Thursday, July 29, 2010

Artist Profile: Mark Rothko

"The exhilarated tragic experience is for me the only source of art." - Mark Rothko

This is the first in my series of artist profiles. My intention isn't to provide a regurgitated biography, but I will include relevant biographical information if it punctuates a point.
Born: Marcus Rothkowitz on September 25, 1903 in the former Russian empire. Today,
Daugavpils, Latvia.
Died: February 25, 1970 in Manhattan, New York. (Suicide)
Ethnicity/Religion: Jewish
Movement: Abstract Expressionism/Color Field Painting

I approached Rothko's work, already knowing his ultimate fate and history of emotional turmoil. After doing some research, I learned that after he was diagnosed with a heart condition, he continued to drink and smoke and eat poorly, but he did heed his doctor's advice to avoid painting any pictures larger than a yard in height.

He committed suicide in February 1970 by overdosing on barbiturates and slicing his arms with a razor blade. He cut his left arm first, then the right - the cut on the right was so deep it almost severed his brachial artery. He was found in a 6 ft by 8 ft pool of blood with his arms outstretched - his body a shocking, final masterpiece. His arms outstretched like a Christ figure, overlapping the deep red often used in his pieces, the same grand scale; sticking it to the face of his own destiny. A friend at the scene wanted to take a photo, but was ultimately persuaded not to, surely had the photo surfaced there would be no escaping the transfixing of his lifeless body on every canvas. Thank goodness this is not the case. Rothko had once told his assistant, "If I choose to commit suicide, everyone will be sure of it. There will be no doubts."

My Reaction:

There’s a deep, haunting nature about a Rothko.

Looking at his canon of multiforms, the color schemes he used were mostly in the same family, or complimentary opposites on the color wheel. Picking one at random and looking at it up close, it almost looks like they were painted on a piece of paper that was later burned. The smears in the painting are rapt with sorrow.

The fact that his paintings were so large is slightly ironic. There is a simplicity to them, but the simplicity is complicated by the size, and complicated further the more you look into it.

Rothko once said, "Silence is so accurate." There is an element of spiritual transcendence in a Rothko. The works have a quiet, tragic beauty. They aren't as jarring or visually "complex" as a Jackson Pollock piece, but it probably has just as many layers.

A Pollock dances around you and pulls you in. The Rothko doesn't dance, it marches to a solemn dirge, but it pulls you in. It doesn't sing like a Pollock sings, it moans, but its a transcendent moan. Like a Buddhist 'om'.

There is something particular about the way the paint is layered and scraped on the canvas. The one I attached at the top of this post (Untitled, 1960) almost looks like someone pressed some berries or other natural media against a sheet of paper. Looking at it up close, it's self-correcting because of the way the paint is smeared. You can look within the smears and find the layers: red with yellow, blue with pink that looks sprayed around it almost like an afterthought, but paradoxically looks like the foundation for the blue, the layer which supports the one after it, like a matriarch to a son.

The rectangular forms aren't centered - that's part of the point. They help you find your own center, your own mythology. The sublime in the subliminal. They're perfect in their imperfection.

Philosophy behind the Technique

"Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all." - André Breton (1928)

I will be starting a series of artist/work profiles. My descriptions of the work are based on my own perceptions - I don't approach art in the cold, calculating way you would approach a math problem or a balance sheet. To do so would be wrongheaded.
My descriptions are my immediate reactions, I record them on a tape recorder, because I find that works for me.
My general philosophy in approaching/dissecting these works is similar to the technique used in the Horace Miner essay, 'Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.' I read this essay for the first time in tenth grade and it clicked for me pretty quickly, but I won't spoil it for those of you who want to read it and figure it out for yourselves. It's an eyeopener. It flips your beliefs about the culture upside down, in a way, but that is all I will say about that essay. Read it for yourself if you wish. Here is a link:

