Painters on Paintings A conversation between contemporary artists and their influences across time. Sun, 14 Jul 2019 19:11:23 +0000 en hourly 1 Painters on Paintings 32 32 Jessica Stoller on the Sévres Breast Bowl Sun, 14 Jul 2019 18:04:54 +0000 The dairy she created allowed her to demonstrate her political agency while intertwining ideas related to femininity, nature and health.

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Sévres Manufactory, design attributed to Jean Jacques Lagrenén. Breast Bowl, Service for the Rambouillet Dairy, 1787-88, Soft paste porcelain bowl and hard paste porcelain support, 12.5cm x 12.2cm x 13.3cm

The first time I saw the Sevres Breast Bowl was while paging through my dog-eared copy of
An Illustrated Dictionary of Ceramics, a ceramophile’s compendium of obscure phrases, shapes, process and patterns spanning cultures and centuries.  Under the “B”s, below “breakfast service” but before “brick” I came upon…

Breast Bowl. A bowl in the form of, and moulded from a woman’s breast, the most famous example being that made for Marie Antoinette. It is a type of drinking cup, similar to the Greek MASTOS. The French term is bol sein.” 

I was immediately drawn in by this unknown object; despite its having been made in the 18th century, the piece appears totally contemporary to my eye. A sly play on a drinking vessel coupled with the mammary gland, the bowl is both elegant and unsettling. 

The breast bowl also serves as a unique conduit from the 18th century back to antiquity. It draws its footless shape from the Greek form “mastos,” which translates to breast. The original shape created a challenge for the user. Tapering to a point, the cupped liquid must be consumed before the object is set down. Finished in a black figure ware style, mastos forms were often decorated with images related to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility, evoking ideas of frolicking satyrs, ritualistic drink and ecstatic dance. 

It is interesting then to think what the original French designers were invoking when they circled back to this ancient form. The breast bowl was part of an elaborate porcelain set created by Sévres Manufactory specifically for Marie Antoinette’s dairy in Rambouillet. The historic phenomenon of the “pleasure dairy” was first created in the sixteenth century by Catherine de’Medici, another foreign born French queen who also had challenges producing an heir. The dairy she created allowed her to demonstrate her political agency while intertwining ideas related to femininity, nature and health. Not far from the city, the pleasure dairy allowed future aristocratic women to display their femininity and power in ways deemed more “correct” and palatable to the public, playing on age old themes of the connection between the female body and the pastoral landscape. The dairies embraced images of fecundity and nature, albeit a highly choreographed and sanitized version; meanwhile the real labor that kept this bucolic dream alive happened in an adjacent dairy. 

Rumors linger that the breast bowl was allegedly molded on the Queen’s own breast. With that in mind, I can see the breast bowl as a symbol of the state harnessing female power for the greater “good” (producing an heir). It is also equally plausible to see this same object turn morbid within a few years as a sort of reliquary of the fallen Queen or, depending on your viewpoint, a fleshy token of her capriciousness. My Catholic upbringing also comes into view as I look at the breast bowl, echoes of St. Lucy or St. Agathe serenely offering severed body parts on silver platters come to mind. The female body becomes detached, tinged in equal measure with veneration and implicit violence. 

Putting history and religion aside, this piece also taps into the mess of contradictions the female breast can enlist.  A unique organ that can drip with sustaining and nourishing fluid, it is often dissociated from the body and fetishized to the point of absurdity. Many people squirm at the sight of a mother breast feeding, yet breasts unmoored from their biological function are in ads constantly, selling us anything and everything. The female breast is paradoxically highly visible and also unseen. #freethenipple.

Porcelain and breast milk have both been deemed golden for their monetary and nutritional worth, respectively. Eighteenth century Europe coveted rare and highly valued porcelain, also known as  “white gold,” and colostrum, the substance (often yellow in color) that first appears when a woman (or mammal) is breastfeeding has been dubbed ”liquid gold” for the amount of antibodies that it contains. The porcelain Sévres Breast Bowl, perched atop its regal mammalian tripod, seems to glow with the hue of life, concentrated at the base in an amber-gold point. 

I often think about how female bodies become the intersection between nature, culture, politics and religion. The Sévres Breast Bowl maps each of these onto its simple form resulting in an enigmatic work that continues to compel. Linking polytheistic Greece with revolutionary France, it reminds me that the breast is more than just anatomy; it attracts and repels, remaining innately powerful, provocative, and unmistakably political.

Jessica Stoller, Untitled (weave), 2015, porcelain, glaze, china paint, lustre, 12 x 6 x 7 inches

Jessica Stoller employs porcelain to create sculpture that balances the corporeal and the imagined, the idealized and the grotesque. Her works are complex, surreal hybrids, utilizing the historic language of porcelain and the still life, while creating new and unfamiliar forms that arrest the viewer’s eye with their beauty and abjection.

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Ruth Marten on Paul Caranicas Mon, 01 Jul 2019 16:22:06 +0000 He’s condensed a mall into a theatre set, flattening the rich detail into a sort of Greek chorus to serve the dumb central gun shop.

