Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This Blog Has Moved

to my new website! I have redirected the subscriptions to receive the new feed from there. From now on all critique will appear on artandcritique.com.

I apologize for the inconvenience and any problems that may arise. Please let me know if the redirection doesn't work.

In any case, you may always subscribe to the new website and then cancel your subscription here.

Thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Introducing: artandcritique.com

I am delighted to announce that I have recently launched my own website!

I encourage you to visit it:

artandcritique.com

In this new venture I write critique on known painters from various periods, similarly to what I've done on this blog in the beginning, but better :) Critique on daily/frequent painters continues, in what hopefully would result in an optimal mix of the old and the new.

You can find out more stuff about me in the
about page :)

I will appreciate any feedback on the new website and feel free to contact me with your ideas and suggestions.

Thanks.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bruce Docker: Sleeping Swan


This image incredibly resembles a coat of arms. All of the attributes are there: an animal of noble connotation in the center and a map-like illustration on the sides, one portraying the land and the other the sea. The yellow and the red islands may symbolize the shipping industry, the merchant and the military fleet. The yellow and the orange stripes may signify farming or roads, that in turn may stand for communication, diplomacy and prosperity. The only thing that is missing is an inscription in Latin. I suppose that the artist's signature can pose a logical substitute (I think I have already shown once how the signature can be extra-meaningful in the need of a textual reference). I suspect that the artist intended for this piece to convey an iconic message: there is something very solemn and dignified about the bird, while the other parts are very schematic, as to not to divert the viewer from the main idea that is supposed to be put across by the swan.

I could play around and try guessing which country or what kind of institution such a coat of arms would suit best. Perhaps research will reveal that some emblems indeed include a swan -- but I don't want to make this extraneous information the point of this review. I feel much more compelled to understand how the artist's style coheres so effortlessly, with the winged addendum, into a representation that differs conceptually -- which means quite significantly -- from the traditional notion of what is a "painting." After some more browsing, it occurred to me that I simply have not payed enough attention to that emblematic, highly stylized facet of Bruce's art; the trees and the clouds exhibit it in particular, and they could be introduced into the above piece without notably changing it.

In more formal terms, it is the shifting towards the abstract that predisposes towards emblematizing. For instance, it is not accidental that early Soviet posters depicted the human figure by using only a few geometrical figures -- borrowing from Malevich, these artists utilized abstraction for pragmatic, propagandistic and ultimately emblematic purposes, incidentally elevating their posters to works of art (a feat ascribed before to Toulouse-Lautrec). Here, the only difference is that Bruce stays within the limits of his own artwork. He reshuffles some of his trademark elements, such as the intricately formed shadows, and puts them in a new context by adding a new feature in the form of the swan. In other words, the artist crossed over to a completely different genre, while remaining loyal to his personal style.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Bruce Docker: At the Base of the Hickory Tree


The sharp contrast between the yellow and the black creates an unexpected effect of collage: the leaves appear as if inlaid into the board, as a foreign body. Correspondingly, the shadows seem to have been cut out from the surface. It only takes a small step to conjure up that the cut out pieces are the leaves, basically relocated from one layer to create another. If this indeed were a collage, the process would denote a clever trick of economy and maximal utilization of available materials. But since it is not, I tend to consider this allusion as a more poetic, inspirational and less controlled method of portraying the play of light and shadow on a small but very saturated floral area. Overall, this might be the artist's painterly version of the "flesh from the flesh" idiom.

The ragged edges of the shadows remind of what appears on a movie screen when the film starts to burn during projection. This resemblance triggers the unusual tension resulting from looking at something that is about to be lost, like a last moment opportunity -- and thus, by invoking yet another art form, the artist conveys the momentariness of the scene, as well as his own passing perception of it, not unlike in impressionism. As a side effect, the heat of the sun, which forms the blinding yellows and whites and consequently the shadows, may be additionally envisioned through the association with the technical trouble of overheating. The power of allusion adds up to that of color. As to the colors, I think it's quite amazing how black, usually assigned auxiliary roles, is employed just as actively as any other hue, becoming an active participant in the unfolding scene.

I have always had faith in extreme close-ups such as this one. They have their own charm, ensuing from the amount of detail concentrated on the very limited space -- the very essence of the presented theme. And though this piece is a miniature both in size and theme, it is not such in the aesthetic implications, which may be rich and vast, and which hold their own when compared to any regular landscape. The seemingly untidy and random composition carries an important and adequately self-important message of the beauty of nature; of how it can be found in almost any surroundings. The untidiness is a superficial camouflage of the well thought-out plan that constitutes this painting. Hence, the artist achieves what may be the primary goal of every painter: to make it look easy what was difficult to accomplish.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bruce Docker: Utah Desert


I love the desert, but it took some time to develop that sentiment. Only after spending most of my army service in remote sandy areas such as this one, have I learned to accept and eventually like it -- the hard way. Every single tree, every slight variation in the terrain can emancipate from the harsh and relentless monotony of the desert, if only for a few minutes, and I immediately recognized both in this painting, in a nostalgic reminiscence. The weather is the other scourge of this wasteland; penetratingly cold at night and blazing hot during the day, it casts its dwellers from one extreme to another without mercy. The wind fills the eyes with sand. Really, the desert does everything it can to make one hate it, yet one eventually falls prey to its bleak magnitude: it's a mystery. Some of that mystery is caught -- and unraveled -- in this piece.

There is the blue turning white sky, scorched by the invisible sun, a purple, yet paradoxically realistic, as colors indeed mutate in such atmosphere, hill in the distance, and the ground, illustrated by variations of yellow and brown. The green waving tree, which appears to leave a part of itself floating in the air, before consuming it by the crown, is another characteristic touch. The sturdier, flattened tree in the distance, the unclear perspective, folded flat by the light -- these are all stereotypes, which, however, doesn't make them less authentic. I think that the artist demonstrates a deep understanding of the subject by including all of them in this painting, in a crowded, but effective rendering of desert.

So what, and where is the mystery? Well, if you have been reading closely, you must have noticed the "monotony" mentioned in the first paragraph, followed by a list of colors mentioned in the second. There is an obvious incongruity, but there is also a solution. All of these colors indeed appear in the desert, but usually in a much more subdued and modest form, being covered by a layer of sand. The artist intensifies the colors -- removes the sand in what may seem like a replication of a restoration process in art -- and presents us with a cleaner, brighter version. What happens in reality, however, is that a person needs to perform a similar process by themselves, without the aid of a brush. This is a very energy consuming process, which obviously gets abandoned very quickly. Thus the surroundings appear distorted and monotonous from under the patina of sand, while in fact there is a colorful life going on right beneath it. Eventually, though, it beams through the grainy layer -- and works the magic.

The desert is always in a state of transition, its main component, the sand, being highly mobile. It is always moving, but somehow stays the same... before I repeat myself again, I will only say that this understated mobility is a difficult quality to capture in a painting, but that Bruce managed to inject it into his. It is the general atmosphere more than anything else, the air and the light -- the elusive, indefinable things that make this piece effective. The colors work together to convey that atmosphere, but, eventually, a part of it evades clear definition -- much like the desert, this painting keeps at least some of the mystery veiled.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Bruce Docker: Blue Field, Green Sky


I have always found something soothing in deep perspectives such as this one. The eye may travel languorously from the closest tree to the farthest, without tiring; on the contrary, the process may even produce a re-energizing effect. The space is divided by color, the blue assigned to the foreground, and the lighter greens and yellows (save upon the trees) to the background -- further (following the lines) emphasizing the difference between the close and the more distant areas. Perhaps such a painting may serve as a substitute for a nature walk, at least from a compositional&spatial point of view. The colors, though playing an important role in defining the realistic compositional space, are much more surreal than "natural." Perhaps the only realistic color here is the white of the cloud, which hovers above the scene, in an engulfing motion. It may seem as a foreign body in this piece, conflicting thematically with the rest of the palette; still, it provides a needed relief from the rather intense, typical to the artist's style saturated hues.

