Slide Show - Images (mostly) from The Illustrated History of Painting

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Friday, June 11, 2021

 

 
 
When I was a skinny, callow, freshman in high school (before I'd cannily allied myself with Big male buddies) the 'hard girls' kindly had my back.
 
Those sisters of the street thought me cute (in a non-romantic little-bro way) and I became sort of mascot to a gang of beehived & heavily eye-shadowed girls who smoked, trash-talked, and occasionally cat-fought with better-bred, tartan skirted, Janes. 
 
Ronnie Spector personifies the memory of those girls for me. And although I never got more than an affectionate pash from that tribe of tough & capable girls ... having moved away from Hayward High to the more psychedelic precincts of Canyon High ... there's still an unconsummated part of me that responds to the knowing look and urban ululations of the peerless Ms. Spector.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

 

Look

 

A picture is something that requires as much trickery, malice and vice as the perpetration of a crime, so create falsity and add a touch of nature    Edgar Degas

 

As an artist and an occasional writer I am, occasionally, asked to write about another artist’s work. I usually find myself responding reluctantly, willingly or enthusiastically. I won’t tell you in what situation or to which specific artist I will initially react this way but, when I take up the offer, it is always because I like the work, something it suggests or both. I’m never sure why I’m asked. Is it because whoever is asking likes the way I write or is it the expectation that, being an artist, I’ll at least know what I am writing about?  I’m hopeful it’s the former as while I do know something about art, it’s not that simple. 

 

The first difficulty is, as an artist, I usually have little idea of what I’m doing and no idea how others will respond to the finished work. I expect its much the same for most other artists. This difficulty is further hampered by a reader’s desire for meaning. A reader often assumes if someone has bothered to write about the work it must have specific meaning. This is a major difficulty, not only in most instances, but particularly in this one, as I know how much Roger Boyce dislikes meaning. I’m not adverse to meaning but I know what Roger means. The search for meaning clouds the looking. The desire for meaning can not only hamper viewing but also making. I would suggest, if an artist’s singular intention is for the work to be meaningful, it will never reach the studio door. As the artist will be so weighed down by their objective they will never complete anything.

 

For the critical viewer the over-arching desire to find meaning can obscure any, albeit unintentional, utilitarian meaning. It is a desire that often approaches apophenia. Apophenia is the tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things. Admittedly, art often makes connections between unrelated things. Surrealism is an obvious example. In fact, the bringing together of the seemingly unrelated is the foundation of surrealism and it is an idea that still underpins the bulk of contemporary art practice. The apophenia I am thinking of is more akin to the mis-heard. The song lyric sung over and over in your head in such a way that it has acquired personal meaning. Then, at a later date, you see the lyrics printed and realise they are completely different from what you thought you heard.  While the meaning you have gained may remain, it was never in the original. If this happens when viewing or writing about art, what is misread, either through a cloud of ideological preconceptions or the willful desire for meaning, enters a world of Chinese whispers. Eventually the thing looked at and its imposed meaning bare no relationship to each other. You often see evidence of this in gallery wall labels where the desire to imbue meaning is paramount.

 

Do these paintings need words? Words can either facilitate or obstruct understanding. Do any paintings need words? What you see, is what you see. And what you see, is what you want to see. As William Burroughs said “You can't tell anybody anything he doesn't know already”. Is it necessary to read a script before seeing a movie, see sheet music before listening to a song or to look at illustrations to understand a novel.  Those distractions may be interesting in themselves but are they primary?

 

These days, with visual art, words seem to be a requirement. Yet, scholars inform us, that only a few centuries ago, paintings were used to tell stories to those who couldn’t read. Hence, the early development of the visual language of western art was largely within the confines of the church.  After all, seeing is believing. Now it’s as if, we can’t engage with an artwork without having to read something, either before or after viewing. Is it really that difficult? That complicated? Was it early last century, with the rise of abstraction, that words became pressingly necessary? But there has always been abstraction. It wasn’t new. You only have to look at aboriginal or Islamic art to see that. And, what is perhaps the most abstract art form of all, music, is widely considered to be so immediately understood it easily crosses cultural boundaries. So, it seems we believe what we hear. Why is it we no longer believe what we see?