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Paul Caranicas, Ozone 46 (Mickey’s Gun Shop), 2018, Oil and acrylic on wood, 10 x 50 inches

The balance between content and execution in the paintings of Paul Caranicas is a playground for his humorous and sophisticated sensibility. A wry nonchalance belies the saga of life found within the work. For this review, I chose a painting I find odd, compelling and timely. Titled Ozone 46 (Mickey’s Gun Shop), acrylic on wood, 10 x 50 inches, it’s an extreme horizontal panorama of a gun shop in a roadside mall, utilizing a palette one might find embedded within the 20th to 21st century American psyche.

Caranicas’ compositions are invented concoctions with impossible perspectives and gorgeous textures. They are not ironic despite their intelligence and impossible distortions. An invisible backstory of photoshop and collaged anachronistic elements adds depth and mystery. Born in Greece but raised in Washington D.C. and Chevy Chase, MD., he is a cultural reporter and architectural fantasist.

Paul Caranicas, Ozone 46 (Detail)

I love how he uses vernacular shapes and signage in Ozone 46 to move the eye around while anchoring the viewer into a specific time and place. He shows his process openly, mismatching the patches of too blue sky into rhomboids and ziggurats at each end. He’s condensed a mall into a theatre set, flattening the rich detail into a sort of Greek chorus to serve the dumb central gun shop. Suddenly you realize that this is an invented composition and nothing existed in that form. What’s lurking behind the windows? The gun store seems to be the only “live” element in the picture though the abuse of time glazes the surrounding buildings and grass has grown up through the cracks in the cement. Paint is applied lovingly and expertly. Enormous patience and devotion to process guarantees that, whatever the impression to be had, be it a ruined American landscape or a genuine appreciation for that landscape, no simple answer will suffice.


Ruth Marten, Man of the Sea, 2019, Gouache on archival print, 30 x 22 inches


A native of NYC, Ruth Marten is preparing for a November show at Van der Grinten Galerie in Cologne, Germany where she had a retrospective at the Max Ernst Museum in Bruhl, ending this year.

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Katie Miller on ‘Young Girl with a Dead Bird’ Tue, 11 Jun 2019 13:52:07 +0000 Pupils dilate when we are happy and contract when we are sad. Inky dilated pupils are attractive, which is why most portraits depict their sitter with sparkling black saucers.

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Young Girl with a Dead Bird, Anonymous, South Netherlandish School, Oil on panel, 36.7 x 29.8 cm (14.4 x 11.7 inches), Circa 1500-1525

I first came across her in a book I checked out from the library, probably around 2005. I was an undergraduate painting student and just beginning my exploration of the history of childhood, contemporary childhood, and how images of children have changed over time to reflect the culture. In the decade or so that I have been making paintings about children, ‘Young Girl with a Dead Bird’ is an image I have come back to again and again.

Her eyes are haunting – the pupils eerily small. Perhaps simply a response to bright light, but it seems more a reflection of her emotional state. Pupils dilate when we are happy and contract when we are sad. Inky dilated pupils are attractive, which is why most portraits depict their sitter with sparkling black saucers.  Surely, the artist made this unusual choice deliberately. The girl stares past us, her gaze cutting straight through the atmosphere like a dagger. Her eyes are focused simultaneously on the nothingness of distance and in towards her mind.

How old is she? She looks like she could be anywhere between the ages of 2 and 5. Her proportions aren’t quite right – her left shoulder appears dislocated, and her nose and mouth don’t line up with the center of her eyes. In many paintings, idiosyncrasies like this would annoy me, but not here. They do not detract from the power of the painting in the slightest, nor do I think the anonymous artist any less skilled. The white paint throughout the work has become translucent over time, which gives her skin an even more haunting pallor today.

The painting is unique for its time. At first glance, it seems right at home among other Netherlandish portraits of the era: the pose, composition, and costume are familiar. Upon noticing the dead bird, one might assume the painting is meant to function as a memento mori or vanitas in addition to being a likeness of a specific child. However, as explained in Pride and Joy, the book in which I first found her, there doesn’t seem to be any art historical or contemporaneous iconography involving dead birds or other pets. It is not until centuries later that we see paintings of a girl or young woman with a dead bird, most notably by Greuze and Reynolds.

Certainly, there are 16th and 17th century Netherlandish portraits of children holding objects; there are attributes with allegorical significance, and objects of daily life or nature, such as toys and fruit. Often the objects work alongside the costume to denote power or status, gender, and age. It seems likely, then, that this painting was meant to be symbolic. But in what way?

I now own a copy of the book and have littered its pages with sticky tabs and notes. Pride and Joy: Childrens Portraits in the Netherlands 1500-1700, edited by Jan Baptist Bedaux and Rudi Ekkart (Abrams 2000) is the exhibition catalog for a show of the same name at The Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem in 2000 and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp in 2001. The entire show looks phenomenal; I wish I could have seen it. The eighty-five portraits chosen are visually stunning in their detail and specificity, as Netherlandish portraits usually are. Equally interesting, though, are the art historical, iconographical, and cultural elements that are explored through the curation and explained in the catalog’s essays.

I have visited the painting where she lives at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Belgium. Like the Mona Lisa, she is even lovelier in person, smaller than imagined, and encased in walls of glass. Far unlike the experience of viewing the more famous painting, she and I were completely alone in the gallery.

