Painters on Paintings A conversation between contemporary artists and their influences across time. Thu, 14 Nov 2019 16:55:13 +0000 en hourly 1 Painters on Paintings 32 32 Suzanne Unrein on Henri Rousseau Thu, 14 Nov 2019 16:55:13 +0000 His mane strangely blows forward on a windless night, while his eye appears as a mesmerizing orb that plays off the moon and mandolin.

The post Suzanne Unrein on Henri Rousseau appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897, Oil on canvas,  51 x 79 inches

Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy is a dream that will never wake up.  A fairy tale of time, as in Eternity. Done in the style of post-impressionist, gothic regionalism, but like a cockeyed Egyptian painting, Rousseau’s Gypsy is a bust-out, an anachronism, a mystical misfit.

Seemingly grander than its 51 x 79 inches, the lion appears like a hallucination hovering over the somnolent gypsy and her accoutrements. His mane strangely blows forward on a windless night, while his eye appears as a mesmerizing orb that plays off the moon and mandolin. The vast sky makes a silent impact with its indigo hues that hint at the coming day. Wondrous patterns mimic and undulate in surreal poetry: his mane radiates towards her garments; her foot reaches out to his hind legs; the eternal waters glide behind them and in front of a flat, wind-swept backdrop of a desert. All of these sumptuous oddities keep me coming back to this painting, along with the glistening of the gypsy’s zipper-like teeth.

Rousseau once said to Picasso, “You and I are the two most important artists of the age – you in the Egyptian style, and I in the modern one.” He was ridiculed for that and other conceits, but I can’t help thinking that illusions help us all to continue. Rousseau was a self-taught outsider and inspired to paint like William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean-Léon Gérôme. Wonderful that he never forced himself into the framework of academia. His fantastical visions may have been a fool’s paradise but what a grand one it was: a tiger running through the rain in a tropical forest, a lion devouring a leopard among impossibly outsized lotuses and banana trees, serpents slithering out of lushness toward the ancient calls of a snake charmer.

Rousseau never left France, which may have secured his singular vision. He was outspoken about working with disparate source material to create unified worlds of his own making. Illustrations from children’s books and department stores helped create his impossible and enchanted beasts. Sketches of plants at Paris’ botanical gardens galvanized his terrain.

Twenty-four of his twenty-five jungle mashups were painted at the end of his life as if his quote “Beauty is the promise of happiness,” became the impetus for his grand finale, his trip down the rabbit hole, his adventure towards the unconditionally exotic. To me, Rousseau’s savagery in these last Edens was powerful yet delicate, simple and pure as a tune.

Suzanne Unrein, Salvage, 2019, Oil on canvas, 79 x 69 inches

Suzanne Unrein is a New York City-based painter.  She recently had a solo show at the Sara Nightingale Gallery in Sag Harbor and co-curated a show with Amy Hill at the 5-50 Gallery in LIC.  She writes for Delicious Line and is arts editor for Figure/Ground Magazine.

The post Suzanne Unrein on Henri Rousseau appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Gabrielle Vitollo on Nemesis: The Great Fortune by Albrecht Dürer Tue, 05 Nov 2019 14:50:44 +0000 When I eventually approached the mirror to throw water on my face, I caught a glimpse of Nemesis striding forward in the same direction.

The post Gabrielle Vitollo on Nemesis: The Great Fortune by Albrecht Dürer  appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Photograph by Max Eicke

“This is peculiarly painless.” 

“That’s because you have to really want it,” Yvonne, with unblinking dark-lined eyes framed by elongated, arched eyebrows, concentrates as she combs cross-hatched lines of ink under my skin with the vibrating tattoo gun. 

We talk about Yvonne’s artistic evolution from an abstract tattoo artist in the 90’s to her current figurative approach informed by the Old Masters, and my development from making naturalistic figure paintings to a more abstract style of work. Paint is paint. I love how graphic works – etchings, manga, graffiti, and even instructional manuals – act on my eye. Particularly the crisp delineations from the surrounding space to the subject, which activate a primal reaction in my brain, perhaps indicating that a form is suddenly in very close proximity.

