Archive for the Bay Area Art Scene Category

Color in Motion: Michele Sudduth at SFMOMA Artists Gallery

Posted in Artists Speak, Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , , on June 4, 2014 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2014. All Rights Reserved

Editor’s Note: Michele Sudduth‘s exhibit of new large and smaller scale paintings opens this Saturday at SFMOMA’s Artists Gallery. Late last month Venetian Red previewed the work. Excerpts of our interview with the artist follow.

Michele Sudduth— Duo 2014 Acrylic on panel, 10 x 12" © Michele Sudduth

Michele Sudduth— Duo 2014
Acrylic on canvas, 44 x 36″
© Michele Sudduth

Venetian Red: Iʼm curious about the origin of this new work and how it evolved.

Michele Sudduth: It actually started about ten years ago with the painting Blue Shift, when I projected the image of a jigsaw puzzle piece over a striped painting and noticed the sense of movement that was created when I shifted the stripes against the puzzle image.

But what also fascinated me was the humanizing aspect of the puzzle image. Over the years I’ve played with that and, most recently, I extracted one single image out of a series of puzzle paintings and used that for this latest body of work. This new work is rather figurative, but it’s also rather techno too, somewhere between figurative and architectural, which I like.

Michele Sudduth— Blue Shift, 2004 Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 54" © Michele Sudduth

Michele Sudduth— Blue Shift, 2003
Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 54″
© Michele Sudduth

VR: Did particular ideas or themes emerge as this new work evolved?

MS: This work has evolved a lot. One of the themes Iʼve consistently experimented with is making artwork that is difficult to focus on, not because thatʼs interesting in itself, but because of the movement aspect of it. Additionally, we’re always because we are always being told to look at specific things in society and quite often they turn out to be the wrong things. Beyond that, our individual perspective changes all the time, or at least mine does, whether this is a parallax thing because of the angle of viewing or just because my mind changes, or I’m feeling differently or I have new information. So for a long time Iʼve questioned the validity of having a viewpoint at all. Iʼve certainly questioned it in terms of the artwork that I make; I don’t want to root the viewer to any one particular perspective. So Iʼve been thinking about this as a kaleidoscopic perspective, where we have bits and pieces of views that overlap and coincide and keep changing. Thatʼs what Mission Boogie is for me.

Michele Sudduth— Mission Boogie, 2014 Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 90" © Michele Sudduth

Michele Sudduth— Mission Boogie, 2014
Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 90″
© Michele Sudduth

VR: How does the notion of kaleidoscopic perspective play out in the current work?

MS: I think the kaleidoscopic perspective is there in the current work but itʼs taken me a long time to see it and to become comfortable with the imagery in the new paintings. Itʼs perhaps because three years ago, a group of us set out to purchase our studio building in the Mission District. In that very challenging process with all its visceral social interactions I found that I had to move beyond my attachment to who I thought I was. Ultimately we triumphed. But the process of accommodating all of our different perspectives, fears, and hopes not only changed me personally but might also have been the genesis of what feels like a more overtly social expression in my recent paintings.

The puzzle piece can certainly be read as a figurative element and thus hints at narrative but I prefer to think of it as symbolic rather than narrative. What I can now see as consistent with my earlier work is the rhythm, repetition and movement of a world in which different views co-exist, none more important than the other, and all changing in the next second.

Michele Sudduth— London Bus, 2014 Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 74" © Michele Sudduth

Michele Sudduth— London Bus, 2014
Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 74″
© Michele Sudduth

VR: It seems to me that color is a primary way your paintings reach out to their audience. What is the role of color in your work?

MS: Color is a real challenge for me and I work very hard at it and sometimes it flows but most of the time Iʼm sort of toughing it out, trying to figure out what’s going to work. I believe Brigit Riley once said that color is the most irrational aspect of painting and thatʼs certainly true for me.

VR: And yet the results look so intuitive, so effortless. It seems like you live easily in the world of color relationships.

MS: For me in terms of resolving a piece of work—even though I’m not sure I like the idea resolution—I always want it to have a lightness and a sense of inevitability. So I think that might be what youʼre thinking of when you say the color looks effortless. I want it to look that way. I want it to look like it just happened that way and thereʼs absolutely no other way it could possibly be. In terms of color, London Bus began much differently than it ended. I conceived of the figures on a strong yellow background but that ground evolved through yellow, various oranges and reds to the final red, which now feels to me as though it was always meant to be that way.

Michele Sudduth— Mod Fish, 2014 Acrylic on panel, 11 x 14 " © Michele Sudduth

Michele Sudduth— Mod Fish, 2014
Acrylic on panel, 11 x 14 “
© Michele Sudduth

VR: Can you say more about your painting process? I feel there is more to discuss about the notion you raised earlier of “toughing it out,” to get to what looks like a very natural place.

MS: Toughing it out actually doesnʼt describe it, because sometimes I just have to relax and be easy with it but other times I find I have to push very hard. It just depends on the painting. For example, these two little new paintings, both studies, have both been lifted out of existing paintings. The first one, Mod Fish, came very easily and quickly. I worked it out on the computer and got close to the colors I wanted, which is typically how I work. But I can never translate color directly from the digital image to paint, because paint is such a different medium—the way light strikes it is different and of course scale changes everything. But this painting came easily and the colors are quite similar to my original computer sketch.

Michele Sudduth— Head Study Two 2014 Acrylic on panel, 10 x 12" © Michele Sudduth

Michele Sudduth— Head Study Two 2014
Acrylic on panel, 10 x 12″
© Michele Sudduth

The second painting has been much more challenging. I extracted this image from London Bus, thinking I would experiment with a red-on-red painting, but I havenʼt been able to get it to work at this scale and on a hard panel. So, Iʼve been thinking about the relationship between composition and color. Even though I work out a composition on the computer and then project it onto the canvas and spend a lot of time refining it—smoothing the lines and making sure the intersections work—the final resolution is actually driven by color. With this painting I donʼt want to literally change the composition,  so Iʼve been experimenting with how to change it with color, changing the weight and relationships of various components through color. Iʼm always looking for color that surprises me.

