Painters on Paintings A conversation between contemporary artists and their influences across time. Wed, 11 Mar 2020 14:00:31 +0000 en hourly 1 Painters on Paintings 32 32 Like a Brain Scan: Amy Myers on April Gornik Wed, 11 Mar 2020 14:00:31 +0000 You experience the light through cumulus night clouds that gather then disperse within minutes, light ricocheting in groves of trees.

The post Like a Brain Scan: Amy Myers on April Gornik appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

April Gornik, Light After the Storm, 2012, Oil on linen, 78″ x 104″

My brain puts the paintings of April Gornik together as landscapes; I mean they have all of the obvious indicators of landscape. But, as I dig further, I see repeated complex structural systems, natural forces, phenomena. If you were to look inside your lungs you might see these types of gentle mixtures mixing, fueling, funneling. The viewer breathes with the painting.

What I was struck by most when I walked into the Miles McEnery Gallery to see her new works was how the atmosphere of the paintings seemed to extend out into the room itself. I felt like I was actually inside the space they were generating, experiencing the elements not only pictorially, but also physically. I noticed the trees, the light; I felt the wind, the temperatures, the void as the stark absence of light.

As I spent more time with the paintings, other sub-surface content began to percolate. I noticed an upside-down Latin cross repeated in the compositions. I noticed that, subtly, light formed a tentative hidden column in the center of the paintings that was like a ladder you could climb; as though, if you sat there and looked at it long enough, you could step up onto it.

Gornik’s paintings always allow access to light. There is never a blockage, an outage, or a shortage of light.  It’s always accessible, available, impersonal and personal all in the same moment. But it is integrated with other elements. You are always seeing the light through something else, through highly ephemeral, complex forces. Through matter and small pieces of time. You experience the light through cumulus night clouds that gather then disperse within minutes, light ricocheting in groves of trees, creating a glowing luminous presence, soon to be covered by clouds and extinguished. As in quantum mechanics, pieces of time are everything. But the light is never obscured. It lets you in.

In her moonlight paintings, the negative space reads like neurons, like a patterned map or neural synapses. The exquisite pathways and movements look like a brain scan.

April Gornik’s work is a visual narrative that transports the viewer through painted light, like taking flight in your dreams. But the transportive power of the light is in counterpoint with the ever present void. You have to be willing to stand within the void to be bejeweled by the light.


Amy Myers, Spin 2 Particle, 2015, graphite, gouache, Conte on paper, 60 x 68 inches

Amy Myers received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999 and has had solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Tokyo, and throughout Europe. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Houston TX, California State University Museum, Greenville County Museum, Hudson Valley Center of Contemporary Art, PAMM, and the Nerman Museum of Art.

The post Like a Brain Scan: Amy Myers on April Gornik appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Norm Paris on Max Ernst Wed, 26 Feb 2020 15:14:04 +0000 This is a portrait of a culture in the late stages of psychic rot.

The post Norm Paris on Max Ernst appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Max Ernst, Europe After the Rain II, 1940-42, Oil on canvas, 54 x 146 cm

I first saw Europe After the Rain II at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Max Ernst retrospective in 2005. I wasn’t really expecting to like the show. Back then I viewed Ernst as somewhat of a parlor-trick surrealist. But I was soon knocked out by the incredibly idiosyncratic physicality of his paintings and collages – aspects of which are flattened in reproduction. What initially struck me about this specific painting was the collision between the opacity of the pale blue sky and the translucent, stain-like, dirty, murky, warmth of the ground. The conventional horizon line implies a place that is tangible, but really the “ground” is just a bunch of squished paint that has been partially removed from the surface – the product of decalcomania. There is a conceit here: the landscape is only what it is because the opaque blue makes it so, seemingly clarifying form from atmosphere through stark contrast. But this familiar order is a wafer thin veil; this is not an ordered world. The painting bristles with incongruities; it is flat and spatial, heavy and weightless, Earthlike and Martian, rational and irrational. And beyond any of those dichotomies is a different truth; this place is an abyss in disguise. The sky is more solid than the land. I used to get the same feeling as a kid when I would look at clouds out of an airplane window, but this painting is…darker than that.

Europe After the Rain is a painting that physically embodies the trials of fascism (a good, if somber, reminder these days). Begun in Europe in 1940, the painting was left behind as Ernst escaped a Nazi-occupied France. He reunited with the substrate in New York a year or so later and finished the painting in safer environs. It was labeled as Degenerate Art by Hitler’s regime. And his critics had a point; Europe After the Rain is a painting that concerns the degenerate, although not in the way they were thinking. Hitler was looking in a mirror. This is a portrait of a culture in the late stages of psychic rot.