This unknown girl of unknown symbolism by an unknown artist has inspired six of my own paintings directly. I call the series “Technological Memento Mori” because the children I paint are reacting, not to dead pets, but to devices that have ceased to work. I, too, have painted them with tiny pupils and the distant yet-inward focused gaze of a child mourning something loved and lost.

Katie Miller, Young Girl with a Dead Phone, 2013, Oil on panel, 16 x 12 inches

Katie Miller is a painter based in Maryland. She is currently working on a series of highly detailed oil paintings about the hyperreality of themed environments. Miller earned her BFA from MICA in 2007, and MFA from Hoffberger School of Painting at MICA in 2011. Miller has had two solo exhibitions at Connersmith in Washington, DC and her work is represented in public and private collections internationally, including The Rubell Family Collection and 21C Museum Hotels.

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Jane Irish on Karen Kilimnik’s Programme of Humour Fri, 17 May 2019 14:34:13 +0000 She has a beautiful hand that is ruled by a fairy, but sometimes a demon gives her a stick to paint with.

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Karen Kliminik, me — I forgot the wire cutters getting the wire cutters from the car to break into stonehenge, 1982, 1998, water soluble oil color on canvas, 20 x 16 inches

I learned about Karen Kliminik’s work in 2000 from Philadelphia curator Sid Sachs, who had asked me to be in a show called Conceptual Realism. It was one of his first exhibitions in his new role as curator at UArts’ Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery and it included Karen’s drawings. Sid was excited about Karen’s work — he loved its mystery and humor — and was thrilled to discover that she lived in Philly.  Shortly after, I went to see her show at 303 Gallery in New York City. I don’t remember encountering her work before that time, but she was already a mature artist.


Karen Kilimnik, Mari as Diana Rigg – 1965 – 2 great actresses, 2011, C-print, 13 3/8 x 20 inches, 34 x 50.8 cm

Her paintings have a kind of female rage in them. I feel it intensely, for example, when I look at her work entitled “me — I forgot the wire cutters getting the wire cutters from the car to break into stonehenge, 1982”. I recognize the feeling:  it’s the inability to control everything and then saying, in a kind of humorous way, to hell with it! I’m going to go about my business as usual. Her videos and installations are masterful, and her subject Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg) was my mother’s idol and my boyfriend’s first love! My favorite local conceptual photographer, was infatuated with Kate Moss too in the 1990s. Kilimnik’s work emerges from a particular set of experiences but connects to everyone, and reaches out for me, like the arm sconces in Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête.


Karen Kilimnik, Me in Russia, 1916, Outside the Village, 1999, Copyright Karen Kilimnik. Courtesy 303 Gallery.
(This painting was based on a photograph of Kate Moss by Mario Testino)

In Kilimnik’s paintings, she uses brushes that are too big and her canvases are about half pre-bought. The other half have extremely developed grounds that alchemically manifest the color and feel of the painted subject. Ochres rub against violets with muted raw umbers; terre vertes, mars reds, and prussian blues slide past each other, creating passages of light that grab me like a fire ring on a cloud filled night.

In her effortless wit and lightness of touch, I am reminded of Marcel Broodthaers’ poemThe Mussel.’ This clever thing has avoided society’s mould. / She’s cast herself in her very own. / Other look alikes share with her the anti-sea. / She’s perfect.  

I feel like Kilimnik does a million paintings, then picks the one that is anti-perfect. And she does a million things I do that I can recognize, but do others see them too? She uses Victor Hugo; she thinks porcelain marks or coats of arms are great subjects to release linear and spatial arabesques; she resorts to pearlescence when all else fails. She loves Renoirish nothings, but she stops abruptly when things get kitschy or familiar. She has a beautiful hand that is ruled by a fairy, but sometimes a demon gives her a stick to paint with.

And I think of Joseph Cornell: a story I heard in college in the 70s.  He made boxes in Queens where he lived; then he fell in love with a movie house ticket seller, because she was in a glass box.

Karen Kilimnik, Installation view at the 57th Carnegia International, 2018, Courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art; Photo by Bryan Conley.
(‘The World at War’ video was part of this exhibition.)


Kilimnik’s paintings remind me always to acknowledge the viewer. And if the audience is mostly European, she reminds us of the importance of interpretation and who is doing it: George Lamming, the Barbadian novelist, called WWII a civil war. At the Carnegie International, Kilimnik’s ‘The World at War’ (2018) video was composed of musical moments from World War II films (such as the scene in which the Germans break into “It’s a long, long  way to Tipperary,” from Das Boot (1981). The spliced-together footage of wartime dramas where bivouacked soldiers sing sentimental or patriotic songs, solidifying nationalism, becomes an ever expanding arabesque. Kilimnik’s montage cuts short the path to war. The brevity and the unfinished qualities in Karen Kilimnik’s paintings cause them to live inside a mute cosmology, and I love that.