VR: In general, the exuberance of the work is largely due I think to the kind of rhythmic movement and buoyant color schemes you employ. The paintings really sing.

MS: Yes, I am very much an optimist. I donʼt need to be shown problems; I want to make art that speaks to solutions. In the end, all I can do is make a truthful painting, truthful to what the painting tells me it needs.

 The Rabbit Hole

The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley – Collected Writings 1965-2009
Josef Albers Foundation
Interaction of Color: 50th Anniversary Edition
Jenifer Kobylarz

The Road Through Woldgate Woods: David Hockney at The deYoung

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Digital, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

David Hockney—The Black Glacier 2002

David Hockney,The Black Glacier, 2002
Watercolor on 6 sheets of paper (18 x 24″ each)
36 x 72″ overall

Six Fairy Tales, David Hockney’s pictorial interpretation of The Brothers Grimm, was my introduction to the artist in the late 70s.  Rather than portray moments of narrative action, Hockney chose to focus on the characters and their environments.  While telegraphing Hockney’s signature (and enduring) interest in places, people and certain still-life subjects, these etchings quietly enrolled me into Hockney’s view of the world—equal parts familiar, banal, whimsical, amusing, beautiful, sweet, ugly, and, sometimes, just a bit deliciously sinister.

David Hockney, Larry Gagosian,

David Hockney, Larry Gagosian, 28-29 September, 2013
Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36″

Relentless exuberance might be the best way to describe the Hockney on view in “A Bigger Exhibition,” the de Young’s current extravaganza. The show, aptly named on many levels, features 18,000 square feet of Hockney—some 398 works. Of that number 78 were completed in this year alone, a testament to the artist’s prodigious work habits.  The show displays quite a number of huge pieces, constructed, as are his videos, in grids of smaller canvases. Plein air landscapes of his beloved East Yorkshire countryside and portraits of his friends comprise the bulk of the exhibition, though it includes other pieces, including most interestingly The Great Wall.

David Hockney at the deYoung for press preview

The exhibition spans work completed in 1999 to portraits finished this month, though 2002 might be the most important milestone. This was the year Hockney returned to painting after a multi-year investigation of the use by Renaissance artists of the camera lucida, which culminated in the release of the fascinating and controversial Secret Knowledge.

David Hockney. A Bigger Matelot Kevin Druez 2, 2009

David Hockney. A Bigger Matelot Kevin Druez 2, 2009
Inkjet printed computer drawing on paper,
mounted on Dibond
63 7/8 x 42 7/8″

Hockney facilely creates in a variety of visual media, including iPad software and video. With the digital installation room the museum’s curators have accomplished a miraculous feat—people lingered, seeming to view works for longer than the all-too-common 30 second scan. (Although on a recent visit there was still a lot of shutter snapping. Hello, would you please put your iPhone away and just really look for a moment?)

David Hockney, Karen Wright2002 watercolor on paper 24 x 18 1/8"

David Hockney, Karen Wright, 2002
Watercolor on paper
24 x 18 1/8″

Color is Hockney’s seductive Siren, and she is both an asset and a liability. Taken as individual compositions, the bright saturated colors delight. Hockney Woods is a cheery place full of daringly-deployed “tube” greens mixed to a wide range of tints and shades.   Hockney uses the complementary antidote, magenta, in just the right amount to soothe those highly-agitated greens.  This palette does not replicate the lush Yorkshire countryside so much as symbolize it.  You won’t probably recognize this as England. With a color subconscious permanently colonized by Los Angeles,  the road to Woldgate Woods runs through Santa Monica.

En mass Hockney’s saturated colors have a different effect. A room of huge paintings have the power to overwhelm. I quit one gallery with a brain stimulated into nervous excitation.

David Hockney, Woldgate, 6-7 February, from 'The Arrival of Spring in 2013 Charcoal on paper, 22 5/8 x 30 1/4"

David Hockney, Woldgate, 6-7 February, from ‘The Arrival of
Spring in 2013′

Charcoal on paper, 22 5/8 x 30 1/4″

Good thing then that “A Bigger Exhibition” contains crannies of calming black and white drawings. These oases also serve to demonstrate the fundamental role drawing has always had in Hockney’s art.  “Drawing is an ancient thing,” he wryly observed at Wednesday’s press preview. “So why were they saying we’ll give it up? After 30,000 years, why would we do that?”

I will be back to study more carefully all the landscape drawings and his 2000 portraits of National Gallery guards. (These among the very few portraits Hockney produced of people he didn’t know; just like his inspiration Ingres, Hockney invited them to tea first to get to know them.)

David Hockney, Winter Tunnel with Snow, March 2006
Oil on canvas. 36 x 48″

Beyond color, what is striking about the work on display is Hockney’s attention to mark making and decorative pattern. The spirit of Rousseau is unavoidably invoked in some of the more densely foliated landscapes.  In certain instances of mark making Hockney may even have out-Van Goghed van Gogh.

David Hockney, May Blossom on the Roman Road, 2009 Oil on 8 canvases, each 36 x 48"

David Hockney, May Blossom on the Roman Road, 2009
Oil on 8 canvases, each 36 x 48″

One viewing of “A Bigger Exhibition” was barely sufficient to get a lay of the land, nevermind formulate a concrete sense of all the things this vast amount of work says about the artist.  I will be back to the de Young in the coming weeks. Nevertheless,  I can’t help but wonder whether this show would have been aided by some judicious editing to create a tighter view of the artist.   We’ll soon know whether “A Bigger Exhibition” makes new Hockney fans or looses all but the most stalwart of existing fans.

