Bryan R. Monte – AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, Amsterdam Stedelijke Museum, 24 May to 14 October 2018
Wayne Thiebaud, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, 10 June to 16 September 2018.

It was if the gods themselves were listening when I chose Texture as the theme for AQ’s 2018 summer issue. Amsterdam’s Stedelijk and Wassenaar’s Museum Voorlinden have both recently opened retrospective exhibitions by artists, whose primary focus is texture: the Stedelijk featuring work by Günther Förg and the Voorlinden, work by Wayne Thiebaud. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches for texture art devotees.

How the view changed

The Stedelijk’s Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, runs through 14 October 2018. The Stedelijk’s collection, the largest in world, curated by Veit Loers, includes work from his entire oeuvre including a variety of mediums such sculptures and photographs, and materials such as bronze, lead, lead and plaster in addition to more traditional paintings on canvas. The exhibition is organized thematically, starting with a gallery of black and white photos of Bauhaus buildings. Most of these photos are of exteriors, but a few are of interiors, taken through the regularly-ordered blocks of the window frames. It’s this raamwerk leitmotif that is used by Loers throughout the exhibition to provide thematic unity. It is also reinforced by a series of four framed photographs entitled Wall Painting, Vienna Succession, 1990. These include four slightly different landscape views from windows in a house in which the exterior is dark forcing the viewer to look outwards.

A second unifying element or motif is, of course, colour. Some of Förg’s paintings are in fact wall-sized panels of single colours that were originally viewed singly or placed next to each other for contrast. This contrast is even more apparent in a gallery filled with dozens of paintings, which have two or more contrasting colour panels on one canvas but which frequently share a common, grey underlayer. Many of these paintings remind me of Abtract Expressionist Mark Rothko’s horizontal bar paintings where two or more bars create a tension and a unity with each other based upon their surface and underlying colours.

As the visitor continues from one gallery to the next in this exhibition, the window motif begins to morph from a cross-hatch to more of a cross motif and it is combined on canvases with the colour tensions. One gallery, the fourth or so from the beginning contains a collection of nothing but crosshatches on somewhat monochromatic backgrounds. These cross motif and colour tensions are exploited later in what seems like landscape paintings. This two elements come together in Förg’s, Untitled, 1995 in which light green, light, earth-tone orange and white are mixed together with brown, fence-like crosses. It’s a painting that reminds one of Piet Mondriaan’s Impressionistic, Zealand seascapes with tidal barriers from the late 1910s.

Some of the best and darkest pieces in this exhibition are towards the end. In the same a gallery as Untitled, 1995, are a series of dark, hung, large, canvas-sized bronzes. These bronzes include three works with large, deep slashes (all Untitled, 1988) and two with seemingly semi-buried, fossil-like shelled creatures (both Untitled, 1990). A smaller gallery on the right, which dead-ends, includes work from the 1970s and 1990s. This gallery includes one dark brown, almost monochromatic painted canvas, (Untitled, 1974), which, in this reviewer’s opinion, seems to include ghostly torsos looking outwards in a layer just under the surface.

Beyond this gallery and the next is a collection of Förg’s photographs including close-ups of women reminiscent of 1950s glamour photos and a photo of a young man sprawled at the bottom of a staircase either from a fall or another reason from a true crime magazine. These noir images while interesting (as are the photos of ancient mosaics and modern architecture from Italy from a few galleries before) seem, however, to detract from overall trajectory of Förg’s art.

In contrast to the gallery with the dark, hanging bronzes, is the last, very large gallery with what seem like giant, jagged, up-and-down, trial, pastel-coloured pencil markings on white canvases Untitled 2007 and 2008 and mixed-media, untitled white plaster sculptures from 2001. His mixed media white plaster sculptures include objects such as a blue torch or photographer’s flash, white and green plastic bottles, and a fluorescent lamp and copper wiring. These pieces are in stark contrast from the work that has preceded it and obviously an attempt by the artist, in the last decade of his life, to continue to re-invent himself. Perhaps if Förg had lived longer, these new, wall-size practice palettes and smaller, playful plaster sculptures might have enabled him to continue to create work in new directions.

Have your cake and eat it too?