 

How do we see visual art? It appears initial engagement is subliminal. A subtle, oscillating, mix of thought and emotion stimulated by visual cues. A recognition. An experience that may build slowly or occur before you know it. The work will either appeal or not. If it doesn’t appeal there is no obligation to take it any further. You don’t have to understand why you didn’t like it or found it unusable. If you have responded favourably to the work’s visual stimulus and are intellectually curious you may want to know more.  Even if it is just to know exactly what that shade of white is because it would be great on your bedroom walls. Like most everything else, natural or manufactured, an artwork can be dismantled. Its parts be can laid out, identified and their function analysed but by then the patient is probably dead. This kind of investigation is only suitable for artists.

 

With his paintings Roger Boyce wants the viewer to look. To believe what they see. He implies this by painting paintings of paintings. There is no smoke, it is just mirrors, and like a magician, who wishes to not only delight with his sleight of hand, he also wants to reveal how the trick was done. You will notice next to the painted paintings there are no wall labels. If it’s only meaning you seek, I would start here.

 

Robin Neate

 






 












Tuesday, June 8, 2021

 

 Fun While it Lasted
 
Rhapsodic language and sanctimony do seem to readily attach themselves to modernist abstraction. As do miraculous accounts attach to medieval reliquaries. 
 
Pure abstraction's long-standing aspiration to be untethered from the objective - to unyoke itself from pictorial servitude to humanist culture - did (for good or ill) fatefully position it to promote the possibility of here-and-now transcendence. Transcendence, reserved, of course, for the elect.
 
These idle thoughts summoned for me the memory of Ancien Régime Werner and Elaine Dannheisser making their way across Chelsea's broken cobbles. The two, tottering unsteadily from gallery to gallery ... as if in search of New Lourdes.
 
I can't say if those two lovely oldsters did ever experience, in their regular pilgrimages, a rebirth of wonder, or, the return of their animal, spiritual, or erotic vitality. But I did once witness the normally dour art dealer, Diane Browne, transfigure suddenly and magnificently arise (with a fluttering of hands) from the floor of her gallery, as the Dannheisers entered the sacristy. 
 
It was, indeed, fun while it lasted.
Photo:
 
Werner and Elaine Dannheisser
by Robert Mapplethorpe
 
 
 

 
 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Everything Disappears



In the mid 1980s I executed two monumental commissions in California. One in San Francisco's Mission District and one at the well-known and highly visible corner of Hollywood and Vine, in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles work has recently vanished. And neither the art consultant who originally orchestarted the commission nor her art-lawyer can discover its whereabouts. Or why it diappeared. New(ish) state laws which  protect the integrity of public works or ensure an artist's rights are not applicable to the work in question, due, paradoxically, to its vintage status.

I'm consoled in my loss by thoughts of all the many children who, over three decades, may have seen the work (out of car-passenger windows) from the adjacent freeway and surface roads.

Everything disappears. As, eventually, does every consequence of its going.  

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Friday, November 3, 2017



“Perhaps the mistake is to think of me, in actual fact. 

I mean by that, that I’ve never been able to talk about my life, actually. 

As soon as I start talking about my life I start lying straightaway. To begin with I lie consciously. And very quickly I forget that I’m lying”. 


- Michel Houellebecq, transcribed, by me, from a 2005 BBC interview. Photo of Houellebecq from the period.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

School of Harm - Maenadic Studies




School of Harm … Maenadic Studies *

Regarding artists, Plato saw in them no invention, unless inspired and out of their senses. Inspiration, incidentally bestowed - in the Plato’s own time – by a divine troop of discipline-specific Muses; figurative personifications and exclusive franchisers of creative genius.

