Sunday, March 30, 2008

millais & van gogh - realism & more (monet also)

how looks can be deceiving. knowing millais primarily from reproductions, my expectations were enough to visit the current exhibition in the van gogh museum amsterdam. unfortunately, i found millais' paintings to be little or nothing more than photographs, sometimes attractive, agreeable, but often a bit cloying, too sweet to my taste. and i couldn't find anything lifting me to a level beyond what the eye can see at first glance. the use of paint i found very traditional and limited, no experiments, no texture/brushstrokes/layering expression...etc.

john everett millais, portrait of louise joplingjohn everett millais, portrait of louise jopling


of course, in the van gogh museum there is plenty to enjoy so it wasn't a wasted trip. i am always (i never use the words always or never since they are so absolute as to contain no real meaning) inspired by van gogh. i don't need to consider every painting of his to be a masterpiece, for me to be uplifted by his clear intention of looking beyond what the eye can see at first glance to what the heart feels when the eyes are looking soulfully.

vincent van gogh, self portraitvincent van gogh, self portrait

[postscript 1 dec 2008:] somehow i added `monet' as a label to this post...and i now see from statistics that people looking for monet come to this post... so let me add a little from and about claude monet.

claude monet, the seine at argenteuilclaude monet, the seine at argenteuil

monet here is a true impressionist, with a realism that is still very sharp, but already coming under attack from the brushwork and the colour enhancement. the painting already wants a bit to break free, to go beyond what the eyes see at first glance. later, monet throws off many previous shackles, but still retains a ever weakening link to depicting reality. abstract art is a fingertip away.

claude monet, waterloo bridgeclaude monet, waterloo bridge (one of many from an ever light-changing series)

Friday, March 28, 2008

more nature realism

just some more pictures in the nature realism vein by edward lear and john james audubon. their art i largely admire, perhaps since i still remember being fascinated as a 4 yr old by drawing birds. i used to draw finches, tits, sparrows, small birds anyway. then i forgot mostly about drawing until it suddenly gripped me again when i was 15.

edward lear, egyptian vultureedward lear, egyptian vulture in john gould's birds of europe

john james audubon, california vulturejohn james audubon, california vulture

Thursday, March 27, 2008

maria sybilla merian

in the question what art can bring, when discussing with others i tend to discount so-called realism (which is a difficult term to me, philosophically speaking). this discounting is due more to balance -i have to come back to that term also- than to my personal appreciation.

because, frankly, there are many artists working `realistically' who in some way spark resonance in my heart.

but on the other hand i'm quite fed up somewhere with the general attitude that art depicting `reality' (whatever that may mean) in a more or less photographic fashion needs no explanation, deeper motivation, ... just because, according to our culturally determined value, transferring 3d to 2d (or other 3d) using something similar to straight-line projection requires enough skill to be art.

maria sybilla merian, cayman with false coral snakemaria sybilla merian, cayman with false coral snake

how did i get to maria sybilla merian? well, she is one of many artists who depict nature, especially flowers and animals, in a very precise `realistic' way. see also john james audubon. i doubt that these names are known anywhere nearly as well as velazquez, say. but i'm amazed and pleased at their incredible detail, the precision, the colours.

so the question `art: what, why, for whom?' seems to have so many answers that towers of babel are inevitable. my own rather ivory tower looks out on art bringing more than `realism in the flat sense'. reality to me is more than what a disspirited camera captures in pixels. we add dreams, visions, feelings, emotions, associations to whatever our eyes tell us that they see. in fact, i believe we only see what our brain/heart allows to pass, and this heavily photoshopped by our preset value system.

and, talking about photoshop...compare the above image to the one on the website of the british museum:

maria sybilla merian, cayman with false coral snake - british museummaria sybilla merian, cayman with false coral snake - british museum

and tell me honestly, which version do you prefer? and what is realism in this version-issue?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

jan cox - a painter's odyssee

saw the documentary jan cox - a painter's odyssey yesterday, on belgian tv.

[i forgot to mention: it was made by bert beyens and pierre de clercq (bert was kind enough to mail me an interested & interesting reaction, here you can see a short work on youtube kamera kussen with artists danny devos and anne-mie van kerckhoven) - postscript june 08]

interesting and inspiring to see, but non-findable on the web, so i add a fragment from belgian news tv below (in dutch, sorry):

video

clearly to me, jan cox was an artist looking for visual depth, spiritual depth. it always warms me to encounter such artists. he was also manic-depressive. this combination of artistic soulful talent with a serious mental illness is unfortunately seen in many of my favourite artists. another such artist who also took his own life is mark rothko.

in one fragment of jan cox - a painter's odyssey his wife yvonne van ginneken says: `he was suffering also from the fact that the people who could afford his paintings, didn't take the time to really look at them. whereas his work needs time. it grows on you.'

another quote (freely on my part): `suffering from depression, he yet did not want his work to be negative. he wanted to bring also hopeful perspective'

jan cox, blood rain
jan cox, blood rain

don't miss the current exhibition of his work in the royal museum of fine arts in antwerp (15 march-15 june 2008)