Reclining on a pleather table surrounded by Renaissance and Gothic artbooks, my back is to Yvonne. I am blind to her activities. My arm radiates heat as it oozes blood mixed with black ink, and I start to get a lightheaded high. I watch a burly man receiving a full-frontal piece wince as his nipples are inked black. 

“You’re taking it very well,” Yvonne says to me as the Massive Attack and Soundgarden playlist loops again.

Photograph by Max Eicke

Since I was 16 years-old, I wanted a sleeve piece. I tend to jump head-first into icy lakes and new experiences. Almost straight out of my graduate program in New York City, I moved to Berlin on a Fulbright Research Grant. My project was to create a techno-futurist intaglio portfolio in response to the tumultuous compositions of Albrecht Dürer’s engravings, particularly his Book of Revelation series. This engraving portfolio was his direct response to zealots’ warnings of the apocalypse, the Black Plague, and landholders’ tyranny over the peasantry. Dürer’s ideas echo today in the ways we think about climate change, cancer, and gentrification. 

For years, I searched for a tattoo artist who could capture the tension and delicacy of a Dürer piece. I knew I wanted to be physically intertwined with Dürer, but could not find the right person with both the skill and emotional intensity to translate a genius’s work onto my body permanently. I knew the piece would require both technical finesse and gestural understanding.

In the spring of 2019, I walked past a tattoo studio in Berlin and saw photographs of Yvonne’s Dürer master copies through the front window. I was in Germany to study the tactility of Dürer’s mark-making, so it seemed like the right time to have it inscribed upon my body. 

“I can’t fit The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on a woman’s arm. Maybe as a full backpiece,” Yvonne said eagerly on the phone as I weaved through Berlin traffic on my bike. Yvonne was usually completely booked and would call me at random points during the day whenever she had a sudden cancelation. Perhaps she also found my strong desire intriguing. “If it’s your arm, it has to be one figure.” 

This sounded like an impossible decision, considering Dürer’s graphic works are defined by the dramatic push-pull movements of his multi-figural compositions. I thought of Roald Dahl, who shared my deep passion for both Francis Bacon and Chaim Soutine, and his short story Skin. In this narration, a young, drunk Soutine gives a man a free back tattoo so powerful and beautiful that all the Parisian art collectors want to flay the man for his body art. And they do so. Ergo, my irrational fear of ever receiving a full-back tattoo.

Albrecht Dürer, Nemesis (The Great Fortune), 1501-2, engraving, sheet 13 1/8 x 9 1/8 inches

Then I recalled the winged silhouette from Dürer’s engraving Nemesis: The Great Fortune (1499-1501), which was etched in my memory during a period of researching Gothic art in graduate school. Dürer completed the engraving at the age of 30, the same age as I am now. He referred to the engraving in his diary as Nemesis, but the public more often titled it Fortune. Nemesis was the Ancient Greek goddess of justice, divine retribution, and the balance of life. Dürer depicted her holding a gold goblet for those deserving of good fortune and a horse bridle to restrain the headstrong. She has idealized Renaissance proportions – the muscular, curved anatomy of both a man and a woman – and is precariously balanced on a sphere and adorned with flowing drapery while towering over the panoramic Italian landscape of Klausen in Eisack Valley.

This is a description of the piece that I might write for a German High Renaissance art history test. But, as a contemporary viewer, I see less historical specificity in this work than in other Dürer engravings. Dürer and I both share a worldview shaped by biblical tales, while Greek and Roman deities are the relics of a long past history. In Dürer’s Book of Revelation series, the imminent expectation of an apocalypse, whether through disease or hellfire, demands an urgent read and specific narrative. But, in Nemesis, this lack of reference to a specific story allows greater consideration of its form and craftsmanship. The emphasis on the stark figure herself and the wild linework of her dramatic stance, allows the work to carry different contexts and the viewer to adopt their own narrative.

Albrecht Dürer’s engraving, Rhinoceros (1515), had greater influence than he probably anticipated. Before photography, engravings were one of the main methods for circulating information. Dürer never actually saw a rhinoceros, and therefore based his depiction on a written description and another artist’s quick sketch. Utilizing a somewhat literal interpretation of the writing, he gave the animal scales, a rigid back, armor, and even a breastplate. The image was so powerful that it outgrew more accurate representations of rhinos in Western Europe and was included in textbooks as scientific content until 1930. If one were to verbally describe Dürer’s construction of a rhino, it could rival a firsthand account from a live spectator on safari. Despite the lack of factual anatomy conveyed by Dürer’s rhino, the engraving provides a convincing and evocative experience.