Wayne Thiebaud’s mouth-watering pie slices, cakes, sundaes and donuts are known to almost any Art 101 college student. He is probably the most famous, living American artist and the reason this writer travelled from his usual Amsterdam museum beat to Wassenaar’s Museum Voorlinden to see and interview the great man on the opening of his first European retrospective. Unfortunately, due to an illness and his advanced age (97) Thiebaud didn’t make it to his opening, but museum director Suzanne Swarts ensured that the show went on, providing rolling commentary for the press as she took them through the Voorlinden’s galleries featuring Thiebaud’s work.

Museum Voorlinden has collected approximately 60 of Thiebaud’s works from the 1960s to the present from both public and private collections. The exhibition is curated in such a way that it fortunately seems to answer some of the questions I was going to ask the artist himself. For example, one of my questions was: ‘The room reflections in Two Paint Cans (1987) reminds me of the reflections in silver, glass, and mirrors in some 17th century Dutch still lifes and interior paintings. Were you consciously aware of this tradition as you painted these objects?’

This seemed to be immediately answered in the first gallery where Two Paint Cans (1987) hangs just to the right of Robed Woman with Letter, (1976-2013), who has the same facial gesture (albeit from the front) of bracing herself for bad news as does the woman evocative of Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-64). So right from the beginning, this exhibition places Thiebaud’s oeuvre firmly in the realm of high-art, although Thiebaud insists, as Swarts reminded the press, of calling himself a painter and not an artist. Another unifying technique in the same gallery that is used to present Thiebaud’s work, is chromaticism. At the opposite end of the gallery are two paintings that use similar green colours. The first is Green Dress (1966-2017) of a seated woman in a green dress and the other is White Shoe (1995), the title shoe painted on a green glass table. On the facing wall between these two sets of paintings are paintings of a lipstick (Lipstick, 1964), a portrait of a seated man wearing a red tie and a woman wearing a pink dress, red shoes and a red hairbow, both figures arms crossed, looking opposite directions, and their cheeks flushed (Two Seated Figures, 1965), and a candy counter (Peppermint Counter, 1963) with its 5 and 25 cent striped peppermint sticks and its 10 cent, red, candy apples, the unifying colour between of these three paintings being different shades of red. Thiebaud’s people or figures, as he calls them, seem to come straight out of Edward Hopper, but their boredom or anger is painted in the much brighter California light with its blue and green shadows.

It is these paintings of everyday American images that made Thiebaud, one of the first and most original of the Pop Artists (a term he continues to disavow). Unlike Warhol and the other Pop Artists, however, Thiebaud doesn’t appropriate others’ commercial or comic designs or celebrity photographs for his art. Yet, he does paint common objects from everyday American life: for example, platoons of pie and cake slices lined up for sale in a canteen. And he paints these objects the way he sees them and in his own style with thick slathers of paint, similar to icing strokes. This is not realism. It is an artistic reinvention of what’s before him, giving it texture and thus more visual and mouth-watering appeal such as in Pie Counter, 1963 and Cakes and Pies 1994-1995.

If these beautiful, delicious objects and subjects are perhaps too saccharine or tame for some art aficionados, then they may focus their attention on room 5, which contains Thiebaud’s landscapes, especially his cityscapes which are sure to shake them up. These include aerial views of the agricultural Central Valley, near Thiebaud’s home in Sacramento, or the vertiginous cityscapes with people and cars hurtling down rollercoaster hills painted in his San Francisco Potrero Hill studio. Thiebaud’s somewhat naively-painted, Diebenkornesque, rural landscapes have a feel of God looking down on his/her green creation on a good day, one with one tree lit in golden twilight in Reservoir 1999 fit for Blake’s or Swedenborg’s angels. The perspective in these paintings also sometimes folds out in a somewhat M. C. Escheresque manner to create a new area, expanding the painting’s three traditional planes Fall Fields 2017, or to include the mirage of the reflection of lights in a body of water from a city or large factory that isn’t there. In contrast to these pretty rural landscapes are the monstrously hilly San Francisco cityscapes, filled with skyscrapers Intersection Buildings 2000-2014 (which I believe is a composite painting of California Street) roller coaster motorways, empty urban areas under or around the motorways or in construction areas Towards 280, 2000 and steep hills, such Bluff 2013 which seem to only be climbed at your own peril.