Monday, March 24, 2008

searching for visual depth

in my humble opinion:

looking for visual depth, developing layers of visual communication, is a different endeavour than creating fashion. although i'm sure fashion designers would disagree. to me the contemporary world of fashion exemplifies everything which i find so difficult to palate in the art world (and beyond).

fashion. as well as money-intensive extensive advertising. it seems we care about little else. in dutch they say: if only your hair looks good. (then all is well, is implied). keeping up and creating superficial appearances, preferably based on age-old clichés especially about gender, sex, age, influence, affluence, happiness.

women fall for the bmw swatwomen fall for the bmw swat, 2005

what then could art be? so often i see art which is little more than the above sentence. and this art is then proclaimed by art gurus to be profound. well, i apologise for sounding like a character out of the emperor's new clothes, but most often i don't see it!

for me art should not divulge everything immediately. let it simmer on the boilerplate of your sub- or unconsciousness. let it change the way you see, feel. not by some vague philosophical `concept' but by the visual imagery itself. these things take time.

hm. there i go sounding all grumpy again...sorry folks. but then again: how often do you hear someone complain about the superficiality of fashion, art, advertisements,...? not to mention the societal costs involved.

advertisements especially: it is comparable to the tropical rainforest. since everybody is advertising, everybody must advertise more and more, else one does not catch any sunlight. this means that we as a society are spending (energy, effort, creativity,...) increasingly on advertising, instead of on better ideas/products/care/cooperation.

and this same blablabla phenomenon pollutes the art world, i think. artists & art must be pimped up more and more and more, to justify the fashion-like overattention and overpayment.

it seems we all need fairy tales to give our life meaning. for this no price is too high. please do not rupture our soap bubbles of self- or other importance, be it in the context of religion, way of life, music, art, whatever. if you do so, then we will close ranks on you, decry you, ignore you, whatever is most effective.

not to say that i would truly know better. but i feel the balance is missing. fine, repeat all the old clichés with a modern icing. they are not clichés for nothing, and some icings can be interesting. but why not also give generous room to non-clichés? or why not bark ferociously at many of these clichés which are not helping us any further since primitive mankind became, well, non-primitive enough to in principle look further than first instincts.

is art meant to be affirmative to: we are monkeys with a thin icing of civilization, and even thinner icing of spirituality. or can art also explore a deepening of civilization, spirituality? does anyone care, anyway? does this matter? etc.

(oh, i know, there is no doubt some clever art-historical term for this question perspective, and the perspective itself is no doubt considered outdated. superseded by postmodernism or postpostmodernism, or part of it and therefore ... well i'm no art critic.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

comparison of artists - how? who? owh!

today a friend compared my work to that of leon adriaans, a dutch artist (1944-2004). because, according to my friend, he worked so directly from his feeling, intuition, subconscious, or similar phrasing which i don't precisely recall.

be this as it may, i looked at pictures of his work on the internet...and found myself wondering yet again at the way we all look and experience so differently. i do not see any real similarity in adriaans' work and mine, in fact he seems to have worked in a style which is no doubt contemporary but which does not appeal to me at this superficial first webglance. i will come back to it however, since i don't trust my first judgments in these matters.

(you see that i'm following the tower of babel thread from bruegel, previous post).

i'm often left with a feeling that there are ravines as well as distorting static between what i wish to communicate and many -even interested- observers. is this what leads many artists to oversimplification? `if i put something new but not trivial in it, my message becomes open to ambiguous interpretation' ?

gypsy girl, 2007
there is a video women in art by philip scott johnson showing a merged-together sequence of women-in-art. the one thing that immediates strikes me in this video is that the extreme majority of these women are `pretty', doll-like, young...and that the painters use rather conventional realism to communicate the conventional message of conventional beauty...like the so manyth hollywood feature where dashing handsome brave & strong man saves world & pretty (no more qualification necessary) woman from mishap.

(somewhat by quantum association:) it appears to me artists are expected to create visually unambiguous messages, quickly assimilated in existing patterns for judgment. so that it doesn't unduly tax the energy of the casual observer.

in the netherlands, if people do not like a painting, they say: it doesn't resemble anything. as a very negative qualification (this is really true, believe it or not).

so what room does this leave for developing new visual foundations? well, that problem probably holds for many disciplines. writers are supposed to write books with a certain not-too-difficult format, style and characters. composers/songwriters idem.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

reading about brueghel

as above, so below (rudy rucker)


as first entry in what will undoubtedly be an erratically upkept blog, let me note that i'm reading rudy rucker's book as above, so below which is about pieter brueghel the elder - one of my favourite artists.

in my humble opinion:

profound art is a form of philosophy, much of it wordless. it touches us where words cannot reach. an artist striving for depth needs to think, feel, dare, experience and experiment. with as much energy as the physical creating itself.

reading about artists' backgrounds, lives, etc. to me is a bridge to understand more about their works, to regain inspiration that art is a worthwile undertaking, the general public's insensitivity or should i say indifference notwithstanding.

brueghel (or bruegel as he simplified his own name later) paints humanity in a not so flattering light, which strikes me as timeless in its understanding of la condition humaine.


pieter bruegel, tower of babel

pieter bruegel, tower of babel