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More Tangents, More Fun

These three Paintings are part of a series exploring a new painting surface as well as new ways to use the layered painting process . They are on wrapped canvas instead of watercolor paper which alters the way of the interactions of surface and paint. It also nudged me to follow the process with exciting new curiosity and awe; keeping the excitement fresh.

Lichen-12×24

To Be Clear -12×24

Heavy Metal 18×18

Various Tangents

These 3 images are part of an experimental tangent of the serendipitous  following of random threads layered onto paper: layered onto underpainting or by creating a new and vibrant base for further exploration.

 

Thicketed Moon 24×30

Fog in Sunrise- 6×9

Cracked Foundation- 6×9

Everything is fertile

Marcel Proust

From the man who discovered an entire world in a cup of tea:

We have put something of ourselves everywhere, everything is fertile, everything is dangerous, and we can make discoveries no less precious than in Pascal’s Pensees in an advertisement for soap.

–Marcel Proust, The Fugitive

Solstice Eve


Solstice Eve
On the longest
day of the year,
I want to choose
the shortest path
to joy—the one
with no distance,
no time. The one 
we can know
as close as our skin
& in any season. 
I want to go to sleep
& come awake
to this lengthy day, 
to sun—to all 
that’s possible
in hours of light. 
But may I remind
myself of all I can also 
do when darkness 
begins again—when 
joy will dress in shadow
but still glow, 
nevertheless. 

Manifesto

Maurice Butler, My God Is Gangsta, 2016, charcoal, spray paint on gessoed paper (detail) — @mauricepbutler.art (Manifest Gallery, Pennsylvania Regional Showcase Exhibition, Dec. 2017-Jan. 2018)

From Manifest, via email to exhibitors and members:

THE STAND

Manifest was built on taking a stand for principles of measured quality, experiential opportunity, philosophical openness, a respect for learned skill and craftsmanship, and a belief that excellence can arise from people of any age, race, gender, background, or geographic origin. Our nonprofit organization was founded sixteen years ago by students and teachers who saw a lack of these things in their world and sought to bring them about, creating a space—a platform if you will—for their manifestation. It was these principles that attracted and gained the involvement of artists from around the world—so many people very different from ourselves.

While this effort was admittedly supported by a privileged relationship to the visual arts and academic art world, even today it gives us a humble microscopic view of the larger position of our fellow Americans and citizens of the world. If you want something good in the world, you have to take action to bring it about. How this is done, the craftsmanship and philosophy, the empathy and truth to inner vision, and the work really matters. The How, What, and Why are everything. We must get these right together. We are seeing this work being done, and it is dangerous, powerful, and inspiring.

Like a work of art this country, this global civilization, must be made such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Together we are so much more than what we are as individuals. This does not mean we must believe the same beliefs, nor think the same thoughts, or value the same experiences. But we do need to recognize our place as parts of the larger whole, and to embrace it in dynamic respectful balance, celebrating what it means to be here now, recognizing the frailty of a monumental system so much larger and more precious than ourselves.

Across sixteen years Manifest’s exhibits and publications have presented to the public the works of 3,250 artists from all 50 U.S. states and 43 different countries. We do not ask for headshots or ethnicity details when considering submissions of artwork, nor when exhibiting or publishing the final selections. Our belief has been that the artwork speaks for itself. We certainly know that many many of the artists we’ve been blessed with knowing and working with have been very different from ourselves, and this is based on more than just their vast global origins. The fact that so much of the world has been represented by the artists who chose to cross paths here, at Manifest in Cincinnati, Ohio, has meant all the difference in how we have viewed and valued our place in the world. Without them, without so many diverse creative energy sources, Manifest would not be what it is today. It is they who have made Manifest the Neighborhood Gallery for the World.

Now, and always, Manifest condemns the long-standing and systemic racism, inequality and injustice that is experienced by so many in our world. Unity is paramount. 

Montana Watercolor Society Online Exhibition & Award

Two “Three Minute Egg” Series Paintings On Display. Greetings!  I am pleased to say that I have two paintings showing in the Montana Watercolor Society‘s 2020 Annual Members Exhibition.  The paintings are “Three Minute Egg #11” and “Three Minute Egg #12”. Exhibition Details. You can see the exhibition online through the Wilkins Gallery of the […]

The post Montana Watercolor Society Online Exhibition & Award appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Han’s solo