Lamentably, for visual artists, while Greek Muses readily enraptured poets, musicians, tragedians, dancers, and comedic actors, they, for whatever reason, spurned visual artists.
Plato stipulated insensibility as essential prerequisite of divine inspiration. I like to fancy the philosopher imagining such obligatory insentience along Apollonian lines. Envisioning, perchance, vital inspirational swoons unspooling in what one might think of as neoclassical style. Spontaneous divination, attending on cerebral abstention – serially eventuating within a colonnaded rotunda, awash with even, Arcadian, light.

A space, symmetrically picketed by genre specific effigies and furnished with tastefully appointed fainting lounges. The sum of its aesthetic and psychological portions designed to encourage accommodative inward-turning and mortal downscaling of oversized sacred energies. Discarnate consummation, germinating and birthing physical creation. Creation, of course, minus somatic exertion or emotional histrionics, of the kind I entertain a happy appetite for.

I speak to the sorts of squalid, orgiastic, convulsions often typified by more barbaric states of possession and creative birth. Ludicrously savage states of captivation, like the Dionysian-flavoured frenzy-and-transport attached to popular notions of middle-period modern artists. As in the caricaturish artist- manqués (and their creative paroxysms) one chances upon in New Yorker cartoons and Mad Magazine parodies.

Is any caricature more perennially hardy - or as ubiquitous - than stereotypical depictions of bohemian picture-painters? We’ve all seen, and been drolly amused by, these laughable, easel-orbiting dervishes, lost in a private, careering pas de deux, with whatever ‘god-mad’ inspiration topped their contemporary-painting dance-card of the cultural-moment.  Most of us are familiar with this apparitional, beret-and-smock-wearing artist. A parodic character, far removed from any sort of steady, Apollonian, inner-thrummings.

Conversely, what we have here, is a spirit-drunk puck, unthinkingly engaged in a no-holds-barred, and potentially self-destructive, tango with real and imagined elemental forces, dressed up as demigods. In ungainly and mortal struggle with an immortal tag-team of Maenadic suitors or, perhaps, adversaries. An artist, wholly lost to the world, to himself, to any possibility of impulse-buffering domesticity … in fact, publicly averse to all governing restraint. An artist - to paraphrase Maslow - who is - merely animal - an animal transcending.




So, what might this essay’s mythopoetic carry-on have to do with the purportedly allegorical paintings on show? These newest works continue on an elliptically sui generis path of preposterousness, provocation and impiety – contending with typically dead-earnest (and, to my mind, dead-end) aesthetic concerns and conceptual ‘issues’, currently obsessing the outward-turning, gray-matter-alphas of the art world.  

My paintings perpetually cycle and recycle monotonic, introspective, matters of matter-of-factly misanthropic studio-life.  Studio environs complete with its exaggerated, and shopworn studio emblems, such as: painting palettes, easels, brushes, smocks, berets, cruel shoes and paint smears. Outfitting my anatomically correct figures – in various states of studio dress and undress. Loosing the paintings’ players at each other, to indulge in socially incorrect intergender tussles.

Think of the pictures as mytho-poetic Punch and Judy shows, featuring relatively tiny artists beset by bigger-than-life, multi-chrome, Bacchae. 

The paintings’ shallow perspectival settings and preposterous lighting-conceits backdrop the depicted figure’s stylized terpsichorean mayhem - think WWF, think contact-improv, think Jules Feiffer’s cartoon ‘dances to spring’, think the anachronistic stylizations of Nijinsky or Martha Graham.  All, of course, contrived and stagey – but convincing, nonetheless, with a curiously plausible internal logic. The painting’s players; either unaware or unashamed of the broad melodramatic artifice they play out.