David Hockney, Lucien Freud. 1999 Pencil on grey paper using Camera Lucida, 22 1/4 x 15"

David Hockney, Lucien Freud. 1999
Pencil on grey paper using camera lucida,
22 1/4 x 15″

The Rabbit Hole

David Hockney
Intelligent Life—“Brushes With Hockney”
Video: Hockney sketchbooks
Hockney’s multi-camera landscape video

Lucien Freud, David Hockney, 2002
Oil on canvas, 16 x 12 1/4″

From the VR Archives: Lay of the Land

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, People & Places, Photography, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

 Black plug

David Milne, Black and White Trees and Buildings, 1915/6
Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 61.5 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Reading landscape painter Ian Robert’s Creative Authenticity  reminded me of our post on David Milne, little known I fear outside Canada. Northern Exposure: The Landscapes of David Milne.

Black plug

Patrick Dougherty, Upper Crust

Patrick Dougherty, Upper Crust, 2009,
Willow branches,
Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, San Francisco

That led me to VR coverage of Patrick Dougherty’s Upper Crust,  fanciful organic site structures, staged in the Civic Center’s Aliota Piazza: Patrick Dougherty in San Francisco.

Black plug

Platon, Silvio Berlusconi

Platon, Silvio Berlusconi, 2009
Photograph

And finally to the political landscape and Platon’s photographic portraits of world leaders: Eye of the Beholder: Platon’s Portraits of Power.”

Venetian Red Bookshelf: Unpublished Diebenkorn

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Book Review, Contemporary Art, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Editor’s Note: See our companion piece,“Rambling Through Diebenkorn Country”

There is nothing I cannot paint over. —Richard Diebenkorn (from Temperaments: Artists Facing Their Work)

Black plug

Richard Diebenkorn,Untitled #23,1981 Gouache and crayon on paper © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn,Untitled #23,1981
Gouache and crayon on paper
© The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

For many reasons works on paper can offer a more intimate viewing experience than their cousins on canvas. This is partially due to the fugitive nature of drawing materials—handmade papers, graphite, charcoal, gouache—which often keep works on paper in storage. When they are displayed, their relatively smaller sizes and their display under glass, compel the viewer to lean in to works on paper, thereby creating an exclusive relationship that shuts out the distractions of the world beyond. Further, an artist often works out his or her ideas on paper before moving to more expensive canvas. Many works on paper were never meant by the artist be seen publicly. But when they do see the light of day, collections of this kind of work can provide an exhilarating peek behind the curtain of the creative process.

Such was the case for me at the current retrospective of Diebenkorn’s Berkeley years at the de Young.

Now I have even more reasons to be cheerful, where Diebenkorn’s process is concerned. A writer friend recently sent me two exquisite visual monographs on the painter—Abstractions on Paper and From the Model. newly published by Kelly’s Cover Press. to accompany the exhibit “The Intimate Diebenkorn: Works on Paper, 1949-1992,” which opens in September at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery.

What’s immediately notable about these volumes is they contain largely unpublished work, “unknown” Diebenkorns, all works on paper.

Black plug

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1957 Gouache on paper © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1957
Gouache on paper
© The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

The format of these volumes is a refreshingly departure from the expected catalog of artistic work. At 6 x 8″ and around 125 pages, each of these volumes can be held in the hand, put into a pocket for easy transport, pulled out to consult. Like the works on paper they reproduce these books offer an intimate and spontaneous experience.

The production value of these volumes is indistinguishable from a first-rate catalog, i.e. ample page-sized reproductions with great detail, good color veracity, coated paper stock. What a pleasure it is to have something such a beautiful book in your hand (and not anchored on a bookshelf or table)!

Kelly’s Cove Press has broken with another time-honored art publication tradition. Other than a few quotes from Diebenkorn and a biography, these volumes contain no commentary. We are free to form our own interpretations of the work, unencumbered by the flights of grandiose and sometimes tedious rhetoric that often accompany exhibit catalogs.

The volumes were conceived by editor Bart Schneider with the help of Bay Area painter Chester Arnold. I had occasion recently to discuss the project with Schneider.

VR: How did this project originate?

I’ve long been a Diebenkorn fan and in the 90s, I chose one of his paintings Large Still Life, 1966, which is featured prominently in the De Young show, for the cover of a magazine I then edited, Hungry Mind Review.

Black plug

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1956 Gouache and ink on paper mounted on cardboard © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1956
Gouache and ink on paper mounted on cardboard
© The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

I happily blundered onto the treasures held by the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, when I approached them last year about using some of his figure drawings for a book we published last fall, Poses, by Genine Lentine. When I learned that roughly 4,000 of the 5,000 known works by RD were on paper, I approached the foundation about doing a book of his works on paper in advance of the show at the De Young. Once I saw the vastness and glory of the Foundation’s collection, I realized it needed to be two books.

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1962 Graphite on paper © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1962
Graphite on paper
© The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

VR: Why this particular format?

My goal is to make a more casual style art book, with which viewers can have a more intimate experience of the artist’s work. That means small books you hold easily in your hands, or take to bed with you. Also, I like the idea of having very little text to mediate the direct experience between artist and viewer. And if you can make the books so they only cost $20, you have a chance of getting them into a lot of people’s hands. I’d like people who pick up these volumes to have the experience of walking into a gallery and discovering work they didn’t know.

Black plug

Richard Diebenkorn,  Untitled, c. 1988-92 Charcoal on handmade "Hawthorne of Larroque" paper © The RIchard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, c. 1988-92
Charcoal on handmade “Hawthorne of Larroque” paper
© The RIchard Diebenkorn Foundation

VR: What’s next from Kelly’s Cove Press?

I enjoy exploring the interplay between literature and art. Those kinds of collaborations are surprisingly rare in publishing. At present, I’m working with Squeak Carnwath on a book that should come out in the fall, Horizon on Fire: Works on Paper, 1979-2013. I’m also working on a Jack London book with William Wiley, for which Wiley’s done 19 original drawings and watercolors.

At $20 a piece, it would be a shame not to own these lovely volumes.

The Rabbit Hole

Squeek Carnath on the creative process

Tate Debate: Do you need to know an artist’s process when looking at art?

