Tuesday, July 31, 2007

J Matt Miller: Buttercups

This still life differs significantly from the close-ups Miller usually employs. In a way, it is a more conventional endeavor, though the unusually low viewing angle may serve to challenge that impression.

The transparent container reveals the less attractive stems that engender the flowers; by placing a single blossom near the jar's bottom, the artist recapitulates the theme of origin: the flower beside the stem reminds the viewer, in a more symbolic fashion, that one comes from the other. The artistic act of placing the top near the bottom displays a conscious reflection upon themes that eventually reincarnate as human, and humanistic: life, death and rebirth. This representation becomes a statement on these issues, rather than another visual rendering of nature's processes and peoples' taste for decoration.

The two buttercups closer to the right edge rhythmically gravitate towards the ground -- and the stems, -- describing an imaginary arc; as if in a slow motion simulation of a single flower's degradation, their movement reaffirms the circularity of their existence. The flower eventually returns to the ground and later becomes the basis for yet another cycle of growth. Of course, there is the possibility that the lying one fell off by itself, but it is hard for me to believe in such a turn of events: the whole arrangement appears too deliberate. Besides, there is no visible stem lacking a blossom.

Since most depictions of flowers (that I have seen) do not reveal entire stems, this one here may be perceived as defying the tradition.The yellow and the black play off each other, always an effective color combination. The detail where the light falls on the glass is realistic: it almost hurts my eyes, as if by a real flash. Despite the calculated composition, the sense of spontaneity is retained. All in all, because this painting is suggestive of the human condition, it projects an appropriate mood. It is sad and it is brooding. It is mournful. And, it is memorable.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

J Matt Miller: Key

Before I begin, I will confess that such minimalistic paintings are the most difficult to write about. I often ask myself if I am not over-analyzing, and in such cases as this one, where there is seemingly little tension, I have to double check myself. And still, the challenge remains irresistible.

This piece boasts a nearly perfect composition: three levels -- the nail, the the thread and the key -- each one given a different color. The knot on the thread points to the left edge, opposite to the key's direction, a divergence that creates a restrained balance. There is a gradation of length, as it progressively increases from the highest object to the lowest. As almost in all Miller's work, the composition appears almost flat, with shadows so close to the objects, they barely expand to give the just about the correct three dimensional illusion.

Because the objects protrude only slightly, volume becomes a latent leitmotif: the key's stylized nearly flat appearance vs. the three dimensions in which it works, the turning movement being one the three basic motions in a three dimensional world. Furthermore, using the key may entail opening something, which also denotes a symbolical invasion of space, such as a door turning on its hinges, or a dresser sliding out -- they all disrupt the given space, utilizing the three dimensional reality.

The pinkish thread may serve as a comic relief to the classic looking key (its color may imply money/gold). And since the key literally hangs by this thread, the two disclose a playful recommendation not to take reality too seriously and remember that there are more important things than the daily routine. The golden path lays in the reasonable interchange between fancy and realism; accordingly, the small triangle on the key's head points towards the golden center, where the thread and the metal connect. The key to understanding this work is finding a link between all its elements, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Together, they form a unity conquering in its simplicity and quiet force.

J Matt Miller: Bronze Horse

The sombre palette in this piece prompts a hypothetically retrospective viewing: I am transposed two centuries back in time, to a Hoffmann tale, or, given the austerity and minimalism of the composition, to Andersen's Nordic fairy world.The strict duality of the green and the brown can be easily translated to the basic black and white contra-position, omnipresent in early illustrations of the mentioned texts. Although, Marcel Ayme's "The Green Mare" may be a suitable modern example.

The empty space above the figurine prompts to imagine a rider (the steadfast tin soldier?). As if something is missing, and it is left for our fantasy to think up what it might be. The frame also serves the purpose of directing the viewer towards completing the composition, -- in a sort of a game, not too alien of a child's play, who grabs the figure and moves it around the room, already teeming with imaginary knights.

Another striking aspect here is the theatricality. The painting contains a secondary frame, which indicates an initiation into another art form. The statuette becomes a puppet, and the painter the meta puppeteer. The hollow of the wooden box is the stage where the plot unfolds: either by the hands of the owner or by a mechanism inside the horse.

This work is soaked with the solid air of the good old bourgeoisie; when children had to invest considerable time and fancy to amuse themselves. There were few toys, but each one had a history, sentimental, as well as temporal. Precisely because of such evocations, there is something timeless about the piece. We know that bronze statues can have a broad life span. Perhaps a painterly reprise can broaden it even more.