While the paintings feature, in most cases, spatially believable, planar-floors. And, at times, the sort of low-rent moiré-patterned wood grain walls found in trailer-homes and budget motels, such ur-quotidian detail serves, perversely, as shabby-chic foil to the painting’s even more tawdry optical (atmospherically metaphysical) contrivances. More often than not, consisting of spectral incursions by non-naturalistic light and color – democratically alluding to visionary states, lustrous natural phenomenon, or Las Vegas’ neon-borealis.

What does all of this add up to, you might ask. Well, nothing, that is, to do with any real, or explicit, fixed meaning. The paintings’ agenda is simply retinal and cerebral delight – of an unfixable (open ended narrative) category. While alluding to and borrowing (magpie like) from all sorts of affiliate association. The paintings, in their final testimony, substantiate and attest only to the hoary outlaw-biker credo – sworn to fun, loyal to none.   

* my essay (unpublished) for the exhibition of the same name @ Suite Gallery, Wellington  






















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Thursday, July 6, 2017

School of Harm - Maenadic Studies












School of Harm - Maenadic Studies opens @ Suite, Wellington, 12 July 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Through NYC Floorboards


I used to live in a loft in Manhattan's wholesale flower market. 28th Street between 6th & 7th.
Upstairs lived a young boy, with his father. That same lad claimed, decades later, to have heard the blues coming up, from my place, through the floorboards. Now he lives in New Orleans and earns his crust as an itenerant bluesman. Touring constantly around the USA. He asked me, not long ago, to paint him an LP album cover. Here 'tis - sans record title and his name ... which will come later at the printers. By the way, he gave up the cigarettes.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Measurable Outputs



The idea that art (of all type) is a sort of antechamber one habituates, or medication one swallows, in order to "improve" one's self and/or one's society, is a bourgeoisie, Victorian-era, artifact. 

The Victorian notion was that the, then-trebling, early-industrial era's 'great unwashed' could be demographically reduced, or socially improved, by supplementing the workers otherwise squalid existences with calibrated doses of culture. 

These ideas have persisted to our day and are now greenhouse-propogated by relational aestheticians and non-profit ( governmental and private) entities who dole out public funds based on 'measurable' audience-outreach and measurable audience-enrichment ... read "improvement". 

I've no argument against, nor practical alternative to these hoary ideas and practices - mine is a subjective observation. Nothing more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

70 Million Dollar Petit Fours



FYI: Art Historian Amelia Jones is a seasoned pro when it comes to curating her own (faux) radical credentials – and self-promotionally disseminating that self-constructed myth via mainstream media and august podiums at airless academic conferences. 


Jones is particularly deft at opportunistically placing herself (in word, if not deed) at the hypothetical barricades of whatever cultural war(s) she sees being fought – fought by actual, participating, stakeholders. 

Jones is the quintessential academic, careerist-sayer, posing as an activist player. Her two main claims to ‘fame’ are coining the grammatically jaw-breaking trope “Pollockian performative” … and her infamously demonstrated willingness to accept a lucrative Chair at UCSC – where she functioned as upholder of, and appartchik spokesperson for, the party-line at Roski School of Art and Design, University of Southern California – just as the entire 2016 post-graduate cohort of the school quit en masse, in protest over the organizationally inept corporatization of the art school. Including, but not limited to, broken, contractual, promises to its post-grads. 

From the elitist promontory of her academic sinecure Amelia Jones loftily pronounces on “trans-identity” and righteously excoriates ‘privilege’ – all-the-while nibbling Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s 70 million dollar petit fours. 

Jones has positioned herself in such a way as to lump anyone who questions her radical legitimacy with those who oppose the cultural “re-questioning” she herself has co-opted from its rightful owners.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Install Shots - Means to an End - Caves, Melbourne











Installation shots from Means to an End @ Caves Inc, Melbourne 
Room 18, Level 6, 37 Swanston Street (Nicholas Building), Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Thursday, Friday 12 - 6pm. Saturday 1 - 5pm.