Smithsonian magazine—Q&A with William Wiley

Brewster Ghiselin—The Creative Process: Reflections on the Invention in the Arts and Sciences

Rambling Through Diebenkorn Country

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , on July 24, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position. —Richard Diebenkorn, from “Notes to myself on beginning a painting”

Richard Diebenkorn, Bekeley #57, 1955 Oil on canvas Courtesy SFMOMA

Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #57, 1955
Oil on canvas
Courtesy SFMOMA

An acquaintance of mine used to stage an annual Christmas dinner, which was followed by a raucous gift exchange game.  Guests were required to bring a wrapped gift, anything with a price tag under $10 (less inflationary times). Numbers were picked from a hat and lucky Guest #1 kicked off the game by selecting a package from the pile. Guest #2 could steal #1’s gift or pick a new one. Guest #3 could steal either of the previously opened gifts or choose a new one. Etcetera, until all gifts were opened and spoken for. Invariably someone would unwrap a package to find a really awful gag gift, at which point the crowd would gleefully crow “YOU’LL BE TAKING THAT HOME!”

Richard Diebenkorn, "Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad," 1965 Oil on canvas © 2013 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad, 1965
Oil on canvas
© 2013 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

I often play this game while wandering through art exhibits.  Or, rather, a version of the game in which I am the only player (stealing from myself as I proceed through the exhibit), who actually DOES want to take that gift home. Such was the case recently as I toured the Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953-1956 (at the de Young Museum until September 29th).

Richard Diebenkorn, Seated Woman No. 44, 1966 Watercolor, charcoal, gouache and crayon Courtesy Fine Arts Study Collection, University at Albany, State University of New York

Richard Diebenkorn, Seated Woman No. 44, 1966
Watercolor, charcoal, gouache and crayon
Courtesy Fine Arts Study Collection, University at Albany, State University of New York

“The Berkeley Years” offered many possibilities for my imaginary wall. I admit, the breadth of what was on offer—landscape, figurative, still life, canvas, paper—forced me to cheat a bit. I broke the rules to select multiple gifts.

To me, there is no painter who more evocatively captures the essence of the California landscape. Through a palette that embraces both intensity and subtlety—bright greens and oranges, warm pinks, yellow ochers, cool muted blues, purples, turquoises, and greys—Diebenkorn creates landscapes that evoke the polarity of the Bay Area environment—the intensity of the California sun and that particular quality of our fog, which shrouds but doesn’t always conceal. Pretty much every landscape/abstraction was a candidate for my wall.

Richard Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959 Oil on canvas © 2013 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

Richard Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959
Oil on canvas
(Oakland Museum of Art)
© 2013 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

The figurative work did not resonate as strongly. The second time through the exhibit another artist accompanied me. We both agreed that, for a variety of reasons, many of the figure sketches were downright awkward and, had they been our own pieces, they might have ended up in the trash bin. Still, I appreciated seeing the missteps intermingled with the  successes. Diebenkorn was not afraid to try different subjects and styles. Courage, mistakes can be made.

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t some exquisitely elegant figural statements on the walls. I understand the complaint that some critics have about Diebenkorn forcing figures into landscapes; indeed, the more successful works for me focused on either the figure or landscape, and, in the case of the former, my favorites were the intimate works, made with gouache (and and other drawing materials) on paper.

Still, we don’t often get to peek behind the curtain that cloaks the artistic process. “The Berkeley Years” offers an incredible opportunity to observe Diebenkorn’s relentless experimentation with underlying structure, form, line, subjects. The development of his stylistic vocabulary unfolds before us. I found this truly the most exciting aspect of the show.

Richard Diebenkorn, The Drinker, 1957 Gouache over graphite Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Richard Diebenkorn, The Drinker, 1957
Gouache over graphite
Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Which works will I be taking home? Top of the list: Berkeley #57. Its “plate techtonic” structure creates a forceful metaphor of the fault line. Also, Seated Woman, No. 44, for the curve of her calf (even though I’m sure the tibia is in the wrong place) and the simple treatment of the pattern on her dress. (Note to self: simplify patterns!) Figure on a Porch—I’m not bothered by the appearance of a figure, who for me becomes another abstract structural element. And finally, this gem:

Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #33 , 1954 Oil on paper © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #33 , 1954
Oil on paper
© The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Get up close to this study to see the multitude of sensational ways that Diebenkorn uses the paint to create form and substance. See what happens underneath and in between the shapes.

One last ramble: Diebenkorn’s “Notes to myself on beginning a painting”— a good manifesto to live by or a reminder to compile your own list. (Spelling and capitalization his.)

      1. attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
      2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued — except as a stimulus for further moves.
      3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
      4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
      5. Don’t “discover” a subject — of any kind.
      6. Somehow don’t be bored — but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
      7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
      8. Keep thinking about Polyanna.
      9. Tolerate chaos.
      10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

Richard Diebenkorn, Interior with Doorway, 1962 (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) © 2013 Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, Interior with Doorway, 1962
Oil on canvas
(Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)
© 2013 Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Down The Rabbit Hole

Kelly’s Cove Press

The Richard Diebenkorn Catalog Raisonné

SF Arts Quarterly—“The Diebenkorn is in the Details”

CatalogRichard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966 (Fine Arts

Museums of San Francisco)“The Unknown Diebenkorn”—L.A. Times

Grace Glück—“A Painter Unafraid to Change Styles”

More California landscape—Early California Art (blog)

Paintings Of California

A fantastic plein air pastellist—Bill Cone

Time Waits For No One: Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SFMOMA

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Collage & Photomontage, Contemporary Art, Digital, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager with tags , , , , on April 7, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

20130407-073914.jpg

Harold Lloyd, still from Safety Last.

Do not wait to see Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SFMOMA. Its limited screening ends June 2, when the Museum will close its main building for a 3-year expansion project to accommodate the Fisher collection.