Puvis De Chavannes, The River, ca 1864, Oil on paper, laid down on canvas, 51 x 99 1/4 inches

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-1823, Oil mural transferred to canvas, 56 x 32 inches

There is something body-like – both vicious and viscous – about the surface. It is as if the skin has been removed from the nationalist austerity of a Puvis de Chavannes painting. An elderly Goya might nod in solidarity with the nastiness of this space; a landscape seemingly made out of the same stuff as Saturn Devouring His Son. At the forefront of Surrealism, and Dada before that, Ernst’s use of decalcomania was interesting not only because the surface effect is so lush – although that is important, with its gurgling and intestinal ruin-like connotations – but also because the operation of applying and transferring paint from one surface to another allows Ernst to create something that he cannot control, and then use it as a stage for his own intuitions and editorializations. Maybe this wrestling with chance, or the attempt to control chaos, is a metaphor for his exiled status. What makes Ernst different from many of his imagistic peers is that he doesn’t directly describe Freudian dreams, at least not in his best work. Instead he uses material processes to liberate the imagination, thereby bringing to consciousness some of the operations of the unconscious mind.

But Ernst’s mind is confronting an external reality that resembles a nightmare. His painting becomes an act of protest via a dream state. It is the embodiment of his subjective experience provoked by the apocalypse of World War II. Max Ernst survived Nazism, but his unstable and churning painting bears an imprint of the depravities that he escaped.

Norm Paris, Monument II, 2019, Graphite on Paper, 100 x 72 inches

Norm Paris is an artist, curator, and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. He has had solo exhibitions at The Proposition, New York, NY and Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York, and is a professor at Rhode Island School of Design.

The post Norm Paris on Max Ernst appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Haley Josephs on Alice Neel Tue, 18 Feb 2020 02:02:06 +0000 I felt the awkward little girl in me stirring, a sense of vulnerability recognized and transformed into a different kind of power by this painting.

The post Haley Josephs on Alice Neel appeared first on Painters on Paintings.


Alice Neel, Isabetta, 1934/35, Oil on canvas, 43 x 26 inches

In some dark times a few years past, I was blowing in the wind like a tumbleweed.  Fresh out of graduate school, feeling more vulnerable and insecure than I had before entering, I found myself in a cold studio in upstate New York. In my work and life, I felt like an ice statue, petrified with fear. The one thing I wanted to do was paint, but besides being financially broke (and the anxiety that comes with that), I couldn’t shut off the voices in my head. I could still hear the voices of all the critics, visiting artists and professors that had come into my studio at the university and told me about my paintings. What was right, what was wrong. I didn’t know how to trust myself; I couldn’t hear my own voice. Just as I had when I was a child, I felt unworthy and wanted to shy away from my responsibilities, my emotions and reality. I sat in my studio, with my books and my thoughts, trying to come back down to earth and find the strength to stand back up.

If you open either of my Alice Neel books, they will each open to the same painting: Isabetta. Here stands a young girl (the artist’s daughter, age 6), fully nude, hands on hips, bushy brown hair, pale blue eyes that gaze past you, defiant. Her eyes gently flow through me, almost in the way a cat can look at you as if they know you. She dares you to test her power. Her legs are gangly but strong like two tree trunks, and her feet stand sturdily rooted to the floor. Although she’s completely naked, there’s no trace of fear at being seen. Instead, a sense of vitality arises from this image. What power could be possessed in the awkwardness of a young girl, seemingly unprotected? I felt the awkward little girl in me stirring, a sense of vulnerability recognized and transformed into a different kind of power by this painting. Somehow, through all my confusion and insecurities, something in me spoke up. This painting invited me to find strength and courage in an unlikely hero: a little girl stripped bare.      

It is because of some very unfortunate and also some very beautiful circumstances that I am even here. I’m sure many of you can say the same. It is especially true for those of us who were brought up in turmoil or uncertainty and are consequently subject to bouts of anxiety and depression later in life, or else choose to shut off completely.

To give some perspective as to why I think this image fills me with so much emotion, it’s important to explain a little of my own history. I was born in the shadow of my sister’s untimely death from gun violence, with an acute awareness of the fragility of (especially young) lives. Always feeling like an outsider, I awkwardly grew into adulthood, plagued by what I found out later in life is called “survivor’s guilt.” Starting out as an artist, I made my living by taking care of children, determined to nurture and protect their young lives. The incredible brilliance and honesty of the children in my life helped me to see beauty in small moments and develop a sense of awe. It taught me how to appreciate the child in me, the one that wanted to shy away.  

Alice Neel’s mother said to young Alice, “I don’t know what you expect to do in the world, you’re only a girl.”  What a thing to say to a child!  And yet, I know I’ve felt the same at times. What gives me the right? How can I stand up when the odds seem so slim? Younger as well as more mature bare female bodies are often portrayed in my work. I spend a lot of time worrying about how people will react. I often feel these bodies are overtly and needlessly sexualized by my audience, and that makes people feel uncomfortable. But by the term “audience,” I mean that I worry about the expectations of the monocratic, uncontested, male audience. It is engrained in the system. I am, by conditions set forth by centuries and centuries of male-dominated organization, taught to guard myself and my work against the ridicule of the classic norm, the patriarchy. But my work is matriarchal, not patriarchal. The heroic for me is the feminine; the norm is that of the She working within that structure. I have developed great respect for vulnerability and for complex emotions. Neel’s painting of Isabetta opened the door and showed me how to paint with honesty. It revealed so much bravery and is a reminder to work through obstacles, such as my fear of being judged and feelings of inadequacy that might suppress my truth.   

