Sunday, September 30, 2007

modern lover

Georges Seurat: The Drawings, is opening at MoMA on October 28.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

lane twitchell

Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A., 2003, cut paper and acrylic polymers on plexiglas mounted to acrylic on panel, 60"x60"

Layering, both literal and metaphorical, is central to Lane Twitchell's art. Visitors to the Brooklyn artist's exhibit at Auburn's Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center will have much to look at and think about.

Typically measuring between four to six feet square, Twitchell's large cut paper on panel paintings are the show's focus. Although the phrase "cut paper" suggests flatness and delicacy, these pieces have a decidedly tactile, relief-like feel. The intricate painted cutouts—repeated in the manner of a child's paper snowflake—rest on Plexiglas, which is itself affixed to a wooden panel. In some cases, there is another cutout layer behind the glass.

Figuratively, these pieces assail the viewer with layers of sense and meaning. One is immediately struck by their luminous, lurid colors as well as their abstract patterning, their curves and lattices. In most cases, one quickly gets a sense of their rigorous symmetrical order. Understanding these qualities more fully takes time and effort. In addition, a close look reveals an abundance of iconographic detail, often barely legible. Although much is often made of Twitchell's Mormon upbringing (he was born in Salt Lake City in 1967), much of the iconography is more broadly American; roads and suburban architecture are recurring themes. His horror vacui (fear of empty spaces) can be seen as a metaphor for the nation's historical sense of manifest destiny.

The pieces on display can be classified based on their use of symmetry: bilateral (with the dividing axis running vertically down the middle or diagonally between the top left and bottom right corners) or radial. Others break from overall symmetry in various ways.

The paintings from the first category are, by and large, the strongest in the show. Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A. is a standout. Its diagonal axis and its matching off-kilter low horizon give the viewer the feeling of flying above —or into—the tumultuous city. Colors are appropriately oveheated: reds plus hazy pinks and yellowish off-whites dominate, while spots of cooler colors provide contrast. Below the horizon, lines converge towards a vanishing point. Above rises the "sun," which looks more like some alien citadel. Imagery is interwoven throughout: roller-coaster roadways and whiplash walls, palm trees, crosses, arrows, streetlights and billboards. Oriented the same way and sharing a similar color-scheme and title, The Blood and Sins of This Generation can be seen as a companion piece to L.A.. Its iconography suggests the junkyard as well as the road.

As strange and ornate as they are, Heartland and Smoghead are perhaps the most conventional pieces in the show, at least in terms of composition. Their nearly perfect mirroring of left and right is suggestive of portraiture. Heartland's central cross (not an important element of Mormon symbolism) and stained glass-like grid resemble a more conventional religious art.

The two radially symmetric pieces - 4 A.M. and Mythic America or How the West Was One - are less compelling. Perhaps the decorative, overly repetitive structure fights Twitchell's narrative tendencies. 4 is the richer of the pair. Pale pink, gold, and silver coat a filigree which conflates engineering and nature. Mythic is both visually static (unlike 4, its radial center is also the center of the square) and overbearing in its symbolism.

Loma Prieta and First Vision break from bilateral symmetry in ways that invite close inspection. "Loma" refers to a 1989 San Francisco area earthquake; indeed much of the surface has a firey or charred appearance. The "First Vision" was a divine revelation by LDS church founder Joseph Smith. The painting suggests an open archway leading to an infinite territory. Two smaller square Godseye pieces contain a series of fortress-like nested squares; in each, the bilateral symmetry is reversed. The blue and white paintings are nearly identical. Number one (subtitled Walk Away) has "bridges" connecting the squares, while in number two (Run and Hide) these have been destroyed. Along with two other nested square pieces, these are reminiscent of abstractionist Josef Albers' Homage to a Square series.

Three small paper on paper pieces from 1998 suggest the origins of Twitchell's approach. Untitled (Seagull and Crickets) numbers one and two illustate a Mormon tale in which the gulls devour the insects, saving valuable crops. Radially symmetric, their simple forms and restrained white on blue-gray color link Twitchell to folk-art. In contrast, the garish, wallpaper-like Learning From Las Vegas (from the Suburban Quilt Blocks series) is reminiscent of Andy Warhol. The title is taken from a 1972 book by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, a publication which advocated the incorporation of pop influences into serious architecture.