Marclay’s 24-hour digitized film montage, fabricated from film and TV clips, unfolds in an endless loop in real time. Each moment in the piece is marked is marked by a visual timepiece or announcement of time, simultaneous to actual time.  The gargantuan effort required to assemble at least 1440 shots culled from incalculable hours of footage is mind-boggling.  (The OED effort springs to mind.)  Marclay did not stop at these clips.  In a feat of virtuosic visual and sound editing, the artist wove the marked moments together with other, non time-specific, footage. The resulting 86,400 seconds is an unforgettable experience.

Like all truly impressive works of art, The Clock is both instantly accessible and unfathomably deep.  The film clips are a seductive conceit; for the first while a viewer engages in an entertaining game of recognizing actors/tresses and identifying movie scenes.  Over longer chunks of time, the rhythmic ebb and flow of the piece becomes apparent.  Countless themes emerge, recede, re-emerge. Viewers see glimpses of a bigger message, while individual characters fall into the background.

The Clock is strewn with clichés about time.  In my 2+ hour segment a lot seemed to happen in the nick of time. Numerous scenes related to various interpretations of hard time. Time never stands still, and Clock people sure were frustrated by that.  On a lighter note, I chuckled at the innuendo embedded in a brief scene depicting a character on a plane consulting his watch. Time flies!  Time is all-pervasive and language reflects our (at best) contradictory relationship to time. But this is only an ancillary message of The Clock.

20130407-074410.jpg

Christian Marclay discusses The Clock, 4/3/13

In its 24 hours The Clock captures a microcosm of the human experience, or at least a particular distillation of that microcosm as recorded by filmmakers. While I look forward to chancing upon a moment of birth in the work (no spoilers please!), most other activities that constitute a human life—sleeping, eating, working, plotting & scheming, driving & riding, walking & running, sex, death—seem to have been recorded here over and over in the variation that different clips provide.  And yet those 1440+ shots of punctuated time underscore an important message of The Clock—i.e. life is repetitive.

Emotions are The Clock’s underpinning.  Bliss. Curiosity. Mirth. Loyalty. Anger. Love. Anticipation. Fear. If emotions are the core of the work, then existential anxiety is its molten center. This is where the film’s monumental power lies. You won’t have to watch for too long before you feel gripped on a visceral level by the anxiety that comes with marking the inexorable passage of time. After a longer while, you may even start to notice moments of anxiety. Your own life is passing. Tick, tick, tick.  No, please, make it stop!  Paradoxically, you won’t be asking yourself if there is more exciting way to spend that moment.

In this age of point and click consumption of art, the most important thing about The Clock may well be its “stickiness.” It’s a fair guess that most people will spend exponentially more time in the presence of  The Clock than they ever have or might with another work of contemporary art.  Marclay has discouraged viewing all 24-hours in one sitting, although I’m sure that hasn’t stopped people from trying.  Ronald Reagan’s character (from The Killers) sums it up best at 1:20pm— “If you want in, you’re in all the way.”

Wider Connections

Daniel Zalewski’s Marclay profile in The New Yorker
Alain de Botton speaks with Christian Marclay
YouTube excerpt—Marclay’s Chalkboard
Max Weintraub on The Clock
Zadie Smith (NY Review of Books): “Killing Orson Welles at Midnight”

Thinking Differently About Art: Anne Patterson’s Seeing the Voice at Grace Cathedral

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Installation, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O'Leary

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O’Leary

At some point in the recent debut of Anne Patterson’s striking work Seeing the Voice: A Synthesis of Light, Color, and Music at Grace Cathedral, my mind drifted to Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle in the Basilica of San Francisco.  On the face of it, The Legend of the True Cross would seem worlds away from Patterson’s collaboration with cellist Joshua Roman, which produced a synergistic evening of light, streamers, and music.

The pictorial art commissioned by Popes and princes from the 14-17th centuries served a fundamentally didactic purpose—to instruct a largely illiterate congregation on biblical narratives—while presumably invigorating the collective belief in mysteries and miracles (not to mention the Church’s temporal prestige).

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Esteban Allard-Valdivieso

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Esteban Allard-Valdivieso

In contrast, today’s literate first-world citizen is likely to be deeply skeptical of religion. If spiritually disposed at all, s/he has a seemingly infinite array of venerable and newly-minted traditions from which to create any number of hyphenated identities. As Dr. Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, has expressed: this à la carte mentality stems from the deep need we have to belong without wanting to believe.

Further, the decoupling of art from religion, largely accomplished by cultural shifts in the 19th & 20th centuries, means that for most of us, if we enter a contemporary sacred space at all, the last thing we might expect to see is a work of contemporary (non-figurative) art.

Understandable then that I, resolutely wary of organized religion, approached Seeing the Voice with minimal expectations. Unpredictably, the evening was a complete delight.

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Estaban Allard-Valdivieso

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Estaban Allard-Valdivieso

Patterson conceived Seeing the Voice as the debut of her year-long artist in residency at Grace Cathedral. The installation itself (which Patterson calls Graced With Light) was worth the price of admission. Some 200 miles of light-reflecting ribbon strands hung from the ceiling of the nave, catching the rays from various colored spotlights as they lazily twisted in the air currents.  The effect was mesmerizing, evoking at times primitive worms responding to stimuli, a mad highway of car headlights at night, and comets in the night sky. Underneath this stage set, Roman played two cello pieces composed especially for the evening. The cellist sat behind a long white banner, while fragments of his silhouette danced and flickered on the banner as a result of some clever back lighting.

The wow factor of the evening was pretty high, even before we were invited, no encouraged, to lie in the pews and look up at the ribbons, while Roman played Bach’s Suite #4. Outstanding! Shooting meteor effect!

More than the sophisticated elegance of the installation and the interesting, often lovely music, the piece caused me to think more explicitly about the nature of art and religion.  Specifically, does art have fundamentally different meaning in sacred vs. secular settings?  If not didacticism (story telling), what are the effective uses of art in contemporary faith? While art certainly has a spiritual component, does it move people to become spiritual?  Practically what does a spiritual life look like, if organized religion is not a component? Does art bring the non-believer closer to understanding the believing community and vice versa?

