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Henry Miller

The artist is the opposite of the politically minded individual, the opposite of the reformer, the opposite of the idealist. The artist does not tinker with the universe, he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life.  —Henry Miller

Rare Porter

Fairfield Porter

This work by Fairfield Porter is startling in its bold freedom, the almost arbitrary way he represented the flowers, the saturated tones, the almost splattered looking petals in contrast to that marvel of a jar used as a vase. I’ve never seen this painting through any channel other than this page eight years ago from Art News. I recently found a stack of magazines and tore out half a dozen pages from this 2010 spring issue. I will post iPhone shots of them now and then in the future. Just thumbing through the ads in Art News was best way to explore unfamiliar work and learn a few things, while diligently ignoring the text. Sort of the way most of us boys engaged with Playboy back in the day.

The perfect flow of paint

Mark Tennant’s recent work

Mark Tennant posted this painting on Instagram a little while back, and I’ve since gone back to it many times with pleasure. At first, it suggests an almost clinical distance from his subject, a hauteur about a fragment of past American culture, which he’s isolated for observation. In this case, he seems to be looking back at a middle-class couple, standing proudly in front of their tract home and new car, circa 1960—he with beer in hand, she in pumps that aren’t even indicated except by the tiptoe slope of her feet. It’s all imbued with a cool, dubious squint of someone who doesn’t share the enthusiasms he depicts, a clinical detachment present in some of Tennant’s more erotically suggestive work, much of which has a muted, colorless sheen reminiscent of Gerard Richter’s early portraits based on media photographs of Baader-Meinhof terrorists. In this clinical mode, Tennant picks subjects that seem selected to provoke a raised eyebrow or a half-smile of condescension—as if he’s looking down, rather than head-on, at whatever he’s showing. It reminds me of what Martin Mull has been doing in his work—purchasing collections of family photographs from garage sales and flea markets to use as source material for his own surreal, emotionally detached and dreamlike visions occasionally on view at Hirschl & Adler.

Still, though I doubt this is the response Tennant wants, I react to this painting with nostalgia for those brief post-war decades when America was genuinely thriving, leading the world in building a middle class that was actually earning more than what it needed to get by. What drove productive lives wasn’t false hope back then. This proud couple could easily have been living on one salary at Eastman Kodak here in my hometown, with its generous wages and annual bonuses for workers, when a household could thrive on a single income, earning enough to get a mortgage on a new house and even buy a new car every few years. Over the past few decades, that level of material comfort could be sustained only on higher and higher lines of credit and more than one wage. The middle class has waned though it remains to be seen if it’s down for the count. Simple bourgeois comforts, along with an occasional luxury, are certainly as illusory as anything else on this spinning planet—so Tennant is perfectly justified in suggestions of sic transit gloria mundi, especially when the glories are so humble. He casts a cold eye on this moment of celebratory happiness yet it feels like something most people wouldn’t mind working toward now as much as they did in the 60s, and rightly so. It’s precisely what people who flee into our country are hoping to find. But what’s going on in this image has gotten harder and harder to make happen.

That said, this painting is different from what I consider Tennant’s usual mode and that keeps me coming back for another look. It’s far more colorful than most of what he posts. His technical facility conveys, by contrast with his seeming emotional detachment from the scene, an avid pleasure in being able to render things in such a way that his formal skill emerges as what’s most compelling in the work. The stylistic sang-froid recedes, for me, overcome by my vicarious delight in Tennant’s representational powers. Jenny Saville works toward the same kind of stand-off between subject and execution, picking subjects almost designed to be an affront to taste as a way of tempering the appeal of her bold, lush facility with paint, the sensual pleasure of seeing her push heavy loads of oil paint around so . . . well, so athletically, given the scale of the paintings. I’ve always thought of it as a strategy akin to Sinead O’Conner’s buzz cut, a way of hedging rare beauty in the interest of being taken more seriously. As if beauty has to earn its right to exist. Tennant doesn’t disagree: at the same time, alongside this work that seems to invite social or psychological commentary, he posts straightforward, masterful charcoal portraits executed with economical and bold technique, classic in their simplicity and remarkable in the way they convey particular qualities of light and individual personality.

When Tennant posted this painting of a suburban couple, it inspired some comments from some followers who assumed it was a skewering of the shallow tedium of a middle-class cul-de-sac life, but for me the handling of the paint and the rigorous elimination of all needless detail builds an image that’s both strikingly three-dimensional and a powerful flat pattern of paint. It’s somehow echoes both Hockney and Fairfield Porter, and vaguely akin to the perceptual painters, but it’s both more precise and photographic and less worked-over than what many of Porter’s heirs are doing. Lennart Anderson’s influence is nowhere to be found here. It’s a large canvas and seen in its actual scale, it’s probably even more powerful, and even more about the paint, but the values and color both create a dramatic sense of depth and immediacy. It succeeds at the universal attempt to create a field of marks that stand for something else, but also work almost as well as nothing but marks, but in this case Tennant is setting up even more polarities: judicious blurring vs. geometric hard-edged structures, neutral and almost colorless stretches in contrast to saturated shards of blue and green and that intense patch of red hair echoed by the rose dot of a tail light in the sedan’s rear fin. One follower commented, right after Tennant posted the image, that she was pleased with where Tennant seemed to be going with the painting. How presumptuous. I thought it was done. I hope so. It’s hard to imagine any way to improve it.