The Pain Surprise, Raymond Han, oil on canvas, 32″ x 36″

Decades ago, my wife and I (with our infant daughter) moved from my first job in Great Falls, Montana to Utica, New York. Within a year or two of that move, I attended two seminal exhibitions at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, where I was enrolled in art instruction for a time. I had consciously refused to attend art school, even though I’d started painting seriously in my mid-teens, and made up for it by working with artists at places like MWP and later at Memorial Art Gallery. I’m going to write elsewhere about the article in Art News that turned me against the world of art in my teens–it’s intellectual pretensions, the post-modern obscurantism of art criticism, the way in which so much art during and after the Sixties arose out of a kind of snotty disdain for the ordinary life of common people. It was all repellent to me, and the artists I loved like brothers at the time–Blake, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Braque, Rouault, Klee–struck me as obsolete, historically relevant but offering nothing for a contemporary artist to assimilate. I was too put off by the comparative austerity of Diebenkorn’s abstractions to see how they sprang almost directly from Matisse. But even aside from the way in which the art world seemed like an exclusive club devoted to making itself inaccessible to most people, I believed that I was a late-comer who had no place in the world of contemporary art. I looked at the increasingly sterile ways in which The Next Big Thing in art simply confirmed how all the revolutions were over and there was nowhere new for painting to go, if you understood progress as increasing levels of freedom for visual artists. I didn’t see what was actually going on, the way Arthur Danto did–how Pop Art made anything possible and therefore anything was now acceptable and contemporary. Anything could be art, including the sort of work done in the past. So I continued to paint, out of my own sense of inner necessity—but feeling as if my work had no place in the larger scheme of things, rather than paint and teach, I became a reporter and a writer.

Yet when I found myself walking into “An Appreciation of Realism” at Munson-Williams-Proctor in the 80s, I realized what was still possible, and how I’d missed the way art had become, in a sense, ahistorical. It was an exhibition devoted to representational painting and the roster of artists represented was incredible: Bailey, Estes, Pearlstein, Beal, Kahn, Lennart Anderson, Freilicher, Soyer, Leslie, Resika, Jerome Witkins, Katz, Welliver, Guston, Goings, Cottingham, Close, Bechtle, Fish, Beckman, Paul Georges, Leland Bell, Rackstraw Downes, and Fairfield Porter, along with more than a dozen others. It was an amazingly comprehensive curation of contemporary representational painting by all the names that I continued to study for years after I saw that show. It opened my mind to the possibility that I might actually be able to paint in ways that would belong to what was happening in art around me. It showed me, essentially, that it was possible to be any sort of painter I wanted to be–and all that remained was to spend years figuring out exactly what that was, which I did, slowly and patiently.

What’s interesting to me now is that photo-realism was well-represented but didn’t move me, and that I don’t even recall the work by Fairfield Porter, someone whose paintings I love as much as anyone who has ever picked up a brush. In short order, the arts institute organized a second show which had an even more profound effect on me: a large solo exhibition of Raymond Han’s still lifes. He was born in Hawaii in 1931 and died three years ago in upstate New York. He never got an art degree, but learned from other painters—as I did—and attended the Art Students League. His large still life work in the early 80s was astonishingly masterful: large tables covered in white tablecloths, where he had carefully arranged china, glass, silverware, all of it in tones of white, gray and brown, with small areas of intense color provided by a bit of fruit or flowers. His tables were set back against an off-white wall, his objects casting faint shadows against the wall, all of it like a little domestic city spread out on the fabric, a planned community where each object had been placed with infinite care. He had no desire to paint what he saw in his environment, just as he found it, but created the painting by placing everything where it needed to be to yield a certain kind of balance and serenity—in the way William Bailey does, but with an entirely different feel for his earth tones and matte surfaces from a level, frontal perspective. Han allowed you to look slightly down from in front and above the tabletop. The effect was to give you a glimpse of a snowy landscape, mostly variations of white, with objects and spots of beautiful color all the more powerful for being so rare.

So few of the paintings I saw in Han’s solo exhibition can be found anywhere on the Internet now. Most of what I find is work from more recent decades, almost nothing dating from the 70s or 80s. They were large canvases, four or five feet across, which enabled him to paint a tureen or compote in its actual dimensions—something I have attempted to do in my own still lifes ever since. His white tablecloths translated into the ones I used for my large tabletops, which were a sort of compromise for me between my desire to assimilate much of what I discovered in Han’s work with my love for Braque’s gueridons (his tabletops tilted forward to a plane almost parallel with the painted surface). 