The fence in the foreground is a recurring motif. It is interesting to notice how dilapidated it always appears, and even more so how its parts seem to form hieroglyphs, repeating the oriental theme I described in the previous post. But it may have a different symbolic purpose: together with the hill and the blue stripe near the bottom of the piece (which resembles a ditch filled with water), it forms a series of obstacles preventing unwanted visitors entering... the blue castle near the right upper corner! But this scenario may have its faults, as the yellow plains behind the hill seem to put in question the effectiveness of such a defensive complex. Still, the idea of defense pertains to this distinctive arrangement: perhaps, along with the line of trees, this is a farmer's way of protecting his crops from invaders, in the form of people, as well as natural disasters.

The shapes of the trees and of the cloud, though recognizable, are on the verge of transforming into completely abstract geometrical forms. This could be the result of a light effect of extreme sunny haziness, the same one that renders the sky green, -- it may be distorting the shape of said objects too. But the contours around the crowns and the cloud undermine this hypothesis. There is an obvious intent of making these forms contained and distinct, regardless of surroundings. Therefore, the abstraction, as well as the contours, demonstrate an intentional stylistic bias. The lines in particular are post-impressionistic, van Goghian, to be even more specific. Nearly every landscape van Gogh painted after seeing the impressionists in Paris boasts such lines. I find the allusion quite gratifying: besides the tribute, it adds historical depth to this daily painting.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bruce Docker


The unique style of every standout painter is manifested in their artwork, making it easily recognizable. But Bruce Docker invests such a tightly formulated set of painterly principles into his own, that, regardless of the theme, a number of paintings can often be viewed as a series -- on precisely those principles. While every piece is a complete work of art, it is the series that will produce the most dramatic impact. What makes this trait particularly engaging and challenging is that it is up to the viewer to choose the pieces that would make up the best collection; if four paintings would seem optimal to one, another would rather add a piece, or substitute a painting for a different one (this dynamism will also parry any accusations of uniformity and monotony). Looking at Bruce's art requires more than just the sense of vision; for a complete experience the observer needs to partake in a mind game not unlike Lego, where each painting becomes a piece that will fit into the cycle. In a way, the viewer becomes involved in the artistic process, creating a meta work of art by practicing the freedom of choice.


Writing about Bruce's art basically means describing the said set of principles, of which there are quite a few. The artist prefers saturated colors, which often transform into very bright, brilliant hues on the one hand and dark, next to black on the other -- a sophisticated manipulation of value. In more concrete terms, many of his pieces contain a sharp contrast of light and shadow. Bruce likes angles and slopes; many of his paintings display a deep perspective -- another feature -- which allows for diagonals that delineate these acclivities and descents. Brushwork is made visible, producing a disarming informal effect. Regarding formal style, it would be best to quote the artist himself: "My artistic influences are based in the art of the early 20th century, in the paintings and prints of the post-impressionists, the fauves and the German expressionists. Like the work of those artists, I explore the space between representative and abstract art." Indeed, his artwork may often seem like a melting pot of various schools -- a rich and diverse stylistic texture.


There is a strong oriental vein in the artist's work. His landscapes and farm scenes are reminiscent of Japanese wood prints, both in composition and palette. He bends trees and tilts the ground in unconventional, at least in western terms, twists; his cautious and reverential treatment of space also exhibits a touch of the oriental. Japanese workshops often manufactured a series of works, and so does Bruce, either intentionally or not. Perhaps that he paints on plywood is also more than a coincidence. Post-impressionist artist were known to be influenced by Hiroshige and Utamaro, and thus Bruce may be enjoying an indirect fruition from the eastern art form. Eventually, in spite of these influences, the core of the artist's style remains strictly his own, and though there is a measure of predictability, each new painting comes as a surprise. For me, there is a always a degree of comfort to be found in the fact that you both know and don't know what to expect.

Bruce Docker lives and works in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. He keeps a website where you can browse through his artwork, and a blog where you can view his latest daily paintings.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Neil Hollingsworth: Cherry Goblet


There are two paintings here: the still life itself and the miniature of the room, as it is reflected in the goblet's plump side. I believe that they vie for attention; the artist leaves it to viewers to decide which one they prefer (I will reveal my favorite only if asked nicely). It is possible, however, to envision a peaceful cohabitation. I suppose this choice is also a matter of individual standpoint -- once again the artist prompts the audience to take a stand. This predicament really reminds me of our peace negotiations, where even the terms of negotiations are being negotiated... Regardless, the mere abundance of available choices attests to the complexity of this piece. Perhaps there is one thing missing: such goblets are used in traditional Jewish Sabbath meals, held, full to the brim with red wine, in the right hand of the man of the family -- I think that a really nice, oily fingerprint would have made this painting even more interesting. Maybe I should make a poll on this...

The goblet and the cherries make up a cute composition. The berries saucily show off their tails, balancing out the sombre looking container. But there is a deeper conflict: the palatable fruit symbolizes life in its quickly passing, delicious moments, whereas the silver stands for tradition and time as it slowly limps across generations. That one contains the other not only emphasizes this discrepancy, but also mitigates it. Thus it is possible to interpret the scene in universal, philosophical terms. In this context, the cherry outside of the goblet may point either towards the artist's conviction that life should be lived "in the moment," or his statement that it will, anyway. I think that the photographic look, with its precision and uncompromising realism, serves to even further accelerate the clash between the young and the old. I would even go as far as to suggest that the outcome (for the viewer) needs to be somehow cathartic -- perhaps I am out of my scope here, but this is just a general feeling I get.

On a lighter note, the mirrored room provides a positively entertaining break. There are various colors and fine details: I think it is possible to make out a porch on the left, and a coffee table and an orange curtain on the right. But it is the light inside the room that makes this miniature so different from the goblet&cherry mise en scene, and that in fact makes it an independent painting. In a way, after all that tragicomic stress induced by the big players, it provides a safe way back to reality -- a device similar to that which protects the eyes of movie goers after they exit the dark hall into a sunny afternoon. Actually, I am not aware of the existence of such a device, but it would make sense to invent one. It seems that Neil has already tested its usefulness in his field, on his terms -- and with considerable effectiveness.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Neil Hollingsworth: Bulb Vase no. 2



This is a very ironic image -- breakable objects inside a breakable object. The theme by itself seems rather contrived, as it is difficult to imagine someone actually storing light bulbs inside a vase but, the irony redeems it. There is something theatrical about this display, or perhaps something acrobatic. These bulbs pile up similarly to circus performances where athletes load themselves with improbable amount of weights. The only difference is that this scene appears to be more stable, and no foreboding drumming is heard; it may be seen, however, symbolically, in the heap of glass, which by itself may signify the moment of peril -- that may last much longer than a single circus act. There is no visible breaking point, but the sheer amount of fragile material forms one such mentally, in the viewers' perception.

The scrutiny of light effects also falls under the aegis of irony: natural light illuminating light bulbs... that's got to be funny -- and it is. Still, there are some fascinating refractions to be examined here, particularly at the vase' bottom. A rich concentration of white lines and seemingly random blots demonstrate how thick glass can distort light, and, make it the center of attention, despite the fact that the event takes place quite far from the center. The highest positioned bulb reflects what appears to be the hint of a window frame, an interesting detail. Since the background remains decidedly black, one can imagine the space as an attic, with a small fortochka (I was amazed to find that word in the dictionary!) for an opening. Thus, one thing leads to another, and viewers gradually discover more about the surroundings.

