Friday, November 21, 2014

Contemporary Art (pt. 5)

Photorealism is similar to Hard-Edge Painting.  In these artworks, the image looks so real that the viewer may very well mistake it for a photograph (hence the name "Photo-realism").  Of the Photorealist painters of the last few decades, Audrey Flack is among the most prolific.  She is known for her photographic-looking still life paintings, and here is one of her more famous ones.  It's titled Marilyn.
This painting appears to be structured and themed similarly to the style of the old Dutch Baroque still lifes which we looked at so long ago.  We are looking at a display, created by the artist, set lavishly with an abundance of objects which all carry the common theme of futility and the transience of glamour—remember the Latin term for that, vanitas?  This is a table surface or some other bench top covered with elaborate linen fabric and decked out with all sorts of items.  There are some traditional objects which we can associate to Dutch vanitas paintings, such as the tipped glass and rotting fruit.  The burning candle and hourglass also indicate the passage of time akin to the usual symbolism of still life artwork, but the artist has also added new objects for a more modern-day context.  Photographs of Marilyn Monroe show the actress as she has aged from childhood to adulthood, and a small stopwatch on the far right reminds us that time is passing quickly.  The calendar at the very top of the painting seems to suggest that the fruit in the painting will go bad; and that the rose, representative of the actress's own beauty, will wilt away in time.  The picture of Monroe faces us, and yet the artist has included an ironic image of her in a mirror to the left, which reveals her with what looks to be curled hair (an optical trick) and a lipstick roller pressed up against her bottom lip.  It's as if even the picture of Marilyn Monroe is looking into the mirror to see a picture of herself.  This is a statement on the vanity and futility of riches and glamour, which Flack paints in vivid and bright colors and startling realism to convey its realistic existence in modern life.  The painting's vanitas theme poignantly comments on the subject, of a Hollywood icon and American sex symbol who tragically died young.  It still bears today, in as much vibrant intensity, the same relevance, considering our contemporary age of movie stars and rock stars and pop culture idols: all "chasing after the wind," as a wise man once wrote.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Contemporary Art (pt. 4)

The American artist Alfred Leslie modeled his work after Caravaggio.  His realistic artwork, very similar to Hard-Edge painting, frequently uses lighting to create stark contrasts and vividly defined images.  In his painting entitled 7A.M. News, from 1978, we notice a lone woman holding a newspaper with only photographs and no words.  She sits in a barren room in front of a table with a plate (holding an egg), a coffee cup, and a small television set.  The lighting of the room is artificial, coming from the tv.  Interestingly enough, however, the woman looks upward, as if expecting an overhead, or heavenly light to come down on her (as in Caravaggio's Conversion of St. Paul).  But the room is completely empty otherwise.  The woman is surrounded by media influences: the newspaper and the television.  Perhaps she looks up in the spirit of wanting something more than just media and news, but the artist keeps her trapped within the painting, as if to assert that there can be no escape from such an environment.  This is the attitude of the Postmodern world, maybe even more so today, in America.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Contemporary Art (pt. 3)

Like Modern Art, contemporary art is comprised of many different facets or subgenres.  (This is another quality which makes contemporary artistic movements tricky to pinpoint; if everyone painted the same thing—zombies, for instance—we might more easily call this the Zombie Era…which would be totally nuts!  …But not everyone paints the same way; in fact, our contemporary age is probably one of the most diverse periods for Western art history.)  Many of these styles are continuations of previous genres we've already looked at.  Hard-Edge painting, for example, is a phenomenon which has carried over into art of the recent decades.
In the late 1960s, Frank Stella created some of the most distinct works of Hard-Edge art, such as this painting, Lac La Ronge IV, which shows an assortment of precise shapes in various colors.
Similar to the Color Field artwork of Richard Diebenkorn, Stella's painting is merely a creation of shapes.  Its white, defining lines and intense colors create a vivid, visual rhythm and harmony outside of the realm of subject matter.  It is similar to an abstract piece, but the shapes are so distinct that our focus becomes drawn over to them.  This work is about color, form, and the exactitude of demarcation between the two.  Hard-Edge painters usually place importance on the crisp, precise edges of the shapes in their paintings.  These works contain smooth surfaces, sharp edges, pure colors, and simple geometric shapes.  Again, it is what art is most fundamentally about, and these types of artists sought to bring that out in new ways.  Later in his career, in the '90s, Frank Stella turned to sculpture and there found a medium even more conducive to expressing the stylistic approach of Hard-Edge art.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Contemporary Art (pt. 2)

Emily Carr, for example, was a Canadian artist, a late Post-Impressionist and Expressionist, who has only recently been receiving more critical attention in the art community.  Her paintings show her love for nature, such as this work, titled Red Cedar.
The warmth of color, next to the softness of the artist's brushwork, lends a pleasurable vibe to the aura of this work.  The grace of the swaying ground below brings us into a world bordering on the fantastical.  The artist has painted with reverence the thick trunk of the cedar tree, right in the middle of the canvas, and gives to it the most vibrant red hues of the painting.  It is crowned overhead by elaborate, royal greens that sweep across the top of the canvas like flowing hair, delicate and powerful simultaneously.  There exists here an almost religious sanctity of tonal approach.  Even in later artworks such as this, old ideals of the appraisal of nature, as from the Romantic Period, come back to life.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Contemporary Art (pt. 1)

