Nocturnal Walk

"Who even knows what he thinks or wants? Who knows what he is to himself? How many things music suggests, and we're glad they can never be! How many things the night recalls, and we weep, and they never even were! As if a long, horizontal peace had raised its voice, the risen wave crashes and then calms, and dribbling can be heard up and down the invisible beach.
How much I die if I feel for everything! How much I feel if I meander this way, bodiless and human, with my heart as still as a beach, and the entire sea of all things beating loud and derisive, then becoming calm, on the night that we live, on my eternal nocturnal walk to the seashore"

Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet.

New York, the open box and getting beyond the surface...

I had a number of very interesting conversations with artists in New York. The ideas sometimes revolved around certain questions... most notably the need for painting to have a relationship with reality and experience as opposed to painting as a kind of exclusive painting language game. On one level it is a language game of course but I increasingly see its meaning as a much more layered and open. The question is, what do we have left that we can draw on as a source and how do we go about making paintings that do this?

Mark Grotjahn is showing nine paintings at Anton Kern Gallery (the show has been titled Nine Faces). The images consist of curving lines that seem to be painted with a palette knife. The lines accumulate into layered, woven swathes of paint, which somehow conjure up faces and eyes. It is exhilarating to behold them but I do sense a danger in these paintings which is that the technique might become too assured and predictable. Editing (so crucial) is always a challenge because one can never get enough distance from ones work to be objective. What does one release from the studio? Why is one painting so much better than another very similar one? How should the work be presented? I think this show might have been much more intense with just five paintings.

Mark Grotjahn
Untitled (Vertical Almond face 41.04), 2010
Oil on cardboard mounted on linen
108 1/8 x 73 1/4 inches
Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY

Mark Grotjahn
Untitled (Distinguished Multiple V's Late Monet Face 41.34), 2010
Oil on cardboard mounted on linen
119 3/8 x 84 3/8 inches
Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY

Installation view
Anton Kern Gallery, 2011
Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY

Jean Fautrier knew that paintings could become paintings of paintings. Style then becomes everything and the inherent risk of kitsch and self-parody are ever present. Fautrier devised strategies to navigate this problem. The English painter Katy Moran does so as well. Initially seductive, the paintings she has on view at Andrea Rosen Gallery look like excercises in a certain kind of post-war European painting. They play the painting game. The problem is that if painting is a closed box the air inside can get sterile. It is necessary to create small openings in the box to let life in, sunlight, rain, the smell of the street or the earth, the cries of a child or the sounds of the night. Suffering, pain, sadness, joy, love, sex… these too of course, not necessarily as representation but as a source.

Katy Moran
at home with mickey
acrylic and collage on canvas
19.88 x 17.09 inches
(50.5 x 43.4 cm)

courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery

Installation View at Andrea Rosen Gallery
courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery

New York

View through the window of a corner cafe, Union Square.
I spent some time in New York this month. I still have the sensation of seeing certain paintings by Bonnard in the Metropolitan Museum and at MOMA fresh in my memory. I’m still trying to articulate to myself just what it is about Bonnard that makes such an impression on me.

Pierre Bonnard, The Dressing Room, 1914, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

Painting is never just a visual phenomenon. It is about the body and how the mind’s eye becomes physical through touch. Bonnard seems to rebuild the world in painting. He uses certain painterly components of a certain kind, limited in their range but with sufficient variety to enable him to reconfigure (at the equivalent of an atomic level) the nature of things - light and material become one thing. A typical 'Bonnardian' head is painted in exactly the same way as say a jug on a table which that same painted head seems to contemplate. Bonnard had his own very specific touch which had its origins in his bodily being and the multitude of indefinable qualities that made it up.
Painterly components governed by sensibility (I use this word with its explicit links to our all our senses). I have my own supply of painting components to use of course. Whether they are painted marks, collaged forms or materials, drawn lines, accumulations etc. they all present themselves in a painting as a kind of combined energy. There are gestures, but also placements, idle deposits or very precise positioning of elements. I think I can finally understand that a painting is a figure – not just a figure on a ground but the painting as a figure in its own right which is both concealed and disclosed in the process of making.

All the photographs in this post are my own. I also looked at paintings by Courbet, Braque, Derain and Matisse.

Pierre Bonnard, The Dressing Room, 1914, oil on canvas (detail).

Pierre Bonnard, The Dressing Room, 1914, oil on canvas (detail).
Pierre Bonnard, After the Bath, 1910, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum Of Art.
Pierre Bonnard, After the Bath, 1910, oil on canvas (detail).
Georges Braque, The Garden Chair, 1947-60, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

Georges Braque, The Garden Chair, 1947-60, oil on canvas (detail).
Georges Braque, The Garden Chair, 1947-60, oil on canvas (detail).

André Derain, The Sunken Path, 1906, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

André Derain, The Sunken Path, 1906, oil on canvas (detail).