To those who feel uncomfortable at the sight of a young naked girl, depicted with honesty and integrity, don’t feel discouraged and try not to judge others for liking it. Just accept that this painting, this subject matter is not speaking to you, but try to acknowledge that it might be, for someone else. If you feel uncomfortable, it is most likely something inside you, not inside the painting. For me, Isabetta has become a totem; a symbol for the power of emotional honesty.   

I know that Alice Neel struggled through much in her life, including a series of mental breakdowns, suicide attempts, and the loss of loved ones. Through all of those hardships, she painted, creating works that would set a course for the many who followed her. Thank you, Alice, for paving the way and showing me there is space for emotional intensity and challenging the norms of how we view female bodies, emotions, and the parts hidden and unknown. There is a way to move through all that is strange and unpredictable in life and keep painting. As I sat frightened and paralyzed in my cold studio up north, Alice’s Isabetta showed me a way to stand up again. 

Happy Birthday Alice!
Born 120 years ago
January 28, 1900


Haley Josephs, When Times Are Hard, Just Remember the Serenity Prayer, 2018, Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Haley Josephs is a Brooklyn based painter. She received her BFA in Painting and Drawing from Tyler School of Art in 2011 and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University in 2014.  Recent solo and group exhibitions include Jack Barrett, New York, NY; Cleveland Institute of Art, Reinberger Gallery, Cleveland, OH; Capsule, Shainghai, China; Thomas Erben, New York, NY; Journal Gallery, New York, NY; Carl Kostyal, Malmo, Sweden; Diane Rosenstein, Los Angeles, CA.

The post Haley Josephs on Alice Neel appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Raoul Middleman on the Master of the Osservanza Triptych of St. Anthony Wed, 05 Feb 2020 15:27:44 +0000 Their separate egos are hereby erased when the two saints conjoin in an embrace, which echoes the cave behind them, a cosmic hug of sorts, clinching the final humanistic coda of this panel.

The post Raoul Middleman on the Master of the Osservanza Triptych of St. Anthony appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Master of the Osservanza, Triptych of St. Anthony, c. 1430/1435, Tempera on poplar panel, 19 x 14 inches (each panel), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

“Back to back, belly to belly
Well I don’t give a damn
‘Cause it doesn’t matter really. . .”
From Calypso song “Zombie Jamboree” by Conrad Eugene Mauge, Jr.

I have been looking at this early fifteenth century triptych by Master of the Osservanza or years, making it a special diversion whenever I herd my students through the National Gallery in Washington.  Usually I am attracted to pictures that scramble brushstrokes with painterly aplomb. Why this fascination with a painting locked into late medieval tropes of narration? Why would a Jewish kid from 1940’s Baltimore feel a kinship with a medieval saint? Did the life journey of this monk remind me, in some small way, of my own, I ask myself? For me the crucial question hinges around why St. Anthony leaves the monastery in the first place; what, in his declining years, compels him to renounce the amenities of the monastic life and go it alone, hiking out with nothing more than a hobo’s bindle.

A partial explanation could be that comic books were the inspirational culture of my childhood. Stan Lee fully imagined his heroes in much the same way as Master of the Osservanza. He tells their epic stories and humanizes them at the same time.  Peter Parker has to deal with the normal struggles of a teenager.  You worry about a homeless St. Anthony waddling along in the desert.

The Triptych of St. Anthony consists of three panels of tempera on poplar that move in time from left to right, like a comic book, with St. Anthony as its superhero.  The first panel describes St. Anthony as a young man in the monastery; the second, his leaving the monastery as an old man; and the third, his wandering about in the world.

Master of the Osservanza, Saint Anthony Distributing His Wealth to the Poor, c. 1430/1435, Tempera on poplar panel, 19 x 14 inches

At first St. Anthony is fully engaged in the routine of the monastery, distributing his wealth to the poor. Everything happens within a self-enclosed architecture. His back is to the inherent movement of the other panels; he is not going anywhere. The overall color of this first panel is red.  The third and final panel of this painting depicts the world journey that St. Anthony takes as an old man, along a winding spiraling trail full of starts and stops, that begins in the airy clime of mountain heights and culminates with his meeting with the Anchorite St. Paul in the desert. It is discontinuous in its design and is green.

The color of the middle panel, however — the departure of St. Anthony from the monastery — is a composite of the first and third panels, mixing the colors of the interior world of the Church with his pilgrimage into the world. It operates as a kind of unifying principal, a fulcrum balancing the seesaw of the first and third panels, the before and after that makes narrativity simultaneous.

The pivotal center of the entire triptych —specifically the very door through which St. Anthony steps out alone into the landscape — is but a languid flat plane; indeed the only plane totally parallel to the picture plane. How bizarre is it that here, the absolute central moment of the entire narrative as depicted by these three panels, a fraught ambiguity exists where St. Anthony confronts the uncertainty of his first steps into the phenomenological world; that this doorway, in its primal, innocent and vulnerable neutrality (much like the stance of Gilles in a portrait by Watteau), should react to the crisis with such listless resignation?