In terms of visual analysis, there is a difference between looking stroke by stroke at a canvas in order to find something past it, and glaring with clenched teeth at a canvas and superficially dismissing it as something lacking in "skill" because it looks so simple or maybe even uninspired, prima facie.
To put it simply, things don't have to look like what they look like. How do you represent an idea, an abstraction? How do you capture an emotion? You can't put it into words, or can you? Words can be art. The emotion/image does not have to be concrete. There are no rules and art doesn't have to be "pretty" in the pseudo-universal obvious sense. I think art should incite, it should be evocative. If it is purely a "treat for the eye" - it's craftsmanship, not art. I've always upheld the idea more than the technique or the style.
Duchamp was said to have stated that art could be anything, so long as an artist said it was art. As of now, I'm not sure I can fully embrace this definition, but it's not too far off base. The artist only has to stay true to his or herself. The responsibility for the artist lies not in the perception of the audience, but in the handling of the idea. The failure or success of the final piece in the eyes of an outside party is mainly subjective. It would be wrong to initially approach something with the idea that it ought be best to "play it cool" because children might be present in the gallery.
No, art doesn't have to make sense. You can make your own sense of it, just like the world. You won't find your "definition" of art in any holy book or stone tablet. But you don't have to find a sense, you can always find it senseless.
When do we ever get the full picture, the full explanation of something? If you wouldn't strap your lover to a chair and force a life's worth of confessions and explanations out of him or her, why would you do that to a piece of art?
No amount of water torture on a painting or installation or performance or sculpture will give you the meaning you want. So make your own and stop whining that it's rubbish and you could do better just because it doesn't provide you with answers and it might even offend your intelligence. Just look and reflect. If you hate it, that is fine too, feel free to tell me how much you disagree.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kathy's The Hip One Hundred

My attempt at channeling Peter Davies, off the canvas. He sometimes summed the artists in his The Hip One Hundred (seen above) or The Hot One Hundred, by one particular work - for example, "Paul McCarthy - Bossie Burger.' I didn't necessarily want to do that, or at least not as straight forward. Plus, I'm a fan of McCarthy. :) This list is in no particular order and by no means are all these artists my personal favorites. A lot are, but some are not. It's reflexive, self-referential and if you know about any of these artists or even like them my categorizing will either offend you or give you an 'A-ha!' moment, I would hope.

Here it is, in all it's glory, or lack thereof.

