Saturday, April 26, 2008

Looking at Artists

Today my new issue of Art in America magazine arrived. While looking through it, I realized that I had never posted my thoughts on the last issue in this ever-popular "Looking at Artists" series of posts ... "ever-popular" probably exists only in my own imagination, but whatever, it's fun to do.

When I get my new A in A issue, I go through it and flag anything interesting by turning down the page corner. Unfortunately, in a typical issue, I might only flag maybe six pages or so ... A in A has become less enamored of painters in recent years and more fond of installations and other art forms that I just cannot relate to.  My next step is to go to the internet and look up all the artists that caught my eye. Sometimes they look good, sometimes they don't. I bang out my impressions in this blog.

Okay, so on to last month's issue. The first one that got my attention was Tianbing Li at L&M Arts in New York. He has a show called "Me and My Brother", based on photographs taken by his parents when he was a child. As it turns out, his "brother" is imaginary, but the series looks pretty powerful. This would be a good one to see in person ... little images on the web don't have much punch, but photos of the paintings installed in the gallery gave me the impression it would really be effective.  Tianbing's choices in color, cropping, smudging, and things included/excluded sometimes seemed a bit odd, but they make me stop and think.  And the cumulative feeling that I get from looking at all the images is intense, like he he mourning a missing brother.  

Another artist is Xenia Hausner at Forum Gallery.  The image in the ad was of a very loosely-painted work, with paint application a bit like Cezanne and a colorful flowery background like Matisse.  This struck me as very unlike Forum, which usually exhibits artists whose work falls into the "fine arts league" school of Renaissance realism, so it got my curiosity up.  I wasn't too enthused, though, after seeing the works on the web site.  Maybe it was the fact that she works so obviously from photographs, maybe it was that her subject matter was usually herself, but I just got a feeling that it was "art for art's sake" with no real story to tell except maybe a bit of narcissism.  I think she can paint, but I just never felt a connection to what she was painting.

Claire Klarewicz-Okser was featured at Katharina Rich Perlow gallery in New York.  These paintings intrigued me the more I looked at them.  Her people are right on the verge of being real or stylized, so they're real and not real at the same time.  More importantly, her paintings have a consistent mood to them.  The artist I thought of the most while looking at her work was Edward Hopper, oddly enough.  The reason is that she achieves the same feelings of isolation and loneliness with her figures that Hopper achieved with his buildings.  (As much as I like Hopper's work, his figures were usually awkward.  Claire K-O's figures are never awkward.)  Her people look like they're from the '20's or '30's, and it seems to me that she uses this quality of dress to say something about how people can appear to be "successful" while actually being completely cut off from others ... even if they're pushed up against each other, they're still in different worlds.

I flagged a few other artists, but on looking at more of their images on the web sites, I was very disappointed.  So many artists, it seems, are simply copying photographs, right down to the "happy-snap" quality.  I don't get the feeling that they're using their own vision, just whatever pops out of the camera.  The last time I did one of these "looking at artists" posts was in February and I wrote about two artists (David Shevlino and Kim Cogan) who obviously used photos, and this month I started with Tianbing Li.  The difference is that these artists all used the photos as a launching pad for their own visions.  A lot of the artists this month didn't - it was as if they weren't going to put anything into the painting that wasn't already in the photo.  What happened to personal statement and vision?

I still have some more artists to look at, but it's late and I'm pooped.  Maybe more tomorrow.

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