Friday, August 31, 2007

Rick Monzon: Filter

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

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.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Craig Stephens: Star Thistles #5

This painting is overpowered by the ambiguous background. It is unclear whether it represents a wall somewhere inside an apartment or the darkness of a starless night outside. Not entirely starless: the two flowers may conveniently replace the absent astronomical bodies, as their name aptly implies. Though the milky surface upon which the bottle stands reflects the soft moonlight, the yellow blossoms are the two brightest objects in this piece, emphasized by the contrasting black behind them. Indeed, they are the stars of this piece.

Which leads me to a furore of another kind: the slender flowers remind me of a ballerina performing a solo dance. If we focus on the events inside the glass, the two stems appear to be walking, taking a step after a graceful step, and perhaps carrying the container with them. The bottle refracts the light, breaking their straight lines; several floating yellow petals denote the presence of water, which further distorts the original image. On top of that, the structure of the stems allows for segmentation and the emergence of knees -- all of these modifications add up to produce an illusion of movement, performed by the elegant legs trapped inside the green bottle.

Out of the glass, the flowers remain static until, if we follow from the bottom and upward, we find the blossoms, two bursts of energy. Actually, such violent outcome would seem unfitting for a ballerina dance. Perhaps a cheerleader should take over: the pompons are already there. After all, there is a prima donna in every dancer, be it on stage or on the grass of a football field. And in this associational spirit, it is impossible to ignore the victorious "V" formed by the stems.

I think that every viewer can find something for themselves in this painting: there is a point of strong tension in the center of the piece, where the bottle and the two flowers meet. It is so distorted, it may even be difficult to make out where each stem goes. On the other hand, there are the two vivacious yellow spots, laying on beds of perky white thorns. And yet still, the bottle green and the black background offer a stolid, calming distraction. Perhaps the artist intended for the viewer to alternate momentum and focus on a different theme with each viewing, or during a single session. It is either that, or you have to be performing an entrechat while observing it -- just like I did.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Craig Stephens: Honey and Cream

Before everything else, this painting demonstrates how a liquid can capture and preserve light. The role of the jar, both in the case of being an art object, and a container of a culinary ingredient, is similar: it conserves the contents (light and honey respectively) and, it mixes them, making the viscid substance appealing to the eye, as well as to the taste. In a way, the jar becomes the epicenter of an active process, artistic for all our purposes. Its placid appearance is misleading, and the lid comes to support that hypothesis: the red color implies on the representational tension occurring down and inside; the apple segment and the creamer's nose, both filtered by the said mix, only add oil to the fire. There is a sense of impending implosion, all the fumes being channeled to the red lid, a valve, which becomes the pictorial counterpoint of this piece.

But this is a three-way composition: the creamer further stabilizes it, providing a soothing outlet. Its neutral color, the color of all colors, becomes the white flag that suppresses the heat, in compositional, as well as in physical-optical terms. We do no see the cream, but the promise of it adds to the sense of balance. Appropriately, it is not the milk that gets spilled here: we can see how the golden light travels further to invade the shadow and become a part of it. A rare battle is without losses; the canvas becomes the land of milk and honey, and I should know...

The combination of two seemingly separate spheres of perception, the taste and the vision, is not incidental. It is well known that presentation is a key component in gastronomy; arranging a serving to appear appetizing demands an artistry immensely valued by connoisseurs. After the aroma, composition and color play the next in importance part in achieving a mouth-watering result. Both visual constituents, much like in painting, they target the aesthetic sense of the consumer. Consequently, this particular choice of subject matter, and its treatment, could be seen as a nod to the restaurant industry and the art of cooking. You know what -- and the art of eating, too.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Craig Stephens: Green Grapes

Craig Stephens paints mainly still life, often in dark, cool hues. The two most remarkable features in his artwork are the treatment of light and the brushwork. Sometimes, they coincide. His subjects filter the light, which manifests through degrees of transparency and translucency -- but rarely in a pure, pristine form. This quality is best demonstrated in the many depictions of glass and liquids, where he explores effects of refraction and reflection. Sometimes I get the impression that he uses a flashlight to illumine his models. It is as if they are covered by a thick drapery, which he removes for just a second, to point the small focused lamp on the uncovered object and expose it, only to return the veil right after. I would go as far as suggesting the child reading or playing under a blanket allegory, if it wasn't for that sombre, classic mood that permeates Stephen's art. Back to the lighting, the ensuing effect renders the subjects especially precious, fragile and even vulnerable. The general impression is of being let into a secret nook -- where the paintings divulge secrets (they whisper), and where they become secrets. Some of those are innocuous, while others may be sarcastic, and even subversive.