Rhythmically, this is a balanced composition: odd number of bulbs, three pointing downwards, the other two up, all pleasingly interspersed. This is a dichromatic painting, yet the artist succeeds in avoiding monotony; partially by using various compensatory grays and whites, and partially through the various said ironies. I have to admit that have I seen this vase in real life, I would have been attracted to it almost like by a magnet, wanting to push it just a little, to see what happens... Mwahaha! There is something very musical in the sound of a breaking glass. I think that the artist -- possibly subconsciously -- probes into this strange destructive appeal (which may also have subconscious roots). He taps into the prankish side of the viewers, testing them on the one hand, and providing with a visual outlet on the other.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Neil Hollingsworth: Pool Balls no. 3


I lost the last game of pool I played -- it must have been all that beer. You could say, I am not such a good player, but why would you want to say that?! This piece manages to squeeze the most out of a fairly mono-typical theme: a pool ball. Variety is achieved through colors, complimenting, such as the yellow and the black, and neighboring (regarding the color wheel), such as the green and the blue. The multitude of white dots, sprinkled throughout the canvas, reminds of a starry night (not the van Gogh), the black ball aptly contributing color. Despite the simplicity, this piece harbors some sort of magic. Indeed, crystal balls and fortune telling come to mind when looking at it.

The viewing angle is somewhat disorienting: it is difficult to determine the optimal position for the observer, no beer this time. I think that this peculiarity has a purpose. When playing pool, one can become so absorbed in the game, as to become totally unaware of the surroundings and of time. This irregular composition achieves just that; it sucks the viewers in, by painterly means -- by prompting them to find a stable axis. This, in turn, appears impossible to accomplish, as the painting can be turned by ninety degrees and remain similarly viewable. Thus, one becomes lost in a seemingly futile exercise; only seemingly, as looking at a painting is never futile, though often addictive. Additionally, this turning effect reflects the physical reality of the game, as the pool table consists of a rectangular frame, and every wall can be used as the springing point for the next shot.

It is the spherical form of the balls that makes this multilateralism possible. I think it is quite difficult to find new ways of examining such a basic geometrical form, but the artist achieves it, in what I see as a true original method. He uses the power of artistic manipulation to an actual, physical effect, forcing the viewers to tilt their heads, or rotate the painting itself. And then, there are the six and the nine balls, with those markers that never made sense to me... No matter how you turn the ball, it remains incomprehensible which number it is supposed to be. But then, I was never good with numbers too. Damn, what am I good at?.. Enough about me though. Eventually, a pool table can be a gold vein for a painter: all the colors, the shapes, the tension. In a way, it is the perfect still-life scenery, and Neil proves this hypothesis without reservations.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Neil Hollingsworth: Nautilus


This nautilus reminds me of a rare nocturnal flower that cowers under the morning sun's bright rays -- the artist uses the shape of the object to imply interaction with the surroundings, a clever compositional trick. Light and shadow, diagonals and straight lines, sharp angles and soft arches, they all point towards the theme of contrast, of color and geometry respectively. Yet what makes this piece particularly fascinating, or paradoxical even, is the sense of serenity and confidence generally projected from the canvas. There simply does not seem to be a place for a conflict, though there are so many conflicting elements. Perhaps it is the clear-cut nature of these contrasts, and their effortless identifiability that makes them work for the opposite, unifying effect. Or perhaps they just cancel each other out.

This is a classic, and a classicist composition: the column and its capital echoes Doric architectural elements, while wide and clean light stripes divide the scene into four slanting parts. Gray alternates with white, producing a zebra-like pattern, which is then repeated by the color scheme of the nautilus; a recurring theme that engages the viewer -- whether you tend to look at the bigger picture first, or prefer to delve into smaller details, you will arrive at the same road sign, aptly showing a zebra. Additionally, there is something very solid in the way the artist employs simple and basic lines. He does not merely employ them, rather, he exploits them to the maximum, perhaps driven by self-imposed economy in more luscious elements, in turn ensuing from adherence to certain stylistic principles.

But, there is the culprit, which despite its relatively insignificant size, owns the space, the canvas and the title. The nautilus plays the lead role, and appropriately so: it concentrates all of the mentioned features in its small body. First, there are the lines, second, there is the incredibly soothing and reassuring sea sound trapped inside, and third, its spiral form reaffirms theme repetition, which is an important motif in this piece, -- in an allegorical fashion. Eventually, the calm that the shell holds inside transpires outside, to the painted surroundings, and beyond, to the real minds of the viewers. I live half an hour drive from the Mediterranean, and I have become so accustomed to it, I rarely appreciate the sea view. It takes something indirect, and surprising -- such as this painting -- to rediscover the pleasure of watching the waves hit the rocks that try to break them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Neil Hollingsworth
















I know that it may sound controversial, but I have always felt that photography is yet to prove itself as a real art form. Yes, there are some components, most of which were borrowed from painting -- but can the craft of a photographer, whose most basic skill boils down to pressing the button of his apparatus at the right place at the right time, both of which they often achieve accidentally, be compared to that of an artist holding a brush, with which they try to create new life on another surface? There is no doubt that photographs can induce aesthetic pleasure, but so can nature, or almost anything, after being processed, with a specific intent, in our minds. The effect by itself does not transcend the cause into what we call "art." But, there are artists -- and I mean painters -- who have found a way to reconcile photography and painting*. Thus, "photo-realism" was born. Neil Hollingsworth is a photo-realist painter, and he makes the best of two worlds.




















Neil fully exploits photographic effects: many of his still lives include metallic objects that mirror the minutest details and reflect light with unprecedented precision. Lines and palette enjoy refinement rarely seen in painting; the photographic origins rule out painterly excesses. Despite the overwhelming possibilities, Neil gravitates towards minimalistic, classical compositions, which nevertheless project a piquant off-beat quality. An object will appear far enough from the center to make the displacement notable, but not too far, as to not to encumber the viewing process. Backgrounds, though traditionally secondary, illuminate canvases with subtle but permeating light. These are elusive qualities, and figuring them out may significantly enrich the viewing experience; when combined, along with the more prominent elements, they make up the artist's style. I don't think there is a concession in acknowledging that it is more difficult to define the individual style of a photo-realist artist. But when still trying to do so, and doing so, it may prove to be a more rewarding process than usual, in direct proportion to the invested effort.




















When working within such an idiosyncratic art movement, the choice of a subject matter can also become a challenge. Here restraint and caution serve the artist similarly well. Neil focuses on a few themes and explores them almost religiously. Spheres, one of his favorite subjects, are depicted in numerous variations: transparent, translucent or opaque, in different sizes and settings, they corroborate his dedication on the one hand, presenting a true visual insight on this geometrical object on the other. Other themes include filled or empty glass containers, vintage cars and sliced bread. Regardless of the subject, Neil displays admirable consistency in accuracy of delivery. Eventually, when each painting can posit a visual surprise for the viewer, it is particularly pleasing to recognize that, while studying Neil's artwork, the feeling of surprise can become the less surprising of all.




















Neil Hollingworth lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He has displayed his artwork in various galleries across the nation. He is a member of the Daily Painters Guild, and keeps a website and a blog.


*No photographers were harmed during the writing of this review.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dee Sanchez: Old Window


At the first glance, the window doesn't seem significant enough for the painting to be titled after it. It is mostly covered by the pots, which along with the flowers occupy the center of the piece, and of the attention. But I think that a more allegorical interpretation may remedy this seeming inconsistency: the painting displays a part of a house, where the viewer takes the role of the guest; the window represents the host, while the flowers are the offerings, symbolizing hospitality and welcome. The window becomes the mediator between the viewer and the host, carrying good will -- and scent -- as it invites inside, bearing, symbolically, all the responsibilities of a hospitable owner. Hospitality is still considered a foremost virtue -- and the epithet in the title may indeed allude to this ancient tradition.