Han’s tables remind me a bit of Buddhist altars: a place for devotional vessels and perishable offerings to the Buddha or a bodhisattva: flowers, fruit, or incense. The formality and elegance of that white linen where he places household objects, like the pale sand a Zen gardener punctuates with a rock or plant, suggest both abundance and restraint, a relaxed order so different from similar displays of costly crystal or lace napkins in a dark Upper West Side dining room painted by John Koch. There’s a humble, unpretentious air in the way Han placed a fluted paper coffee filter with as much care as a bit of expensive fabric—because he wanted a slightly different tone, a variation of his ubiquitous white, the soil from which would spring the warm tones of a peach or a peony. The ratio of white to lovingly rendered color represents a sort of standard in the back of my mind against which I often measure my own handling of color. Han had a gift for being able to put a white tablecloth against a white wall and then assemble a dozen white dishes and bowls on that surface—and still handle the subtle variations in value required to render a highlight on a spoon or a shadow in a bit of drapery in an absolutely convincing way—without (and this is what gives life to his work for me) relying on arduous hyper-realism. With realists like Koch or James Valerio or William Beckman, the ability to achieve startling verisimilitude depends on a certain tolerance for darkness. The delicacy of color sometimes in Koch represents a sort of triumph over that darkness that Valerio’s lighting and more saturated colors don’t achieve, even though Koch’s interior scenes tend to be dark. In Han, shadow is almost banished, relegated to the corner folds of his tablecloths or a penumbral wedge on the wall behind a table. The natural light that illuminates everything in one of those big still lifes has stayed with me for decades, the sort of light that strikes the eye from even the darker quarters of a Fairfield Porter canvas. My candy jars were my attempt to paint an image that has depth and realistic form without relying on dark values at all, so that even less illuminated nooks between one jelly bean and the next glows with a certain kind of light. Han’s big tables have that quality: the light seems to reach every surface, the background almost as bright as the foreground. And when you get close to one of Han’s canvases, you know it’s a painted surface, with evidence of his brush. At the time, the little take-away card printed up for the show compared his work to Chardin’s, and though the feel of his work doesn’t resonate with the still life Chardin did before he immersed himself in genre painting, when Chardin returned to still life, the feel of a painting like Wild Duck with Olive Jar does find echoes in Han’s best work. 

Struggling To Create During Home Isolation

Greetings! How are you doing?  I hope that you are safe and healthy.  And, for my artist friends are you struggling to create?  Or, rather, have you been able to keep your work production up? Home Isolation. The reason I ask this question is that I am hearing from some artists friends that they are […]

The post Struggling To Create During Home Isolation appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Oregon winter

Winter, Richard Harrington, acrylic on panel, 48: x 60″

I stumbled across this abstract from my Oregon friend, Rick Harrington, a couple weeks ago, because I was intrigued by something he’d posted on Facebook and wanted to see what he was up to lately. He wrote that he’d completed it a couple years ago, as part of a triptych: all three paintings are posted at his site. He’s been painting what I would call color field barns and color field animals for years. This is presumably a snowstorm, which is already a fairly uniform field of white, but what he’s done here with that foreground white-out is wonderful: the way the intense under-layers of color suggest both natural and internal phenomena, late autumn reds, the yellow glare of the sun in the upper left, and memories of greenery, as if he just went all out with saturated tones in his first strike on the canvas and then started concealing everything he’d done so that you get just little glimpses, hints, of what’s there underneath, which makes the image as much a representation of human psychology as it is a Turner-esque vision of a storm. He paints his barns mostly with rags, and could easily have dispensed with brushes for this one, but I didn’t ask. I was too busy praising him.

 

 

 

Abstract representation

Gerhard Richter with his work

The shot of these two huge abstracts, with Gerhard Richter dwarfed by his work while posing in the shaft of light, appeared on Instagram at abstrac.ted. I can’t find anything quite like them in the compendium of Richter’s work over the decades at Gerhard Richter. I’m wondering if this means he has recently completed these, and if so, it’s an interesting shift in his work. With the exception of a series he did in 2005, all entitled Forest, these two paintings distinguish themselves from almost all of his earlier, extremely flat

Forest

abstracts, obedient to Clement Greenberg’s advocacy of flatness as painting’s most essential, defining characteristic–what, in retrospect, seems like either the silliest or the most obvious proposition about art ever to be embraced in such a hugely influential way. In the bulk of his abstract paintings, Richter experiments with the effects he can get by using large amounts of multiple colors, smearing, masking, scraping, scumbling (on a large scale) one color into another in various ways. In the earlier work, he achieves suggestive effects of luminosity and hints of depth—so that some areas of paint seem to recede to an area just behind the surface. In the Forest series, this is more pronounced: you can discern what might be tree trunks in a foreground, or an underwater scene with tiers of aquatic plant life, against an indeterminate soup behind them, in a way that feels slightly Klee-like. Landscapes blur into twilight. But in this pair of huge canvases, the sense of space is vast, giving a sense of receding vistas. Light seems to shoot down through layers of foliage or enormous skylights, and the vertical shafts to the left in each canvas suggest buildings, or maybe the geometric angles of Richter’s studio itself. In the painting on the left, down in the lower right corner, the rectangular area of softened light seems like a window that offers a glow reaching the viewer from miles away. More than most of his abstraction in the past, this work from Richter, if it’s recent, gives reason to hope he’s trying to find a closer, expressionist truce between abstraction and his celebrated genius as a realist.