Master of the Osservanza, Saint Anthony Leaving his Monastery, c. 1430/1435, Tempera on poplar panel, 19 x 14 inches

All else — steps, walls, and rooftops, even fragments of the outlying city itself — are wildly askew, in perspectival disarray.  One would think otherwise:  that the open door, making possible his exit from the confinement of the monastery, would break vehemently the claustrophobic exaction of the picture plane. But no, this quirky reversal of pictorial expectation is a disarming anomaly. The emphasis on the door as a neutral uninflected picture plane, as the central intermediary — the place where the interiority of St Anthony’s faith and spiritual calling, and the unfamiliar outside world, intersect — now acts as a foil to all the flying disarray of perspective ahead. This onslaught of empirical description becomes an active danger and an immediate threat at the very commencement of his journey. His first steps into the topsy-turvy world are imperiled by a wild and unseemly disorientation.

With just a backpack and cane, St. Anthony shuffles into a flagrantly uncharted and disheveled world, spiraling downward from mountaintop to forest, and finally to an ultimate clearing in the desert where he finds St. Paul the Hermit. Along the way, St. Anthony, stranded in the middle of nowhere, asks directions from a centaur. Out of what pasture of mythological origin does this cockamamie pagan creature appear? This is an odd epistemological glitch, a non sequitur in the medieval cosmos. St. Anthony is no longer protected by the infrastructure of Catholicism, the righteous exclusivity of its rhetoric. He is now vulnerable to a whole slew of heinous temptations, supernatural creatures and other egregious interlopers. Yet a dauntless and implacable St. Anthony soldiers on, like a Mr. Magoo on a metaphysical journey in an alien world.

All at once he vanishes into the thick entanglement of a forest (perhaps emblematic of some crisis, say, meeting with the devil, as legend has it, or suffering the proverbial dark night of the soul) only to surface into view again. Only then does he discover St. Paul the Hermit in the desert.

In this last and concluding scene, St. Anthony and St. Paul put down their canes and become one. Their separate egos are hereby erased when the two saints conjoin in an embrace, which echoes the cave behind them, a cosmic hug of sorts, clinching the final humanistic coda of this panel.

Amidst the conflicting doctrines of free will and predetermination, freedom is a narcissistic fabrication. The daily perplexity that pursues St. Anthony — all the pursuant doubts as he loses his way along a wilderness of tortuous footpaths — is the price of freedom. Yet his mission is nevertheless inevitable and fated:  to find St. Paul is to find himself. St, Paul is St Anthony’s look-alike, a homeboy in priestly robes and beads, an older version of himself.

Master of the Osservanza, The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, c. 1430/1435, Tempera on poplar panel, 19 x 14 inches

Whatever solipsistic pretensions St. Anthony might have assumed about the specialness of his journey, the perfectible singularity of his personal conceits are hereby dissolved upon the realization that St. Paul has been there all along, the first hermit to establish the anchorite monastic order. St. Anthony confronts the sobering reality that there is nothing new in its present avatar. His mission began as proud loner of the clerisy, trudging along mountainous slopes with priestly entitlement, only to descend in a backward spiral to a miserable hole in the wall, the cave — a stark contrast to the monastery he left behind.

The two monks put aside their canes so that now support comes from an overarching embrace of each other, a gestural universal whose future accepts human limitation and its fractured commonality.

Upon a closer look at the iconic magnificence of this final image —the hulking kinship of these two saints — it is the isolated profile of St. Paul that dominates.  St. Anthony is merely contributing as anonymous filler to the huddle; an acolyte subsumed into the clasping persona of St. Paul the Hermit. Here humility trumps vanity. By humbling himself to the dictates of the Anchorite Credo, St. Anthony Abbot both loses and finds himself. Could this boomeranging turnabout be the latent irony of the St. Anthony legend?

*                   *                   *

Just as the trajectory of history shows Napoleon repeating the conquests of a Roman emperor, or an aged Tolstoy, the journey of a St. Anthony, so my personal story as an artist picks up an uncanny vibration from the Master of the Osservanza Saga as well.

As a young artist I did giant Pop paintings of couples swiped from beer ads and porno mags.  These tawdry paintings featured grinning guys with big chins and flirtatious gals with big cleavage, all modeled with lots of volume against a vacuous background, a vast refrigerated zone suggestive of the monstrous benumbed acreage of Middle America. The vulgar impact of these paintings struck the fancy of the big pop dealer in Manhattan who persuaded me to move to New York, promising me representation in a top gallery and a salary sufficient enough so that I would no longer have to teach. He helped me find an old loft in the Battery overlooking the East River and Brooklyn. He took me along to dinner parties, introducing me to important collectors of Pop Art. I was included in a traveling Anti-sensibility show and the signature Pop Art exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum.  A fledgling in the New York art world, I felt “discovered”, fame and fortune just ahead.

However, as fate would have it, an unwelcome situation squashed my luck. The worst of the nightmare began when I became aware that this same fast-talking and cigar-puffing schmuck of a dealer was having an affair with my wife.  My refusal to go along cost me my marriage and career. I disappeared into the dealer ‘s mantra “What I can’t control, doesn’t exist”.  He put the kibosh on my work. No gallery would consider my billboard-like emojis of popular culture.  Blacklisted, I was flushed out of the system.

I was angry and felt myself psychologically stymied.  I needed a new beginning. Ambition faded into a kind of jaundiced bewilderment that prompted me to rebel against the whole Pop Art world, to take on the swagger of that grossly imperious establishment by going back to a retardataire, implausible, out of fashion dinosaur viewpoint — i.e., painting directly from nature.