Albrecht Dürer, Rhinoceros, 1515, Woodcut, 9.3 x 11.7 inches

I am intrigued by Baldwin’s confidence in determinist meaning, but his iconic biohazard design has already mutated in subtle ways. The biohazard symbol has been adopted as an ironic tattoo by the gay community to communicate when one is infected with HIV or AIDS. The symbol has also been integrated into sci-fi and cyberpunk aesthetics as a trendy piece of graphic imagery that often lacks a distinct warning, perhaps undoing its initial purpose. Scientists and anthropologists worry about the biohazard symbol’s future. Specifically: how will we tell future generations or alien species about our nuclear toxic waste sites? Once the skull and crossbones was a serious warning sign for poison and pirates. Now this death symbol  – that is still used for electric currents, poisons, and radioactivity – has been diluted by Hollywood adventure movies. Because this basic and vital visual symbol is difficult to pin down, it highlights the impossibility of building images that communicate consistently across time. Humans cannot help but mold and manipulate the meaning of symbols, even ironically. Eventually Durer’s Rhinoceros shifted meaning over time from the ideal form of the animal to a whimsical chimera. The meanings of figures and symbols mutate over time within different groups, regardless of the maker’s intention for clear communication. An extreme example of this is the biohazard symbol. In 1966, DOW Chemical’s Charles Baldwin designed the hieroglyph-like signifier to be graphically memorable, yet abstract enough in meaning that hazardous material regulators could apply specific information to the ideogram depending on particular environmental conditions. It was an ambitious task: to manifest meaning in a symbol that would convey invisible dangers, such as toxic air or polluted water, but in a universally comprehensible way.

With the Internet’s globalizing effect, the United States has also recently witnessed accelerated reappropriation of signifiers in a time of post-facts, post-truths, fake news, and 4chan memes, which have arguably influenced our elections. Matt Furie, creator of the online comic Boy’s Club, has his anthropomorphic frog character, Pepe, appropriated within blog posts and internet forums as an in-joke meme for different scenarios, reactions, and emotions. Various Alt-right websites also employed Pepe the Frog’s face as a logo and Furie successfully sued Infowars for using the image as a hate-symbol. Even Trump was caricatured as a Pepe the Frog meme, which he retweeted during his 2016 campaign to win over a younger audience. The interconnecting complexity of visual media, especially in our digital age, affirms that images develop their own connotations. Similarly, the Nazi party appropriated Dürer’s engraving Knight, Death and the Devil for depictions of Hitler, who deemed modernism and abstraction as degenerate, in nationalist propaganda, equating their leader with this fearless knight. Dürer, long gone, could not comment on the appropriation of his art for an ultimately negative representation, but his compelling, exquisite artworks fortunately withstood this dark chapter and are still revered.

When I am asked about what my Nemesis tattoo or my abstract paintings “mean”, I prefer not to give a straight answer. This year, I have found that I have much less control over “meaning” and my life path than I previously thought. I acknowledge the historical significance of Dürer’s engraving, yet, the winged Nemesis tattoo on my arm took on new roles that I did not forsee. I received the tattoo at the end of my Fulbright year; a few weeks later I successfully received a German artist visa to stay and continue my work. 

Committing to a life in Berlin post-research project, I went through a dark phase. I mourned the loss of the career, friends, relationships, and paintings (now in storage) that I built in the United States over the first 30 years of my life. I became my own nemesis when I sacrificed the life I worked hard to create in order to test myself and evolve as an artist in Berlin; it was psychologically taxing. Some mornings I awoke, unable to get out of bed, and felt the impossibility of starting my life over in a place where I could not adequately express complex ideas in the local language. When I eventually approached the mirror to throw water on my face, I caught a glimpse of Nemesis striding forward in the same direction. She reminded me that I was the badass bitch who got that tattoo and I could then dive into the studio.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the chaos in my life, I am driven to make strong, energized paintings that evoke a bodily experience. Tattoos and paintings allow us to converse when words fall short. People tell me that I look like Dürer’s Nemesis. It’s true that I have a muscular, curvy body, but I believe people are responding more to the posture’s energy. Nemesis’ form has dynamic weight and complexity, and through the Renaissance principle of contrapposto, appears to balance. People respond viscerally to the formal acrobatics of Nemesis’s complex shape: despite the weight of life, she’s floating.