Jane Irish, Antipodes, 2017, Distemper and oil on linen, 56 x 52 inches. Photo Karen Mauch

Installation view: Jane Irish, Antipodes, 2018, Philadelphia Contemporary in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Fairmount Park Conservancy, and the Friends of Lemon Hill.  Courtesy Locks Gallery. Photo Nicolas Tosi


Jane Irish paints explorations of colonialism, opulence, the violence and futility of American conflicts overseas, and the anti-war activists who resist them.  She is represented by Locks Gallery, Philadelphia.

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Lilian Day Thorpe on Nicolas de Staël Wed, 01 May 2019 20:32:05 +0000 Breaking the natural world down into its basic forms, the painting as a whole evokes a quiet hum.

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Nicolas de Staël, Calais, 1954, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

At the time I was introduced to the Russian-French painter Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955), I was deriving most of my creative inspiration from artists of the Italian and Northern Renaissance. I felt helplessly moved by their rich ochre palettes, the matte texture of tempera on wood panels (and later the creaminess of oil paint on canvas), the Italians’ quest for idealism, as well as the Northerners’ welcome embrace of emotion. My own fictional landscapes were born out of my desire for an Arcadian environment—a hyper-poignant, quiet world devoid of technology and infrastructure that breathed the same beauty and ideals as Renaissance art. I was caught off-guard when de Staël’s mostly abstract painting stirred in me the same emotions as, say, Mary’s teardrops in Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition (1435) or Bruegel’s miniature, yet expansive, microcosms.

Calais from 1954 is an oil on canvas, and it exemplifies Nicolas de Staël’s later landscapes. It is abbreviated, using simple shapes sparingly to depict the seascape. Its cool-toned color palette is refined and muted. It brilliantly hovers between abstraction and representation and it conveys the restrained, quiet melancholy that I find irresistible. De Staël was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914 and became a French citizen in 1948. Different from his contemporaries, he preferred the art of earlier generations of French masters—Corot and Courbet—and even older influences, such as the Dutch creator of fictional landscapes, Hercules Segers (1598-1638). While Abstract Expressionism roared in the United States and corresponding abstract movements swelled in Europe, de Staël adamantly remained a (mostly) representational painter. Consequently, much of his work was disparaged for not conforming to the artistic trends of his day. As an artist who has always resonated more with art of the past than of today, I feel a poignant admiration for de Staël in his unwavering drive to make art that went against the tide of his time.

Calais is heavily reduced, consisting of three main rectangles of color to represent the sky, the sea, and the land. The washes of oil paint are thin, revealing the artist’s hand through his wispy brushstrokes. Atop the green-gray foreground are three nondescript white shapes, partially enclosing light blue patches of color. Their precise identity is left ambiguous, inviting wonder. Whether they represent rocks, sea glass, umbrellas, puddles, figures, or something else, they create an aesthetic balance to the composition. Beyond them, a black barge—or is it an island? a mountain?—interrupts the calm of the sea. At the horizon line, a tender, atmospheric green line vibrates softly. Breaking the natural world down into its basic forms, the painting as a whole evokes a quiet hum. De Staël’s textures, palette, and shapes imply at once isolation, quietness, and an undeniable sadness. Perhaps I carry with it the knowledge that less than one year after he painted Calais, the artist jumped to his death from his studio window in Antibes, France. He was 41 years old and at the height of his career.

I am affected in the same way by the restraint in de Staël’s late landscape as I am by the naturalism and detail in centuries-old paintings. I envy the artist’s ability to produce empathy, an ambition that 15th-century Northern painters sought. But whereas the Nords expressed specific figures and situations, de Staël’s intentional lack of specificity allows me to infuse my own emotions into his landscape. More than representing a view of the Mediterranean, Calais is about feeling. It makes me feel homesick, reminding me of Maine and the house I grew up in on the coast. It makes me think of my grandmother who died in March. It makes me think of history, and it makes me think of my future.

Lilian Day Thorpe, Orange Sun, 2018, Photomontage,12 x 12 inches

Lilian Day Thorpe is a photomontage artist from the coast of Maine, now living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Pratt Institute with a B.F.A. in Photography and an M.S. in the History of Art and Design and, in 2015, she was a Surface Magazine Avant Guardian winner. Her artwork is represented by Green Lion Gallery in Bath, Maine, and Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, Maine. She is Assistant Director at Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York City.

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Julian Kreimer on Andrea Belag’s Sunday Painter Wed, 17 Apr 2019 18:51:46 +0000 The newest paintings convey a lot of those--the lightness that attends letting go, the playfulness and humor that comes when one is attentively waiting, waiting.

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Andrea Belag, Sunday Painter, 2018, Oil on linen, 66 x 72 inches

I’ve known Andrea Belag for 25 years, since she taught my second-year painting class in college. We found out then that we both like talking on the phone and painting in daylight. I had forgotten I’d inherited that habit from her.

So, when I ask Belag if Sunday Painter was made before or after her mother’s death, it’s not too intimate a question. Her mother, in her telling, was a Sunday painter. We’re in Andrea’s studio on a late Thursday morning in March, the great big old windows face west so the light coming in is diffuse but bright. The painting is also big, 66 x 72 inches. She has a show in Chelsea [Inheritance at Morgan Lehman through May 4] so most of the other paintings from the series are wrapped up, but this one is still out; it will stay behind in case anyone visits the studio during the show.