Renting a studio in the boonies of Port Jervis, I started tramping through fields of muck, flies and cowpies, with my French easel strapped to my shoulder, in search for new vistas. I began knocking out countless plein-air sketches, sometimes five in an afternoon, in a furious commitment to the absurdity of painting landscapes in the 20th century. Most of these sketches I left unfinished. I wanted to find a personal truth, something authentic to my sensibility without it being glossed over, imposed upon or cosmeticized.

I found that the real landscape I was exploring was myself. To this end, I began a series of self-portraits— an incessant search for a genuine identity amidst the shifting flux of selves.

Because of the ever-changing light and mood of landscape, one is always in a rush to capture the raw sensations from the prism of nature. I found my instincts better suited to alla prima painting. To try to correct the image or make of it a perfect thing would be to overwork it and lose its freshness.  When I was a Pop artist, my paintings took a long time to complete. Appropriating images from media adverts, my painting hand was somewhat procrustean and mechanical. Now that I was in this new phase of painterly painting it was too dispiriting to copy from photographs.  The brushstrokes made from the actual observing of something became more engaging and opened up to spontaneity, accident and surprise.

I started to attend weekly meetings at an alliance on the Lower East Side, a gathering of strident and disaffected figurative artists whose careers were somewhat eviscerated by the power punch of Abstract Expressionism. I made friends with some artists a generation older than myself who became my mentors. I am thankful for the benefaction of these apostles of aesthetic creed:  the whirring analytical thought and insight of Louis Finkelstein; the good eye and impeccable taste of Paul Resika; and the lengthy conversations about Romanticism and the artist’s ego with Jon Schueler.

On my sabbatical to Europe, I made copies of old masters in the Louvre and, in Antwerp’s Musee des Beaux Arts, paintings by Rubens. I came to understand tradition first hand, that past and contemporary paintings could overlap to mutually extend the awareness of each of their meanings, the present informing the past and vice versa. Velazquez could be thought to be looking forward to Rothko in painting the gowns of his Infantas, gowns that hover and glow, in the space before his canvases, like clouds of glorious color.

Over the years, my paintings seem to accumulate farther from the hype and trends of the celebrity artworld. I enjoy painting portraits of friends, industrial harbor scenes, and still lives of dead fish gathered from the stalls of Baltimore’s Lexington Market, but also countless allegories, leftovers from my Pop days, spoofing Greek myths and biblical hoopla. The body of my work, painterly and expressionistic, is an avid search for a personal idiom that expresses my basic temperament, my scribble-scrabble Kilroy on the backyard fence.

*                   *                   *

Great myths and legends are like the shuffling of a loaded deck. It was destined all along that St. Anthony’s schlep would lead to St. Paul the Hermit. The shape of the cave at the bottom of the panel repeats the mountain shape at the top.  Time is reversed and incongruent spaces harmonize into one work of art.

Although the Sienese artist Master of the Osservanza (active 1420s-1440s) lived during the onset of the Renaissance, he did not avail himself of all the newfangled advances of optical know-how. He still had one foot in the Middle Ages, preferring to paint in an archaic decorative gothic style. St Anthony appears no less than three times in the scope of the third panel: first, as a tiny character roaming the steep slopes of the mountain; then, in his encounter with the stark frontality of the centaur who flashes him; and finally, merging into that colossal pyramid of collegiality at the end. In a primitive attempt at the illusion of space, increasing the size of St. Anthony on each occasion of his reappearance actualizes depth of field.

Unlike science, art does not advance as an improvement on what went before, disposing of its former truths as inapplicable throwaways. There is no expiration date on great paintings. Each work of art is rather an invention specific to its moment, yet always universal in the fabric of time. This masterpiece by Master of the Osservanza can be thought of as a dialectical construct between disjunction and harmony.  This telling of the story of St. Anthony transcends mundane description and, in a spell of magical synchronicity, illuminates the fraught moment between inner and outer worlds —casting light on my own aesthetic quest.

Raoul Middleman, Actaeon, 1996, Oil on canvas, 42 x 72 inches

Raoul Middleman is recently retired after 58 years of teaching at MICA, allowing him to wake up everyday early enough to paint the sunrise over the Baltimore Harbor, and then go back to bed.

The post Raoul Middleman on the Master of the Osservanza Triptych of St. Anthony appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Thompson and the Case of the Vanishing Lady Tue, 28 Jan 2020 15:37:01 +0000 I wanted to draw your attention to the first episode of Malcolm Gladwell's podcast Revisionist History, in which he looks at the career of painter Elizabeth Thompson as a way to think about tokenism, moral licensing, and being the first outsider to enter a closed world.