Gabrielle Vitollo, In Limbo, 2017, oil on canvas, 72 x 56 inches

Gabrielle Vitollo investigates paint as language for corporeality, the abject, and the sublime. She holds an MFA from New York University and is the recipient of a German Fulbright Research Grant for Painting & Printmaking. Vitollo presently resides in a borough of Berlin that is surrounded by lakes formed by the last Ice Age glacier retreat. In her free time, she teaches screenprinting to Extinction Rebellion activists.

The post Gabrielle Vitollo on Nemesis: The Great Fortune by Albrecht Dürer  appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Patrick McDonough on Benjamin Edwards Wed, 23 Oct 2019 21:27:57 +0000 Entering the studio with “Justin” was an unforgettable kind of magic, like passing through a Super Nintendo game portal where the colors and the physics forever change. 

The post Patrick McDonough on Benjamin Edwards appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Benjamin Edwards, Ramble, 2003, Lithography, ed. 30, 26 1/4 by 35 1/4 inches, Printed at Tandem Press

In the spring of 2003, my printmaking class at the University of Wisconsin took a field trip to Tandem Press, on the Madison’ east side. At the behest of our instructor, John Hitchcock, we jumped on our bicycles, mopeds and the occasional still-running import coupe to make the trek. In hindsight, we might have just walked – but this was pre Google Maps (which would have told us the journey was but a 1.5 mile jaunt). Also, this was March in Wisconsin and walking was to be avoided at all costs. 

Once we arrived, we were led into the inner sanctum of Tandem by a graduate student printer that I am reasonably certain was Justin Strom – now an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. It very well could have been someone else entirely; you see, my twenty-one-year-old sculptor self, in a simmering state of inadequacy, often reduced the printmaking graduate students (number one program in the country) into an undifferentiated mass of those aloof, idiosyncratically-tattooed and self-assured standard bearers for the democratic potential of the printmaking medium.

To be clear, entering the studio with “Justin” was an unforgettable kind of magic, like passing through a Super Nintendo game portal where the colors and the physics forever change. I think there was even a noteworthy door! As a native of Madison, I felt a special kind of guilt for having never stumbled upon this enclave of serious art making, tucked behind a house paint factory.

I probably had no business being there, anyhow.  Needing a medium specific printmaking course to satisfy the tour-de-art studio aspect of my K-12 art education program, I only signed up for Relief Printing because the sections of Screenprinting were full. Not to mention, class started at 820 am. Subconsciously plotting my revenge, I spent a number of weeks hacking 60s board game inspired superflat forms into the surface of eighteen-inch squares of MDF.  

Cut back to Tandem. While Professor Hitchcock navigated the facility’s staff and infrastructure, we Relief Printmaking 1 students were led on an obligatory tour of the Press’ numerous technique specific stations. If memory serves, we began at a ten-foot tall hand cranked torture device-cum-paper press that hometown hero David Lynch (yes that one) had recently used to crush rat carcasses into melodramatic monotypes. Myself, I mostly marveled at the spectacular worktables.

Then, as we marched along the perimeter of the space, I caught a glimpse of a kaleidoscopic bacchanalia –a composition unlike anything I’d ever seen. Masterfully mixing the referential and the abstract, the real and the fictional, the earnest and the artificial into a cocktail of web 1.0, commuter culture and pre-recession hysterics, the work in question was RAMBLE by Benjamin Edwards.

In his 48-plate (!!) lithograph, ricocheting rainbow shrapnel and assorted bits of quasi-recognizable flotsam envelope a low opacity map of AnyNoPlace, USA. Time and space feel paused, as if the composition might burst, barely held together by a simmering magnetic field. Harnessing this energy, one’s eyes dart in and around his version of a town. Hints of one-point perspective here; side scrolling map logic there; isometric elements leashed in place by an emphatic horizon line.