Support the Arts This Holiday Season

Americans for the Arts
                  - Arts Action Fund
              
Dear Arts Advocate,

Let’s Celebrate This Holiday Season.

We #SavedtheNEA. Thanks to members, like you, who supported our

       

View real-time results
of the campaign by clicking
on the thermometer.

advocacy campaign, signed petitions, sent emails to and met with Members of Congress, and supported pro-arts candidates through the Arts Action Fund PAC, we were able to save (and even increase) public funding for nonprofit arts organizations across America. Let’s now begin 2019 strong.

Would you contribute to our Year-End Campaign with a financial gift?Help us reach our goal of $30,000 by December 31st.

Continue to Be an Arts Champion!

You are essential to the grassroots movement to advance public funding for the arts and arts education. Your contributions allow us to:

  • Financially support those candidates who demonstrate support and leadership for the arts.
  • Produce our biennial Congressional Arts Report Card.
  • Generate ArtsVote campaigns to build political clout and voter engagement at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Rally national support against attacks to the arts.
  • Keep our network of 400,000 Arts Action Fund members informed and ready to take action through timely alerts.

Keep the momentum going. Make Your Year-End Gift Today to the Arts Action Fund PAC.

Have a safe, joyous and peaceful Holiday Season.

Nina Ozlu Tunceli
Executive Director

P.S. Please know that 100 percent of your PAC contributions support pro-arts candidates across the country.

Take action
                          now!

Brownstein Client Conversations: Americans for the Arts

Americans for the Arts and the Arts Action Fund join Brownstein Policy Advisor David Reid for a discussion moderated by Drew Littman on how they advocate for the arts in Washington.

More lilacs and geese

September Apples, Igor Shipilin

Another find from Lilacs and Wild Geese.

Glorious paint

I can’t find a name for this painting anywhere, even with a Google image search. It’s Robert Henri, from the cover of a book he wrote.

Happy All-Hearted Holidays

“All-Hearted,” painted at the annual women’s conference, Face to Face,
Living Waters, November 2018

May the art of the heart shape us.

May we love with our skinny & big hearts,
our new hearts & old hearts,
our right-side up & upside-down hearts.
May we bless the hearts that beat
to different rhythms,
the lost hearts & the found,
& all those in between.
May we be all-hearted.

More is more: Stooshinoff

Green Hill, Harry Stooshinoff. 8″ x 8″, acrylic on board

Harry Stooshinoff is a Canadian painter who has conquered the way of a picture-per-day. I hate looking at his Instagram feed because it makes me feel like a total slug, the guy is so incredibly prolific and fast, but also, worst of all, masterful. One glimpse of Harry S. and I just want to give up. Fast is the hardest thing to be as a painter, but he’s flawlessly so. He’s the ultimate premier coup painter, everything done in one sitting. His work looks like en plein air but I think he simply does studies and sketches on site and then improvises from his notes in the studio. You can read a great explanation of the thinking that goes into his process in a well-written little statement here. He posts and sells quite a bit of work online, I gather, for prices that are feudally cheap, but he lives by an economics I find admirable—he can apparently afford to aim high in his work and sell low on the market, which both moves the work and makes it almost universally ownable. It’s a generous strategy that reminds me of Jim Mott’s gift economy. I suspect a lot of teaching in the past is what enables him to do all this now. He can’t be living that far north of Rochester, so I ought to track him down and shake his hand at some point but knowing me, I probably won’t. His methods look utterly transparent, the way Fairfield Porter’s seem to in his best work—no cards pulled out of sleeves, no mystery about how or why that slash of paint happens to be there or do what it does—but try to paint something in such a self-evident way and you will see how Stooshinoff is nearly without equal. Welliver had that quality: you can see what he’s doing all along and would love to do it yourself—“no going back over”—but try it and see what a mess you make.

 

Belfast Bay

Belfast Bay, Matt Klos, oil on canvas. Absent inches, let’s just say very very small.

This may be, so far, my all-time favorite painting by Matt Klos, which I’ve seen once in a show he had at Oxford Gallery early in this decade, a tiny work, probably done on the spot when he was overseas, I’m not sure. The way he scumbled the paint to allow the canvas to peek through the porous medium gave a perfect shimmer to sea and sky, but it’s the way he used color that really knocked me out. I took a shot of it at the show and have kept it filed away ever since.