The post Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Thompson and the Case of the Vanishing Lady appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Elizabeth Thompson, Calling the Roll After An Engagement, Crimea, 1874, Oil on canvas, 36.7 × 72.2 inches, Queen Victoria’s Royal Collection

I wanted to draw your attention to the first episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, in which he looks at the career of painter Elizabeth Thompson as a way to think about tokenism, moral licensing, and being the first outsider to enter a closed world. Thompson painted the masterpiece The Roll Call in 1874, and it was hung in a coveted position in the front gallery of the Royal Academy of Art – an honor unheard of for a female artist. At the time when paintings were equivalent to blockbuster Marvel movies, The Roll Call traveled the continent drawing hundreds of thousands of eyes. With that much popularity, she should have been a shoe-in for membership in the Academy. But she lost by two votes and her next masterpiece was hidden in the Academy’s rafters. She then disappeared from the art world stage and it would be 60 years before a female member was elected. Gladwell’s interpretation of why is worth a listen. Link HERE.
Your Editor,

The post Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Thompson and the Case of the Vanishing Lady appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Leslie Roberts on ‘Fire in the Evening’ by Paul Klee Mon, 27 Jan 2020 23:54:14 +0000 Klee presented the grid as a flexible container for ecstatic color.

The post Leslie Roberts on ‘Fire in the Evening’ by Paul Klee appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Paul Klee, Fire in the Evening, 1929, oil on cardboard, 13 3/8 x 13 1/4″, Courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Joachim Jean Aberbach Fund, MoMA

I saw Paul Klee’s Fire in the Evening last week, newly hung on the fifth floor of the renovated MoMA. I was reminded how very small it is. I was reminded that most reproductions pump up its saturation, giving it electric blues, royal purples, and competing slashes of brilliant red. The painting is mainly an arrangement of chromatic grays. Near the top is a band of relatively pure blue. Of pure red, there is one rectangle only: the nested, hovering patch that’s not quite central and not quite square. In the world of that painting, no red could be redder.

I came relatively late to geometric abstraction. As a young artist, I found much of it programmatic and dry, especially, but not only, minimalism. Even after I understood Mondrian to be visual poetry, Agnes Martin’s grids seemed drab. Alfred Jensen’s, I thought, lacked subtlety. But I never questioned the luminous grids of Paul Klee.

Klee presented the grid as a flexible container for ecstatic color. To me, as a young painter, the minimalist grid, didactic and unyielding, loomed forbiddingly from above. Klee’s small grids, like Fire in the Evening, glowed from within.

Twenty years ago, I began working with geometry. Seeking unexpected visual relationships, I began diagramming words into grids of color. Suddenly, Alfred Jensen’s paintings shocked me with their majesty, Agnes Martin’s with their tender strength. A larger world of geometric painting finally revealed itself. But Klee’s grids had allowed me to enter that world and, for Klee, I had needed no key.

Fire in the Evening is perhaps the work of Klee’s I love most. In considering why, I keep wanting to say what it is not. I believe Klee might consider that a fine way to describe it. He writes in his notebooks:

A concept is not thinkable without its opposite . . . What does ‘above’ mean if there is no ‘below’?

Admittedly, in Klee’s writings, lists of principles alternate with ardent defenses of intuition, and one can likely find a quote supporting pretty much any position. But his statement about opposites is beautiful, and I’ll proceed in that spirit.

Fire in the Evening isn’t rigid, theoretical, austere, or conceptual. It isn’t oversized, bombastic, sensational, or dramatic. It isn’t expressionist, Cubist, constructivist, neo-Plasticist, hard-edged, color-field, or minimalist; it exemplifies no “ism” or movement.

It lacks elements important in some other works by Klee; it has no writing, glyph-like shapes, or networks of drawn or transferred line.  Klee’s inventive play with line and process affected the work of generations of later artists. My own work involves rule-based systems for organizing color, on panels inscribed with letters, numbers, and other linear structures. But Fire in the Evening is all color and no line. Its process is simply oil painting, organized in rectangles, on a thirteen-inch square of cardboard.

Despite the allusive title, it’s not, to my eye at least, an image. It’s an arrangement of blocks of paint that glow. It’s a small miracle of color abstraction.

In the bright, hectic atmosphere of the new MoMA, the painting looked unexpectedly modest. I wondered briefly if it had been installed with enough prominence. But then it pulled me closer, and I felt its gravity and steady inner light.

Leslie Roberts, CANARSIE LOCAL, 2019, acrylic gouache, ink, graphite on panel, 24 x 18 inches

Leslie Roberts lives in Brooklyn. Her most recent solo exhibition, “HOW THINGS ARE,” was installed at Minus Space Gallery in fall 2019. She teaches Foundation Light Color and Design at Pratt Institute.

The post Leslie Roberts on ‘Fire in the Evening’ by Paul Klee appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Lisa Hoke on Addie Herder Fri, 27 Dec 2019 19:59:02 +0000 Hers are the machines that we can’t hold onto, fleeting signs of our human desire to mark which way to go.

The post Lisa Hoke on Addie Herder appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Addie Herder, White Machine, Collage, 1961-65, 13 ½ x 19 inches, Photo courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY

I first saw Addie Herder’s work at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, then located on 23rd Street, in 2012. From that moment on, I was hooked. When considering a work of art to write about for this blog, I remembered the feeling I got from seeing an Addie Herder collage construction. The bigness of her smallness. Herder bridges that gap between collage and Pop. As I kept trying to hold onto the images in my mind, I slowly understood the specificity of their illusiveness, how excitingly baffling they are.