Plus there was flocking! Adding insult to my injury, Edwards had sprinkled his epic edition with this grassy fairy dust, conjuring the Platonic form of a freshly mowed yard.

In an instant, I felt put in my place as an artist. I wished I’d made it. You see, at that point in time, I was minding my own suburban sensibility through a set of absurdist sculptures: an 8 foot-tall, vinyl sided catch-playing apparatus, a full-sized replica of a drive-thru menu board that intermittently lit up and spewed static, a lawn mower shrine.

But, whereas I clumsily fought to tease aesthetic potential from the material reality of suburban life, Edwards had coolly crafted an ode to the emerging digital flattening of material space into façade.  

And yet, I felt affirmed! Here was a real artist engaged with the same core content that I had stumbled into. I would need to step up my game, sure, but there are worse realizations to have.  

In the sixteen years since, RAMBLE has become a kind of bracket for my arts life. Over a decade ago I moved to DC –where Edwards has long been based – working for a short time as an assistant in his studio even. More recently, some collaborators and I included an artist proof of RAMBLE in our Beltway Public Works Lending Library, a fitting coda to this work’s braiding together of my past and present. 

Patrick McDonough, Open Space-Awning Studies: SOCRATES, Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, 2012, Custom Awning Frames, Outdoor Furniture Fabric, Steel, Hardware

Hailing from the idiosyncratic landscape of Wisconsin, Patrick McDonough is best known for his populist, vernacularly-styled interventions into a variety of municipal, cultural and public contexts. Having taught at institutions such as the Corcoran College of Art & Design and American University, McDonough is currently a public high school teacher near Washington DC.

The post Patrick McDonough on Benjamin Edwards appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Barry Nemett on Robert Rauschenberg Sun, 13 Oct 2019 18:41:02 +0000 All looked pleasant enough near the foot but, like a dramatic plot twist, everything closer to the bed’s head looked war-torn, tortured.

The post Barry Nemett on Robert Rauschenberg appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955, 75 1/4” x 31 1/2 x 8”, MoMA, NYC

A fantastical take on a fantastical work: in the following riff on Robert Rauschenberg’s bold, brilliant Bed there’s far less analysis and direct eyeballing than in my previous articles for Painters on Paintings. It’s mostly story here, the tale focusing on a pillowcase and a woman named Gwen.   

She‘s an invention. In her there’s a very little bit of Gwen John, a bit more of some unnamed, unspectacular but substantial young women, and a lot of literary license. She is no one in particular. Rather, she’s a combination of someones that Rauschenberg’s Bed conjured in me.

Facts (for context): Gwen John (1876-1939) was a representational painter born in Wales, who had a ten-year affair with Auguste Rodin in Paris. Rodin sculpted Monument to Balzac. Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was born in Port Arthur, Texas. In the 1950s, he coined the term “combine,” a form of expression that makes the world strange — one of the functions of art — by merging painting, sculpture, collage, and photography with commonplace objects. 

When John died, Rauschenberg was fourteen years old, so she didn’t know his work, and I doubt he ever knew hers. Their sensibilities could hardly be further apart. Nonetheless, they are linked in my storied imagination.


Gwen John, A Corner of the Artist’s Room, 1907-09, oil on canvas, 12.3 x 9.8 inches, National Museum, Wales

The clean, well-lighted dwelling within a medieval Welsh village beckoned. Gwen entered to find it was thin on bedclothes and linens, and there were no towels at all. The new renter of the cottage used a shining white pillowcase to dry off after bathing. It also served to cover Gwen’s torso in bed and sometimes, crumpled, it cushioned her head. Who says chivalry is dead?  

Lacking dreams of its own, the pillowcase eavesdropped on the dreams of others and kept them safe. The dream capturer rose up from Gwen’s bed to curtain dawn and let its present sleeper drift longer within her airborne castles. She dreamt of whales, seas, and skies that floated from the bliss of a Cézanne blue and the fierceness of a Moby Dick white to the elegant grey of a seagull’s egg. She dreamt she was a parasol imagining itself a wicker chair, and she dreamt of a sculpted literary hero looking decidedly unheroic in his bathrobe.