Friday, July 27, 2007

J Matt Miller: Head Lock

J Matt Miller takes everyday objects, such as tools and household equipment, and transforms them into curiosities. Some appear as if taken out from a kunstkamera, others, as if discovered accidentally on a dilapidated attic. The artist zooms in and reveals the smallest details and defects, thus providing a painted history of the object. His use of contrasting colors often substitutes any obvious lighting effects; even, unobtrusive illumination serves to bring out the subject of the piece. Compositions are mostly simple: a single item, sometimes two, are given a mise en scene, which they act out either with delight and humor, or with nostalgia and irony. Often a still life resembles an animal, or reflects a human activity: engaging allusions that invigorate the rusty and underused instruments. Watching Miller's art, I sometimes get an impression that I am looking through a filter -- much like the ones used in cinema -- albeit unable to determine of which color. He creates a unique atmosphere; unpretentious and frank, it is nonetheless magical and diverse. I think that one of the strongest features of his art is the ability to earnestly focus on the subject without imposing it overly on the observer.

Two interlocked wrenches: fighting or playing? Or, perhaps, making love; or yet, one is giving birth to the other, or trying to devour it. Both possess a large-toothed mouth, an eye and a brain, which makes personification almost inevitable. Possibly, even deification: there is something idol-like in their ferocious expressions. I imagine that from a certain perspective, this piece resembles a polytheistic icon (if there is such a thing). Industrial totems fighting for supremacy.

The struggle is no less than monumental. There is a lot of metal and the reds and browns appear deep and fulsome, as if masculine and muscular. Fire, steelwork and dark underground mines come to mind when looking at these tools. Except the platform, all line are diagonal, even if slightly, which creates a subdued illusion of movement: the clumsy dance the two wrenches perform. The given position is but a glimpse at one entrechat.

The occasional hints of brown on the otherwise neutral blue background also reflect the sheer energy and force brought to life in this composition. The struggle literally spills out to the wall. The latter, however keeps its blue cool and generally tones down the event; it is the water that negates the above mentioned fire. Thus the background assumes an active role, contributing to a balance, which nevertheless remains shaky: the original artistic intent, the way I see it, was to bring about a sense of dynamic instability. All this makes it a difficult work of art to observe and concentrate on, requiring multiple viewings, from different angles -- and securing a long and a lasting aesthetic reward.

J Matt Miller is a working artist from Seattle.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Christopher Stott: Bananas

Another photographic work, this fruit-piece consists of two main patches of color, each developed gradually, through gradation of value. The already familiar wall in the background is gray; darkest on the edges, it brightens towards the center, where it meets the yellow bananas in the focal point. Correspondingly, the bunch's color at this place of contact is at its brightest -- in fact, it is almost white, being lit directly. The yellow then grows darker towards the edges. The radial treatment of value consistently alludes to the source of light. This is not accidental: light, and its side effect, warmth, allow growth; bananas would not sprout or burgeon if it were not for the sun. In fact, there would not be any life at all. Hence, this painting is heliocentric, and as such, it assumes a life affirming meaning.

The interplay in the yellow's value, along with the additions of white and black, gives the fruit an "inner life," as if telling about the edible contents. Drawing and color collaborate. The drawing brings out the form -- "the skin" -- whereas the color -- the soft, sweet meat(what's inside the form). I find particularly notable the detail where the bananas accrete: a small area where there's still some green, the black recedes into the lighter brown, and the wall's gray is visible between the individual fruit. It seems that the artist explores the possibilities and the range of the yellow color in various micro settings. He approaches color carefully and meticulously, aware of its primal force; he cultivates it, translating an agricultural feat into artistic terms -- the black in the lower part of the painting may refer to the soil used in the actual growing process. Without a shade of a cliche, art here imitates life in the most direct way.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Christopher Stott: Sharing the Wisdom

The space in this work appears open, unclosed to be more specific. There is only one wall bordering it; the window's shadow hints at the open space outside. Multiple lines criss-cross the room: the chairs, again, the shadow from the window, the books, and the line on the wall. These lines serve the purpose of a fence; combined, they remind the viewer that this is a private space, and, subsequently, that reading is a deeply private activity and experience. But they are thin and delicate: one doesn't flaunt one's knowledge (by an otherwise inconspicuous guarding method), and, should be prepared to share the wisdom (let it percolate through the thin bars), if the opponents are refined enough in their approach to the owner. This is not a Faustian dark cellar. Tragedies are at bay here: pragmatic optimism luminesces from the epicenter of my understanding of that piece. This work generates a sense of freedom and future.