Her mom worked as a designer for her husband, Andrea’s father, who had a children’s garment factory in the city. In 1970, at fortyish, she decided to become a sculptor. While Andrea was growing up in the Jewish Bronx that I know only from Malamud and Ozick stories, her mom wasn’t too happy with her working life. She had a tiny studio in their apartment into which she’d burrow herself on Sundays while Andrea would go to her grandparents’ apartment upstairs, or to the planetarium with her father. She was banned from her mother’s studio, which would sound harsh if I myself didn’t have a nine-year-old daughter, whom I sometimes bring to my studio. I pretend I’ll get something done, but what gets done, on my end, is usually minimal and involves hot glue. If one has only Sunday to paint, banning the kids makes a lot of sense.

Sunday Painter is big, and the shapes are loose. The movement of Belag’s hand is always evident: in the loops that track an arm’s swoop and return, in the two kinds of wipes that come back over the shapes–wipes with a rag, leaving hazy inflections of the shapes and colors that have been swept, and wipes with a broad knife that leave much less paint in their wake but spread the paint out to the edge of the flat blade in roughly parallel spaghetti-lines that change color based on what they picked up last.

It’s not hard to metaphorize those traces, lines left behind by larger swaths of paint that were wiped away, lines whose own shifting colors reveal how they are made by what they’ve touched and changed. But as with so many of Belag’s paintings, the point isn’t to nail down the metaphors. It does affect my reading of the painting to know that it was painted on…she pulls out her phone and scrolls through the calendar… December 17, 2018. Her mother died…Andrea corrects herself, “completed dying” on December 8. Andrea tells me, teaches me, as we’re talking, that death is often a long process. Andrea’s husband, the political philosopher Russell Hardin, died two years ago after a long illness. We talked through the weeks and months leading up to each death, talked about the emotions and thoughts not usually acknowledged in public. The newest paintings convey a lot of those–the lightness that attends letting go, the playfulness and humor that comes when one is attentively waiting, waiting.

  *   *   *

Belag starts her paintings the day before by mixing a color chord of four to six colors. A musical term. I hadn’t really looked at Kandinsky in a very long time, and came upon one of his harder-edged, later paintings at the Guggenheim on the way down from the Hilma Af Klint show. Both of them, the Swede and the Russian, mystics and music nuts, reminded me of what a tenuous business it has always been to look for the nowness and open-ended emotional intensity of music in paintings without, as Meyer Schapiro called it, object matter, the objects in the painting that usually get termed, confusingly, the subject.

Sunday Painter’s forms float and slither. The salmon-colored salmon shapes glide past an Old Holland Violet-Grey paisley teardrop. Purplish Caput Mortuum (aka Dead Head) nuzzles alongside Indian Yellow and Ultramarine Blue. The wipes are the size of Belag’s open hand. A bit of cold wax in the paint gives most of the colors a transparency that glows over the oil primer underneath. With their bunched-up shapes in the center, other paintings in the series remind me that Belag studied under Guston at the Studio School. But Sunday Painter‘s shapes are dispersed, a composition in mid-dissolve.

I bring up De Keyser. She’s a fan. His one-a-day method seemed to mean that each of his shapes can be quite simple, but their configuration on each canvas has some kind of profound rightness, a perfect tune. When I first saw Belag’s work in person, in the mid-90s, she was painting grids, but now she says “the grid only goes so far.” She talks about the challenge of turning your brain and seeing in, that there’s space behind the shapes. I ask her what she means. First, you see something frontally –> then askew –> then, she says, “like that” which she demonstrates by reaching her arms out operatically wide and bending them inward like the hug of Saint Peter’s colonnade.

The argument about provisional painting a decade or so ago got philosophically messy because the provisionality–the ambiguity inherent in whether something is finished–got mixed up with informality. Two quite different things that might seem superficially similar. The former, the possibility of a finish that is unfinished, exciting as it is, isn’t engaged to the same extent with the ineffable thing we refer to when we say it has a “rightness,” or simply “it works.” That phrase, “it works,” is both arbitrary and extremely powerful. For those of us who look at a lot of art, we know it when it hits us. I remember it in the first Mary Heilman I saw that blazed like stained glass, the colors wiggling between Stanley Whitney’s blocks, or the Robert Ryman pieces at DIA in 2004 that changed my mood for the rest of that exceptionally hard year.

In economic terms, we now realize that fortunes go to those able to quantify, algorithmize, figure out “what works”. In Belag’s work, that rightness comes in the form of Beauty with a capital B, beauty in the capacious sense of possessing a profound sense of authenticity that comes from something that feels legitimate to the artist who made it first, and transmitting that profound sense of order and connection, mysteriously, to the viewer. This was Af Klint and Kandinsky’s dream, of shaped colors dancing with each other in harmonies that resonate with the viewer. There’s little else but this in Sunday Painter, but it doesn’t feel distilled or empty. Painting, as a medium always wrestling with itself and the giant corpus of paintings in the world, is most thrilling when an artist reaches some kind of edge condition, further out on one particular peninsula than anyone has gone before.  Belag’s work becomes, for me, an edge condition for painting without flirting with minimalist near-nothingness; it tests out where Beauty can emerge, and what we can get to work. It opens up from a few wiped shapes into a sophisticated object able to transport one into a reverie about slippage, slipping away, the here and not hereness of life, death, and the varieties of love.