One night, rousing from a dream, Gwen turned and licked the ear of the sculptor who created that bathrobed Balzac, but it was only her pillow. Drifting back to sleep, she pictured the quixotic works of a yet-unborn Texan, an artist from Port Arthur, who made his name in New York. The imagined fabrications were combines: a bald eagle soaring above a pillow filled with dreams, and an actual bed spilled with war paint. Absurd nightmares, she thought, trying to rid her mind of what she had just sort of seen. 

Besides dreaming, Gwen kept house. She bought shutters, a real, cushy pillow, towels, and other linens. Her prized purchase was a square-patterned quilt, the borders of each salmon-colored  square alike . . . and not. The quilt was too wide for Gwen’s bed, so she cut its width. 

She washed the comforter, along with the discarded section, but when she hung them outside to dry an eagle swooped down and, unobserved, stole the extra quilted material. Gwen wondered what happened to the cloth fragment, but she soon forgot all about it.

She also forgot about her former body-warming, drying, dream-peeping, dream-thieving, curtainer-against-the-wake up rainbow-rays of a dawning-sun companion. After months of performing with honor, it was replaced. If you asked the pillowcase, it would have said betrayed.

Melancholy and then depression wound up seizing the fabric, sadness turning it into a thing of yellowed stains and wrinkles. The cloth felt as useless as a mattress hanging on a wall.

Just as actors need roles, chivalry needs deeds. Deedless — think worthless, think hopeless— the pillowcase languished. Its world languished with it. No, much more than that. The out-of-sight bed imploded and it did, too; decked-out horses took part in nightmarish parades, each horse now marked in the pretty colors of bruises. Dripping with crud and blood, pageants of boogeymen galloped on their loyal Rocinantes attacking windmills, slaying dragons, chasing a daring, trailblazing Texan making his way east. There were pits of filth, fits of pique, and the stench of estrangement. To Gwen, the bed looked as fine and folksy as it always had. But not to the pillowcase. To it, all looked pleasant enough near the foot, but, like a dramatic plot twist, everything closer to the bed’s head looked war-torn, tortured.

Gone was its role of gallant service in Gwen’s life. After it had been stored in the dresser drawer, its memory of the lady’s scent survived in its very fibers, each day distinct, like the quilt’s stitched-together squares. But memories grow dim, and, in time, the pillowcase couldn’t tell the difference between her coldest March smells and her hottest June’s.

Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953, Traces of ink and crayon on paper, with mat and hand-lettered label in ink, in gold-leafed frame, 25 1/4 x 21 3/4 x 1/2 inches, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Gwen’s absence stole the cloth’s valiance, which not so long before had been awakened as if by a kiss. The pillowcase missed not doing what it most liked to do: come to the rescue. It needed to be needed.

One day there was no Gwen. Craving freedom and adventure, she had set off to see the world. No damsel in distress, she didn’t need to be saved. Some knights did. Some dragons, too. As did the cloth dream thief, which longed once again to steal into the imaginings of others. Of course, it longed even more to be freed from the hell of its imprisoning drawer.   

That happened years later when a bald eagle flew over the Welsh cottage. The bird clutched in its talons a pillow packed with odd, sleep-filled stories. Strangely, the eagle and its pillow looked remarkably similar to what Gwen had once envisioned. However, this time the pillow filled with stories was clothed in a quilted pattern decorated with salmon-colored squares.         

The eagle circling overhead caused a stir in a drawer within the cottage. The dwelling’s tenant responded. Having completed her travels outside Wales, Gwen had recently returned. Crumpled into a corner of the dresser, she found what she had stored there years ago, its stained and yellowed spirit plagued now more than ever by the emptiness of a profound, unrequited yearning to protect.    

  Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon, 1959, 81 3/4 x 70 x 24″, MoMA, NYC, New York

Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955–59, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

As if in shining armor, the chivalric lady stole into the nightmares of the cloth dream thief. Our heroine stroked the fabric smooth and she tenderly draped it around a pillow, tired and gray, that needed a cover. Covered, the pillow suddenly saw the world strangely, innocently, as if for the first time. Images came and went in oddball pairings: socks and cockeyed clocks, a goat with a tire, a drawing erased. Above, a bald eagle fanned its wings, setting a rainbow on delicious, delirious fire. The rainbow’s blaze poured onto the bed and pillowcase below, which were immersed in the refreshing insanity of fantastical dreams.     