The composition is quite complex: many objects, some of them small; the light and the shadows are an additional object in the painting, taking up the theoretical role mentioned above; two different chairs; the surface of the wall and of the floor -- two perpendicular planes, with corresponding roles in conveying a hidden facet of the imagined owner's mind (the wall, unlit) and a shared one (the floor, lit). Notably, the books interweave light with shadow... Three principal elements -- the light, the books and the chairs -- form the perfect reading environment. The arrangement is effective, as the golden center is very close to where the books almost touch, as if in an exchange of content. Thus, the artist's intent, as it is expressed in the title, is anchored in a mathematical point of rest, possibly the strongest there is.

There are sixteen books, eight in each pile. Some tomes seem quite heavy; probably encyclopedia volumes. Dictionaries, art history monographs also come to mind. But, unless the artist shares this with the observer, it will remain private. Perhaps it should. Some things attract more when kept in the dark.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Christopher Stott: Black Leather Shoe

Stott treats his subjects with care that transcends to something more sensuous; one could say he approaches them with love, which they duly reflect back. Still life becomes a fetish burdened with emotional investment. Technique make such evolutions possible: solid drawing with calculated color application combine to convey an aesthetic illusion. Yet sometimes the two work against each other. The artist applies colors carefully and very economically, and the brushwork is not intended to be visible. There is a methodical resemblance to 19th century French academic painting. Sometimes the layers of color seem so thin and even (particularly in the lighter tones) as to induce an aerial and detached effect, of which I spoke in the previous review. When the drawing is nearly perfect, the overall result is mesmerizing but, when it is not, the defects become accentuated after the paint is put on the canvas. Again, it is as if when they aren't together -- they are against each other.

I remember reading that Bouguereau could take up to six months to complete one work. The fact that these artists choose to complete one almost every day, alleviates responsibility -- though how much, is for the artist to decide. Fortunately, as a critic, I do not have to deal with such dilemmas. But I find Stott's insistence on using this particular technique as risk taking and bold; particularly so, considering that unlike in matters of style, these are generally conscious choices.

That shoe falls under the category where the drawing and the painting complement each other. Precision of delivery, subtle work on the shadows, especially where the sole touches the surface, somehow marble in my vision. The shoe projects affluence, but also understates it, turning timidly from the viewer, exposing its side. It is self contained on the one hand, yet evinces a communicative streak on the other. I imagine that the lighter tones elicit the latter characteristic, while the composition -- the viewer's angle and the placement -- the former. It is an aristocratic piece of footwear (in fact, that epithet would serve rightly many other Stott's model subjects). Examine Vincent van Gogh's boots:

A complete opposite. These expose themselves with a naturalistic frankness, as if taken out of a Zola novel. Battered, worn out, old and repulsive; I could almost sense the unsavory odor rise from their black innards. The one on the left displays its "ribs", the laces resembling the white bones of a skeleton. These boots pulse with allusion. Stott's shoe does not pulse: it breathes coolly and quietly. And all that remains to say is that we wear out many pairs during our lives.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Christopher Stott: Rotary Telephone

There is something grave about this apparatus. It wears black and white, as if dressed for a funeral; there is no visible line cord -- it indeed is actually dead. But it arrogantly eyes the viewer up and down, unaware of its own futility and impotence, a technological has-been, pointless and unable to perform what it once did: communicating between people. And its shell, resuscitated by the artist's will, gasps on this painting. It seems that the telephone is put out there as a subject for mockery and scorn. A lonely and forgotten piece of junk, it is now but a theme for a painting.

Wait a minute. It is a theme for a painting! Now that sounds different. A worthy reminder of the first steps towards global connection, it proudly occupies its place, justly patronizingly looking down at the viewer: I am a pioneer! Once communicating people through the medium of sound, now it does so through visual means (some claim the most important of our senses), drawing meaning from artistic and historical pools. This appearance might be its final moment, but it's going to last forever, being captured on canvas. A magnificent retirement, or, perhaps more accurately, a grand comeback.

I have arrived to a dilemma with This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde analysis: which one do I like more? Can I have both? Or, perhaps, I shouldn't bother with any of them, and propose a new one.

