assistants become critical in the execution of the work. The artist insists that the concept remains primary through this process.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2957
  8. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs. The chair is the signifier. The definition of the word is the signified, the whole is the sign. By confronting the actual object with its representation and definition, it’s reduced to its concept alone; it is a chair. This is the stuff that even Plato loved to argue about!2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2931
  9. Christian Boltanski, La vie impossible de C. B. “We will never realize quite clearly enough what a shameful thing death is…I decided to harness myself to…preserving oneself whole, keeping a trace of all moments of our lives…” Interesting installation about both life and death. It was definitely dark in there.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2939
  10. Maya Dunietz, Thicket. Composer and Sound artist from Tel Aviv. Instead of one headset separating the listener from the rest of the world, this artist reverses the process by using numerous headsets to create a soundscape. I might add that the visual impact was impressive as well.2019-1-10 centre pompidou-2945

As I wrap this blog up for today, I want to say that I am blown away by the ambition demonstrated by so many artists, even the ones I chose not to blog about including: Guston, Close, Marden, deKooning, Klein, Savu, Nauman, Duchamp, Mitchell….The list goes on and on. One thing I felt about this collection is that it has a different European emphasis than what I am accustomed to in the United States. It was a refreshing narrative.

 

 

 

Settling In

I’ve been here a few days and getting a little more used to my surroundings. My studio Flat is on the third floor of Cité internationale des arts facing south and it overlooks the Seine River. Notre-Dame of Paris is off to the right. I have been to Musée d’Orsay, Notre-dame, and Sainte Chapelle.  The pics above are from yesterday.  The represent my neighborhood and the ancient island across the river from me. The images represent Notre-Dame, Sainte Chapelle, and surrounding views. The weather was awesome.

So far, nothing has matched the luminosity, magic, and spacial transformation of Sainte-Chapelle. It is of course famous as an example of the Rayonnant Gothic Style of architecture. The supporting stone masonry is reduced to a minimum so as to emphasize magnificent walls of glass. I’m not sure where I read it, but I liked the description of the structure as a place where the visitor is located inside of a reliquary. This was the royal chapel built for use by the King of France. It also once housed the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns. That relic is now held be the Cathedral of Notre-Dame a few blocks away.

The trick to this experience, as is true of all residencies, will be balancing the exploration of a new territory with getting work done for a forthcoming show. I have trekked to the art supply store and have started working. As things progress, this blog will alternate between cultural exploration and paintings that are in progress.

 

Too Old for this Stuff? Arrival

I even had an earlier awakening today than yesterday. I was sleeping, soundly on the airplane when the flight attendant nudged me, asking whether I would like an omelett or a fruit tray. I looked at my watch and it revealed that it was 1:30pm Chicago time. I ate what I could, but after the meals yesterday, I was fine sending more than half of it back. The flight was good, but pretty close to finished. I went back to sleep after breakfast, but it wasn’t long before the landing announcements commenced. At least the sun was up as we deboarded the plane at 9:30 am (Paris time) at Charles De Gaulle airport.

Everything went well, landing, passport control, customs, train into town and even hauling all of the stuff that I have with me. I packed pretty close to maximum capacity with my art paper, oil colors brushes, clothing, electronics and other personal items. So it was quite a chore when I was confronted with a stairway every now and then in the subway. I suspect that I slowed urban Paris down a bit, today. I took the RER train to Chatelet and transferred to Metro line 7.   I had no problem finding my temporary two-month home; check-in at the Cité internationale des arts went very smoothly. I did some unpacking. Once again, TSA picked my suitcase for inspection. They cannot help themselves I suppose. Who else carries painting knives, weapons of beauty?

