Jensen’s Great Pyramid

February 2nd, 2012

A painting by Alfred Jensen, reproduced in the catalog for his 2001–2002 Concordance exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts.

In an article from the catalog, Professor Michael Newman writes, “Jensen’s elaborate diagrams are drawn from various cosmological systems, including the Mayan calendar, the I Ching and other Chinese mathematical systems, the Egyptian number system, Pythagorean mathematics and geometry, and ancient Greek systems of proportion. [For example,] The Great Pyramid (1980) [below] has numbers written in an ancient Egyptian notation, in which a bar stands for the number 1 and a horseshoe for 10, on a pattern that suggests rectangular pyramids seen from above. The panels are set in a progression such that the sum of the top and bottom number of each pair is 13; each contains an even number at the top and an odd one at the bottom—this kind of opposition, echoed in the use of black and white at the cores and edges, is reminiscent of the I Ching” (p78).

The Great Pyramid, 1980, 90 x 360 inches (insert), rotated 90° clockwise to fit this blog’s format. Click for larger, horizontal version.

Critic Peter Schjeldahl writes, “Jensen’s works can be called ‘diagrams’, not because they explicate ideas, but because they delineate them; they are fields united by the purpose of signifying. His is a gesture of communication, rather than of conveyance” (p44).

Asks Newman, “[Jensen] puts the viewer in a position of conflict in relation to the painting: Are we to decipher, turning to books to help us, or are we to look?” (p88).

Scully’s Wall of Light

November 18th, 2011

Three paintings by Sean Scully collected in Wall of Light, a catalog for his 2005 exhibition at The Phillips Collection.

“Scully is conscious of the nature of inspiration. If he knows that being an artist is all about desire, he knows too that active pursuit of the muse is doomed to disappointment. For this reason, the artist cannot put himself under pressure to evolve. He must let questions go unanswered, go about his business, and then, when he least expects it, the muse will come. Scully simply makes himself available” (p19-20).

3.29.84, 1984 (p113). Click for larger version.

“Stripes became central to his work after a trip in 1972 to Morocco, where he was exposed to the bright light and striped textiles of North Africa. Similarly, the [1998] Wall of Light paintings evolved from [1983 and ’84] sojourns in Mexico” (p20).

Wall of Light Pink, 1998 (p81). Click for larger version.

“Scully also knows that he evolves very slowly and says that if he had pushed himself to innovate after Mexico, the Wall of Light paintings would have been different paintings—playful rather than melancholy. Instead, Scully developed other bodies of work, creating his construction canvases, inset paintings, and Durango composition while subconsciously absorbing the Mexican experience. This period of gestation resulted in works that reflect Scully’s emotional growth. As he says, ‘I am very interested in the idea of creating something that has already gained experience by the time it enters the world…'” (p20).

Wall of Light Yellow, 2002 (p124). Click for larger version.

Itten on Expressive Forms

October 18th, 2011

Three student exercises from Johannes Itten’s first year art course at the Bauhaus, reproduced in his 1964 Design and Form.

Writes Itten, “Freeing and deepening the expressive ability of students is the teacher’s most difficult task.

“To execute the following exercises it is necessary to choose a very flexible, expressive medium which reacts immediately to the slightest motion of the hand, such as India ink brush…

“If a genuine feeling is to be expressed in a line or plane, this feeling must first resound within the artist. Arm, hand, finger, the whole body, should be permeated by this feeling. Such devotion to work requires concentration and relaxation.

“Brush drawing would never have reached the level shown here if the students had not prepared themselves through breathing, concentrating, and relaxing exercises” (p147).

Attempts to represent the course of an emotion in a line. This exercise demands relaxation and involuntary ‘letting it happen’ (pl154, p149).

Change and transition from plane feeling to line feeling (pl155, p150).

“Superficially fixed seeing, fluctuating thinking, and willful acting must give way to inner vision. This requires a readiness to be guided by inspiration. The painter must wait until his feeling urges him to create. In the moment of complete devotion all forms will be in the right relationship, as if they had created themselves. Nothing can be added or subtracted afterwards without alien and inorganic effect.

“Every work created in this way surprises by its unforeseen formation. A famous Chinese ink picture consists of a single circle, painted on silk. To draw a large circle freehand with a brush requires complete control of the body and the deepest concentration of the mind. Although this thin line is even all around, it is felt. One of the cardinal principles of the Chinese ink painter is: ‘Heart and hand must be one.’

“The beginner becomes aware of the elastic point of the brush only when he really feels the form and is ready to follow this feeling… When the student has reached a certain sureness of movement and knows the difference between forms he has experienced and others he has not, he should be confronted with nature” (p147).