Barry Nemett, Portraits, 2018, pen and pencil on paper, 11 x 166 inches; Center right: Balzac Busts, 2018, pen on paper, 84 x 5 inches; Bottom: Songs Barking to the Sun, 2018, pen and pencil on paper, 11 x 166 inches, Photo by David Lieberman

Barry Nemett, who has taught full-time at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) since 1971, has exhibited his artwork throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Since receiving his MFA degree from Yale University and receiving a Fulbright/ITT International Travel Fellowship to Spain, he has lectured worldwide, curated numerous traveling exhibitions, and has been a recipient of resident artist grants in the United States, Italy, France, Scotland, Ireland, Africa, and Japan.

The post Barry Nemett on Robert Rauschenberg appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
Heide Fasnacht on Martin Kippenberger Fri, 04 Oct 2019 14:32:44 +0000 The gizmo he depicts with slapdash but accurate strokes of orange and red is reasonable, yes, but dissolves into the vagaries of emotional weather; it does not add up to the logical structure it pretends to be.

The post Heide Fasnacht on Martin Kippenberger appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Martin Kippenberger, Ohne Titel (Untitled), 1988, oil on canvas, 94 1/2 x 78 3/4 in., Private collection, © Estate Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

In February of 2017 when I returned to painting, a particular work by Martin Kippenberger arrived to greet me: Untitled from 1988. I loved it instantly. It shows a rather sad example of an aging man holding and gazing at a linear geometric structure with vague traces of the sexual. I had looked at other artists who had painted 3-D diagrammatic objects, but this was the one for me!

This painting epitomizes for me the engagement of the artist to the thing made: this gazing at some structure with a teasing logic, trying to figure out how the parts that make up the world work, what they are, and how this contraption might help somehow. The gizmo he depicts with slapdash but accurate strokes of orange and red is reasonable, yes, but dissolves into the vagaries of emotional weather; it does not add up to the logical structure it pretends to be leaving poor blue Martin at 6’s and 7’s.

“Not that the world is mappable, but that it wants to be,” Elizabeth Hardwick in “Sleepless Nights” opines.

Martin Kippenberger, Untitled, 1989, watercolor, ballpoint pen and crayon on paper, 29 by 21 1/2 inches

The guy in the painting holds onto a loose string attached to a balloon which is paradoxically buoyant. It is here, inside a thought bubble perhaps, that the contraption floats. Here, he can have it but not have it. He can wonder at its meaning. He can replicate it as if it were, perhaps, some vital chart of the absolute. He can locate himself. He can locate space. He can follow its trajectories and hope for resolution.

Or, the balloon is his head. The contraption, before it was made, is his vestigial mental invention. Or, it is a map of his neuronal and syntactical trailblazing. Here and there I went! Or, it offers the possible routes ahead: I must go there, or I could go here. A sort of google map of evanescent darting notions.

Oh, and how it is painted! Did several different Kippenbergers revisit this work in several different times in several different states of mind? The balloon came first. It is scumbled on like some fading pareidolial trace on a stucco wall. An image or a stain? Don’t ask me! Next that unwieldy contraption is brushed on casually, neatly, in some territory between isometric perspective and an exploded view. A collapsed view perhaps? Then that man: Earnestly modeled with classically great brushwork, yet orthopedically challenged and disc-like in depth. The three cross paths in a great overlapping hyperspace.

Martin Kippenberger, Worktimer (at MOCA Los Angeles), 1987, steel, briefcases, and rubber, 95 11/16 x 101 3/16 x 55 1/8 inches, Grässlin Collection, St. Georgen, Germany, © Estate Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Kippenberger also made this contraption with real materials in real space. But, for me, the painting is where it’s at! Worktimer from 1987 seems to be a still life for the later painting. Worktimer the object, changes in the painting because we see him. While we can gaze at this sculpture, in the painting, we can gaze at the artist gazing at the sculpture. We can think about gazing.

All in all this is the enterprise: using our great brains and blue hearts to figure out the world somehow, the urgency building as the bell rings for the last critical lap.

