Art and Arnold

A Cock-Banana or a quality cocktail in an armchair (can you have both?)

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-image by: Joe Sinness

It is assuredly not easy to make 2-dimensional artwork today. Given how imagery pervades every corner of our society (and how everyone manufactures it) ranging from high end advertising all the way down to your everyday Instagram accounts, it would seem that paintings on a gallery wall would be a questionable, if not useless, endeavor. Yet, there are those who still brave the white surface of the canvas or paper, perhaps out of a love of the craft, a love of the tactile that happens when a brush or a pencil makes a mark.

But what to mark?

What to inscribe and render in imagery? That is a question far more difficult to answer than justifying why one paints or draws. Am I to fabricate large abstractions, hyper-real figurative works, kitschy hotel art, neo-impressionists landscapes, pseudo-pop surrealism, or some variation on one, or several, of these themes? Then there is the question of intent, of what fuels the imagery. And this area is often so miss-informed and poorly articulated I won’t even begin to attempt to summarize it. But that’s not entirely the artists’ fault. Most B.A. and M.F.A degrees do little, if anything, to educate an artist on how to write, let alone, author an artist statement. And, to this I would add, reading the numerous artist statements I have read at different shows, I usually see little to none of what is claimed to be present in the work. Which, I think is largely OK.

If this ambiguous provenance of the content of the image leaves the work in question, then a viewer is left with the image itself. He or she can only expect to engage the surface design and forgo the message. In the past, this would sound dangerously akin to Greenbergian aesthetics that championed only the surface design so as to establish the autonomy of the art object. As we know today, that was a pipe dream. But given the rampant rise of imagery in popular culture, maybe it’s being returned to in a post-modern way. When I troll through someone’s Instagram account, I’m not liking an image for what it means, I’m liking it because it looks good. Content is being subverted by design. Even the application itself promotes this with its numerous filters and effects.

So maybe, from this provenance, I can appreciate grayDuck’s After Some Reflection.
I am going to keep a safe distance from what the different artists’ statements proclaimed their works were about, and instead, ONLY focus on what they looked like. From this perspective, the show does retain a decent worth, and is quite enjoyable.
There should be little doubt that Jenny Granberry has put in her time being academically trained in watercolor. Her skill: controlling this drip, or that wash, is proficient enough to render what can be considered a ‘sound’ technique, and for that, she should be commended. As for her imagery, I felt the primary mechanism in her “fractured” pieces (as she refers to the them) was predictable, and subsequently largely detracted from the real aesthetic of the pieces. I would say: if you are that good with something, don’t muck it up trying to be clever.

As for Jaelah Kuehmichel, I would like to see much larger canvasses. There is a reason why gestural-mark making (even when it portrays the human figure) is done on big surfaces. It pulls at the viewer in some indescribable visceral way that gets lost as the image shrinks. The large cream-colored areas with their subtle shifts in tint felt constrained by their borders, and my eyes felt a little cheated that there wasn’t more territory to explore. Again, like Granberry, the imagery came up short. In a world where the Internet gives us things like “2 Girls, 1 Cup,” a Cock-Banana fails to be very provocative, let alone shocking.

Joe Sinness’s skill is clearly masterful. From across the gallery, several of his works looked like photographs, and it was only after closer inspection that I realized they were colored pencil. Careful attention to detail, value, and hue, caused the works to jump from the page in a not-so-subtle trompe l’oeil. And the imagery jumped as well, in a comic leap that proved to not take itself too seriously. Something much appreciated on that cold January night of show’s opening: a warmth of laughter against the freezing rain outside. Maybe this is the reason why his pieces stuck out to me the most. I know personal taste can cloud objective judgment, but when I see the vampy Sandra Clark from NBC’s sitcom 227, I can’t help but chuckle, as I know several other viewers did as well.

So what can be taken away from this exhibition are two things: first, in the modern image-hungry and image-fabricating world, its best to rely on what you know: keep it simple, and make it at least look good. Give time and considerable care those principles of design; making sure that whatever you paint, draw, or print can compete with someone’s smartphone. And second, don’t take it seriously. As visually assaulted as we are today with images of violence, sex, and outright general depravity, maybe art should reconsider Matisse’s famous proclamation that art was made to escape the world, or at least to give some alleviation, no matter how brief.

-“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”-Matisse from Notes of a Painter.
Posted 21st January 2015 by Arnold, H.C.

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This entry was posted on February 11, 2016 by .
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