These two very different types of landscapes answer another question I had: ‘Do your two contrasting types of rural and urban landscapes express the order, security and perhaps boredom of Thiebaud’s candied-appled, suburban home in Sacramento vs. the artistic exhilaration and intrepidness you felt working in San Francisco? I think the answer to that question is another resounding: ‘Yes’.

A final question I had for Thiebaud which would have probably come at the beginning of the interview after ‘How are you feeling today at your first European respective?’ It would have been: ‘What influence did your southwestern Mormon origins and Southern Californian upbringing have on your painting?’ I think the first obvious answer to this question can be found in Thiebaud’s work ethic: at 97, according to director Swarts, he still paints everyday. It’s also found in his pastel colour palette, the fully lit figures or objects, whether on display or under the California sun, with their blue and green shadows. In addition, it can found in Thiebaud’s humility and his service to others. Even after Thiebaud found fame in the ’60s, he continued to teach and mentor undergraduates out West at college and university rather than surround himself with a coterie of admirers and move back East. Thiebaud’s art has a simplicity to it, in its subjects and its technique, which continues the credo of ‘less is more.’ (Not Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s but Robert Browning’s in ‘Andrea del Sarto’). Thiebaud probably got this from his work in commercial art. It helped him focus on his subjects—at least the human and edible ones—and find the extraordinary in the ordinary, which has made and sustained his long career.

Simon Brod – Stadionkade, Amsterdam

Simon Brod
Stadionkade, Amsterdam

I.  15 July 2015, 7.45 a.m.

Today, right in the gap between breakfast and duty,
where stern-faced houses loom on either side,
a patch of sun emerges to embrace me
as I walk a narrow bridge across deep waters
whose face, dark and glassy as a mirror,
beckons, lets me peek through open windows,
glimpsing into life on upper floors

where a bird perched on the windowsill observes,
with an eye that pierces the skin of things and sees,
below on the water’s surface, the sky floating,
beyond it, looped in shadows and tangled weeds,
fish swim heedless circles, and here, lost
in reflection, stopping, turning, turning back,
in a garland of sunlight and, grinning stupidly, me.

II.  2 December 2016, 3:45 p.m.

Today the water’s murky, sediment-laden.
Detritus rises, floats, makes lazy circles.

Ripples criss-cross. Reflections are disturbed,
the world reduced to jagged broken lines.

There have been times the eye saw clear and deep.
Stilled, the surface mirrored trees and street signs,

showed cloudless days, people side by side,
friendly faces shining, mine among them.

But now I only see a restless churning,
angry mud stirred up, fallen leaves,

and faces twisted, crooked, pulled apart.
Mine must be there too, sunless, birdless,

somewhere. A hard rain starts. I turn to go.
The picture quakes. A shiver shakes my bones.

Jennifer L. Freed – While My Brother is Having an MRI

Jennifer L. Freed
While My Brother is Having an MRI

                            to see whether the cancer
has also leapt to his brain,
my husband drives wintery roads,
bringing one daughter
to a gymnastics meet,
and the other gets ready for a party
of teenage girls soon to fill this quiet
house. The dog wags
at the door, eager
for his walk, and the plow
leaves another ridge of icy snow
at the end of the driveway.

Jennifer L. Freed – The Dog and I

Jennifer L. Freed
The Dog and I

It is only for a moment that we stand
on the weed-ruffled shoulder of the narrow road
while the driver whips past,

but when we are safe again
I see, locked in the dog’s quick clamp,
a throb of velvet grey,
dangling paws.

I am already too late.
There is nothing to do but continue
walking with the mystery
beating in the warm, oblivious jaw
that trots beside me.

Gabriel Furmuzachi – Qualm

Gabriel Furmuzachi
Qualm

I bought you big, yellow sunflowers. I brought them home and cut their stalks and left them to soak in a little boiling water for a few minutes – as you taught me.

‘They will last longer like that!’, you said.