The artist takes objects out of their environment and gives them a new perspective, which is detached and rarefied. It is also abstract (in the general meaning of the word), to the point of evoking a philosophical mood. There is something Kantian about it, if I were to delve even deeper. If there were a chance to observe "a thing in itself" -- this would be the closest representation, and it is not even three dimensional. Therefore, I conclude that the artist seeks to reach beyond the actual object, to more universal realms of inner perception.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a phone call to make.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Christopher Stott: Four Espresso Cups in the Sun

I find this work ironic and humorous. The highest positioned cup has been pulled by its handle to brake the rectangular arrangement and to enliven the composition. This cup breaks the pattern. Allegorically speaking, it is the outsider, who has been pulled by his ear (the handle indeed resembles this body part), just as a capricious child would have been dealt with. I confess that this image has sprung to my mind the moment I saw this piece. I couldn't help laughing -- and admiring the conception.

If the theme I am talking about seems too abstract, then so is the background of this piece: there is nothing shown to indicate the surface as either a table or even a floor, or the ground (perhaps the color may point towards the latter, but not decidedly so). But I find this artistic choice as challenging rather than incomplete. Due to the absence of a definitive background, the focus of the attention shifts solely to the espresso cups and their arrangement.

A question arises: who is this outsider? If you look for a name on the canvas -- you will find one. But this is merely the most obvious assumption. Perhaps, we are meant to look for the outsider inside of us, and try to understand those around us. Every cup is portrayed from a slightly different angle, appearing unique; yet we know that they are exactly the same. Conclusions about the human condition seem almost inevitable.

The light, despite being very bright, is somehow soft and even comforting. Furthermore, there is something photographic about this painting. This particular quality is displayed in Stott's many other works as well, and I find it fascinating. Here, if the two farthest cups are rendered somewhat less accurately than the others (possibly the toll of continuous concentration), the overall effect remains constant and powerful.

Christopher Stott is a working artist from Canada

Monday, July 16, 2007

Karin Jurick: California Street

I have seen these streets in the movies, and perhaps this is why I chose to review this painting, unable to resist Hollywood's appeal.

Lines dissect the road and heighten the illusion of movement. Everything is in motion, or about to be: the people who cross the road and the cars that maneuver on it. Possibly, the artist implied for the viewers to imagine themselves inside a vehicle too, the frame of the painting being the one of a car's front window as well.

This is an atmospheric piece; it evokes the city's hustle and bustle, it makes noise in the quiet possible way -- through purely visual means. Stylistically, it seems closest to impressionism than any other of the artist's work. In a way, it borrows from a known set of techniques, such as color application and the treatment of light to produce the effect of time's passing and evasiveness.

A crowded urban landscape, this work closes down on the viewer in a stifling embrace. Pollution and loud neighborhoods come to mind the more I look at it. City life is not for everybody, and this depiction may serve well as an ultimatum: love it or leave it. Yet, somehow, it seems, the dwellers of San Francisco learned to reconcile the two opposing sentiments. Perhaps, achieving such harmony became a whole new form of art. I assume that the people who cross that road, mastered it to perfection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Karin Jurick: Princess Scribbles

I think it is safe to say that Jurick's treatment of light is a standout element of her personal style. It produces a distinctive effect of "opening up" the space (even the smallest) before the viewer, creating a strong illusion of presence. The combination of stark light and harsh, uncompromising shadows is particularly obvious in this piece.
Furthermore, it works well with the theme: one often tends to unwarranted sentimentalism when depicting children -- yet here, due to the lighting, the theme is relieved of such excesses. On the contrary, I absorbed a tasteful mix of nostalgia (the past) with overtones of life's possible challenges (the future) that the girl should expect. We observe her from above; we can see her whole being before us, and that her life is to unwind before her.

The painting may serve as an existential allegory. The model is richly lit, wearing a white dress and, she casts a geometrically matching black shadow; yet she squats on a surface that is relentlessly grey. Indeed, life is full of compromise, and only as children we tend to divide everything according to the black and white premise. As adults we become aware of the vast grey areas that permeate our existence through and through. As the girl is focused on her drawing, she is not yet familiar with the surrounding dominant color. We are -- but we are only the observers. Thus, everyone must have their share of learning.

In turn, the colors the girl is using may foreshadow her personal struggle and contribution. Since her choice of palette is mostly bright and vivacious, it is possible to conclude that she possesses a similarly colored soul. The smiling face that is visible near her right hand may indicate an optimistic prediction as well. Indeed, I am interested of what she hides inside that basket -- be it a bag of tricks or a future coping mechanism -- it appears full, possibly bottomless, as it should be if she is to wear that crown throughout the many years to come.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Karin Jurick: Star Gazers

Painting people who are viewing paintings is an appropriate theme for our times. If I were to use a fashionable word to describe it, I would have undoubtedly picked "postmodern." I will settle, however, for "ironic" and "multi-layered" (with meanings).