The two works I have chosen are from the “Machines” series, White Machine, 1961-65 and Pari-Mach, 1967. In their restrained combinations of ephemera, they each engage in a fluid dialogue with the essence of circuit boards, traffic patterns, engines, electrical wiring — the tools of organization for a world that is too chaotic to hold still. I think of the films by Jacques Tati, his quiet rage at the machine. In Mon Oncle, 1958, a false sense of calm is offered by mechanized design that then devolves into chaos with the addition of human interaction.

Addie Herder, Pari-Mach, 1967, Collage 13 ½ x 11 3/8 inches, Photo courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY

Addie Herder holds still for a moment so the viewer can pause, breathe and embrace the tiny familiar fragments ordered and controlled just long enough to be observed. As Tati depicts in the 1971 film, Traffic, the universal codes, signals, icons, arrows and directives eventually create misunderstanding and mayhem. Herder has harnessed the mayhem of machines into a quiet serenade of suggestion, a whisper rather than a command. Hers are the machines that we can’t hold onto, fleeting signs of our human desire to mark which way to go, pathways of thoughts, all described by bits of paper, film, matchsticks, flotsam and jetsam.

On a personal note, I have used cardboard packaging as a substantial source of color and structure in my studio work. It was to my delight to learn that Addie and her husband, Milton Herder, designed boxes for products, such as Jell-O, which found their way into more than one of my large collages without any knowledge on my part, of their origin. In the essay Intimate Scale, The Art of Addie Herder, by Alfred Allan Lewis, he writes, “ The advertising art at which the Herders excelled would become an intrinsic part of the Pop Art movement a decade later.” And of my own work decades after that. Like Jell-O, Addie lives on.

Lisa Hoke, Zip It, 2018, Cardboard packaging, felt, wire, foil, fabric, glue and hardware, 156 x 84 x 10 inches, Photo courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY

Lisa Hoke is a New York based artist. She recently completed a commission at the Nuvola Lavazza Headquarters in Torino, Italy.

The post Lisa Hoke on Addie Herder appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Ali Miller on Dante Gabriel Rossetti Thu, 12 Dec 2019 16:13:47 +0000 Alexa Wilding fluctuates between a confident and seductive nymph, a stiff and unamused model, and a vulnerable damsel awaiting a rescue.

The post Ali Miller on Dante Gabriel Rossetti appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Ghirlandata, “The Garlanded figure.” 1873, Oil on canvas, 124 x 85 cm

Color is one of the principle driving forces of my own practice; it is what ultimately makes me excited to sit down and paint and it tends to be the primary element that draws me into a painting. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata, the lush velvety greens sprinkled with luminous bursts of burnt-orange hair are exquisitely satisfying for me. From the popularity of this painting and others by Rossetti, both in his own time and in ours, it is clear to me why the Pre-Raphaelites searched so tirelessly for the most idyllic, ginger-haired models they could find. (Side-note: this was the painting that inspired me to become a red-head so that when I painted myself situated within juicy green environments I’d be more likely to achieve similar complementary optical experiences. Plus, I was born with red hair before it turned brown, and I figured it was time to return to my roots. Pun intended).

The effect of spatial depth in this painting unfolds slowly for me. It’s a compressed space that is both believable yet makes no logical sense. The dark, mysterious bottom corners act as a vignette that grounds and anchors the piece. The scale of the figures is larger than life, even goddess-like. The woman in the foreground, Alexa Wilding, fluctuates between a confident and seductive nymph, a stiff and unamused model, and a vulnerable damsel awaiting a rescue. Perhaps she was experiencing all of that, and Rossetti simply captured that complexity. 

The women in the background peering awkwardly over the hedge first appeared to me as passive decorative putti, serving the sole purpose of framing Alexa. However, upon further analysis, the longing and envious gazes of these women reveal that they might wish that they were the focus of attention, although historians say that they are in fact angels listening to her play the harp. The peculiar scale between Alexa and the middle ground figures is somewhat surreal, suggesting that perhaps these women are merely imagined. While it’s unclear whether the women behind her have her back, are literally talking behind it, or exist only within Alexa’s imagination, I find myself wanting to join them all in this plush utopian world.


Ali Miller, Food Baby, 2019, Oil on panel, 10 x 10 inches

Ali Miller is a New York City-based painter who constructs fantastical nonlinear-narratives, addressing themes of expectation, using extreme and surreal scenarios. She received her MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Hoffberger School of Painting in 2012 and her BFA from Alfred University in 2008. Ali has been the recipient of several painting awards and frequently attends artist residencies- most recently  at Chateau Orquevaux  (which inspired the above piece, Food Baby). Ali is currently represented by High Noon Gallery on the Lower East Side.

The post Ali Miller on Dante Gabriel Rossetti appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Editor’s Note: “You will love this conversation with Jaron Lanier but I can’t describe it“ Thu, 05 Dec 2019 14:36:01 +0000 I wanted to share with you this episode from the podcast The Ezra Klein Show where he interviews Jaron Lanier.

The post Editor’s Note: “You will love this conversation with Jaron Lanier but I can’t describe it“ appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Hey Folks,

Shifting the focus of Painters on Paintings temporarily, I wanted to share with you this episode from the podcast The Ezra Klein Show where he interviews Jaron Lanier. For those of you who might not be aware of him Lanier was a pioneer in virtual reality and coined the term.  He was part of the contingent of thought leaders emerging from the ashes of the 60s who rejected psychedelics as a mechanism for broadening and deepening human consciousness, championing instead the then incipient fields of cybernetics and electronic technology.  Since then he has remained on the frontier of electronic technology, defining, and lately redefining, the radical and revolutionary role it plays in human evolution.