Julian Kreimer, Schrattenberg, 2017, 24 x 24 inches, oil on linen

Julian Kreimer is an artist, critic, and Associate Professor of Painting at SUNY Purchase College. Recent solo shows have been at TSA LALux Art Institute (CA), and Weeknights Gallery (Brooklyn), and his work has been reviewed in publications such as Art in America, Hyperallergic, and Artcritical. 

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Azita Moradkhani on Louise Bourgeois Sun, 07 Apr 2019 18:05:28 +0000 The tension between the bodies of mother and child builds up until the moment of physical separation with the delivery of a new entity in the world. Bourgeois depicts that moment using transparent skins of juicy crimson.

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Louise Bourgeois, The Birth, 2007, Gouache on paper, 23 1/2 × 18 inches

The word birth suggests a physical act, a material process, whereas creation engages the notion of manifesting something into the world without it necessarily connoting physicality. These distinctions harken back to age-old differences between the sexes, in which the disembodied mind was seen as male and the physical body as female, a viewpoint that has provided a cultural basis for an ongoing distinction between male virtue and female physicality.

The Birth by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), which depicts the emergence of a fleshy creature from a woman’s body, is solidly on the physical side of this continuum. The tension between the bodies of mother and child builds up until the moment of physical separation with the delivery of a new entity in the world. Bourgeois depicts that moment using transparent skins of juicy crimson to describe her mother and child.

The elemental, exaggerated round forms in The Birth resemble goddess sculptures from the ancient world, most famously the Venus of Willendorf, created long before recorded history. Bourgeois’ painting is a celebration of birth as an essential act, but its composition and palette signify the pressure and pain present in the act of giving birth, identifying the subject as a flesh-and-blood woman and goddess simultaneously.

Venus of Willendorf, c. 24,000-22,000 B.C.E., Limestone, 11.1 cm high

Contrary to the physicality of birth, creation is generally seen as a clean, non-material phenomenon detached from the body and connected to the power of the mind. The contrast between the stereotypically feminine and masculine qualities in birth and creation, respectively, have been seen and expressed in a variety of ways over the course of art history. The question becomes: if birth looks like a Bourgeois painting and a birther looks like a fertility goddess figure, what does disembodied creation look like?

An example could be Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam (c.1512) in the Sistine Chapel. Its composition and masterful technique center around the two masculine figures of God and Adam in the moment of creation. Absent from this painting is any evidence of female birth; the bodily fertility of the goddess has been replaced by an invisible divine spark.

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam (from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Rome), c. 1508-1512, Fresco

Inspired by the tension between these dual notions of birth and creation, I used an image of the near-touching hands of God breathing life into Adam in one of my own drawings. My work Becoming is aesthetically connected to art of the past. Through using these hands to point to the womb I present a reversal of Adam’s bloodless creation as an idealized representation of the birth of man. This drawing points out the power of women’s bodies to give birth to humankind while, in reality, a woman is limited in the control she has over her own body, from the way the very shape of it is culturally received to her ability to choose whether or not to have a child.

As a woman, consciously or unconsciously, part of my work will always be influenced by my gender and the feelings I experience within a gendered body. Through my drawings and body castings, I’m examining how social norms are imposed on women’s bodies and what it feels like to be insecure in your own skin.

Procreation fulfills one of the strongest human desires: to survive for eternity, in one form or another. Either through the physical act of giving birth to another being or the process of creating an idea conceptually, we all answer this call in different ways, and with varying degrees of success. From the ancient sculptor of the goddess, to Michelangelo creating Adam, and Bourgeois depicting physical birth, as humans we can’t help but be fascinated by the prospect of emerging from nothingness and potentially living beyond our physical lifetimes. And while this desire transcends gender lines, as Wangechi Mutu says: “females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.”

Azita Moradkhani, Becoming, 2016, Colored pencils, 16 x 20 inches

Azita Moradkhani was born in Tehran, Iran. She received her BFA from Tehran University of Art (2009), and both her MA in Art Education (2013) and MFA (2015) from Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts & Tufts University.

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Julie Heffernan on El Greco Tue, 05 Feb 2019 15:23:55 +0000 El Greco emphasizes this theme of separation—head from body, conceptual realm from sensorial realm, upper half from lower half, white from black.

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El Greco, Portrait of Hortensio Felix Paravicino, c. 1609, Oil on Canvas, 44 1/8 x 33 7/8 inches

El Greco’s painting of 17th century Trinitarian preacher and poet Hortensio Felix Paravicino portrays a man of extreme sensitivity, its directness and compositional simplicity suggesting a degree of intelligence and psychological nuance on a different order from most other El Greco portraits.  He painted many portraits, but this is one of the few where he paints more than just the head and upper body of his sitter.  And he makes some distinctive compositional choices that stand out as more provocative and metaphorically rich. What was he doing here? Was he giving us a sagacious portrait of an actual man, someone who was himself wise? Or was he trying to paint something greater than the man himself, something tantalizing, surprising and possibly inspiring on an entirely different level of contemplation?