Heide Fasnacht, Turbulence (red), 2019, Acrylic paint on manipulated photo mounted on Wood Panel; 48” x 60”  © Heide Fasnacht Studio

Heide Fasnacht is a New York based artist who works in painting and sculpture. Her show at the Martin Art Gallery opens November 19th 2019 and is up until Feb 8th, 2020.

The post Heide Fasnacht on Martin Kippenberger appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 1
This Month’s Highlights: Langberg, Barskaya, and Fasnacht Thu, 26 Sep 2019 16:11:38 +0000 Painters on Paintings Editor Julie Heffernan reflects on three current painting shows in New York City.

The post This Month’s Highlights: Langberg, Barskaya, and Fasnacht appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

Painters on Paintings Editor Julie Heffernan reflects on three current painting shows in New York City.

Photographs as tools for artmaking are as common and tacit as the pencil, but for many years, when I was young, I believed that painting based on copying photos was the death of creative invention. I thought that because I, myself, was so dependent on them, and knew they had me too much in their thrall. Using a projector was even worse, I thought – nipping in the bud the development of the eye; only purely conceptual artists could get away with it.  Even then, most of those, whether Photo-Realists or Pop artists, seemed to have abdicated some important aspect of their own potential as creative weirdos, the kind of peculiar inventiveness that would have been theirs alone, was my belief. In the hands of great artists –Bonnard, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas — the photograph might jumpstart the painting to become something unique and other; otherwise the ghost of the photo often felt too evident, intruding into the final artwork, weakening it with the photograph’s greater technological star power.

It was when artists started telling stories again, in the 80s, that I began to understand how to use the photograph, now as just a tool. How could Eric Fischl tell us all his great adolescent male secrets without them, or Angela Dufresne wade into the goo of her painterly love affairs with Gina Rowlands, or Ellen Harvey mark the transitions of a life using all her driver’s licenses over time? In the hands of an adept, the photograph became as necessary a conceptual and technical tool as the palette knife.

Rather than detracting, that very ghost lurking behind the scrim of the image radically informs the work of several artists showing now in New York. Three artists with NY solo exhibitions that stand out in this capacity are Doron Langberg at Yossi Milo Gallery, Polina Barskaya at Monya Rowe Gallery and Heide Fasnacht at Dorsky Curatorial Projects, opening on September 29. 

Doron Langberg, Daniel Reading, 2019, Oil on linen, 96 x 160 inches

In his work, Doron Langberg slides right past the photograph, using it only to surf the high seas of liquid paint with encrustations of denser matter that together tell stories of friends and family, tales that rupture from within as flagrant paint and shape take over the dictates of resemblance. He uses the ubiquitous family photo to take us into domestic settings where, now, rapture trumps the quotidien, and we are all invited to the scene of seduction.

Polina Barskaya, Vence, 2019, Acrylic on panel, 20 x 24 inches, Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery, New York

Polina Barskaya uses the flattening properties of acrylic paint to create dual worlds — interior and exterior. Light and color are harnessed to describe intimate moments that invite you into their whispering intricacies. Interiors groan with dull palettes of gray while some exterior event seen through the window glows with the kind of radiance that only a framework of tertiaries could conjure.

Heide Fasnacht, Mid Ocean Explosion, 2000-2001, Graphite on paper, 22 x 30 inches

And Heide Fasnacht uses the photograph’s function as record keeper to explore phantasms of destruction. The Devil is in the  details, and hers bring home their lessons on what man has wrought. Her fine use of subtle tonality and suggestive touch allow the viewer to feel up close and personal to events whose destructive potential would otherwise overwhelm.

The post This Month’s Highlights: Langberg, Barskaya, and Fasnacht appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
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.

The post Jessica Stoller on the Sévres Breast Bowl appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

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.

The post Jessica Stoller on the Sévres Breast Bowl appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
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.

The post Ruth Marten on Paul Caranicas appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

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.

The post Ruth Marten on Paul Caranicas appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
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.

The post Katie Miller on ‘Young Girl with a Dead Bird’ appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

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.

The post Katie Miller on ‘Young Girl with a Dead Bird’ appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0
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.

The post Jane Irish on Karen Kilimnik’s Programme of Humour appeared first on Painters on Paintings.


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.

The post Jane Irish on Karen Kilimnik’s Programme of Humour appeared first on Painters on Paintings.

]]> 0