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O'Leary

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O’Leary

Seeing the Voice sparked me to experience art a bit differently. After a week or so of rumination, I still have no firm answers to the questions above.  (See below for links to what others have said on the topic.) However, as a result of my explorations, one thing does seem evident to me.   Although time and traditions separate Seeing the Voice and Legend of the True Cross, in their own ways each invites the viewer to imagine a world they don’t exactly live in. And that may be at the heart of a spiritual life.

Wider Connections

Anne Patterson—Seeing the Voice (video); Seeing the Voice is a yearlong exploration of the synthesis for the spirit with our traditional five senses. Although it is unclear whether the performance will be repeated, the installation Graced With Light will remain, growing and changing over time. Patterson is scheduled to present a new piece at  Grace Cathedral this fall.

Aspen Ideas Festival: Jane Shaw—”Our Moral Imagination”, What Sustains Us

SFMOMA (in conjunction with The Contemporary Jewish Museum)—“100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art”

Ecclesiart

The growing intersection of contemporary art and faith: ArtNews—“The Church Gives Contemporary Art Its Blessing;” Contemporary Art Flourishes at New York City Churches

Michael Sandell—What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Mark Rothko, Houston Chapel

Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire

Bright Lights, Big(ger) City: Bay Lights Goes Live

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Site Work with tags , , , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Last night I gathered with a few friends at the Ferry Building on the patio outside Boulette’s Larder, to witness the official lighting of the Leo Villareal project on the Bay Bridge. Mille grazie to Lori, who set us at a table in the heart of primo viewing real estate. We shared a picnic and some wine, as the crowd and storm clouds slowly enveloped us.

Bay Lights—The Bay Bridge unadorned  ©Liz Hager 2013

Bay Lights—The Bay Bridge unadorned ©Liz Hager 2013

Long before the official “lights on,” the atmosphere was charged with anticipation. Thousands of people gathering, conversing (Christo came up a lot), waiting patiently, as the drizzle turned into a downpour. The concentration of ions! The absolute wonder of of it all was that we had amassed not for an Obama speech, a Lady Gaga concert, a SF Giants parade, but for a WORK OF ART. As an artist, I experienced a truly a thrilling moment when the bridge went live and the crowd cheered heartily.

What a star Bay Lights is! 25,000 twinkly lights programmed in dynamic water-related themes—fish, reflective patterns, and wave forms undulated along the bridge’s spans. The ebb and flow of the rain added the perfect theme-based notes to the evening.

Bay Lights—The Ferry Bldg nods to the bridge ©Liz Hager 2013

Bay Lights—The Ferry Bldg nods to the bridge ©Liz Hager 2013

I will always refer to this work affectionately as “tiny bubbles,” for the first blast of lights, which floated up the bridge cables like bubbles in a champagne glass. Kudos to the private consortium who raised major funding for the piece—it is a fitting congratulatory toast to our city by the bay.

Bay Lights—A crowd gathers at Ferry Bldg ©Liz Hager 2013

Bay Lights—A crowd gathers at Ferry Bldg ©Liz Hager 2013

The bridge will be lit for 2 years. As we left the site last night, still basking in the glow of those light-emitting diodes, all we could think about was how sad a day it will be for us when the bridge returns to unadorned darkness.

Though the Villareal Bridge (maybe our bridge will acquire a proper noun through all of this?) does not rank as the largest public art project in the US (that honor may belong to Christo’s Gates), for us this is a big deal, a bona fide celebrity art piece. Along with SFMOMA expansion for the Fisher collection of contemporary art and the Andy Goldsworthy Presidio and de Young projects, Bay Lights demonstrates how San Francisco is inching ever closer to recognition as a destination spot for art.

I hope the success of this project encourages the SF art community to step up the level of its commitment with respect to nurturing and promoting locally-grown artists. One day we may not have to import a New Yorker to make our celebrity art piece.

Bay Lights, Bikers waiting in the rain

Bay Lights—Bikers waiting in the rain ©Liz Hager 2013

Wider Connections

Venetian Red—“Programming the Cosmos”
Bay Lights project website
Leo Villareal

Man With a Mirror: Ian Ingram At artMRKT

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , on May 23, 2011 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ian Ingram, Forgotten Offerings, 2010
Charcoal, pastel, beads, and string on paper, 82 1/2 x 51″
(Courtesy Barry Friedman Ltd.)

Last Friday at artMKRT, the renegade spin off of the SF Fine Art Fair, I was instantly (and blissfully) seduced by the mighty sirens of Ian Ingram‘s monumental self portraits. The two on display—Forgotten Offerings and Pierrot—are startling achievements in the portraiture genre, technically brilliant and dense with iconography. And, in a truly refreshing turn, these nearly seven foot tall works are drawings (!!), executed in an almost laborious level of detail through graphite, charcoal, pastel. Further, real-world elements—string, fabric, beads, gold leaf and wire mesh—expertly integrated into the drawings add a unique physical dimension to the work. But they also heighten the symbolic meaning of the drawings. Reality and rendered reality play fluidly with one another.

Ian Ingram, He His, Me My, (Seashells), 2008
Charcoal and pastel on paper, 60 x 44″

The artist’s most important tool might just be his high-magnification shaving mirror.

I recall as a child loving the alone time I was allowed in bathrooms. The assurance of a locked door and walls surrounding ones own personal space provided meditative retreats from chattery school days. . .

I have been staring at my face in a magnified mirror for over 7 years now. Patterns emerge and dissolve. . . . .