1. Jean-Michel Basquiat – Adonis, ghetto prophet
2. Paul McCarthy - ketchup and prosthetic noses
3. John Baldessari – how to form a pithy quote:
4. Sean Landers – ha,haha
5. Salvador Dali- the biblical story on mescaline
6. Jackson Pollock – the noble savage
7. Tracey Emin- here's my bed, here's my “list”, now, piss off.
8. Edward Hopper – Mad Men, after-hours.
9. Tamara de Lempicka – champagne and oysters Rockefeller at a Gatsby party
10. Gilbert and George – repressed gay duplicated version of Willy Loman
11. Marcel Duchamp – the pseudoephedrine of the art world
12. Rene Magritte- this is not a statement
13. Martin Kippenberger – “no problem”
14. Pepon Osorio – the crime of culture
15. Amedeo Modigliani – long pointy faces
16. Richard Prince –cig ads, no butts about it
17. Romero Britto- poor man’s Warhol+Koons, minus the talent.
18. Roy Lictenstein – comic book despairs
19. Takashi Murakami – cartoony mushrooms and masturbating cowboys
20. Edvard Munch – ambivalent gothic nightmares
21. Robert Motherwell – An AbEx Rorschach test
22. Loren Munk – hipster Stuart Davis
23. Elizabeth Peyton – pretty boys
24. Andres Serrano – degenerates and bodily fluids
25. Andy Warhol – plastic idols
26. Christo – auto-erotic envirosphixiation
27. Marina Abramovic – pain is beauty/beauty is art
28. Stuart Davis – The lovechild of Braque and Miles.
29. The Chapman brothers – hell is other people
30. Joseph Kosuth – this is a referential reference.
31. Chris Ofili – modern mystic folk art
32. Georgia O’keefe – flowers from a bee's POV
33. Frida Kahlo – emotionally detached narcissism
34. Sarah Lucas – Feminist iconography
35. Gustav Klimt – gold lame mannerist Mona Lisas
36. Man Ray – lachrymose sexual dream states in black and white
37. Sol de Witt – the striped cube
38. Pablo Picasso – the dynamics of decadence
39. Willem De Kooning – flesh colored monster venus
40. Mark Rothko – personal apocalypse
41. Jasper Johns – flag off-mast
42. Barbara Kruger – Obey! In red/black/white
43. Robert Mapplethorpe – gay photos that piss off senate wives and preachers
44. Robert Ryman – white on white on wall
45. Chuck Close – up close and personal (har, har)
46. Frank Stella – prismatic geometry
47. Kazimir Malevich – the circle and the square
48. Piet Mondrian – primary composition
49. Michael Craig-Martin – I have taken a sentence, made it a mountain.
50. Hieronymus Bosch – earth, heaven and hell. And hell.
51. Damien Hirst – timeless memento mori
52. Marcus Harvey – morbid myra
53. Otto Dix – uglified, chain smoking sexually ambiguous Germans
54. Max Beckmann – stylized psychological torture
55. Claus Oldenberg – big hokey everyday objects
56. Joseph Beuys – talking to your food
57. Cy Twombly – expanding the practice easel
58. Nam June Paik – Feed the idiot box
59. Sadie Bennings –girl power
60. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – coffee house wall art
61. Andrew Wyeth – helpless cripple in a field of amber grain
62. Yves Tanguy – cogs in a dream machine
63. Giorgio de Chirico – creepy, empty streets with towering shadows
64. Jeff Koons – basketballs, puppy balloons and joyous kitsch
65. Francisco Goya – romanticized Spanish revolution
66. Robert Rauschenberg – all white/all black
67. Bansky – sociopolitical but widely admired street art
68. Marc Quinn – blood busts and contortionist sculpture
69. Chris Burden – shoot and nail
70. Henri Matisse – green line down his wifes face
71. Piero Manzoni – commodity scat fetish
72. Norman Rockwell – sleepy nostalgic americana
73. Meret Oppenheim – messy breakfast
74. George Bellows – bowery life and pugilism
75. Francis Bacon – ghoulish meat packing hell
76. Carey Young – personal wealth inventory
77. David Lachapelle – fashionable subversion
78. Thomas Eakins – voyeuristic clinic scene
79. Paul Gaughin – topless native women
80. Jean Arp – distorted egg shapes
81. Max Ernst – dystopian heroic epic storybook
82. George Grosz – slightly bloated bald men slumped in their chairs
83. Lyubov Popova – soft Soviet cubism
84. Carlo Carra – psychological collage
85. Bruce Nauman –neon self representation
86. Yves Klein – The new blue period
87. Charlie Thomson – menopausal greeting cards
88. Louise Bourgeois – Human spiders
89. Dark Vomit – skulls, baby animals and clowns at the supper table
90. Art and Language – The medium is the message.
91. Billy Childish – masturbatory post- post impressionism.
92. Giacomo Balla –trace paper repetition
93. Constantin Brancusi – Aerodynamic gold
94. David Bomberg – the vorticist handbook
95. Kathe Kollowitz – vampire novel sketches
96. Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova – footnotes in blue ink
97. Richard Serra – giant pencil shaving sculpture
98. Charles Demuth – art deco colored numbers
99. Louis Lorowick – art deco landscape
100. Peter Davies – Who?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

First Post

I decided, after a period of posting videos and rants on my Facebook account, random articles on my personal blog, and taking notes on artists featured on episodes of Art:21 at 3 in the morning, that it was time to put all my obsessive thoughts on the subject in one place.

The title for this blog is derived from the name of Damien Hirst's 'For the Love of Art' diamond encrusted memento mori. The "Oh" is added to express the "shock value" some of this art can give people. My ultimate goal is to express that shocks aren't bad, in fact, they are almost always necessary.

This blog will be somewhat frantic, somewhat learned, but always unapologetic. Expect videos, links to interviews, reviews/critiques, rants... you know, the usual. Except, not. :)

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About Me

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I love to read about linguistics, behavioral economics, theory and philosophy. I listen to music some might call outdated, write satirical and high testosterone plays, consume too much caffeine and ruthlessly defend modern and contemporary art.