The green window-frame plays the role of a secondary painting frame as well. The strong, and rather mysterious emerald color may be reflective of the owner's character. The blue of the window, which blocks the view into the premises, also contributes to the mystery. It is obvious that there is only one side of the involved figure that we are permitted to see: the joyful and the blooming one; coincidentally (or not), the color of the pots is either identical or close to that of the wall -- indeed a single side of the building. It is difficult to determine whether the artist meant for the flowerpots to stick out only in parts, as the lack of shadows and depth of space doesn't allow to make a distinction. Looking closely, it may appear as if some parts of the pots are outside, while others are in -- a probable misjudgement of perspective -- or an intentional mystification -- how much the flowers inside those pots truly represent the character that owns them? Are they merely an adornment, hiding something more sinister?

Most probably not, though it always is interesting to try and guess. And, regardless, the air of mystery stays. I could not fail to notice that the color of the signature is identical to that of the window-frame -- perhaps the artist is trying to tell the viewer something, besides the liking of the hue. Perhaps there are symbolic comparisons to be made between the window and artist's persona. The window is half-open, or half-closed, while the open part is covered by the flower-pots -- we return to the mystery/host allegory mentioned above. The artist lets the viewers know that her art -- the offerings on the window-sill -- represents only one facet of her personality. In a way, this painting may serve as a confession, where the artist reveals that she does not intend to reveal too much. For the viewer, in turn, it will be the invitation card -- in case the power of attraction of the unknown will prove to be irresistible.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dee Sanchez: Night Church


The warm and nightly atmosphere, along with other elements, is being channeled towards the specific purpose of inducing a positive religious sentiment. The growth around the building cushions it protectively, in a somewhat familial manner; this allegory may serve to remind viewers that going to church can be a unifying family occasion, and that feeling cozy is welcome. This painting conveys a sense of many people being around without actually showing anybody; it almost feels crowded -- yet not a single person is depicted. I think this an achievement of a more of a psychological and universal rather than artistic kind. This piece is occupied with people who are to be imagined by the viewer; it is as if the artist intends the scene to be personalized by the observer, adding characters from their own community.

The color of the church reflects its conceptions aptly: it glows, through value differences, and creates a mysterious air of wonder and anticipation. Specifically, there are two main colors; red, the color of blood and wine, and white, the color of bread. There are three white areas, all of which can serve as a focal point. Perhaps they can be merged into one; roughly, they are all positioned on the same axis -- a single ascending line. The cross at the pinnacle dominates the stars and the dark skies, reminding of several Christian principles at once. In a way, the cross links the earth, through the church, with the heavens, serving as a kind of a conduit -- a pictorial representation of one of the central notions of Christianity.

I like how the artist defines space here: the church is placed on a lofty, but not imposing position. On the one hand, it assumes a kind of reverence and self-sufficiency, while on the other it lures the observer to walk on that path and enter -- a symbolic process rendered through a particular depiction of space. The hills in the background provide rhythmic support and depth. The usual linear device is almost exclusively dedicated to the vegetation. I chose the word "usual" (as it is anything but) because one becomes accustomed to these lines and starts to see beyond them; here, eventually, they become invisible, imperceptibly helping to visualize random growth.

For me, they are no longer a curiosity... but an established device with specific instructive effects -- paradoxically, one needs to "ignore" them in order to figure out their purpose. This peculiarity reminds me of visual riddles, where the guesser needs to defocus while looking at a sheet of paper, in order to make out the shape hidden between the repetitive patterns printed on that sheet. Correspondingly, the artist may be toying with the traditional roles, establishing herself as the riddler, and us, the viewers, as the guessers. Personally, I don't mind being on the uninitiated side -- I like riddles, and painted ones especially.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dee Sanchez: Clouds Over Taos



The protagonist of this piece is color, while lines, this time in their usual subdued role, are the foil. Due to various effects, palette that could seem overabundant, demonstrates a tasteful, and even austere mix. First, the hot yellow and red in the foreground are counteracted by the cool blue and brown in the background. Second, there is a linear opposition: the hills, which expand horizontally, weigh down the verticals of the bushes. And third, most of the colors concentrate in the lower half of the canvas, the top being almost all white, -- neutral and relaxing. These inner contrasts leave their mark on the observer, making viewing the painting a rather intense experience. Perhaps not intentionally so, but the multiplicity and the versatility of painterly effects burdens this piece with meaningful aesthetic tension.

The motif of levels and steps is continued here: the heads of the bushes form a ladder, as well as the hill lines in the background. It is interesting to notice how elements of individual style recur in what might seem like a completely different painting. The bushes also form a fence, not unlike the one in "Night Suns;" the two farthest hills are red and blue in both paintings and all of the yellows appear in the foreground. Yet these two pieces are entirely different. This is the sign of a master who is in control of her craft: when particular elements reappear in completely different works of art, making it evident that they came out from under the same brush.

However, determining the formal style of this painting may prove to be more difficult. The growth seems distinctly impressionistic, but the hills are quieter than that, and their color may be misleading. Perhaps they are more post-impressionistic, carrying some expressionistic elements -- an improbable combination that works, -- which may lead one to question the benefits of the style-determining practice in the first place. Often, too many specific words will only obscure the actual affect. Instead, the best way to understand and enjoy this piece is simply to move from one step to another, exploring the colors and how they interact. The artist made sure that the viewer will be kept busy for quite some time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dee Sanchez: Night Suns


This piece displays two bouquets: one made of the sunflowers and another of the vigorous and cheerful colors. While the blossoms boisterously occupy the center, they themselves become the centerpiece of the color bunch. Together they inspire with vivaciousness and effervescence. Compositionally, perspective also feeds this influx: the artist boldly juxtaposes the fore to the background, making the visual transition effortless and inviting. Consequently, ladders and steps become the leitmotif of this piece. The fence near the bottom resembles the appliance and the gradation of the hills' color, along with the calculated descent (or ascent) suggests a graduated progression.

This is also a very musical piece: the poles of the fence are the fingerboards, the lines are he strings, while the flowers pose as sound holes. The ladder, in turn, can be the xylophone to add some rhythm. This could seem like a strained comparison, but the painting radiates such strong rhythmic waves -- be they of color and geometry -- that eventually they transpose into the realm of sound, at least on the mental level. Accordingly, the blossoms appear to be dancing, gracefully swinging their petals. On a larger scale, the fence resembles a stave, which sinks in between the flowers; figuratively, it is they, and then the hills that play the music the artist conceived in the beginning. This painting is a little animated musical and I can almost anticipate one of the flowers to break in in singing, much like the one in the "Little Shop of Horrors." "Feed me, Seymour!!!" Ahem.

I like how the lines shape a circle inside each petal, forming a kind of a heart. It reminds me of biology lessons in high school, where we used to examine onion cells in a microscope, looking for the nucleus. As I already mentioned, the lines bring with them an incredible variety of biological allusions and insinuations. The colors shimmer, value constantly interchanging -- and the lines delimit each intensification or dilution. It is entertaining to see how a yellow segment is being followed by a darker, and eventually by a nearly orange one. I think that this is how the artist reflects the nightly atmosphere, without showing a single star or the moon. Dee creates a somewhat ideal environment in this painting -- somehow, the last thing I notice (in a deliberate way) is that the two farthest hills are actually blue and red. Perhaps this is what "ideal" really means, when odd and unusual things effortlessly seep into one's mind as ordinary and habitual.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Poll Results & Some Thoughts and News

Well, the poll is over and the majority voted in favor of leaving the current pattern. So be it! But to vary it just a little bit, I might add a compare&contrast article, like the one I did here, on two paintings by Rick Monzon. Overall, I'll try to keep it to five paintings from each artist.

Another thing I'm thinking about is how to arrange the archives better. I really would like to arrange the blog according to artists. I don't know if it's even possible on Blogger. I might need to change the template, which I am not very keen on doing. I'd be very glad to hear some ideas and advice.