Though there is a tradition of including paintings inside paintings, this is the first time I witness an example that employs an actual museum setting, where paintings are the main attraction rather than a decoration. By capturing works of art in a specifically designated place, the artist reveals their status of a commodity and of public property. It is not accidental that most of the figures shown in these series have their backs turned towards the viewer: the painting is the model in this piece, and the people inside it are merely the observers.

Moreover, I find this representation as inherently ironic. Interestingly, it echoes the Chinese Boxes narrative methods used in literature. First, there is the celebrated masterpiece, second the people who view it, third there is us, who view the given painting, and fourth, if there's someone who watches us, and who can hold a brush... and so on. Such a layout inevitably puts everything in a perspective -- and puts a smile on my face. Nothing is final, everything is a transmutable shell.

Technically, accomplishing such a painting must be a difficult task for the crafts-person: there is a miniature copy of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" inside the piece. Naturally, one desires to be as accurate as possible. I recognized it immediately, which contributed to the overall enjoyment from this work.

I hope more artists will choose to paint the interior of modern venues: discotheques, book stores, even banks and malls. Such themes carry the freshness of relevancy and immediacy; such they are in our lives, and such they would appear in works of art.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Karin Jurick: Dogs Rule

The artist chooses a straightforward technique to communicate her love for animals: she brings the pet as close as possible to the viewer. Such proximity implies intimacy and companionship that reaches beyond the usual human and dog bond. The message that underlies these series of works is that we are all animals.

The depiction of the dog's hair remains convincing despite the avoidance of meticulous rendering, as it was performed, for instance, by Jan van Eyck, in the celebrated Arnolfini Portrait.

In fact, if you look closely, the Renaissance dog, though displaying a perfect hair, possesses eyes that are almost human in their expression. Furthermore, its posture may seem as rather unnatural. Comparing from a purely technical perspective, the modern descendant sheds the rigidity and pedantry that could be the flaw of the earlier period.

In front of us is a lively animal, with a characteristically elusive gaze and an obviously friendly demeanor. It is just about to be petted; or just was. There is a sensation of a fleeting moment: as we meet out neighbor, who walks his dog, we partake in small talk and an even smaller one with the pet. Often, it is difficult to determine which one is more memorable -- but perhaps less so for a dedicated dog lover.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Karin Jurick: Sumsumsummatime

I am not familiar with the climate in Atlanta, Georgia, but, according to the palette in this decorative piece, I would have to say - it is pretty hot and humid in the American south. The red and the green of the strawberries is significantly toned down by shades of black and dark orange, as if the berries are being literally weighed down by condensed heat. Though these black areas are only shadows, it is they that define the atmosphere. The reflection of the sunlight on the white plate and the fruit (I gather the light source is natural, because of the extremely sharp white/black contrast) is almost blinding, evoking summer haze. Thick, sumptuous brush strokes also contribute to a sense of a difficult hot weather.

Yet the subject of this still life also suggests a way of relief from the blazing summer heat. Half a strawberry positioned near the lower edge of the board absorbs most of the light, while repelling most of the darker hues: finish this fruit, and you will feel better. For me, this painting projects the struggle people lead with extreme weather conditions. There are moments when the heat is almost unbearable but, there is always something delicious to make one pass through the day.

Karin Jurick is a working artist from Atlanta, Georgia.

Giuseppe De Nittis: Madchen am Strand

This painting employs an unusual angle to show its model. The lady is shown striding carefully towards the sea line, helping herself with an umbrella. Her face is intent, focused on the task at hand. The scene evokes endearment: the girl appears almost helpless; it is as if she would rather be supported by a man rather than by her umbrella. The cloudy sky serves to support the sensation of uncertainty and instability.

While on the one hand, I cannot help but root for the comely model, there is something modern in me that revolts against such demonstration of weakness. We are used to paparazzi photographs of our favorite models showing their skin unabashedly. These developments reflect empowerment and abandonment of the image of a "weak and pretty" sex. Pretty - yes; but not weak, by all means.

So while this painting boasts and impeccable composition (the lady forms a classic elongated triangle right in the middle of the canvas), to my view, it holds an historical value first and foremost. This painting could serve as a fine illustration to a book by George Sand, where women, though strong, still, more often than not, are victims - of their environment, of men and of contemporary society.