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Friday, November 7, 2014

The Gorky Connection:My great uncle Marvin and Arshile Gorky in Boston

In the mid-Nineties Armenian art historian Levon Chooksazian was asked by a German publishing house to write short biographies of Armenian artists of the 20th century for inclusion in a world lexicon of artists. Because I am an artist of Armenian descent, he contacted me to learn about my history and those of other Armenian/American artists whom I knew. One artist that he had already heard about was my great uncle Marvin Julian.  Since he was someone, whose story was part of family lore, I was able to fill in lots of details about his life. Levon always enjoyed coming to Boston from Armenia to lecture, and, moreover, as a lover of the Armenian language, to hear the dialect of Western Armenian still spoken by the nonagenarians, who came from Western Anatolia around the beginning of the last century. With the passing of that generation and the extirpation of their ancestors in the towns of central Turkey such as Harput, this dialect is now disappearing. Such is the lot of the Armenians. Their moments of political coherence are short lived. Levon always goes about his work with a sense of urgency to document the actors and players in Armenian culture, while there is still an Armenia in which Armenian culture can thrive.

If it were not for the persecution of Armenians in Turkey, Marvin Julian, born Chooljian,(alternate spellings from his early years in America are Chooljean and Chovilijean) would not have come to this country. The Ottoman overlord's pogroms on the Armenian minority, periodically, reminded them of their inferior social position and  confiscated their money in a rude sort of taxation. My grandmother, Marvin’s sister, said that during these assaults the young boys were rolled up in oriental rugs to hide them from the soldiers.  When the dust settled on one of these sporadic attacks, my grandmother, just a little girl, wandering the streets with her mother inquired  why there were so many people sleeping in the street.

It is out of and from this turmoil that Marvin and his extended family came to Boston. I have always marveled to what degree, originating from the rural interior of Anatolia, he was able to sort out the cultural reality of New England in short order, so as to eventually establish himself as an artist of no mean repute in the city of Boston.    
Photo taken in Turkey with Marvin seated at the lower left

Piecing together his early years leaves much that is out of focus. He enlisted in the American Army before World War 1, but never went to war, remaining at Fort Devens outside of Boston. He survived the notorious influenza epidemic in 1918, that killed more American soldiers than died on the Front. My father remembers being so proud to see him in uniform in Boston, when the American Army replaced the police, who went on strike in 1919. It was probably prior to his service in the Army that he met John Singer Sargent, who worked on the Boston Public Library murals up until 1919. He would run errands for him such as buying a newspaper and would receive art instruction in exchange. The story was already part of his resume in the 1930’s article on him in a Boston newspaper. By the early Twenties he moved to Paris to study at the Academie Julian, a haven for American artists, which functioned as an avant-garde alternative to the L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It trained not only the French Modernist Matisse but Americans of note such as Sargent, Henri and Prendergast. He made money as a gravedigger in the American military cemeteries of the Great War, and frequented Sunday salons organized by wealthy Boston matrons living  in Paris. His father who worked like many Armenians in the Hood Rubber Plant in Watertown, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, helped him out financially, until some monetary setbacks made it impossible to continue his support.Marvin was forced to return to Boston. The story goes that in despair he threw all his art materials into the Seine.
                    
His life in Paris was brought into focus several years ago, when I went on a tour with my wife on the Left Bank of Paris to locate the school, where she had studied before going to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. When we found the school and entered the courtyard I noticed inscribed above a door: "Academie Julian". Was this once the location of this famous school that my great uncle took his name from?  The school was on break, so that our presence in the school was noticed by  the school’s director. We addressed our questions to him and learned that indeed this had been the location of the famous Academy, before it became in the 1950's the preparatory school for the Beaux-Arts that my wife attended. When I told him of my uncle, he said that there would be a record of his attendance and that in fact the vice-director of the school was writing a book about the history of the Academy. The vice-director was in his office and spent sometime with us looking up Marvin’s name. Indeed, his name was on the list of students and moreover, he had won an award for his painting.


Back in Boston with Academy Julian credentials under his belt, he became over a period of time a teacher in several art schools.We are in possession of a catalogue from The Exeter School of Art that lists him as an instructor. Several anecdotes that he related to me of his early years in Boston concerned his relationship with Arshile Gorky, who lived in Watertown with his sister for several years on Dexter Ave, where Marvin’s parents lived. Marvin, who was born in 1894, was ten years older than Arshile. Marvin said that Gorky studied art under him at The New School of Design and Illustration, which the Gorky Foundation lists as the school he attended and eventually taught at. In a discussion with the director of the Gorky Foundation I was told that they are going to research more thoroughly his life in Boston and hopefully turn up class lists that would confirm his relation to Marvin. Marvin described Gorky as a larger than life character, who would dazzle his fellow classmates with his ability to draw perfect circles free hand. At that time, Arshile painted in a tonal style similar to what was popular in Boston and a style that Marvin never strayed from. Gorky moved on  to New York and began his transformation into a Modernist, absorbing Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and Miro. My uncle attended Gorky’s first opening in New York City. He recalls being snubbed by Gorky at the opening, who Marvin wrongly thought was embarrassed to show his old teacher what must have appeared to Marvin, the student of Sargent, as crudely wrought images. I have always contended that Gorky was embarrassed by his former teacher, who appeared to him as a representative of the old guard. In the end neither interpretation is accurate. The answer to this interaction between Marvin and Gorky, only became clear to me upon seeing Cosima Spender’s documentary on her grandfather: ”Without Gorky”. It depicts in the words of his wife, still alive, and his two daughters, the oppressive shadow that this inspired genius cast on their lives. It was not at all flattering of the great Armenian Painter. One aspect of Gorky’s life was spelled out emphatically in the film: he was very intent on maintaining the myth of  being the son of Maxim Gorky. So much so, that his wife only learned of his Armenian heritage toward the end of their life together from a grocer in Sherman Ct.. Obviously, Marvin knew Gorky was Armenian and his presence at the opening, risked blowing Gorky’s carefully constructed cover as the son of Maxim Gorky. Hence the snub.

Possibly Marvin to  Gorky's left
from Herrera's book
(referred to as Felix Choolijian
in Mooradians' book)

Family photo  of Marvin from 1925
(notice similar suit to what is
worn by Felix Chookjian)




Gorky's resume  at the Grand Central Art School that I read on the Gorky Foundation website says that he studied at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Lauren. The Gorky Foundation admits that this is totally fabricated by Gorky to plump up his resume and in my opinion is taken from his teacher Marvin at the New School of Design and Illustration. According to Gerard Vallin, who is writing a history of the school,  Lauren was a teacher at the Academy Julian when Marvin was there.

There is a good deal of circumstantial evidence to support the relationship of Gorky and Julian. The most intriguing is a photo that is an iconic part of the Gorky memorabilia, which appears in several biographies of Gorky. It portrays the young Gorky in 1925 at The New School of Design and Illustration in Boston, looking princely with a fur coat seated next to two women (one identified as an instructor Ethel Cooke) on his right and an artist to his left  named  Felix Chooligian in one biography(Mooradian) and Felix Chookjian in another(Herrera).  A recent search by my sister on Ancestry.com has uncovered a passport request from Marvin Chooljian to study in France with a letter of support from the New School of Illustration and Design's director Douglas Connah, which describes him as a student of said school. The date is 1920. He came back from Paris in 1922 and presumably started teaching there, where, as Marvin claimed, he had Gorky as a student. There is also a photo of Marvin from 1925 that was in the possession of Marvin’s sister (my grandmother) wearing what appears to be the same suit worn by Felix in the photo of Gorky. I have shown numerous people the two photos side by side and no one has doubted that Felix is Marvin. The difference in spelling of the last name does in no way discount my theory that the Gorky photo is of Marvin as Armenian names were transcribed phonetically and were subject to various spellings. The only fly in the ointment is that the first name Felix is not one I have ever heard attributed to Marvin and also in the Mooradian biography he is referred to as a Vanetzi, i.e. born in the province of Van, Gorky’s birthplace, whereas my great uncle was Harpetzi. The director of the Gorky Foundation Melissa Kerr said that Karlen Mooradian, Gorky’s nephew, who labeled the photo, tended in his writings to mythologize about Gorky’s Armenian roots and would have found it supportive of the myth  to have Felix be a fellow Vanetzi. All that is left for me to confirm the connection to Gorky would be to find evidence of Marvin's  role as a teacher at the New School.                          


Alexander Woollcott



In the thirties he taught magazine illustration at the Exeter School of Art in Boston’s Back Bay. Among several examples of magazine covers he did for Microphone, a journal of radio topics, there is  well- known critic Alexander Woollcott.

"Art Week in Boston" in a Boston Newspaper 

Marvin was already in his sixties, when I was old enough to remember his presence at family get-togethers. He lived a bohemian life in a sparsely decorated studio at 110 Newbury St in Boston’s Back Bay with his mother. He was seemingly able to subsist on a diet of coffee and cigarettes. He often said that if he were ever to be burglarized, the robbers shocked at his poverty, might be compelled to leave something for him. I recall that he had no refrigerator and kept the milk for his coffee out on the balcony in Winter. On occasion our family would visit him and his mother on a Sunday bringing with us a meal of chicken and pilaf. I recall his window shades were attached to the bottom of his windows and lifted up from there to keep the north light always lighting from above. Over the years, I learned bits and pieces of about his life in Boston and Paris, but there is much he kept to himself. I asked him once about the “Bal des QuatZ-Arts” in Paris that was a notorious Saturnalia, where participants typically dressed up or rather undressed as classical Greek sculptures. He admitted attending but was unwilling to talk about the details and said: ”Mum’s the word.” He displayed the same diffidence in the Boston newspaper article(above) about the details of his relation to Sargent.
Portrait of Father with Ashcan school influence

Stylistically his best portraits showed the influence of the Ashcan school, especially when he was free from having to flatter the subject, as in his portraits of his parents. On Askart, a site that lists artist's auction history, he is noted for “floral still lives”. Indeed, our immediate family is in possession of many of them. To my eye it is in these works that the aesthetic of Marvin shines. Each bloom is delicately and never generically observed. There is a feeling of tenderness for each bloom, which must be cherished and not harmed.  Although his work may be lacking in any dialogue with the dozens of “isms” that ruled the 20thc and remained within the language of chiaroscuro, which he learned from his idol Sargent, there is always a sensitivity to presence. It just sings out the fragility and nuance of the moment, the exact instant of apperception.

                                           
Flowers by Marvin for which he is known on "Askart"

    

My father told me, which was typical of his pessimistic reminders of the fickle nature of the economy , that the Exeter School of Art closed down during the Depression. The next evidence of Marvin’s presence in Boston comes in the late 30’s, when he was commissioned through the Federal Arts Project to do a portrait of an admiral for the Naval War College. From then on, he became well known as a portraitist in the Boston artistic community. There is an article about a portrait that he did the early Sixties of the wife of then Governor of Massachusetts, Foster Furcolo.Within the family he was, as it were, the court painter, doing pastels of his nieces and nephews.

Marvin in front of commission of Massachusetts Governor's wife Kate Furcolo

                       

He spent his later years alone in his apartment on Newbury St. His second home was the Boston Public Library, where he read copiously in classical literature. I once noticed him reading Rousseau’s “Confessions”. He must have been somewhat bewildered by the evolution of the art scene in Boston, which in the Fifties was very much defined by the Boston Expressionists. They complained that the explosion of Abstract Art in New York, which they felt was too French and immoral, had sidelined them. I can imagine that Marvin and his devotion to the art of the 19thc felt even more sidelined. Interestingly enough, my teaching career in Boston began two years after his death in 1988 at an art college just up the street from where he taught, as though in some strange notion of karma I had to fill in for his absence from the Boston art world. I had moved to France as he did and  spent a commensurate amount of time there. When I came back in the late 70's and showed the work I had done there at the Bromfield Gallery he came to the opening and quietly advised gallery goers what to purchase. The notion of presence has shaped Western Art and Philosophy since the time of the Greeks, and for several centuries from the Renaissance on this notion of beauty, grounded in the disinterested gaze, reined supreme. It clearly was the underlying principle of all of Marvin’s thinking about painting.

Recently, I came across an inquiry about Marvin on “Askart” by someone one who knew him in the late 70’, early 80’s. Marvin would have been in his mid 80’s at the time. I replied to the email, which was already sitting on the site four years and got this reply, which sums up better than I could the last years of an independent artist who always followed his muse.

       








Mother Sarah who lived with him the later years .
Painting recalled by Tomas Jonsson












Hello,
I received, with pleasure, your email regarding Marvin Julian. How did you come by my name? I am surprised, since it was so many years ago that I had met Mr. Julian (as we all referred to him). I was his neighbor in an apartment on Newbury Street, back in the late 1970's/early 1980's. I used to take care of him; visit with him, fetch groceries sometimes, make sure he was okay in the cold. At the time I believed he was one step away from being homeless, and it broke my heart. As you say, he was extremely private and would not talk about much, except his painting. I can still picture his apartment, and smell it…..it had the strong smell of paint and linseed oil. It was like stepping in to another world, another era. His apartment was always cold in the winter, too cold for an old man with failing eyesight. He often wore a sort of blanket/shawl over his shoulders. *I made him hot drinks, kept him company.
One day he said he would paint me, and I was thrilled and bewildered. I didn't know what to expect. But I knew it was important to him, as his sight failed, and he needed to paint. And, I think, it was his way of saying 'thank you' to me, although he didn't need to, as far as I was concerned. To me he was a great man, mysterious, mercurial, but clearly brilliant. In his almost empty apartment (he insisted, one day, that I should take the area rug, something someone must have given him)  he had two amazing portraits on the otherwise empty and dirty walls. One, which I was awestruck by, was his mother; dark and serious and very formal (I'm sure you know it). So, I sat for him, and very quickly he had a painting which I think captured me so well. I look at it now and find it funny and glorious, as who would not! I'm a young man sitting there, trying to look formal and serious myself, long 1970ish hair, wearing a formal tie and sport coat. I thought I should look the part for Mr. Julian.
I moved house after two years there, and lost touch with Mr. Julian. Although I think he enjoyed my company, he was closed tight, didn't really know how to relate very well, and seemed, so sadly, to be alone and lost in the world and, frankly, waiting out his remaining time. I have always remembered him, always think kindly of him, always will.
Mr. Julian told me that the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. has some of his paintings, do you know if that is the case? I would so love to see more of his work. John Singer Sergeant(sic) has always been my favorite painter, and I see the strong influence in Mr. Julian's work. I've always felt he should be celebrated more for his incredible work, do you know where his paintings are located, museums etc.?
Thank you so much for your email, and I wish you well,
Tomas C. Jonsson

*When I shared this  letter with a cousin whose mother was very close to Marvin, they were somewhat taken aback by the grim image of Marvin's last days portrayed by Mr Jonsson. They periodically visited him  to clean his apartment and replace items which were old and frayed with newer ones. My aunt suggested that the rug he gave to Mr Jonsson was one that she had given him.  Marvin enjoyed the concern of an extended family,who were equally enthralled by this most enigmatic of artists,but proudly portrayed himself as an independent artist to Mr. Jonsson.





















Monday, October 27, 2014

"Double Rhythm" Writings about Painting.Jean Helion.Collected with and Introduction by Deborah Rosenthal

I recall a conversation I had with Bill Bailey sometime in the Nineties, when I was making a transition from Figuration into Abstraction, in which I expressed the notion that maybe Abstraction one day would evolve into a trans-historical movement similar to Chinese landscape painting where Ming artists were still in dialogue with Sung artists. There would be an assumption of a metaphysical basis that was so rich and deep that one could forever draw upon it for inspiration. At the time I was playing with figure/ground tension, as I perceived it in the work of Al Held. It resulted in visual events where the eye is drawn into a visual play that keeps the painting alive. I can imagine abstract artists of the future being drawn to Held’s work for the same lesson it provided me about painting and moreover in the “Big N” the shared space of the visual with the written word. This dialogue would be akin to the hermeneutic circle espoused by Gadamer, where the present is always in dialogue with the past. The artist could be projected into a new space but only after orbiting an earlier conception of reality. Sort of like a satellite achieving escape velocity from an orbit around the earth.
 
"Equilibrium"  Helion
I recently received a copy of “Double Rhythm” (subtitled: “Writings About Painting, Jean Helion”), collected and with an introduction by Deborah Rosenthal. I had written about his influence on American figurative artists in another blog post, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read his essays on art and in particular learn more about his life as an abstract painter. Helion started  his  career in the Twenties as an abstract painter in France, moved to the United States in the Thirties where he exhibited his work and wrote extensively on art. He returned to France at the outset of WW11 and embraced figuration after the war. The quality of the figuration was such that it had an enormous impact on a generation of American painters in particular Leland Bell, who in turn as an educator became an important force in the figurative revival of the late Sixties and Seventies. The essays range from an interesting analysis of how Abstraction evolved from Impressionism to an extended description of his life as a prisoner of war in Germany and his spectacular escape. There is no doubt from Deborah Rosenthal’s introduction (also published separately in the “Yale Review” this October) that Helion was a major player in the movement of abstraction and instrumental in introducing European abstraction to an American audience. I was intrigued by the level of self-awareness he expresses with the questions he raises about notions of lineage.  What is the essence of Abstraction? Is it found in the relation of reduction to complexity and growth?  Are they mutually exclusive or can reduction lead to complexity? The questions all appeared to me to be crucial to any self-awareness of an artist painting abstractly .

This notion of the hermeneutical way of thinking that I referred to in the first paragraph is evident throughout Helion’s writings. One intriguing essay tries to untangle the origins of Abstraction’s roots in Seurat and Cezanne. Who was more important in influencing Abstraction? Helion comes down on the side of Seurat. Cezanne, he feels, is still attached to the real space of objects and is more Janus-like looking backward as well as forward. Seurat’s work lends itself to further reduction, which is crucial to abstraction. Whether you agree with his analysis or not, it, again, seems important that this sort of question be asked by any artist embarking on the path of abstraction.
"Pegeen"(Guggenheim)  Helion


After the war his work turned decidedly toward figuration. As he describes in “They Shall Not Have Me” about his imprisonment and escape from a forced labor camp, his fantasies always turned to the untrammeled life of the city. Upon his return, it became his subject matter. He also wanted to achieve what he called “the maximum” in painting, a word he was fond of and something he found in Poussin. It is strange this haunting of the real that pursues abstract painters like the hound of heaven. Stella who started out his career embracing Abstraction and reducing it further to minimalism made an about face in his Norton lecture “Working Space” after sensing the power of Caravaggio’s work in which I assume he found the same sort of maximal qualities that Helion found in Poussin. Caravaggio had it all, abstraction, dynamic relation of parts to a whole. But most importantly a sense of the real, the feel of things as they present themselves to us moment to moment in deep space. Helion seems to say that the road to reduction can only go so far. Is this what Helion felt was being done to him as a POW ? Reduced to an animal, or a mechanical cog defined to fulfill narrowly designed tasks? It were as though music could aspire to no more than the reality of a hearing test in a soundproof box.  I have written elsewhere of what I call the Humpty Dumpty effect of Modernism. It breaks things down but never lets us put them back together again. That there is a tragedy in all of this reduction is not often seen.
"Conquest of Jerusalem" Poussin


His imprisonment I think had a two faceted effect on his art after the war. Imprisonment was both cold and abstract, yet human and real. Although reduced to a unit of production by the prison system, Helion’s day–to-day life as a prisoner was managed by human beings. If the system that enclosed him was “not to have him”, he had to be conscious at every moment of how to manipulate the actors of the prison system by an appeal to their humanness so as to avoid the most painful jobs that could kill him or to coerce out of them the pleasures we take for granted in the real world, such as coffee and cigarettes. Every gesture every word had to be judged as to whether it aided or impeded survival. When he escapes and finds at one point that his ruse was working to deceive the omnipresent police, he breathes a sigh of relief and says: ”Good”. This expression of relief sounded so true and real to me as to render everything we might think of as good about our lives, inconsequential.
 
Stella
The title of the collection of essays “Double Rhythm” refers to the dynamic that should exist in a “maximum” painting between the parts and the whole. Poussin is quoted by Helion as having said : ”I have ignored nothing.”  I mentioned above how this notion of complexity haunted Stella. This notion of parts and whole clearly was an obsession of the late Held.  The early work of both with limited numbers of color looked to achieve one visual punch. Held’s midcareer work imposed pure geometric order, an overall structure, which resembles a schematic drawing of the linear structure hidden in a Poussin or a Piero. The work at the end of his career tried to bring the two together, using color for visual impact in the parts but engaging geometry to tie it all into a whole. I recall listening to Guston in the 70’s talk about the importance of Piero to his work. It was the admiration for someone who could do it all: Piero had Christian metaphysics and a language of geometry to imbed that metaphysic into the painting.
Held


This interest in the “maximum” sought by these artists is attempted without what I would believe to be the necessary foundation in an overarching world view. To see our individual existence in that context has not been possible, since Ficino and Pico de la Mirandola attempted the NeoPlatonic /Christian synthesis of the Renaissance that inspired Botticelli and Piero de la Francesco . But that does not stop someone like Helion from attempting to make paintings which he, to use his own words, will  be ”loud with meaning”.

I can be followed on twitter  @mugar49



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Jed Perl's review of the Koons Retrospective in "The New York Review of Books"

Jed Perl continues his quixotic tilting at wind mills in his latest review of the Koons phenomenon.That something must be said to deflate this conflation of art and global finance goes without saying.There is a slightly queasy sensation when we behold  the commercial event surrounding the work but also the work itself, an emotion that the early critics felt spoke to Koons being an artist that they had yet to come to terms with.The notion of the avant-garde that keeps pulling the rug out from under the complacent Bourgeoisie is the paradigm they use to justify his historical significance.Weren't the French academicians appalled by Cezanne and Van Gogh; the New York press by the Armory show?

Anxious to be on the right side of history the apologists go to no end to convince us that Koons is the latest turn in the on-going dialectic toward perfect self-consciousness, bringing us closer to our inner essence, which they stupidly imagine to be a love of kitsch. If you look at the work dialectically it does not in any way serve as a heightening of self-consciousness that counters any synthesis as did the work of Cezanne, for example, but rather represents a collapse of any tension between the individual and society. In my review of a show at the MFA in Boston, that placed the work of the Impressionists side by side with the work of the Academy, I demonstrated that  artists like Monet were more in touch with the scientific tradition of optics that had informed the work of someone like Chardin, than the academicians who painted in a fatigued version of chiaroscuro and were unable to take the next step toward color perception in painting. If you assume that the essence of the Impressionists and for that matter Matisse was to paint crudely and assume that any time you witness that crudeness in art it is a sure sign that the artist is the next Matisse, you are putting the cart before the horse and in fact create a perverse paradigm that only bad taste can assure that an artist's work is of enduring value. Monet was studying color theory, bringing painting back to the perceptual roots of the Renaissance and the Baroque and Van Gogh was searching in the tradition of the Christian saints for a way to overcome not just the spiritual smugness of his time but to make his life more meaningful. They were both reactionaries,i.e. backward looking, in their attempts to move painting forward. They were more self-conscious than their contemporaries and more aware of the the traditions that shaped European painting.

Look at Cabanel and Bouguereau if you want to see  precedents of Koons. They too leave you with a queasy feeling in your stomach. Unctuous, syrupy, cloying. In some sort of intellectual legerdemain, the contemporary critics imagine Koons to be cutting edge but as Perl says there is no way he can be put in the same category as the ascetic Duchamp, whose leap out of the visual still remains hard to process today. He is rather the protege of Warhol who saw the individual as merged into the commercial.That abandonment of the self into the commercial is the goal of all the rich businesspeople who buy Koons' work. They make their billions by seeing the masses as Play-Doh, just material to exploit. If we are as emotionally devoid of seriousness as Koons proclaims, we are ripe to enter a strange sort of paradise of the end times where we surround ourselves with kitschy possessions and kitschy emotions and dissolve our lives into some sort of colorful puddle. Are we at the end of history where Hegel's Absolute is the media and the tension between the heft of the individual and the media is erased.

.Just as the academicians were a symptom of the decadent Bourgeoisie of the 19thc, whose pseudo- classical vision of mankind had no relation to the facticity of the lives of real people so Koons is the wet dream of the class of global kleptocrats who envision the masses  acquiescing absolutely to their drive to sell us more and more things. I agree with Perl that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and quote Shakespeare's  quintessential paragon of self-consciousness:Hamlet:

"Oh God I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space-were it not that I  have bad dreams."

(In my article on the topos of modern culture I place Koons in the context of Western Nihilism)

I can be followed on twitter @mugar49




Friday, September 5, 2014

Response to 'theory and matter' in AIA

http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/theory-and-matter/
(with a much appreciated acknowledgement of my role in coining zombie formalism in paragraph 19)


I finally got around to reading the article by Rubinstein. I thought problematic his idea that American artists should take the lead of the French and apply more theory to their work. It could be helpful but there is something anti-American about it. I recall Bataille's observation of swaggering American soldiers in Paris after the war who seemed to embody the immanence of the ideal in the real.http://martinmugar.blogspot.com/2012/02/impossiblity-of-transcendence-in.htm.We don't separate the ideal from the real, so that we can achieve the ideal only through action.

lt has been said that to understand the Deconstructionist mindset you have to understand the context within which it was created.i.e. French culture, which is Cartesian, hierarchical and oriented around the power of the State from Louis XIV to Hollande. It is hard to just break away and live the nomadic lifestyle that Deleuze and Guattari set off against the hierarchical; you are only allowed to intellectually deconstruct it. I remember the shock of leaving the squalor of New York of the Seventies for Paris, where I lived or should I say scrounged for three years, which, although it suffered from the same economic malaise never let it show.The streets were clean, the parks beautifully maintained.The State made sure that the raw energy of economics, as it waned or waxed, did not spoil the transcendent beauty of their city. Maybe we spontaneously deconstruct on a constant basis; there is something nomadic at the heart of the American experience, whereas the French turn nomadism into an intellectual game until everything blows up as in '68 or the French Revolution.

For the poet and dreamer Paris is seductive with its overlay of history and hedonism. I remember the poet Ralph from Nebraska whom I met at the Chez Michel in Montmartre, whose owner, a retired actor wore a Stetson hat. Ralph conjured up ghosts of Paris past wherever he wandered. It were as though he needed a lifetime to recover from the pragmatic plains of the Midwest. Was it any different for Henry Miller who left the raw utilitarian life of Brooklyn or Thomas Merton who yearned for a sweetness that he seemed to recall from his youth in France? He thought it embodied in the well-behaved school children dressed in uniforms. So different from the French youth of the banlieues of today saturated in American hip-hop culture.




Sunday, July 6, 2014

Addison Parks at Prince St.New York, NY Tuesday, July 8 to Saturday, July 26, 2014

Addison used this email post unedited for his show with Joyce Crieger in Boston in 2000. 14 years ago! It is still valid in  regards to his work at The Prince St Gallery in New York, except that the organic forms are placed on abstract shapes.It was the other way around back then.Issues of time and event are still apropos. I wonder if my use of the word provisional in the sixth line can contribute to the ongoing discussion of provisional painting.

Green Thumb 2014


What intrigues me about your work is the evocation of the passage of time. Every painting seems to be a resolution of sorts of some conflict or tension that predates the painting and creates the stage for it. It comes together in the moment. Like a winning shot in a basketball game. It has this provisional quality to it e.g. you have tied the series but still have to win it. But that moment of the shot, a three pointer, is what the painting is about. And for the time being there is a sense of relief(resolution). Hidden underneath is what leads up to that moment. What is between the lines is the past and the thick rich gesture of the lines is that shot that won the game. 

The white on white(blue on blue) the loss of the disparity between ground and line in the newer work seems to point to the importance of every moment. The final shot won the game but everything in the past was of importance. It about "being there". Presence always. And the will behind it. It seems to be influenced by minimalism but without the arrogance, the absolute certainty of say Ellsworth Kelly(also there is a timelessness in Kelly). In your work there is coming and going, coming into being and passing away of each moment. 

Your painting is not "about" anything. Which I think you are happy to hear. It is not descriptive. Nor are you trying to express your emotions. What does that leave? The structure of lines and spaces in between sets the stage for a conscious/unconscious dichotomy. 

Sort of like what is on the surface of the water that comes from above(conscious) and the hints of the hidden from below(unconscious). I think your work is about attention. Attending to what rises to the surface at any given moment. Maybe the lines represent your conscious attempt to "be there" and the spaces are what is inevitability left out. Or cannot be comprehended. The play between what appears and what disappears or retreats whenever you try to pin it down. It is still the "time" thing because there is a recall of marks, gestures from the past which are changed in the present . 

And new shapes that grow out of the past. Also each painting happens at a certain point in time and therefore cannot be the same as what came before and what comes after. In sum, it is not spectatorial, like you are looking at anything that becomes an object for your subject, nor is it about self expression. Like you were screaming about something. It is very silent. It is about moments in the flux of time where you attend to a play between seen and unseen. Maybe that is where the game metaphor from the last message comes in. 

It strikes me that in my discussion about your work up until now I had left out the issue of color. I focused on the structure and gesture and what it meant, but color ... 

When I first saw your work I was touched by the color mood, the overall affect of each painting. It was something you could swim in. It was totalizing but not dictatorial as though the different colors enjoyed being together, they liked rubbing shoulders with each other. Some sort of crazy cocktail party. You walk in and say wow this is quite a party and after it’s over you are ready for the next. You've invited lots of guests. Which can translate into influences and how you let them play out in your work. 

Hence the issue of time: these influences unfold in time and so do you and each time you dip into the stream it is different. You can find new guests showing up.  It's not a socialites ball with only pedigree guests. None of this hitting the viewer over the head over a lifetime with the same image of me me me . 

I remember being bugged by this zen monastery I went to because it seemed over orchestrated. One exquisite zen moment after the next. Too perfect. Your work has chaotic moments, messy, just for a moment. Then whoosh...the basket goes in.
(October 3 - 28, 2000; Creiger-Dane Gallery, Boston)

MARTIN MUGAR , August 2000