Lanier is very critical of how social media has been engineered to optimize traffic for profit through appealing to our lesser natures, i.e., our brain’s penchant for favoring negative emotions over positive ones.  He contributes some important ideas about social engineering, using examples from the Arab Spring, women within video game culture, and Black Lives Matter, describing how what starts out as very positive social movements by individuals rallying to improve the lives of a subset of the larger culture quickly gets subverted by groups who are against such change, through their negative social media posts.  Due to our greater attraction to negative emotions those posts ultimately eclipse the initial positive ones as they gain traction in the social media swamp. Because the design of social media maximizes those posts that get more hits and retweets, any positive social gains from the original movement get quickly transformed through the algorithms of social media into a negative backlash. And Twitter and Facebook thereby profit. “You engage people by ruining society and that is the current business model,” says Lanier.

Episode Link

— Julie Heffernan

The post Editor’s Note: “You will love this conversation with Jaron Lanier but I can’t describe it“ appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Mariel Herring on Chuta Kimura Thu, 05 Dec 2019 14:16:44 +0000 Imagine if de Kooning and Matisse painted a landscape together, and maybe Bonnard was their professor/mentor? That’s ya boi Kimura.

The post Mariel Herring on Chuta Kimura appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Chuta Kimura, Landscape at Pagoma in Provence,1984, 31.5 x 31.5 inches, Collection of Mr. Akira Yoshida, London.

At times when I feel lost, stuck, or unmotivated, I go to my art books and pull out my heroes. I’m like a kid feeling encouraged by their faded pulp comics as the hero overcomes obstacles to achieve greatness; except my heroes are painters. Page after page, each monograph is another reason, against all odds, to keep painting. One of my favorites is Chuta Kimura. You know that slightly nightmarish, anxiety inducing class drawing where you start at one easel and then, like musical chairs, each student shifts to the next easel every few minutes so that each drawing becomes a sort of collaboration? Well imagine if de Kooning and Matisse painted a landscape together, and maybe Bonnard was their professor/mentor? That’s ya boi Kimura. Of course that’s a gross reduction of his painterly style, but you get the idea. His paintings are at once a very serious study of light, line, color, and shape in an abstracted landscape, as well as a celebration of paint. I have an exhibition catalog from his show at the Philips Collection in the winter of 1985 and it has a broken spine that often falls open to Landscape at Pegoma in Provence, 1984. His paintings are a painterly painter’s wet dream on canvas.

Now, I’ve never actually seen it, or any of his paintings in person. (Spare me the eye rolling lecture: “But the color/texture/scale/je ne sais quoi is so much better in person.” I know, I know, but sometimes life comes before being an artist.) It’ll happen someday and, when it does, I will be in complete bliss, choked up and with goose bumps crawling up my forearms. Because the thing that really stops me in my tracks is his paint, and feeling like if I could stand in front of that painting I’d get sucked up into an alien light beam of goddamn beauty. It’s like a weight lifted off your chest. You can breathe.

I love the atmosphere of his paint. As a painter, I take certain liberties with my paintings. I make a lot of things up because even if it’s not the truth it just feels right. You paint the sky pink not necessarily because it looks like that, but because it feels like that. In Landscape I’m looking down at a field, the sun is hitting at a strong angle and a cloud passes over. It’s just before sunset and it starts to rain. You can practically smell that hot, sweet smell of grass, the petrichor–the scent that is emitted from the earth when it initially reacts with the moisture from rain. That smell has the same primordial effect on everyone. It’s imprinted on our DNA through ancestral lived experience, epigenetics, like a tugging at your soul. That smell is an awareness that the ground is wet and plants/crops are being watered. It’s a calming reassuring smell, reminding you that you’re alive and, god willing, if it rains again you’ll keep surviving. 

I snap out of my day dream and my eye catches a pale yellow drip, flung off at an angle where it lays across a dark, dusty lavender with moments of amber shining through. I can hear a palette knife scrape paint against canvas, building up against the knife’s edge, mixing with looser, brushed on paint until the wrist changes direction and leaves a small berm of paint and the beginnings of a drip. I wonder how he moved when he painted this. I follow the line of his brush around the canvas and suddenly I’m dancing with Kimura in the French countryside. I want to reach out and touch the paint. Like reading some sort of brail, there’s an unspoken code in the paint surface. So I reach for the closest thing I have. I pull an old painting out to look at it, dust it off and give it a little rub hello like a neighbor’s dog passing by. Hey old friend. And then I listen to what it has to tell me and, against all odds, I keep painting.


Mariel Herring, mermaid hair, 2015, oil on linen, 48 by 60in.


Mariel Herring is a carpenter who lives in South Philly with her dog Puzzle. She has a Post-Baccalaureate and an MFA in painting from The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She hopes to one day merge her love of building and renovating houses with her love of making paintings and objects.

The post Mariel Herring on Chuta Kimura appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 1