Fra Paravicino is not a generic or neutral subject. Although a connoisseur of art, he attempted to censor nudity in painting, stating, “The finest paintings are the greatest threat: burn the best of them.” These are extreme views even for 17th century Spain, especially in light of the fact that the King himself had a collection of such works, as did many of his courtiers. Those words of Paravicino’s were never published in the pamphlet he wrote them for, and one wonders how much El Greco was aware of them. Nevertheless, he employs a number of mechanisms that subtly suggest what kind of man Fra Paravicino might have been, or conversely what El Greco might have wanted him to be. 

The painting is starkly lit, with a subdued color palette that, on the face of it, reads primarily black and white. Compositionally, it is divided in half with the upper and lower body bisected at the half way point by the bottom edge of Paravicino’s black chasuble, suggesting an inherent split — either in the man himself, between his upper and lower selves, or in his belief system, between higher and lower (or baser) realms.  Furthermore, El Greco creates an almost perfect square arising from the top of that bisecting line, by conflating the rectangular back of Paravicino’s chair with his chasuble, suggesting the ideal of a rational space in which this man exists, or at least the rational space of a higher realm.  The extreme contrast between the white cowl framing his head and the black background works to further this reading of a man set apart from the concerns of a lower order of existence. There is a stark suggestion that this man’s sensorial and intellectual capacities exist on a higher plane than the rest of his body.

The upper half of the painting is also broken up into realms of higher and lower existence.  Paravicino’s eyes line up with the top edge of his chair back but are positioned just below the line break separating the chair from its background.  By placing Paravicino’s eyes at that level, El Greco suggests that the preacher exists sensorially within the realm of the earthbound chair, not in the realm beyond or above, personified by the background. His forehead, however – representing the mind, our conceptual apparatus for perceiving the divine — is firmly situated in that upper realm.  El Greco emphasizes this theme of separation—head from body, conceptual realm from sensorial realm, upper half from lower half, white from black – to suggest that this preacher is a man of distinction, with a calculating intelligence and rich array of higher faculties.

The lower half of the painting is where things get interesting.  In this lower realm El Greco explores a reading of Fra Paravicino that is proto-Jungian in how it presages the idea of merging the male and female in higher consciousness individuals. While Fra Paravicino should be seated, given the usual circumstances of such a pose, El Greco has depicted him instead in a weird enigmatic posture, the vertical thrust of his white robe suggesting more standing than sitting, although his arms are clearly resting on the arms of his chair.  Furthermore, the position of his left hand is tantalizing, inserted in a sexually suggestive way into the small book, which is atop a larger book that his other fingers are holding onto. The large book is resting against his hip, which effectuates a deep wrinkle in his robe that suggests a vaginal form, the crevice of which meanders down to the bottom of his robe, where a veritable hole appears. That reading is made more emphatic by the black and red cross on Fra Paravicino’s robe that itself looks more like a wound than an insignia, due to the marked highlighting around the cross that creates negative space. But, most significantly, the combined shape of his white robe, sleeves and hands unmistakably suggests the shape of female fallopian tubes.

Now, I do not know what El Greco knew of female reproductive anatomy. But this resemblance has always struck me as so self-evident that I do wonder whether he was suggesting that Fra Paravicino was a man existing on a higher plane of being, where distinctions between male and female fell away.  Was El Greco really proto-Jungian, anticipating the dissolution of the binary that we are now experiencing in our own culture, which one hopes might signal a shift towards a more capacious understanding of what human beings are capable of? There is no way to answer that question with certainty. But El Greco was a great artist, whose imagery has the power to take us to a higher plane of contemplation, and the question has long nagged at me: was Fra Paravicino himself worthy of that kind of complex and layered portrayal, or did El Greco simply use him to say something both simple and profound about what it is to be human? Either way, the portrait is a gift, an image of wisdom that continues to resonate.

Julie Heffernan, Self Portrait with Lock, 2018, Oil on canvas, 68 x 58 inches


Julie Heffernan is a Professor of Fine Arts at Montclair State University, represented by Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco. Heffernan is a Board Member of the National Academy of Design. Her work has been reviewed by major publications including the New York Times and Artforum; and in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum and VMFA among others.


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Brenda Goodman on Her Work in Stages Wed, 23 Jan 2019 17:05:30 +0000 There is something about feeling that rightness of a painting when I’m 75 that feels so very satisfying.

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Brenda Goodman, Impending, 2018, Oil on Wood, 80 x 72 inches

Looking back at my work over a 53-year span, I sometimes think that I could do this or that passage of a particular painting better now, but I have never gone back into a piece once it was done. I always felt that I did the best I could do at the time and it wouldn’t be right to go back years later and change it or improve it.

Impending (Stage 1)

I also have never destroyed or slashed a painting in progress. I work on each one, and still do, until it finally feels right, and when it’s right, it’s right!