Twitchell's work plays into any number of contemporary artworld trends, among them architectural fantasy, a desire for overall complexity of form, and a playful and perhaps ambivalent attitude towards both popular culture and the heritage of modern art. The artist stands out amongst his peers for the narrative imagination and formal rigor he applies towards these goals.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

kumi korf artist's statement

One day, years ago, I was waiting for a workshop to begin in a large lobby of a university in another city. A portion of the interior space was being renovated. A crew of painters were giving a prime coat of white on the fresh, grey sheetrock surface. They were using paint rollers. One stroke by a roller covered a large area effectively. The unpainted grey area produced bold shapes that were made only by chance or, if intended, because of utilitarian needs. I was intrigued by what I saw, and couldn't wait to try something similar in my own studio. I stretched a large canvas onto the wall of my studio, primed it first and painted with acrylic wall paint. Later I discovered that painting dilute paint on unprimed canvas was almost like painting watercolor on paper. The paint roller can be moved swiftly in all directions. Manipulation of the roller could create lines or areas, or entirely free forms. I added a long stick to the roller handle, as commercial painters do. This way, painting canvas became a very physical activity.

You see two examples at the Main Street Gallery. On a Cold Day is from the late 1980's. An Amphora and a Fish is from 2006. There is an artist's book that I created earlier with the same title, An Amphora and a Fish. The text is an allegorical story about art and life. Unexpected small events, mistakes, or accidents take you to another horizon or world. It is a simple story, prompted by Zak Korf's dream, totally unconnected to this story, but I received energy and inspiration from it. The text is as follows:
Once upon a time there was a maiden who did mindless but miraculous things. People called her the "mindless maiden," or "MM." She did not like to be called that, but on the other hand she felt that she had a license to be so. One sunny day she was cleaning up her mistress's closet. Her mistress was a pack rat of a sort. There were all kinds of treasures there. MM thought she could bring some fresh air to the closet, and maybe even straighten out a few things. Sure enough, she found an amphora vase lying on the floor among other curious collections. She thought she could take it out and put it on a stand where an amphora should be placed. She made her way to a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at her mistress's villa, clutching the amphora under her arm. The mindless maiden, as her name suggested, tripped on the edge of a step, and during an effort to regain her balance she lost her grip on the amphora. Amazingly it did not break, but as if it had its own mind it slid down the steps, turning around at landings, and disappeared from MM's view. She drew a huge breath and let out a sigh, "Well, once again I did something miraculous." The amphora was free, finally out of the dark closet into the sunshine, and into the sea. It was not her plan, but it had happened. As she was sinking into the blueness of the Mediterranean blue, she met a big yellow fish. "Hey, you," the yellow fish greeted. "Hi, who are you?" "I am a yellow fish with silver scales, but what are you?" "I know that I am not a fish. I know only one thing for sure, I am sinking deeper into the sea. I'm afraid at some point I'll reach the bottom of the sea." The yellow fish with silver scales said "Why don't you swim like me?" "I wish I could" said the amphora. "Let me help you." The yellow fish with silver scales came closer to the amphora, placing his scaled body next to her belly. He swam faster so that he could lift the amphora onto his back.She yelped "Yeehoo! It's a speed racer ride!" The amphora felt the thrill of swimming faster and faster. "This is miraculous, all right," she said to herself. As if those were magic words, the amphora turned into a big orange fish. The yellow fish with silver scales flapped the orange fish's side with his big tail fin, and said "Swim like me, come along." Soon they disappeared into even deeper blueness of the Mediterranean blue. No one knows what happened to the fishes. We can hope that they found happiness together in the normal way of fishes in the blueness of the Mediterranean blue.
An Amphora and a Fish is a fifth collaboration of large paintings with Maïa Vidal.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

main street gallery is almost all right

An Amphora and A Fish
(detail), 2006, acrylic on canvas, 6'X18'

For the two years or so that I've been finding familiarity with Kumi Korf's art, I've felt mostly ambivalent about it. She has been best known recently for her prints. To be sure, these pieces are immaculately elegant and tasteful. But they've also struck me as too thin to command full attention, too decorous. So when I heard that she was showing paintings and drawings at Groton's Main Street Gallery, I was intrigued.

