Painting

Bruce Dorfman. Santa Fe Silver (2010). Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.

An artist who seeks subject matter is like a person who can’t get up in the morning until he understands the purpose of life. Fairfield Porter
Porter could easily have said the same about segments of art’s audience. There lingers a tired complaint that unless some aspect of the human condition presents itself—some scene, narrative, or vignette—an artwork appears empty, dehumanized, self-absorbed. Among this species of beholders, interest is tethered to subject matter. The art of a work is little more than a carrier for the anecdotal burden of the piece. Continue Reading
John Walker at Alexandre Gallery

In Painting and Reality, Etienne Gilson argued that painting should be experienced on its own terms. That is to say, aesthetically. He insisted that audiences greet art without thinking of it as something to be understood, decoded, or interpreted. A painting is not an essay, not a set of propositions. Whatever literary, philosophical, or narrative content might be claimed for a work, the art of the thing lies elsewhere and exists to be welcomed for its own sake. To do otherwise, he wrote, is to turn a work of art into a book. Continue Reading
El Greco, Messiah of Modernism

Among Platonists, man is mind, intellect, above all else. Man is ordained to think. His province is learning and true wisdom. The rest is flesh and appetite, or, in the phrasing of Timaeus , an Eros of begetting. A common, ignoble thing that resides in the lower precincts of the body and pulls us earthenward, away from our celestial affinity. Christopher Johnson, in the comment section to the previous post, alludes to that ancient polarity. Speaking of El Greco’s St. Martin and the Beggar, he notes that the painting transports the scene from a mere act of charity to an encounter between the mortal and the divine. Continue Reading
Roger de La Fresnaye, Neglected Knight

Roger de La Fresnaye. Artillery (1911). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Roger de la Fresnaye (1885-1925) painted strikingly personal, luminous, figure compositions between 1912 and his entry into the French army in 1914. They are among the grandest works of the generation of Picasso and Braque. During the 1940s, Duncan Phillips called him a “legendary knight.” Neglected might have been the more accurate adjective, but the noun was apt. La Fresnaye fought on two fronts: in the trenches of World War I, and in the aesthetic battles preceding the war. Continue Reading
A Few Notes

Euan Uglow. Skull (1994-7). Among Euan Uglow’s studio props was a female skull, minus the jaw bone and, possibly, two thousand years old. His friend and fellow painter Tony Eyton wrote that Uglow found it in an ancient burial ground and smuggled it out. It is a fit companion to Notes of an Anatomist by Frank Gonzalez-Crussi, a practicing pathologist and Professor Emeritus of Pathology at Northwestern Medical School. He is also a witty, graceful scholar and essayist. Notes opens with an urbane chapter on embalming with anecdotal references from ancient Egypt to Jacques Maritain in a dentist’s chair. Continue Reading