On a different note, I have recently joined Blogcritics, where I am registered as Elijah. I have only published one article, it's about... "One Painting a Day" movement! Yes, movement, because this is what I believe this trend to be: an art movement, no less. Anyway, that's what I tried to prove in the article and you are invited to read it. There is even a new category created especially for One Painting a Day. You might also be interested in visiting Artmakr, where Ming, who started this great website, initiated a discussion on this issue. It's like a virtual Parnassus!

I don't want to re-post stuff I wrote for Blogcritics here, so occasionally I will just post a link here to the article there. I'm thinking that the best article structure would be something in the direction of the introductions I do here, plus a few paintings shortly reviewed -- a one time big feature on the artist involved. I should probably vary established painters with emerging ones, those with the newer blogs . As always, ideas&suggestions are welcome!

Dee Sanchez: New Mexico Evening

Introduction
Dee Sanchez translates an element of painting, the line, into an element of style. This most basic component of the art becomes a leading force in her artwork, endowing it with primeval energy and sensibility. If usually it is the colors that speak to the viewer (other elements echoing in assent), here it is the lines -- and they sing, in a chorus, sometimes performing a piece on the scale of a Bach's cantata. But perhaps even a more distant comparison is due, that to the rhythmic African drums, as when the lines permeate a painting, they fill it with a repetitive rhythm, which as if arises from the cradle of the civilization rather than from its refined temples. Regardless of one's musical, or painterly tastes, pure rhythm communicates a compelling sensation of initiation and belonging. Dee cultivates that sensation, in what turns out to be an anthropological study as much as works of art.

The lines, though added after color application, form the skeleton of the painting. They construct a foundation, in a reverse process -- something that becomes possible only due to their innate aesthetic supremacy. No matter where the viewer's eyes land, in each painting they will arrive somewhere, as each line will lead to the object it delineates. These lines form a multitude of quasi-labyrinths, from which there is always a way out, as the artist also assumes the ancient role of Ariadne, offering a safe exit in the form of said objects. Similarly to the mythical love story between the princess and Theseus, the artist forges a relationship with the viewer, except it is not of the romantic kind, carrying more of an aesthetic mutual value.

Dee notes when describing her working process that "after each piece is painted, every single shape, color, and shadow is isolated and outlined." A fascinating contrast arises: the most fundamental effects are achieved by the most sophisticated technique. This contrast, as well as the retroactive ink application, denotes stylization as the guiding factor in Dee's artwork; in turn, the latter serves to reaffirm advanced civilization, marking her paintings, though indirectly, as historically and sociologically conscious. But perhaps it is more relevant to focus on what sort of change the mentioned device produces: seemingly "harmless," soft and impressionistic pieces transform into sharp and deliberate paintings, which nevertheless retain the original mildness. Moreover, they attain a unique illustrative quality -- a true generic reincarnation. On top of that, Dee often leaves the decision on whether to incorporate the lines in a piece open for a democratic vote.

Dee Sanchez lives and works in Alameda, New Mexico, USA. She keeps a website and a blog where she publishes her work. You are also invited to visit her page on the Daily Painters Art Gallery.



The lines in this landscape produce a surprising effect: laid on the hills in the background, they reveal their geological stratification in a simulation of a cross section. I think that this feature corresponds with the mythical allusions mentioned in the introduction, though, on a more concrete, scientific level. This is the power of the line: it enables the artist to uncover the history and the process of creation, and the viewer to examine and study it. By making a scientific reference, the painter enriches and diversifies this piece. Interestingly, the vegetation also enjoys this development -- or should I say evolution -- as the lines may be depicting the fibres of the numerous leaves in this painting.

There is a pure visual accordance with the multitude of various interpretative levels and scales. The lines indeed divide everything here, but also connect: Dee appropriately named her technique as "Connected Isolationism." Looking at this painting I imagine a clew; what would happen if I pull the thread and untangle the clew? The artist answers this question at least partially, as every piece is a complete work of art before the lines are drawn. I think it amazing that a true artistic problem can be solved by technological interactive means. All one needs to do is follow the artist's blog and examine the initial painting. However, once the lines are there, the question assumes poignancy again, this time for eternity.

From a painterly viewpoint, the lines emphasize the perspective and join the colors to make this piece an effective landscape. Colors coordinate with each other in a harmony that reaches a peak in the depiction of the sky, where lines were given a rest. Soft, even playful gradation defines the atmosphere. This is a particularly notable characteristic, as the black of the lines quietly dominates this piece; it does not impose itself, however, appropriately delineating the evening mood. And on a final, more humorous note, the observer may indulge in spotting various animals or objects that the lines describe. I found at least three. This painting has a way with children, or with inner children -- depending upon the viewer.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rick Monzon: Grand Canyon


Such aerial views always lend a soaring feeling of freedom, and power. Transformations of color in the sky, along with monumental mountains instill respect for nature, but also a kind of kinship, of participation in grand changes; the power and grandeur of nature passes on to the viewer. The contrast between blue and orange hues imparts a nostalgic yearning; emphasized by constant color transition as it occurs in real life, the sense of movement is achieved here by the seeming randomness of paint distribution. This is one of the reasons why we love watching sunsets: every change on such a large scale finds a small echo in our private lives. The formula is simple: we compensate for the difference with an emotional response, and hence the nostalgia.

When I first glanced at this painting, I immediately started imagining myself moving around and inspecting the canyon from a high position. The mysterious stripe of orange seems so tempting: "come closer and look at me..." It remained to determine the kind of apparatus I would use, and I picked a hang-glider. No motor noises; rather, a bird-like maneuvering ability, with the wind blowing right in my face, supporting the wings of my flying machine. It makes sense to entrust oneself to the forces of nature when wanting to pay a tribute and marvel at it -- if only in one's fancy. This piece, though representing a single point in time, accumulates a capacity for projecting a temporal progression, largely due to its saturnine lyricism, ensuing, once again, from the blue, white and orange contrasts.

When two elements comprise a landscape -- air and earth in this case -- it is interesting to study the relationship between the two. Do they cooperate in some way, or do they struggle, and fight for supremacy? Here, it seems, the first example qualifies. It is as though the sky invests in the earth, practically all it has -- the intense and epic palette gradually flows downward, inside the canyon -- a safe that concentrates the wealth of color. The clouds form a triangle that points towards the canyon. In turn, the ridges point towards the vertex of that triangle. Together, they appear to be communicating, striving to reach an "understanding," a kind of a common ground. In pictorial terms, this understanding translates into harmony and unity.

There is enough light to oppose the general gloomy atmosphere: it partially negates the darker tones, and reminds of their temporariness. Though the white occupies a relatively small area on the canvas, its concentration makes up for it. The energy matters no less than the territory: just consider the Big Bang theory, with the whole universe expanding from one singular point. The light enlivens this piece, or rather prepares to do so when the time is right, in a few more hours, lurking between the skyline and the clouds. It adds a touch of day to the coming night, varying even more the palette and its effects. Or, perhaps, to the parting night, as it seems that the artist leaves it open for interpretation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rick Monzon: Better Day; Modern House

Compare & Contrast
Though thematically the genre of suburbia unifies these two paintings, they differ in almost every visual aspect within that theme. The serene blue, the calm viewing angle and the traditional house contrast the red sunset, the voyeuristic perspective and the modernistic architecture. But these differences also have a common characteristic: time causes all of these changes. The blue skies change their color as the day nears it end, architectural tastes evolve and, open and hospitable lifestyle retracts to an enclosed, escapist culture. Perhaps, one piece continues the other rather than opposes it. We witness similar tendency in parent and child relationship: often the latter rebels and tries to differ, but eventually succeeds the former. Mutual genes -- the genre -- determine the general resemblance, allowing for contained discrepancies.