I waited for you. I waited until the food I cooked got cold, until the music stopped playing, until it turned dark outside and only the streetlights were glowing, yellow and orange.

I sat there alone, looking out the window, trying to guess where you might be, with whom you might be talking, what you might be thinking, whether you’d be laughing. I miss your laughing.

Each time I’d hear the lift doors I’d prick up my ears, like a hound catching the smell of a rabbit, ready to run and chase you back into my heart. But the metal cage would only spew out strangers who didn’t have the key to our place.

The bed felt vast and uninviting, the sheets – cold, texture like ice on a lake in winter, blown by the wind, piling up on the shore, broken into thin scales.

I miss you.

I fell asleep thinking of the morning sky and of the sun emerging from behind interminable, smug clouds, steeped in red and grey. How long until the flowers will shed their yellow and dry out? How long still? AQ

Samuel W. James – Above the Tobacconist

Samuel W. James
Above the Tobacconist

White blinds, defined by dark mould spots in the corners,
ran back and forth on hollow wire insulator. Selby
town centre, where he moved after the divorce,
above the tobacconist, in his second-storey flat; I woke

to see dawn set to work, followed by the early risers.
The pet-food factory by the bridge, we passed it
on entering and leaving the town, and I guessed
it must be where these weekend workers were going.

When the wind blew a certain way, I could smell it
in summer through the window, like off milk and vinegar,
as I watched the cobbled carpark around which the centre
was built, noting the characters who came into the dingy
early opening shop; the faint ring of the bell below.

Jury S. Judge – Rubble of the Holy

Jury S. Judge
Rubble of the Holy

Jury S. Judge writes that: ‘as an artist, I create art to express myself in the pictorial language of light, colour, and linear forms. I enjoy blending traditional and digital mediums within my art because I find this combination to be a versatile method of self-expression. Through my photography, I enjoy capturing the natural beauty of my home state, Arizona, as well as the other destinations where my adventures lead me. Rubble of The Holy features the hexagonal basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The camera I shoot with is a Canon. This photograph, however, was taken with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.’

Rubble of the Holy, Jury S. Judge, photograph, 2017.

Jayne Marek – Textures of Earth and Water

Jayne Marek
Textures of Earth and Water

Jayne Marek feels that her ‘designs should be balanced — not set in the centre, necessarily, but using well-distributed optical elements. I use mostly natural subject matter to achieve visual ambiguities, often through abstraction, to explore how objective reality can be perceived in multiple ways. I also emphasize designs by using bright or unexpected colours and by experimenting with exposures. Readers can take a closer look and enjoy patterns or shapes that might otherwise go unnoticed’. A Nikon Coolpix set at ISO 400 and 64 respectively was used for the first two photos. A Nikon D90 at ISO 200 was used for the last. None used flash.

Birch Oracle, Jayne Marek, photograph, May 2009

Colorblock Reflections, Jayne Marek, photograph, March 2011

Candy Pebbles, Jayne Marek, photograph, March 2012

Carol Parris Krauss – The Fabric of the Heart

Carol Parris Krauss
The Fabric of the Heart

If you peel back the pericardium, snap the thick sac, tear
the heart from the ligaments binding it to the spinal cord
and diaphragm, lift the pulsing machine in your hand, and move
to the light for closer inspection, would you find that the fabric
of the heart is parallel to the texture of the owner’s personality?

Would mother be a sensible calico, father burlap knobby like tree bark,
sister cords of corduroy discontent, and the lone duck who sits
in my front yard without his mate, the one he has proudly waddled
around with for a month, his plump mottled gold beauty,
who has suddenly gone missing, would his heart be shredded satin
similar to the material that lines a coffin and blankets a lifeless body?

Or if you peel back the pericardium, snap the thick sac, tear
the heart from the ligaments binding it to the spinal cord
and diaphragm, lift the pulsing machine in your hand, and move
to the light for closer inspection, would you find that you have
simply stopped the heart from beating and it suddenly sits smooth
like the satin grass the lonely male duck rests in waiting for his
missing mate?