When I was working on The Geometry of Happy Children, one of the lines began standing out and demanding attention. It was the line that ran along the side of the nose approximately where the bone ends and the cartilage begins. I actually grew annoyed with this line’s insistence, and erased it hoping to quiet it’s demands but it only added significance and so I drew it back in. Paper never forgets though, and that line kept it’s heat and at times I could see little else. Looking back and forth from mirror to paper, the line started taking it’s place on the surface of my skin. When my eyes weren’t on that line, but focused elsewhere, it would begin a trampy little dance for attention in bright magentas and blues until my eyes would dart over to see, and back to flesh it would go. . .

Ian Ingram, Pierrot, 2010
Charcoal, pastel, watercolor, gold leaf, and tulle on paper
82 1/2″ x 51″
(Courtesy Barry Friedman Ltd.)

Forgotten Offerings began with an “insistent line.” Over the period of the drawing’s gestation (Ingram’s large scale works can take up to three months to complete), this line led the artist on a journey through his subconscious, an investigation that had Ingram wrestling with his “judgmental/editorial” self. Ingram’s startled expression suggests being “caught in the act,” as if delving into the subconscious were a secrete and illicit undertaking.

With Pierrot Ingram pushes farther down the road of the subconscious. Infinitely more sinister than Watteau’s famous mime, Ingram’s bust suggests a different dimension of the famous clown. Here, fear is palpable. Greek tragedy (Argemenon’s mask?); medieval armor (the mesh); a disturbing cleaved scull. Pierrot as the reflection of ego and id, the two halves of man. I am reminded of Pogo’s oft-quoted remark: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Says Ingram of the two works:

Pierrot is the companion piece to Forgotten Offerings. Pierrot is vacant and shows the interior space as a void whereas Forgotten Offerings is full of light. The poses obviously mirror one another. They are independent, but polar. The gold leaf in both brings focus to the border—an incredibly potent part of the composition as it is the dividing line between the “real world” and this imagined space of illusion and constructed meaning.

Wider Connections

Ian Ingram—Divining
Antoine Watteau: The Drawings
Daniel Bordet—Les 100 Plus Belles Images de Pierrot

Life? or Theater? at the CJM/SF

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2011 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Above average.

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper
(Courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum)

From 1940 to 1942, while hiding in the South of France from the worsening situation in Nazi Germany, Charlotte Salomon devoted herself wholeheartedly and relentlessly to the realization of a fictionalized autobiography, Life? or Theater?: A Play With Music.  The resulting opus—769 of gouache paintings with text and musical references (edited from the over 1,300 pages she completed) —is a triumph of mixed-media storytelling, a richly thematic and profusely imaginative narrative.

The marriage of Franziska and Albert, Charlotte*s parents, imagined to the tune "We twine for thee the maidens wreath" (from von Webers "Der Freischütz")

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper
(Courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum)

The 300 pages currently on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (through July 31) encapsulate the essence of the work well enough; I wish there had been some of the pages from Salomon’s art school days. They evoke a happy sense of belonging that was missing for me in most of the rest of the work. Viewers hungry for more may want to consult Charlotte Salomon: Life? or Theatre?, which catalogs the entire oeuvre.


Charlotte: Why doesn*t she come, my Mummy—she promised.

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper
(Courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum)

Life? or Theater? traces the arc of a fictional Charlotte’s (Kann) life from infancy to young adulthood. On the simplest level the narrative is about the close relationships of her life, though it actually begins before the fictional Charlotte’s birth with the courtship and subsequent marriage of her parents.  Like her creator, Kann lives in Berlin between the wars. She is the only child in a prosperous middle-class German-Jewish family. The people who intersected Salomon’s real life are given similar aliases here—Papa and Mama Kann (like Salomon’s mother, Mrs. Kann commits suicide while Charlotte is a young child); stepmother, Paulinka Bimbam (Paula Salomon-Lindberg); grandparents Knarres (Grunwalds); and perhaps most importantly Paulinka’s voice coach Albert Daberlohn (Albert Wolfsohn) with whom Kann/Salomon becomes utterly infatuated.


I*ve no one left now. Fate, fate, how harsh you are. And. . .

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper.
(Courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum)

I’ve no one left now. Fate, fate, how harsh you are. And. .

Throughout Life? or Theater? the tension is palpable—between Charlotte and her family, between her and Daberlohn (it’s not clear whether her infatuation was ever more), between the Jewish struggle for acceptance through assimilation and impending destruction.  On a deeper level Life? or Theater? operates as subtle commentary on the range of culture available to middle class German-Jews in Berlin between the wars. Trips to Venice and Rome, recitals and concerts, schooling in art, literature and philosophy are all referenced in Life? or Theater? with imagination, poignancy and sometimes even sarcasm.

The German Jews, of whom each one is so preoccupied with himself that at a dinner party a silent observer feels as if he were in a goose pen. Albert—"First of all I*m sending away my daughter." Woman to his right—"And were going to Australia!" Man to her right—"And what will you do?" Sculptor—And I*ll go to the United States and become the greatest sculptor in the world." Paulinka—"We*ll be staying here for the time being." Mr. Blähn—"And I*ll go to the United States and there Ill become the greatest singer in the world." Daberlohn*s fiancée—"And were going to American, aren*t we Mucki. . ." Maid—"Take this piece, Professor, it*s the best one."

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper
(Courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum)

In the main section Life? or Theater? is punctuated with references to the growing persecution of Jews. While sometimes direct, they are just as often oblique, such as the series of paintings depicting Charlotte leaving Berlin for France. Salomon was apparently a quiet and timid girl; the paintings are commentary, not the biting satire of Georg Grosz.

Der Stürmer, organ of popular enlightenment. The Jew has made only money from your blood. The Jewish bosses financed the World War. The Jew has deceived and betrayed you, so— German men and women. Take your revenge!!! Once Jewish blood spurts from the knife, you*ll have by far a better life. Hunt the swine until he sweats and smash his windowpanes to bits. April 1, 1933—Boycott the Jews! Whoever buys from any Jew, himself a filthy swine is too.