Elaborating on the offspring metaphor, and the psychological tension it entails, I would declare the moodier piece as the "black sheep" of these series. The painting is indeed darker -- and I will take compliments for the perfect choice of colloquialism in the comments, red herring notwithstanding. It also appears very private and guarded, a green hedge blocking the view, contrary to the open and welcoming area in front of the traditional suburban home. Who lives in these buildings? Intuition tells me that a conventional and somehow inevitably happy family occupies the house with the visible driveway. But a child who grew up in such an environment will possibly have learned to resent it, and moved into a quirkier, and much more individualistic structure. The protagonist from the film "Donnie Darko" comes to mind; coincidentally, his home was destroyed by an unexpected crash.


The road further brings out the accessibility of the fenceless house, but becomes a literally and figuratively hidden motif in the other piece. Because of the hedge, one needs to "approach" the building in order to try and examine it. The viewing angle positions the observer on the road rather than in front of it, which results in a comical paradox, similar to when someone looks for a hat all the while wearing it on her head. On the one hand, by placing the viewer on the road, the artist encourages her to investigate and explore further. On the other hand, the actual inability to trace the path, prevents her from advancing. The artist plays a pull&push game, as he doesn't want observers to find out what's inside but entices them try. Since this painting represents a single point in time -- we will never find the road -- and never access the house. And, even standing on the driveway, closer to the building, doesn't make it appear more accessible; on the contrary, it only seems more alien. I can almost imagine a closed circle camera being installed and concealed in that evergreen tree.

This is a secretive, exclusive or a "friends only" house -- and this friendship is very sought for. Its kind remains open for interpretation: a celebrity villa for one, it can be a haunted house for another. Personally, I like to imagine the artist himself inhabiting it; a mastermind who orchestrates the viewer's reactions and inmost aspirations. While the first painting projects contentment and self-assurance, the second destabilizes and disturbs. Together they combine to reflect the complexity of a single individual and her inner life. They provide a front and a back view of one's mind, the light and the dark side of one's soul. This is the advantage of looking at several paintings from a single series: each piece presents a different side of the theme; eventually, the series gives a more complete overview of the topic. When Claude Monet embarked on painting the Rouen Cathedral, producing more than a dozen paintings, he strove to depict as many light effects as possible. In this case, the artist aims to convey psychological and sociological phenomena. Ultimately, this series is about the people, the people we never get to see on these canvases -- ourselves and our neighbors.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rick Monzon: Yellow Pears


The unusual arrangement of the pears, which resemble two pieces of a puzzle, sets the tone for this still life. I will avoid dichotomous Yin/Yang preludes, and will simply try to figure out what is going on here. Following the puzzle comparison, the artist tries to achieve a kind of completeness, or perfection, when all the pieces fit in and form a new image. The difference here is that there is no image to be formed, which prompts to look for a meaning instead. Although, there is a basic image involved: an ellipse. I remember reading in William Hogarth' "The Analysis of Beauty," that in order for a perfect face to shine even more, it needs the contrast of a small defect. Here, (though the perfection is of a geometrical kind) we see the defect in the form a the black spot at the back of the higher positioned pear. Clearly, the artist knows what he is doing.

This is an even composition: two fruits and two tails; almost a perfect symmetry between them. It is known that straightforward symmetry (which entails monotony) may appear tiresome to the eye. This painting can be straining despite the beauty spot; Hogarth also claimed that the artist should avoid monotony at all costs (odd compositions are often considered more beautiful). Rick defies hogarthian dogmas, and chooses the more difficult path, but offering a compensation along the way: the circular movement forms something I already mentioned as characteristic to Rick's oeuvre -- a hypnotic pattern that aims at the subconscious. In fact, a degree of monotony is essential for effective hypnosis. Hence the composition assumes an underlying purpose that justifies the repetition -- a purpose that becomes the meaning mentioned above.

This painting mesmerizes. As often happens, when more parts of the mind become involved, following a simple logic, the viewing experience becomes more difficult and intense. This is a heavily loaded piece that asks the viewer's brain to work, offering in return what may be tentatively described as "aesthetic pleasure." Personally, I like complex ideas and paintings that express such ideas. This piece generates friction between itself and the viewer. Interestingly, friction was the first step to the discovery of electricity and, in turn, mesmerism and hypnosis. If you think I just threw a few more unrelated terms into the bag, just think Edgar Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," or Marie Shelly's "Frankenstein." The artist does not ask for this piece to endear itself immediately, maybe even trying to repel the casual observer. But, it often happens that things we like right away bore us quickly, while things we don't understand, and are indifferent about, reveal their depth only later on.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rick Monzon: Filter

Introduction
Usually I follow a fixed patten when preparing to write a review. I look at some paintings and make notes on predominant characteristics, elements of style, color preferences, brushwork and so on. I brainstorm and write down first impressions. Then, using this data, I try to deduce what the artist seeks to express and what should be the general direction of my interpretation. Finally, I strive to construct a coherent argument and make conclusions about the paintings I examined. But, sometimes, the artwork resists direct analysis. I receive a different kind of inspiration, one that is difficult to put to words -- all I have is a vague sensation that morphs and pulsates inside my head and psyche. Such is the artwork of Rick Monzon.

Rick paints mostly landscapes and suburbia. It is fascinating to observe how the gloomy and troubled palette he uses in the former genre shifts towards the serene and soothing in the latter; darker tones towards the lighter. The artist communicates a complete world view that opposes the precipices of nature to the security of the city. His paintings flow and float, and, to experience them optimally, the best strategy, so it seems, would be to entrust yourself to the artist's world, and simply hop the adventure. Furthermore, in order to fully enjoy Rick's art, one has to let go of the desire for conventional understanding. Not all art was made to be understood; sometimes it is made to be felt, experienced on another level. Here it is the subconscious: his pieces transmit on waves unregistered by standard perception but duly absorbed by what resides under or behind it. They are akin to David Lynch's strange realm, particularly as it was displayed in the film Mulholland Drive, where we witness utopian urban landscapes being shown as the other side of sordid slums -- literal, as well as figurative, those of our psyche and ego.

Eventually, his paintings claim a mind -- following the subconscious -- of their own, and they speak for themselves. And this what I will try to do in my review of his artwork, to let it speak, adding not so much a critique as a commentary, sidenotes and impressions, in an endeavor to uncover the common denominator of the audience and the collective psyche that the artist addresses. Rick Monzon lives in Ojai, California, USA. He is relatively new to the online frequent painting scene, having usually displayed his work in galleries. You are invited to visit his blog and his website.



This painting displays a complex interplay between the light and the trees and the ground that hosts them. The light is filtered by the streaming growth; the result is a series of rhythmically positioned spots that create a pattern of hypnotic quality, aiming to tap into the subconscious. This device is further accentuated by the incredible sense of movement, as every trunk is somehow curved and recurved . It is as if the trees are trying to confuse the viewer, while, in fact, withholding a secret agenda: to force the observer into a somewhat delirious state of perception. At this point I already feel the need to apologize for my probably too serious tone but, following my vow expressed in the introduction, I am merely trying to follow the will of this piece. With this painting, I am a always a step behind, and the sense of uncertainty can be pretty severe.

But not all is harsh. Just as the artist's oeuvre propones a dichotomy of light and dark, this piece contains it on a miniature level. There is a captivating horizontal symmetry: three sections, one entirely green (the bottom), one black (the top), and another one combining these colors (the middle); the two outermost stripes are shown how to deal with in the middle section, where the green tames the black and vice versa. In fact, there are two major areas of color that intersect in the middle, and this arrangement is not at all alien to the Freudian scheme of the ID, the Ego and the SuperEgo. The imposing sense of distortion may imply on how things can go wrong and how difficult it is to retain one's sanity. Indeed, the line "How you suffered for your sanity" from Don McLean's "Vincent" comes to mind.

It is almost possible to see the wind in this piece. This is not a coincidence. The line of trees may be serving an agricultural purpose of blocking winds and hurricanes, to prevent soil movement and loss. It is particularly interesting to see that the wind, in fact, blows in the viewers' direction, practically into our faces. The artist creates an illusion that the trees are trying to protect the audience, forming a hedge between them and the element, dragging observers into a live, powerful experience along the way. The protective intent recurs in other paintings as well, and, it occurs to me that the painter, while violently stirring the hidden parts of the mind, assumes artistic responsibility, and guards the audience from excessive cataclysms. Looking at his art may seem like a risky venture -- but you are in safe hands, and it's a risk worth taking.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Announcement: A Poll on a Change in Reviewing Pattern

Dear Readers and Subscribers,

I have been thinking that maybe it is time to change the reviewing pattern. There are hundreds of frequent/daily painters out there. If I dedicate, for instance, two/three posts to each one (one with a review and a painting, another one or two with a critique of one or two paintings at once) I would be able to feature more artists during the same time period. Perhaps even shift towards other art forms, such as photography and scrapbooks. On the other hand, current pattern would give a more comprehensive overview.

To be honest, I don't know which is better. I like it the way it is, and I would love the new pattern just the same. So I put up a poll (right beneath the title) for you to vote and help me decide. Right now it is open for a week, and maybe I'll keep it running longer, depending on circumstances. I would love to hear your opinions and suggestions on this, or any other issue. Thank you for your cooperation! :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Carol Marine: Umbrella Flower


The colors, how they combine, and the soaring flower just make this painting so magical and evocative, like a flight of fancy trapped by a frame. The petals resemble butterfly's wings, flapping softly but nervously, as if trying to break free from the material flower, which, in turn, also appears to hover, disconnected from the ground by the lower edge of the piece. This painting is like a pastoral poem, except that paint and canvas substitute ink and paper. Or, perhaps a haiku, a short and condensed poetical image that imparts movement, delicacy and low-key and mysterious intensity in just three lines. Yes, I like this piece. And although there is no indication of whether it is an out or an indoor depiction, I strongly tend towards the former.

The emerald green is stunning. Interestingly, it actually appears in nature but, as the color of sea, not air. I think there is a recurring motif in Carol's work: she extracts and borrows a color that is characteristic of wide planes, such as the sky or the ocean, and transfers it to her next canvas, but with a different purpose -- disposing of other actual components, for instance, ripples or clouds. She detaches and abstracts that particular color from its origin, designating it the role of a reminder, of an actor that carries the power of evocation of something big and powerful. So if the green here reminds of the sea, the question that arises is why, logically, besides providing an surrealistic tinge, the sea takes the place of the sky?

Here the title comes in to fill in the blanks of my interpretation. The flower is compared to an umbrella, an object that protects from water. It alludes to the hydrological cycle, and that eventually the water in the clouds and the ocean is interchangeable -- and so is the meaning of the background. Rain and stormy weather often darken the atmosphere, and the flower may indeed appear to be crumpled by strong wind. Together with the ominous background, the title foreshadows the impending. But this painting also contains a flashback, of a historical and stylistic scope. It is reminiscent of van Gogh's Branch of an Almond Tree in Blossom. Most of all, it resembles it conceptually; same idea, different execution and scale. Though, Carol's palette in this piece may have some van-Goghian elements, of the late and troubled van Gogh in particular -- and, this final evocation, so it seems, will certainly surpass the rest.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Carol Marine: Bulby Dots


The artist plays with colors -- the pink hides behind the blue and the white, winking occasionally at the individual viewer -- provoking a hide and seek game between the audience and the dots. The game progresses, transforming into a kind of a dialogue between the artist and her audience: she hides the paint, and they seek, as the rules become reversed, when many look for a single meaning. Every painting may be viewed as a pictorial transposition of this game, but it is here that the comparison becomes particularly obvious and relevant. This piece becomes a communicative junction between the artist and the audience -- an object that unites and connects the two parties, similarly to the home base in the game.

However, while playing, one tries to outdo the other. When the seeker and the hider arrive to home base simultaneously (I am only familiar with the variant where the former must touch home base after finding the latter), a conflict ensues. Here, on the other hand, both openly steer towards the destination of understanding. An undesirable situation in the game, it is desirable in art -- the rules, once more, become reversed. Still, the common feature of fun remains intact, though I assume that while viewing a painting it can evolve into something more sophisticated. Fun here turns into subtle humor, carefully orchestrated by the painter's brush.

The colors of these bulbs may not seem so exotic if we consider the taste of garlic. The toxic, mischievous pink wonderfully correlates with the bitter taste. Occasional spots that peep out may be warning about the overuse of this vegetable, reminding to put small amounts -- a painterly culinary guide. I think that the polka dots can also imply on garlic's true nature: a leopard cannot change its spots; garlic, even when consumed in small cooked amounts, may cause a foul breath. There is only one way to avoid it: if everybody eats garlic, nobody will notice it. Possibly, garlic is the most democratic of all vegetables. Viva!..

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Carol Marine: Red Rose


What is the lifespan of a cut flower? A week, possibly two, with the addition of sugar or some other nourishment. During that time, the flower slowly disintegrates -- and this is what this painting shows, in the making, or the unmaking, to be more accurate. And it does so with a harsh rhythm: I have recently watched an action movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, -- this piece could be aptly categorized as an "action painting;" the interchange of black, red and the shadows between, along with piling up of sharp diagonals, produces effects similar to those created by the shaky camera movements in the film. The petals of this rose project innate continuity and instability and, akin to the seventh art form, they evoke suspense, though of a different kind.

But perhaps there is a more appropriate cinematic comparison -- I keep returning to the camera simply because of how alive and active the flower appears on the canvas. This one is from the Discovery Channel: a sequence of a few seconds, showing in fast forward the blooming and subsequent fading of a single flower. The piece in front of us could be a pictorial representation of frame edited out of the sequence. Impressionism is known to strive to portray motion and transition, but here the result subjects the genre to fast forwarding -- "turbo-impressionism." Once again, it is the injection of features from another style that accelerates this painting: the triangular petals and rectangular brushstrokes strongly allude to cubism.

The rosebud is symmetrical to the jar, a peculiarity that may induce a false sense of harmony. Usually, the vase is much bigger than the flower, so the container in front of us turns out to be surprisingly small. The balance is deceptive here and the blossom conceals a threat -- of tipping over and destroying the composition. Still, there are two features that somehow support it: the first is the wall and the second is the general atmosphere of a quiet room with a single light source, calmly but confidently reflected by the jar -- just a few brushstrokes of white. Perhaps, while pointing these features out, I am merely trying to define that extraordinary suspense, in a hope to resolve it. But the paradox is that it is predestined to remain constant, trapped inside the frame, being the most stable attribute of this piece.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Carol Marine: Four Eights


These orange segments appear to be closer to the mental image, that of the memory and imaginative reconstruction, than to the original, realistic one. We do not see the natural segmentation, or almost any signs of fiber, which should be visible from that distance. Instead, there is the emphasis on strong lines, straight or arched, which enclose overruling any details areas of orange of varying value -- features that denote a geometrical schematic representation -- the first step towards abstraction. The artist's delivery shifts from accurate visual representation of objects towards their mentally processed counterparts. Perhaps, this tendency merely reflects how the artificial cutting into sections overrides the natural division of the fruit. The artist balances on the line that demarcates genres. This painting becomes a generic fusion, with overtones of cubism, fauvism and expressionism.

The colors are a visual feast. They are bright, and even flashy. Yet the artist avoids loudness; I think that the radical viewing angle adds symbolic humility to this piece -- the colors are very self-indulgent, or even self-absorbed, but the viewers are compensated by their lofty position, the literal ability "to look down" upon the scene. On a similar note, the colors may appear to be hiding something, but the aerial view does not let them, providing maximal exposure. If there ever was a need for justification of such angles, this could be it. There is a complex equilibrium between the rich palette and the ascetic perspective, as radical foreshortening tames the colors. This effect contributes the the inner unity that this luminous work projects. Interestingly, the composition plays only a minor role, as if trying not to get in the way of the other players.

A comparison comes to mind: the orange is not far from the color of gold and, considering the title of this painting, the fruit parts may appear to replicate golden pieces of eight. Now that may not seem such a far fetched hypothesis if you recall how coins were checked for authenticity. By teeth -- practically, by taste. However, when you are sailing into a months long pirate campaign, your teeth may all fall out because of scurvy. And the best way to treat it is to consume fresh fruit, especially vitamin C rich citrus fruits, such as oranges. You see, it is all connected... Conclusion: don't sail unprepared. You may end up exchanging all your pieces of eight for a piece of orange. Just like the one depicted here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Carol Marine: Pitcher & Apple #2

Introduction
During my writing in this blog, I have learned that there are three main groups of still life painters: those who prefer minimal compositions, of one or two items, those who aim for complexity, including as much as ten various objects, and those who are comfortable with any arrangement, a trait that makes them universal and all-round artists. Carol Marine clearly belongs to the third category. Moreover, she is similarly at ease with various known painting styles: her exotic and intense palette echoes expressionism, her loose brushwork pays tribute to impressionism, and the final results often carry a suggestion of fauvism. And yet, what fascinates me the most in her work, is the overwhelming sense of personality. It saturates her paintings and inevitably affects the viewer. All of the influences do not impose themselves upon the artist's expression; Marine absorbed techniques and peculiarities from various traditions and schools, and gives them her own individual interpretation, filtering them through the prism of her own vision. Eventually, her style is very definitive and focused, revealing that the artist knows where she is headed -- even when she tries something new. This may sound strange, but I find something masculine in her work. Again, a universal artist, who can transcend femininity and enrich her paintings with the air of the opposite sex.
Marine often experiments, creating a series of works on a single theme, reminiscent of Monet, albeit on a smaller scale. Objects are frequently depicted directly from above, or from another unusual angle. Another characteristic that distinguishes her style, is the creative approach to backgrounds. These are often painted with an unexpected color, or decorated by a piece of cloth. She is similarly inventive when it comes to ornamental finish, covering entire canvases with polka-dots or other unusual patterns. Additionally, it often seems that a filter covers her pieces: it produces a certain fuzziness, as if the paintings suffer from megascopic pixelization. All of these features add a dimension of surprise to her artwork. It may be an acquired taste, but I find it certainly worth acquiring. In spite of so many subjective qualities, or maybe because of them, the final result turns out to be most objective: fresh and enticing paintings.
Carol Marine lives in Austin, Texas, USA. Besides painting, she also teaches in various workshops. She publishes her work on this website and this blog.


This is a luscious piece, with generously distributed paint. It is not realistic, and it was not intended as such. Looking at these colors, vast oriental palaces, tended by innumerable servants and slaves, come to mind -- the behind the scenes of a tale from One Thousand and One Nights. I have recently read a few tales from the collection, and was surprised about the unruly debauchery described in this medieval Islamic book. The apple can certainly represent the temptation and imply on what is happening onstage.

It is interesting to see how the drapery (or the curtain) starts at the background and gradually flows out to the foreground, capturing a considerable part of it. It becomes both a secondary and a primary actor, providing contrast for the pitcher and the apple -- supporting them, both physically and visually -- and simultaneously exposing wide areas in a somewhat flaunting, playful manner. Initially a device, it has earned the right to be an active member of this still life: "Pitcher & Apple on Cloth." It occupies the whole center of the painting, and its azure tint indeed lets the composition breathe, just as the color implies.

In tune with my previous remarks, I would say that the brushwork here is no less than bohemian. As a result, objects appear to be growing, or expanding. The sense of movement is not compositional, but more particular: the pitch and the apple appear to strive for independence, trying to push each other away. Again, the drapery plays a conciliating role, but I can still tell that the other two don't like each other. Ironically, they generate magnetic tension, which in turn adds a comic element to the painting. The apple indeed replicates the lower part of the pitcher, but in such minute proportions as to further elaborate the comic theme. However, all of these separate meanings do not undermine the general impression; eventually, this canvas is more than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Craig Stephens: Candle #2


I think that this piece can be viewed in terms of Yin and Yang, visually as well as conceptually. There are two major areas of contrasting colors, while each one is blemished by the other -- the black wick deep inside the candle and the white spots on the nightly background. Darkness and light, both drawing meaning from each other, they are interdependent, constantly negotiating with each other. It is difficult to avoid simplification and cliche but, for once, we are indeed confronted by a strong black and white image. What is interesting in the above comparison is how Western tradition may be demonstrated not to be that different, in its core, from the Eastern.

This candle ignites a sense of delicate intimacy and warmth, as the soft yellow and white ward off the enclosing darkness. But the intimacy is rather abstract, as we don't know the purpose for which the candle was lit; it travels to the closest subject capable of carrying it -- the viewer -- thus inspiring introspection and self-reflection. In a way, the candle on this canvas sheds light on the observer, and, in a rather complimenting fashion: personally, I get a positive sensation of harmony and self-acceptance. We all have our demons, but this small light does its best to deter and mollify them.

The melted wax is visual treat: an exquisite lateral ballast that exemplifies how laws nature often make the most compelling creations. It is reminiscent of a Gaudi bench; which makes me wonder about the source of his inspiration. It is known that architects (as well as painters) sculpture their models with wax -- perhaps the bench was a chance discovery by the esteemed architect. In similar tone, the whole inside of the candle resembles an amphitheater. Translucency once again becomes a motif; this time, however, the culprit is in the center of our attention. Perhaps, in a kind of tribute, the artist depicts light in one of its purest forms. If one allows for it, the effect can be quite cleansing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Craig Stephens: Feather


This feather has personality. It reminds me of a willful Pekinese that owns the whole couch while sitting on the edge. It occupies the bare surface with pride and miniature stately gravitas; which is surprising considering its notorious weight. One knows that it can be blown away by the weakest waft, yet somehow it is hard to believe and to accept that fact. Thus this feather invokes an emotional response, empathy, a refreshing crossover for an inanimate object (though perhaps the animate origin plays a role here too) -- and eventually for the artist -- to achieve.

As often happens in minimalistic compositions, a simple, binary decryption ensures probably the most effective viewing experience: feather vs. the background, vs. its own shadow, vs. the chicken; the two colors of the feather, the two different materials that make it up, the soft touch of one vs. the pointy tip of the other, and so on and so forth. This is the basic form of compiling data that later can be used to substantiate allegory and symbolic meanings. In a way, the depicted object resembles a piece of evidence placed on a sterile surface to keep it from being contaminated. And it has already been said that the interpreter's job replicates that of a detective.

So what do we have here, ladies and gentlemen? Exhibit A, a feather collected from a battered chicken (read the witness' report from July 18th), it prompts to ponder the relationship between predators and their prey, and make conclusions about nature's cruel ways. The next step is to consider human efforts to control and redirect animals' rabid instincts, mostly by domestication. However, since human nature itself can be extremely violent, it needs a token of refined culture as a constant restraint: the feather again, a writing instrument during hundreds of years of Western civilization, it symbolizes the arts and their taming effect.

But one doesn't have to drift in the direction of symbolism, and perhaps interpretation is altogether unnecessary. While looking at this painting, I found enjoyment in simply recalling known uses of feathers: native Americans' headgear, filling for pillows, a material used for corporeal punishment, writing instruments (though usually made of geese feathers), currency -- just to mention a few. I think this piece proves how powerful the genre of still-life can be: an accidental found object is revealed to touch so many spheres of human activity and thought simply by being put on canvas. It tickles me to have missed this before.