Portrait studies. Such exercises serve to synchronize the eye and hand motion. When the eye ceases to observe, the hand stops to move. Only the spontaneously observed is produced in this way, not the previously known. Instantly experienced form relations are created instead of schematic designs of known details (pl167, p162).

Hankiewicz’s Hearts

July 13th, 2011

Four of eight panels of an abstract comic by John Hankiewicz appearing in Andrei Molotiu’s 2009 Abstract Comics anthology.

Hearts, p109.

Writes Hankiewicz, “Hearts shares many of the preoccupations of my non-abstract comics: repetition, variation, and transformation. The challenge of doing an abstract comic is to make those formal issues dramatic—which is a reversal of my usual strategy” (from the Artist Biographies appendix).

Gabo’s Kinetic Paintings

April 11th, 2011

Three paintings by Naum Gabo from his 1959 lectures, Of Divers Arts.

“All colors, even in their seemingly identical hues, have a different identity in our vision of them. One and the same color acts differently on different surfaces. Colors change with the change of their place in space or on a surface, and their identity also varies with the time at which they appear in the field of our vision. They change not only according to the neighboring color—a fact by now known to every schoolboy—but in relation to the frame of our vision and its axis, i.e., to right or left of the axis, and up or down from it” (p96).

Red Kinetic Painting, 1943 (p97). This painting is meant to be viewed from all four sides, rotating counter-clockwise. Click for larger version.

“Color affects the bounds of the shape in which it is enclosed and changes the form of surrounding space; it modulates distances, retards or accelerates the rhythm of our visual perception… Color is the flesh of our visual perception of the world, not its skin” (p98).

Yellow Painting, “Strontium”, 1945 (p95). This painting is meant to be viewed from all sides, rotating counter-clockwise. Click for larger version.

“Space in our vision is not the distance between far and near, not the above and below, not even the place which is there or here; it is penetrating, everywhere present in our conscious experience of vision… It is ever within our reach, and thus it carries an experience of palpability equal to any conveyed by the tactile sense… Space is not a part of the universal space surrounding the object; it is a material by itself, a structural part of the object—so much so that it has the faculty of conveying a volume as does any other rigid material” (p100).

And time “in the artist’s experience is not that static sequence of intervals measured by days and hours of past and future, it is not the mechanical phenomenon we measure by our clocks; neither it is that idea of contemporary science where it has become a relative term dissolved entirely in the idea of space-time so that both become one. Time to us is the faculty of experiencing the continuity of the present” (p100-101).

“My explanation of the function of [color and] space and time in the visual experiences of the artist may perhaps be clearer to you in the work to be seen in the following illustration…” (p102).

Blue Kinetic Painting, 1945-54 (p103). This painting is meant to be viewed in rotation. The panel is mounted on a motor making one revolution in two minutes. Click for an animation of this revolution.

An Aspect of Divine Energy

December 11th, 2010

A ca. 1970s painting by Sam Francis reproduced in his collection of writings, Saturated Blue (n.p.).

Writes Francis:

Color may extend forever
expand forever
drift forever
stand still forever
as time may stand
still extend expand
and drift forever
and is indefinite relationship

forever is a limit
for space and time
color represents an aspect of divine energy
and in human terms
is measured in relation to desire

Existence in a Beyond of Color

November 6th, 2010

Three paintings by Josef Albers from his series Homage to the Square, exhibited in 2009 at the Casa Luis Barragán and cataloged in Homage to the Square.

Homage to the Square, 1964 (p30). Click for larger version.

“Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of Cézanne’s work: ‘As if these colors could heal one of indecision once and for all. The good conscience of these reds, these blues, their simple truthfulness, it educates you; and if you stand beneath them as acceptingly as possible, it’s as if they were doing something for you’. This is the role that Josef Albers (for whom the discovery of Cézanne, in 1908, had been a pivotal moment of his life) gave to his color and that the square format facilitated.

“Rilke wrote about Cézanne’s ‘labor which no longer knew any preferences or biases or fastidious predilections, whose minutest component had been tested on the scales of an infinitely responsive conscience’. This, too, was how Albers approached color: utterly humbly, without judgment, only with a notion of awareness and service. He wanted to be the vehicle to allow color to perform. He was reverential, and tried to remove his self, and the concerns of the human ego, in order to achieve his task. Living simply, working tirelessly… Albers was like a member of an ascetic religious order—bent on delivering the message of the quiet majesty and infinite capability of color” (p8-9).

Homage to the Square, 1969 (p38). Click for larger version.