The work in her current solo show lives up to my expectations, displaying a more physically immediate quality. They show her to be a talented pure abstractionist (probably one of the best in the area). Paradoxically, much of it also betrays a profoundly narrative sensibility.

This dual quality is perhaps most striking in An Amphora and a Fish, one of two huge acrylic canvases that fill the gallery's large front space. (Unusually, these are presented unframed and unstretched, pinned directly to the wall.) Done in collaboration with her granddaughter Maïa Vidal, the piece is inspired by a fairy tale written by Korf herself. A maiden discovers an amphora (a kind of vase with two handles) while cleaning out a closet, but unfortunately she drops it and it ends up sinking into the ocean. There it is rescued from falling to the bottom by a "yellow fish with silver scales" which gives it a ride. Eventually, the amphora is magically transformed into a fish itself, an orange one. (You can read the full text in the gallery.)

You can make out a vase-like form near the middle of the painting and a fish (though miscolored blue and green) near the right edge. And an abundant turquoise alludes to the story's "blueness of the Mediterranean blue." But the narrative quality I mentioned isn't dependent on any relationship to an existing story (none of her work here is illustration). Rather, it has more to do with the piece's ability to evoke real-life places and events, which is an impressive feat using only traces of obvious representation. This quality is typical of Korf's best work here.

Amphora is six feet tall and 18 feet wide, large enough to engulf the viewer. Spots of raw off-white canvas peak out from splashes of thin, watercolor like washes of color—dull yellow, various greens, salmon pink, and the aforementioned turquoise—staining into the unprimed canvas. Other areas are thicker with pigment. The extensive use of feathery linework gives it the unlikely feel of a work on paper. Much of this is done in black charcoal and what looks like colored chalk. Some of these marks outline bulbous shapes while others suggest shading exercises or automatic drawing.

A Clear Day, the other large canvas (8x16 feet), is from the late 80s. The piece is similar in technique but rougher in style, less obviously pretty but with its own appeal. It betrays the fact that it was painted with a roller (as was Amphora, although much less obviously). The composition is emptier, with bars and blocks of sometimes heavily saturated color against the watery background. The paint drips down to the bottom but the other three edges are left uncoated, giving the piece an unfinished look. It recalls technically similar stained canvases by Helen Frankenthaler, as well as some of Mark Rothko's early abstractions.

The gallery's smaller back space is dedicated to two series of small drawings on paper. A set of 10 small, squarish pastels alternate between pieces with more or less definite landscape associations and those that are more abstract. My favorite from the former group is the aptly titled Fire Sky (D-71), in which an explosion of purple and orange streaks rises above a low horizon capping a body of water. The latter group can be split between striped compositions and those featuring more irregular patches of color.

Done on Japanese paper, the pieces in Korf's second series are taller (and therefore proportionally narrower), giving them the feel of elongated book pages. They are drawn (painted is perhaps more accurate) with pigment sticks, which gives them a thicker, greasier texture, something the artist exploits with rich layering. Earth tones and iridescent colors dominate. Like Amphora versus Day, these can come across - rather deceptively - as being more realized, more "artistic." They recall the textural and coloristic wallop of Bonnard and the off-kilter perspectives of Kandinsky's early landscapes as well as traditional Chinese and Japanese ink paintings.

While hardly weak, Window, Aquarium suffers from being too different from the other work in the show (the similarly colored, rectilinear Blue View (D-45) is an exception). Given its size and proportions (taller than it is wide), it suggests an actual window. Its colors are predominantly warm blues. The grid based abstraction is loosely reminiscent of Mondrian, as well as Richard Diebenkorn's somewhat looser Ocean Park paintings.

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