I’ve been thinking about what it means to have a painting feel RIGHT for a while now. Every artist, no doubt, has a stopping place in a painting when they feel everything works together and is therefore done. It’s intriguing to think about it because every artist has a different RIGHT for themselves. How many times has someone come into your studio and said: “It’s done! I wouldn’t do anything else to it!” This can be really irritating! Yes, it might seem spontaneous and fresh at the point they saw it but you know it needs more work. The trick is to work more deeply into the piece and preserve the freshness, while also developing it into a richer and fuller image.

Impending (Stage 2)

So, something clicks in my head when a painting is done, when it’s right. It always has but there is something about feeling that rightness of a painting when I’m 75 that feels so very satisfying.

Impending (Stage 3)

Here is a series of images that show the progression from beginning to end of one of my paintings, “Impending,” now showing at Sikkema Jenkins. At about stage 4, someone was in the studio and said, “Oh, that curved figure is great! I hope you don’t change anything.” But I knew the painting needed more and I added the grey ball shape. Without that shape, the space felt empty. And because of the black shape looming above, I wanted the curved shape to be hugging or embracing the ball. Protecting it. Trump actually came to mind when I was painting the black shape so it made sense to me that the ball shape needed comforting. That’s what I felt listening to the news all day. From far away, I also saw the grey shape as negative space. That makes it even more complex in its interpretation, depending on the perspective of the viewer. So that shape, which I added at the end, is what made the painting so poignant for me. Then I knew it was done. It was RIGHT. For me.

Impending (Stage 4)

Brenda Goodman is a seventy-five year old painter. Born in Detroit, she spent thirty-four years on the Bowery, and now lives in the Catskills. She has exhibited widely throughout the United States and her solo show at Sikkema Jenkins, A Lighter Place, runs from January 24th to February 23rd in Chelsea, NY.

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Lavar Munroe on Folkert De Jong and Expansive Painting Thu, 10 Jan 2019 15:45:31 +0000 Evidence of deconstructing form and then “healing” those breaks was apparent in the yellow and pink adhesive substrates bleeding through the crevasses of incisions.

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Folkert De Jong, The New Deal, 2012, Styrofoam, pigmented polyurethane foam and pallet

What constitutes a painting? Is it possible to create a “painting” that occupies space, has actual volume and is made with unconventional materials? These questions point to an expansion of the definition of “painting” as it relates to the action of painting.

I have been an avid fan of the work of Folkert De Jong for many years, in particular his works that occupy space and are three-dimensional. I was privileged to see a few of those pieces in person at UNTITLED Miami Beach a few weeks ago. Although I am not a huge advocate of viewing and appreciating works in such spaces (Art Fairs), the works on display gave me some visual and intellectual insight into his working process.

Immediately, I was drawn in by De Jong’s color and painterly gestures in The New Deal, 2012, most of which seemed to be achieved with unconventional, non-traditional painting materials.  His clever use of materials and color to achieve a sense of painterly gesture instantly compelled me to look closer, to inspect his choices, consider the conceptual underpinnings of those choices and attempt to digest the grouping of objects. Evidence of deconstructing form and then “healing” those breaks was apparent in the yellow and pink adhesive substrates bleeding through the crevasses of incisions. The rigor by which color was excavated through the subtractive process of carving coupled with the “chemical” color of various adhesives he used, strategically accented with what seems to be conventional house paint, in my opinion, pointed to a beautiful expansion of the definition of “painting.”

Pablo Picasso, Acrobate et jeune Arlequin (Acrobat and Young Harlequin), 1905, Oil on canvas, 191.1 x 108.6 cm

Intellectually, much of the work points to specific and substantial histories — art historical representations of both painting and sculpture — while simultaneously straddling imaginative territories. I am reminded of Picasso’s Harlequin paintings from the early 1900’s (Blue and Rose periods) in combination with the grotesque figuration of Goya, when confronting De Jong’s work. The Harlequin paintings point to a darker history — of circuses, world fairs and human zoos — that are today suggestive of our fraught racist and bigoted political climate, among many other things. I am also reminded of those themes of darkness and evil associated with childhood fairy tales and fables.

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-1823, Oil mural transferred to canvas, 143 x 81 cm

The grotesqueness of encrusted materials in De Jong’s forms forcefully compel the viewer to associate that ugliness with its opposite — beauty, elegance and suaveness — in how he handles his materials, specifically the “natural” colors of wood that are revealed in the process of excavating the materials used to construct his forms. Though initially created to serve as “sculpture,” the multiplicity and manipulation involved in the making process “cries” painting, both from a visual and technical standpoint. To redefine and expand on the notion of painting is, for De Jong, to break rules and defy conventional boundaries.

Whether the viewer is convinced that these works are paintings, or are even in conversation with the practice of painting, is very subjective. But I myself find comfort and feel confidence in this work that is so multi-lingual in terms of its making. It speaks the language of many practices, but resonates, for me, most fluently with painting.

Lavar, Munroe, Boys, 2018, Acrylic, spray paint, fabric, cigarette buds, rubber, string, feather and makeshift ball on cut canvas, 64″ x 80″

Lavar Munroe was born in Nassau, Bahamas and currently lives and works between Bloomington, Indiana and Nassau, Bahamas. He received a BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design, an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis and was later awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Exhibitions include the Liverpool Biennale, 56th Venice Biennale, 12th Dakar Biennale, and Prospect New Orleans 4.

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