“Rilke said that Cézanne’s approach ‘so incorruptibly reduced a reality to its color content that it resumed a new existence in a beyond of color, without any previous memories’. That ‘beyond of color’, another universe devoid of history or personal association or individual memory; this what Albers’s Homages make possible. These paintings are icons for meditation, offerings for both repose and excitement, for the calm of ethereal nothingness and the thrill of a vibrant symphony. They are the ‘visual resting places’ that the art historian Wilhelm Worringer… advocated as the goal of abstraction” (p9).

Homage to the Square, 1969 (p40). Click for larger version.

“Albers asked of his audience only that they use their eyes and be prepared to devote time to truly see the visual delights, debates, and enigmas that he set before them” (p13).

Rothko’s Seagram Murals

July 19th, 2010

The seven of Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals on exhibition at the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, reproduced in the museum’s 2009 Mark Rothko. My notes below, having recently visited.

Moving counter-clockwise from the entrance of the dedicated Rothko Room, these paintings seem to manifest a sequence of transcendental frictions.

Untitled, 1958 (p87). Click for larger version.

Brightly corporeal, the first painting’s frame conveys the physicality of unattended reality, while narrow ways provide an impetus to attendance.

Sketch for “Mural No.1”, 1958 (p89). Click for larger version.

Transcendental journey underway, the second painting unveils a horizon full of indistinct pattern as new eyes adjust to peering into depths.

Untitled, 1959 (p100-101, above from postcard).

Yet on approach, the third painting’s frame, darkest in the series, highlights sinister details, and our transcendent purpose is fearful and confused.

Mural, Section 1, 1959 (p98-99, above from postcard).

Attention is compelled inward as the fourth painting flatly reflects our judgment, a boundary between attendance of the world and ourselves.

Sketch for “Mural No.4”, 1958 (p90-91, above from postcard).

The fifth painting presents choice behind a living, ascending frame that is the consequence of reflection; the horror of the third painting recedes.

Mural Sketch, 1959 (p96). Click for larger version.

Painting six reveals the futility of many worlds as the colors of the frame and way begin to blur; in the lower left paint flows upwards.

Mural Sketch, 1958 (p88). Click for larger version.

The only blue in the series, iridescent and supernatural, paints the instrument of transcendence and frames realization; yet the way retains its color, and one is still, in the final painting, approaching.

A Pair of Snakes

June 11th, 2010

Speaking of caducei in Tibetan Tantrism (see previous post), a Basohli painting collected in Rawson’s The Art of Tantra.

A ca. 1700 (in one part, invisible) caduceus (p84). Click for larger version.

Three paintings by Serge Poliakoff reproduced in Michel Ragon’s 1958 Poliakoff.

“How can we describe a picture by Poliakoff? It is, for instance, a surface in which are incorporated a rounded and a right-angled shape. But all about it is asymmetrical. It is a fact that this type of painting is very hard to describe; for it is made up of nothing. No memory of known shapes can be found in it. It is the world of silence and of ‘pure painting’. How can one describe silence?” (p12-13).

Oil painting, 1952 (p19). Click for larger version.

“A Poliakoff picture generally comprises a few simple shapes. A kind of light emanates from a central mass. The passage of the colors from dark to light and the effort of vibration in the texture are two characteristics of his pictures.

“A Poliakoff picture has no depth, no ‘sky’, no perspective. Thus, in the same picture, a yellow may be hollow or in relief. And a red placed next to that yellow can likewise be hollow or in inverse relief.

“The reason is that his forms stem from space, and space, as he likes to say, ‘creates the form'” (p31).

Oil painting, 1953 (p23). Click for larger version.

“Next to space comes the matière. Poliakoff covers his canvas with successive layers—three or four at most—of thin paint, applied with extreme sensitivity. His creations, which owe nothing to organic forms, thus produce a curiously sensorial impression.

“This effort to bring the paint alive is characteristic of Poliakoff’s work.

“‘The matière of all the great painters lives’, he says, ‘even in the case of Malevitch. I was much struck when I saw his famous white square on a white background. It proved to me once again the outstanding part played by the vibration of the paint. Even in the absence of all color, a picture whose paint vibrates, remains alive'” (p34).

Oil painting, 1956 (p41). Click for larger version.

“This ‘pure painting’… is the painting of silence. The Poliakoff miracle is that he knows how to make silence vibrate.

“He says:

“‘When a picture is silent, it means it is all right. Some of my paintings start making an infernal din. They are explosive. But I am not satisfied until they have become silent. A form must be listened to, not seen'” (p36).