It is a reality of the modern world that things move very fast, and consequently what is new already becomes old by the time people write about it.  This is especially true of art, which, as we have seen, is seldom given complete attention during the time of it production.  Art is constantly moving and changing; and so it's hard to keep up.  What I'm labeling as "Contemporary Art" here is in fact quite aged material, some of it from thirty or forty years ago.  I do not mean to sound anachronistic; this is simply how I was taught.  And, at any rate, I think you'll find that many of these dated works are still finding a level of cultural relevance today as if they were relatively new paintings (which, considering a time span of some four or five thousand years that we've looked at so far, I suppose this is pretty recent).  In a little bit, we shall examine some more contemporary pieces, and then I will feel more comfortable with the label (though, even those are now a thing of the past); for now, there are a few more key works to consider from the 1970s.
The label "contemporary art" is of course not an official designation but merely a temporary name for what hasn't been clearly defined yet.  In the same manner by which artists of, say, the Baroque Period only inherited their title in retrospect of the post-Reformation age, it is often the case that art and literature within the immediate present is largely unaware of itself.  Definitions and titles come after the fact.  Van Gogh was ahead of his time; during his artistic career, there was no one to explain to him, "Oh, that's Post-Impressionism stuff."  This is the way in which new things are frequently left unspecified until later generations.  And although several of these works we're about to examine have been given proper labels suitable to a growing genre of art, many of the later works have yet to be—for lack of a better word—defined.  For now we just call it "contemporary art" until scholars and theorists (and other artists) come along with a view of the larger picture of things and spot the movement of trends and fashions within the art world during this late-Postmodern Age.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Op Art (pt. 3)

Yaacov Agam, an Israeli-born artist, is another of the art movement's leading contributors.  His works often feature thin, fixed strips that project from the surface of a painting in vertical rows.  His art is frequently colorful and kinetic.  Our eye continually traces over the breadth of the visual area because we are met with such a vivid overabundance of colorful activity and shapes.  It looks chaotic, but it's actually extremely ordered.  The attention to design which characterizes so many of these types of artworks is still a popular element of certain branches of art today.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Op Art (pt. 2)

This is another good example of Op Art.  Bridget Riley frequently used black-and-white images such as this to produce the effect of an optical illusion in her artworks.  Here we see a unique mix of reversing patterns that narrow and shrink in circular fashion toward a round, empty center, which our eye naturally looks to.  When you're looking at the center of the work, however, do you notice the way the black lines all around it seem to be moving?  This is an optical trick easily achieved once learned but requiring exact precision in order to work.  Riley's canvases had to be mathematically structured in order to produce the proper effect.  In order for you to get the full effect, you might want to enlarge the image by clicking on it; but I wouldn't blame you for not looking at it too long.  This kind of art gives me headaches.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Op Art (pt. 1)

A nonobjective art movement began in the U.S. after 1960.  Taking Pop Art to a further extreme, artists of this style sought to create unconventional, extraordinary images based on the sciences of visual perception.  Op Art, as it was thus called, was a style that tried to create an impression of movement on the picture surface by means of optical illusion.
Bridget Riley was among the most prolific of Op Art artists.  Her canvases show dizzying images of lines and colors in certain patterns which the human eye perceives to be active.  She used gradual changes of color and wavy lines to add a sense of movement in this work, entitled Cataract 3.  The effect works best when you enlarge the image (just click on the artwork to view the bigger version).  The lines appear to be moving, don't they?  I think the trick is to look at the work dead on; your eye naturally glides over the picture, and this, in turn, generates the effect of moving lines.
It is perhaps no coincidence that art of this caliber rose to popularity in the 1960s and '70s, sometimes called "the psychedelic era."  While artwork such as this is maybe more communicable to people on drugs, the inherent themes of such a work bring out much of the popular sentiment of that time.  Riley herself is known to have taken inspiration from various Modern and Postmodern literary sources and built off of themes of warped reality, unclear morality and purpose in the world, and the perceived ability of science to degenerate humankind as well as to improve it.  We gaze into a strange kind of dystopia when we look into these works.  By fooling the brain or the eye with deceptive, illusionary images, our perception of the world and reality is brought to the table for questioning; and our personal sense of humanness is challenged as we find that we can no longer even trust our own eyes to accurately see what's painted on a canvas.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pop Art (pt. 7)

You can see Claes Oldenburg's famous Clothespin sculpture in Philadelphia.  Once again, we see an everyday object magnified to an extreme and plopped right down into a busy town center, as though it were another building.  This photograph by Tara Bradford particularly blends the clothespin in well with the surrounding skyscrapers and even makes the sculpture appear bigger than those other, impressive buildings.  This is the effect Oldenburg had in mind: to blend in these larger-than-life items almost as social experiments, to spark a public reaction as much as to comment on contemporary culture and the function of art in the community.  Much of Pop Art is made for the people.