Amina Imzine – Zemestan 1836

Amina Imzine
Zemestan 1836
A Work in progress from the Shahrarah Garden Chronicles
 
Rumours of war have slowed down as the cold and bitter winter has wrapped Kabul in a thick coat of snow. Katsumi looks up to the pale orange light that flames from the Asmai Lighthouse and feels relieved that the makeshift dispensary there is provided with Aleppo soap, eucalyptus, balsam and Chinese green tea so the guards, mainly Kashmiri Lancers, can safely rest until the next shift. “Welcome in the Zemestan season” would joke Javaad Khan, his friend, born in some remote Srinagar valley and pleased enough with his position, assigned to the Bibi-Mahroo Garrison, where two lighthouses stand above Kabul city.
 
 
Sirius heads between the Asmai Height and the Pushta Lighthouse. Curfew will soon start. Katsumi steps down with his snowshoes and quietly treks through the icy Shahrarah Lane. How long lasts friendship when our world is devastated by cholera or plague epidemics, and grief? Lady Alexandrina, whom he’d met in Tehran, passed away as soon as she returned home to St. Petersburg, for her nineteenth birthday celebration. She was his first English teacher, taught him Latin and both shared a passion for Central Asian Herbarium books — dried plants and seeds they collected from Tashkent and Balkh when landslides or sand dunes have not yet fully submerged the fields, orchards and gardens — Katsumi recalls as he tries to cope with the fresh snow that caps his Bactrian camel wool shield.

The rum is warming up his mood. Katsumi couldn’t forget her pale sapphire eyes that brightened up her delicate face, her vivid passion for collecting and editing war veterans’ reports – “I will not teach you French!” she proudly said. At the Shahrarah literary lounge, she loved reading light verse poetry, the modern tales of Alexander Pushkin — and such strong beauty in her calligraphy strokes, first in Russian then in English: As long as there is one heart on Earth where I still live, my memory will not die he received as her farewell gift.
 
 
He shakes his head as to remove the fresh flakes that stick to his white silk face mask. Would poetry bring us some kind of relief? He learned a lot with Lady Alexandra too, when she lived in Kabul. She became his second, friendly English teacher, even if she had soon forgotten her cousin Alexandrina. Like the white, petrified Shahrarah trees lane, there is a silence that doesn’t need to be awoken, so Katsumi treks quietly.

The rum will lift up his mind, as Charles Masson promised. Was he too safely back in London? For the nine-month journey is full of unpleasant surprises, as Katsumi recalls Lady Alexandra that pointed out. Far from his British friends and the Thames he would never visit, Katsumi feels safe here in the upper valley of the Kabul River, safer than in any of the European cities. He looks to the bright sky, and silently thanks the tough quarantine that he and the Afghan doctors-in-chief teams have set up. Aldebaran is going to cross the Pushta Height. Katsumi then notices a snowy, soft blanket that wraps the foothills, the crowded worker dormitories and the tent shelters for shepherd communities. How many will be alive tomorrow?
 

***

 

Snow showers keep burying Kabul in a bitter silence, while the pervasive fragrance of balsam floods the Hanzalah sanatorium. Katsumi quietly moves in and out of rooms, patients are sleeping. “Kurimoto-jan, tea is served”, whispers the nurse-in-chief. Katsumi frowns his delicate eyebrows, smoothly shakes his long blue cotton dress and heads towards the study.

Carefully, he removes his grey latex face mask, the grey latex gloves, and then washes his large and pale hands with the Aleppo soap. The nurse brings the china cup of qehwa but Katsumi’s face doesn’t smile — by the way no one has ever seen him smile, except perhaps Lady Alexandrina. The nurse is one of the few who copes with his dead, calm, beardless face.

Katsumi’s skilled hands return empty the warm cup. It’s time for the monthly report, in English, as requested by the Colony Police station. Katsumi picks up his favourite slim brush and unrolls a blank, silky sheet of paper. As he writes, his brown eyebrows turn into thin moon bows:
December 1836.

Two hundred casualties of pneumonia — 30 from Bibi-Mahroo foothills, 80 from the Shahrarah Women hospital, including 50 infants, 30 from the Pushta Workers Dormitory… Silently the nurse leaves the quiet coroner alone in the fragrance of balsam now mixed with cardamom.
 
 

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