My studio flat is on the third floor. It overlooks the Seine. Apparently there is a sight-seeing boat tour that operates on the river that I view straight out of my studio window.  Off to the right is the massive Cathedral of Notre Dame. The day was cloudy, but warm at around 40˚F. The river is a cold green. It is punctuated by the branches and trunks of Scyamore trees. I wonder if its something that I do that is ingrained within me, or if it is really the way it looks….I know, the ancient philosophers argued about exactly this sort of thing….but I see the Seine as an Impressionist painter did; the light ripples, the transient changing nature of the water flickering as it passes by in front of me. I bring this up, because when I visited Yosemite National Park and the Grand Tetons, I certainly saw a lot of it through the pictorial lenses of Ansel Adams.  The picture I have posted here of my view seems a little more expansive than it really is. The Seine is closer than it appears, and Notre Dame is larger, as well.

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My French Language skills are abysmal, but I will try. I appreciate the kindness of two individuals today, one at the train ticket office, and the subway ticket office at Chatelet. They made my journey pretty smooth. I went to the grocery and the only snafu was finding the tangelo I wanted on the weighing selection menu. The clerk was not helpful…trading out what I wanted for what matched the image on the scale. I would have liked for it to be the other way around. The good news is, I am not starving and I chose a decent Bordeaux wine to celebrate my first day.

This section of town seems nice. I am the 4th arrondissement on the right bank of the Seine. There is a park to the right of my building. The architecture is varied and beautiful. The walkways are wide. It is clean. The noise of the traffic meshes with the bells of the Cathedral; ironically, the citizens of the 12th century could never have imagined this. I have slept as my body has commanded today and I am up late now. I have determined that other than the hours that shop owners keep, I am not anyone else’s schedule for a while. My feet hurt and my hips ache, so rest it shall be…and did I forget to mention, I will need to find push pins tomorrow.

A Departure

Truthfully, getting abruptly awakened by the alarm was a little disconcerting this morning. It’s tough to hop out of bed, shower, and load the luggage so that you can be on the road at 4:30. That’s what it takes to be 2 hours early for airport check-in when you leave in rural southwest Virginia. My wife got me to the airport on time. I survived TSA where I have and paid for TSA pre-check but they don’t? Well they sort of have a watered down version…Exactly how do they sell something they actually don’t have? So far I have been able to use it once since I got it last year. I have come to understand that it is simply another aspect of living where I do. I will say the TSA employees here are far more customer centered than, well Philadelphia immediately comes to my mind.

The flight went smoothly and I was greeted with this beautiful sunrise just after take-off. It reminded me how our atmosphere is an ocean filled with water.

I’m in Charlotte right now waiting for the next flight. I will be flying in the opposite direction for awhile. It will feel good when I’m heading in the right direction, again. All of my connections are comfortable with no need to rush. It will make for a long day.

update:

Down to the last half hour in Chicago. It is lightly snowing. My plane is here and I’m at gate K5.

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The Paris Adventure

 

I have to admit, it should be pretty fascinating walking the same streets as Daumier, Manet, David, Picasso, Monet, Ingres, Van Gogh and Braque. It will also be pretty cool to go purchase artist colours at the same stores as these past greats. I leave very early in the morning, ready to pursue my project that deals with the psychological landscape. I depart without preconceived notions and I am ready for a new body of work that departs from my last 10 years. Beyond psychological landscapes, I am also thinking “reckless abandon.”  I am packed with 17 sheets of 22 x 30 inch Arches oil paper in a tube, some starter artist colors in a suitcase with my clothes, and a pack filled with essentials.

I am grateful for the sabbatical opportunity from Emory & Henry College and very grateful to Mark Baldridge who volunteers for the Virginia Atelier, which is located in the Cité.

I have been reading and reading about Paris. In fact, I likely have too many guide books in my pack. My time for studying French language has been so extremely limited.  I am not necessarily thrilled about going in January/February, but at least the cold should discourage me from spending too much time outdoors in gardens and keep me directed in the studio.

I have no way of knowing how Paris will influence me. I intend on hitting the Centre Pompidou very early on and seeing as many contemporary galleries as possible. I am excited about posting my modernist and postmodernist encounters on this blog and reflecting as much as possible.