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper.
(Courtesy Reading Charlotte Salomon)


Amadeus Daberlohn, prophet of song, enters to the tune of the Toreador*s Song from Carmen.

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper.
(Courtesy Reading Charlotte Salomon)

True to her rich cultural upbringing Salomon was said to have an endless repertory of musical references in her head, and was observed singing while she worked.  No doubt this is why conceived of music as an integral part of the experience of Life? or Theater? to recall musical bits.  In the Prologue,  Salomon describes the role of music in her work:

The creation of the following paintings is to be imagined as follows: A person is sitting beside the sea. She is painting. A tune suddenly enters her mind. As she starts to hum it, she notices that the tune exactly matches what she is trying to commit to paper. A text forms in her head, and she starts to sing the tune, with her own words, over and over again in a loud voice until the painting seems complete. . . The author has tried—as is apparent perhaps most clearly in the Main Section—to go completely out of herself and to allow the characters to sing or speak in their own voices. In order to achieve this, many artistic values had to be renounced, but I hope that, in view of the soul-penetrating nature of the work, this will be forgiven.

While his face is being worked on, the following is taking place in his mind. The vision dominating his senses blends color and music: out of a confusion of swirling lines a theatrical mask of Paulinka takes shape.

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper.
(Courtesy Reading Charlotte Salomon)

At first go around, one might be tempted to judge Salomon a naive painter. She did have formal training in art, however, through enrollment in both arts high school and college.   Possibly she rejected more academic styles for this intimate work. Though very little of Salomon’s other work survives to compare, on the Life? or Theater? pages one clearly sees sophisticated influences—of the Expressionists, post-Impressionists, Fauves—and stylistic similarities (to Chagall in particular, as well as references to Michelangelo and Giotto.

And again, when I saw these two pictures, I was reminded of the essay by that other young girl. She makes it very clear: when she is happy and begins to paint, bright colors and red and yellow dots flow from her brush, and when her mood is dark her colors turn dusky gray. And it should of course be noted that this applies regardless of the subject the artist has in mind. When, as in these two pictures, the spiritual mood at the moment of creation happens to coincide wit the despair-filled theme "Death and the Maiden," the result, together with the optimistic "Meadow with the Yellow Flowers," is—on a very minor scale of course—true art. . . My discovery of the similarity between what young girls produce and what certain geniuses produce is completely justified. Like young girls. . .

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper
(Courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum)

Amazingly, Salomon used just the three primary colors and white for her paintings. The blue of depression, the yellow of joy, the red of passion were her pictorial language. The 769 compositions are amazingly varied—scenes move freely between achingly intimate tête-à-têtes, sequential scenes bound together on a single page, boisterous group gatherings, “talking head” monologues and crowd activities.

For a long time I was covered by the earth. And I woke up among the corpses. And when I then miraculously came home again, I had partially lost my memory.

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper.
(Courtesy Reading Charlotte Salomon)


High on a cliff grow pepper trees—softly the wind stirs the small silvery leaves. Far below, foam eddies and melts in the infinite span of the sea. Foam, dreams—my dreams on a blue surface...

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper.
(Courtesy Reading Charlotte Salomon)

Beyond the thematic complexity, the inventive compositions and fetching use of color the most intriguing aspect of Life? or Theater? is the message embodied by the work itself.   Four-months pregnant, Salomon was murdered, almost certainly upon her arrival, at Auschwitz in 1943.  Thus, Life? or Theater? exists as a most poignant reminder that art is tangible evidence of a life lived. Art  affirms life.

The circumstances of Life? or Theater? suggest another, equally significant, nuance—the power of art to affirm life as it is being lived. Salomon conceived Life? or Theater? in the throes of deep despair. Having learned of the dark secret of her family—the suicides of many of her female relatives—Charlotte felt a mounting pressure to do the same. This project saved her. As she recounts in the Epilogue: “And with dream-awakened eyes she saw all the beauty around her, saw the sea, felt the sun, and knew: she had to vanish for a while from the human plane and make every sacrifice in order to create her world anew out of the depths.”  Perhaps then it should be no mystery why Charlotte Salomon named her fictional protagonist “Kann,” the first-person conjugate of the German verb können. I can, affirmation of being alive.

Charlotte Salomon gave herself to this work with the ferocity of someone fighting for her life.

. . . there awoke in a suffering yet somewhat aloof creature a sense of helplessness of all those who try to grasp at straws in the most violent thunderstorms. Despite her utter weakness, however, she refused to be drawn into the circle of the straw-graspers. . . and remained alone with her experiences and her paint brush. Yet, in the long run, to live day and night like this became intolerable even to a creature thus predisposed. And she found herself facing the question of whether to commit suicide or to undertake something wildly eccentric.Thus in the presence of the scorching sun, purple sea, and luxuriant blossoms, the memory of an experience of her fervid early love came back to her. And she tried to visualize that face, that figure. . . For she discovered that her figure might possibly preserve her from suicide inasmuch as she remembered one of Amadeus*s favorite utterances: Love, know thyself first in order to love thy neighbor. And then: one has to go into oneself—into one*s childhood—to be able to get out of oneself. . . then she did not have to kill herself like her ancestors, for according to his method one can be resurrected in fact, in order to love life still more, one should once have died. . . And with dream-awakened eyes she saw all the beauty around her, saw the sea, felt the sun, and knew: she had to vanish for a while from the human plane and make every sacrifice in order to create her world anew out of the depths. And from that came: Life? or Theater?

Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? 1940-1943
Gouache on paper.
(Courtesy Reading Charlotte Salomon)

Charlotte and her father Albert Salomon, ca. 1927-28

Wider Connections

The complete Life? or Theater? opus—Reading Charlotte Salomon

Michael Kimmelman— The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa. Among the 10 essays in this book “The Art of Maximizing Your Time” offers a  most beautiful mediation on the redemptive power of art, as evidenced through the work of Salomon, Eva Hesse and Jay deFeo.

Venetian Red“A Different Canvas: Raoul Dufy”

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: