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Monday, August 13, 2012

Jim Falck and Addison Parks,artists


Addison Parks

Art at its best reflects on its own optical origins. Even when it appears to be breaking away into new territory as in the work of the Impressionists and the Post Impressionists, it is meditating on its roots that were evident in the optics of the perspective of the Renaissance and the chiaroscuro of the early Baroque. Western art seems to fluctuate back and forth between seminal periods of rigorously based optically grounded art and art that takes that construct as dogma and perceives it as reality. My favorite concept from Marxist criticism is the notion of reification. It is used to critique concepts of social organization that are taken for reality rather than as human inventions. It can be applied to art when the world of Bourgeoisie, for example, is solidified into the Realism of the late 19thc. Although used by the Marxists to accuse people of Bourgeois bad faith and to recommend them for a curative stay in the gulag, when used to critique art it does a pretty good job of detecting when large groups of people smugly take the shape of things in the visual world as just the way things are.

A good example of reification was evident in the work I saw of many, heretofore unknown to me, Realists at the Petit Palais in Paris, who appeared to be followers of Courbet’s Social Realism. Their subjects were the poor of Paris. One huge large scale painting showed a street theatre presentation comprised mostly of young children, whose sorrowful looks conveyed obvious exploitation. In my essay on my blog on the Impressionist show at the MFA from the the mid 90’s I quoted Michael Baxandall, who felt that the work of Chardin drew its strength from the way it understood that the structuring of the visual reality had its roots in the eye/mind and its language of chiaroscuro.
This notion becomes reified in the hands of the artist of the late 19thc where the balance between seer and seen is lost. The paintings are too much about the sad-eyed urchins and not the event of seeing them. The limpidity for example of the work of Caravaggio is achieved by its hypersensitivity to how the eye organizes the visual world. Subtle distinctions between the seer and the seen (scene) are the sine qua non of great art.

In the 20thc, this balancing of that distinction is most evident in the work of the Abstract Expressionists. The evanescence of Rothko’s late work appears as an optical apparition. It partakes of the reductionist chromatic trope supported by Greenberg’s philosophy but stays rooted in the language of seeing in its use of subtly juxtaposed warms and cools. It stays in the Western Tradition of seeing that goes back to Vermeer and in fact his work seems at times to be a detail of, say a pearl, on the necklace of the woman in one of his most famous paintings, the so-called “Woman with a Pearl Earing”.

Rothko’s work has been seen as an example of Talmudic mysticism. When it comes to respecting the namelessness of God it seems Abstraction is a most authentic vehicle .It intrigues me as I hear myself use seer and seen that it resonates with the words of mystics from the Upanishads. Or the constant reference to the struggle to merge the observer and the observed in the work of Krishnamurti evidenced by his constant frustration at finding the right word for this conundrum.

There seems to be a relationship between the interest in how the eye sees and mysticism .If the cognitive structure of the eye shapes reality, then an exploration of this structure puts the artist on the edge of knowing and unknowing. Is it any surprise that the artists, who walk this line, this razor’s edge are not the happiest people in the world? The comforting sense that the world we move in is a seamless whole has not been granted to them. A simple figure/ground exercise for Rothko becomes a meditation on Being and Nothingness.

For the artist ,who pursues abstraction, the risk of reification becomes enormous. There is the assumption that, of course, abstraction is not reality, so there is no risk but it can be as leaden as a Bougereau. It seems that artists think they are given two choices, that they think are incompatible: Either you have a unique vision or you are a follower. That you have to be both seems to escape them. If you are influenced, you really can’t be an artist. This seems to be the case of the winners of a recent annual art show and competition comprised of New England Artists, in which I was included. In its generosity to include as many artists as possible it ran the gamut between sophistic and amateur. The art is divided into work selected by an outside curator and the rest is included in a concurrent show with another name. In the end there was not much difference in quality between the two groups. For the most part the show is made up of Abstraction, that wallows in a mix of expressionist mark making and a vague sense of pattern and Photorealist work, both of which seemed to catch the eye of the outside curator. The abstract artists who did not question or embrace their roots  were among the winners of the competition. It would have been refreshing to see some humble exploration of the rich language of 20thc abstraction.

We are in a post-ideological era in art. Therefore, the realism is not suported by the doctrines of a movement, as it did in the late Sixties and the Abstraction does not have the austere words of  Ad Reinhardt to push it toward purity. Maybe that is a good thing. But the results are not encouraging for the future of painting. In this show the work floats on its own merits, which are no longer to seduce the viewer with its ideological purity, but to do so by the lowest common denominator of emotionality in the case of abstraction or crass facticity in the case of the realism. I suppose that this is a normal evolution similar to that from the High Renaissance to the Mannerists in Italy, before chiaroscuro regrounded painting in the Baroque. But in the case of the prizewinners, they show no intelligence in regards to their sources. Like little bubble boys and girls they can’t absorb any influences. They suffer from terminal narcissism. Maybe that is the Modern aesthetic. The current manifestation of reification.

I can think of two artists who are presently painting in the Boston area, whose art radiates a gracious interest in the tradition of painting .Jim Falck and Addison Parks.For them the Tradition is the period from the beginning of the 20thc: the world of Matisse and Picasso, which could be summed up as the pushing of paint, with the dynamics of color and figure ground, toward the simplicity of the written word. Recently I witnessed the finished product of a mural Jim was asked to do at the gallery at Montserrat College of Art. It was a full-sized mural, that was constructed of abstracted figures woven together with as much understanding of time and space as Picasso’s “Desmoiselles d’Avignon”. Figure and ground give the figures a visual life that keeps the viewer’s eye constantly moving. The colors bounce back and forth between warm and cool to create a mood of sunlit Italy and the Mediterranean. This is not a blind use of the tradition but a respect for how it can integrate the figure into the environment to create one organic being, which is “Life”. Jim’s favorite word. All one had to do was compare his mural to the other ones done on adjacent walls to know how smart Jim is. The others used paint  in a additive manner. One mark on top of the other with no sense of integration.

Addison nourishes his work with the artists he loves, Hoffmann and Marin, Hartley and Miro. Here is the love of painting as language, that allows for buoyancy and joy, to permeate the work. The language paints the painting. This guy lives art, thinks art. There is such an abundance of letting things be, through the language of painting. Parks, who is a writer, knows how words live as part of an organic whole. You never know how they will react, when they are juxtaposed with each other. 

In a culture where everything has its shelf life, I don’t expect the art community to carry these artists on their shoulders through the streets of Boston, as local heroes. I have been in Boston long enough to recall the hushed tones with which a new local art hero is discussed, and remember that in every case the work of these artists has reeked of emotionality. The art dealers knew that was needed for it to jump off the shelf in the art supermarket. None of these artists were capable of organic evolution. Their success made that lack of organic growth inevitable.  For Falck and Parks, their love of art as language gives their art a life of its own and because it is "Life" itself, it breathes and pulsates and continue to grow.



  1. A reply from Carl Belz on Facebook:

    Carl Belz 2:28pm Aug 13

    "They can't absorb any influences...terminal narcissism...reification..." Intriguing and important stuff, this. The self is, of course, central to modern experience, as opposed, say, to any external social or political or religious construct. Its, the self's, reification, as you're calling it--it could also, I suggest, be called its literalization--would suggest that it has jettisoned or lost or sacrificed its tie with the lived world, including the problematic relationship between self and world that provides the tension--per your earlier Cezanne essay (as if "dropped onto the road")--within modernist expression generally. Is solipsism--the self as the only reality--another word for this? I wrestle constantly with these questions, and I'm trying to see if we're on the same page here.

  2. My Reply to Carl

    Thanks for responding.At least I now feel less solipsistic!!
    Visual art is at its best when it considers itself a deep language of the eye/mind.In that sense it is shared with other human beings so it can be socialized.It is rooted in biology and our understanding of that biology deepens from generation to generation although certain notions of visual language can linger around for a long time as did chiaroscuro.When it is taken literally for reality(to use your word) it begs to be changed or challenged.Same for political systems.Where we are now in this evolution is hard to say.Looking at some of the local art I would say there is no interest in tradition and a lot of the art seems to be just describing their personal experience.Artists like Gorky,Rothko,deKooning studied the language of painting and used it as a vehicle for more global statements about life ,,energy,time and space.Take Gorky who according to Joseph Solman in a letter to ArtNews after Gorky's death was just an imitator of other artists,no more.It was out of this dialogue with the visual language of his time that he created abstract expressionism,a language that opened up new ways of thinking and seeing.
    Bloom has a lot to say on this subject in literature in the "Anxiety of Influence"where the strong artists let themselves be influenced but then must struggle to create their own identity.Only weak artists ignore influence.Hence the narcissistic tendency to close yourself off and see yourself as unique.

    I will stop here but could go on.

    Thanks again for keeping the dialogue going.


  3. Jim Falck passed away on October 5, 2013. I can still hear his voice on his answering machine forcefully declaring: "Falck Here! I'm in the studio!"

  4. I just came across this email from JIm Falck that I had printed out last year and saved in my files:It is so full of love and wisdom.I had to type it out to get it to print here so I was able to savor each word::

    Good Morning Martin and Alix

    I am looking out the window straight ahead and am feeling and seeing the colors of your beautiful painting, Martin, which you so generously took me to Boston to see…

    Across the street those swelling dots of paint and ribbons of color are now in my very eyesight not noticed so clearly before…the snow with white and the varied blue patterns caused by shadow….pinks and light lavender on the house across the street….a light limy green as trim and left over dangling holiday lights of ribbons tracing down…the lovely calm at last in the sky relieving the last few days of wind as this very color is reflected in those painting which in themselves are lovely and calming in these days of harsh, destructive, complicated art trying to shock the roots of our nature….reflecting the very devastation of wanting too much….listening to the noises beyond satisfaction hammering our souls with constant doubt and where murder and tearing at the very human body in art: soul less extreme for shock and no value…

    You have not accepted the dubious waste of society, but reflect the extraordinary beauty if we only pause and look….work the garden….sail on the water…love with obvious pleasure… drop the guns…. Walk in the forest or even walk down the street to know we live in a neighborhood of others…timeless time…I am so great full for that ride into Boston and to see your sublime painting…and marvel at the time so much and thoughtfully required to make such a beautiful statement about your reflected value of being human…observation and spirit of an unselfish and beautiful giving: for us to have pleasure of a worth and experience…

    Today is the third week of big boy taking off and Tuesday will always cast a shadow over my life as tears so sadly in lonesomeness come down the cheeks and all the drops are lovely because I found so much in a beautiful small creature who stole my soul and made me pause to realize that eleven years of his life connected with mine was a sacred and a fortunate gift…

    I read your art statement this morning and I so admire your rationalization and vocabulary in making a worthy artist statement where well used words can mean so much in writing about inspiration and association…the reviewer might have taken more time in sitting in that room and absorbing those works of art rather than rushing off to fill her duty to write something for a buck for a Boston newspaper…

    So thank you so much for yesterday…the tranquility of the moment settled in my soul and gave me some peace about being alone without big boy who was so much in being part of my life…

    1. Dear Martin,
      Thanks so much for posting the article about (& email from Jim Falck). I went to Montserrat with Jim & was heartbroken to hear that he passed away. What a wonderful soul.

      Jim was one of a kind! So like his paintings: booming, colorful, (naughty) & full of life!

      In case you didn't get this already, here's the invite for "Gathering of Jim Falck's Friends" at Montserrat this weekend.

      All the best to you,
      Sue Doyle

      "Art is the fire of life," - Jim Falck

      Please join us for a Gathering of Jim Falck's Friends
      Saturday, April 26, 2014

      Drawing on the Wildside: 1 - 3 pm
      Reception in the Gallery: 3 - 5 pm

      Montserrat College of Art
      23 Essex Street, Beverly, MA

      We are planning a gathering of Jim's friends to remember him and what he loved the most...the company of good friends enjoying art, food, wine and lively conversation.

      If you like to paint, the studios will be available to try your hand at "Drawing on the Wildside" from 1 to 3 pm. Jim taught this class for six years at Montserrat and enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm for art with more than 100 students. We will have some acrylic paints and brushes available but feel free to bring your own supplies.

      Refreshments and libations will be in the gallery from 3 to - 5 pm. If you would like to bring some light finger food or flowers for the reception, that would be fine.

      Bring any postcards, paintings, ceramics, photos or your favorite story that you would like to share with the group. We will have an exhibition wall and a table set up in our Paul Scott Library for an impromptu exhibition.

      Please R.S.V.P.

      Kathleen Burke at

      (ps. I'm sending this from a friend's google account- but my email is:

    2. Glad to hear that people are reading this.He was a sensitive and deep person.Here is what he wrote about his teacher Tim Nichols at SFMA.

    3. So great to hear Jim's words. A wonderful tribute was paid to him on Saturday at Lynch Park in Beverly. His spirit surrounded the room. I knew Jim from the art world in Beverly and will miss him greatly. However I am so thankful to have been able to know him and feel about him as he felt about Big Boy, blessed to have had him touch my life.

  5. Here is a great comment from one of his students:JIm Falck:

    "was nichols an insider..........never ........... he was a disruptive man not pandering to anyone who
    he felt could not take his being.....the pathetic person who thought he was an insider did not have
    a clue what is inside and out...........nichols ,in his spirit, must have felt so ignored even in his very
    proud state of being not to have been exhibited at the nielson gallery or others on newbury street
    when far less complex and courageous artists as tim were having the song of the day.....tim was never
    bought;.........always thought his art was before him......stood by it.......was not wanting to be praised.....
    and i hope in this world of artful shame he will see the day when some one finds his being an art
    as a representation of his frustration and beauty so splendidly presented in his painting........."

  6. These words he wrote could have been spoken about Jim.He was not only outrageous but courageous.And I think he hid his frustration with lack of recognition as well.Underneath it all he was the sensitive poet.

  7. Addison passed away on Jan 3, 2018