His peculiar brushwork bends the light even further: when it does not pass through, it mixes with the color it falls upon, producing a foggy surface. Due to these evolutions, which absorb most of the light, Stephen's work inevitably gravitates towards the darker tones of the color spectrum. But his brushwork deserves an account on its own merit. It appears that the artist sculpts with the instrument; not by erecting dramatic impasto, but by a more subtle, and even application. He manipulates texture: paint protrudes, and interacts with the canvas -- a stylistic device of micro-sculpting with the substance. Perhaps as a result, various still life appear to be carved out of stone: this could sound as a reprimand, but, not so when the effect is consistent, and obviously deliberate; when it is a part of the artist's vision. Interestingly, allusions to other art forms are also not alien to Stephen's art, as I will try to show in future posts. Sometimes it takes time to accumulate enough visual data to make inferences regarding the painter's style. But here the whole oeuvre appears to be slightly off the axis of the generally accepted pictorial trend, reducing the recognition time to a minimum. This, by itself, is an achievement. Craig Stephens lives in Northern California. He keeps a website and a blog.

Here the brush not only paints, it also takes the role of a chisel -- precisely because the subject is a real fruit. The grapes appear to be made of stone, a semiprecious stone to be more accurate. I find jade to be a probable candidate. The artist mixes the light's white with the green of the berries, so that each color gradates into another, with different levels of sharpness. As a result, he manages to convey various light effects: the grapes positioned closer to the left part of the canvas appear translucent, while those on the right display a deeper green, sometimes nearing black. At the lower part of the canvas, white is interlaced with black and brown, also producing a complex surface.

This painting provides a series of variations on the theme of a single grape: each one is depicted from a different angle, under varying light. In turn, the series can be divided into groups that demonstrate certain commonalities. This grouping serves to remind that the bunch in front of us was also only a part, of a bigger bunch, -- but in the outside world, before the artist intervened. A corresponding aspect touches the process of consuming grapes: I have actually witnessed people trying to keep the bunch's structure intact as they pick out a grape after a grape. Sometimes that demanded tearing out a small cluster, which they would place into their mouth and chew upon gluttonously. Okay, I admit that it was me.

Despite the stony appearance, the bunch seems almost weightless; there is something ethereal in its presence. There are two clearly visible points of contact, while the third is either invisible, covered by the subject itself, or, is concealed by its shadow. In any case, the grapes appear to hover. To my mind, this feature strongly alludes to the taste of the fruit: light and sweet. Consequently, it also reinstates its floral origin, which may have become compromised due to the overwhelming resemblances discussed earlier. In many ways, this painting epitomizes the artist's style. While the black background tends to the classic atmosphere created by the sculptural subject, the latter retains its sweetness due to various pictorial effects. And if this begins to sound too much like a wine description -- perhaps it should.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mick McGinty: Citrus on Tile

This, in a way, is a tamed version of the Sliced Tomato. The fruits are intact, the droplets are of water, and the surface consists of clean, sterile kitchen tiles. Being so different by way of contrast, this painting also sheds the symbolism: it radiates spontaneity. As often happens in such cases, the effect is disarming and endearing. I have often wondered how artists make their still life so -- well, simply put, -- how they make it so cute, triggering human affection, which usually is directed towards the animate, for instance, pets.

I think that every interpreter harbors a subconscious drive to personify and assign human activities to depicted still objects. In this case, the two lemons snuggle up together: for comfort, or fear of the proceedings, or to gossip on that lonely orange, all bright and stuck-up. This is one of the strengths of the visual arts, to enliven a fruit or a vegetable and raise it to the level of a soul possessing object. The genre speaks for itself: there is the "still," but then, there is also the "life." Perhaps the goal of every painter is to understate the former and to bring out the latter.

By placing the fruit in the kitchen, while leaving out any tools or containers, the artist once again evades a clear sub-generic categorization. This is neither a decorative, nor an obvious practical setting. Possibly, the lemons and the orange have been washed to be further transferred to a living room crystal bowl -- but, possibly, they are to be eaten right away. By keeping the viewer guessing, the artist reminds us that individual objects can be enjoyed visually regardless of the scenery. He invests into mobility within the genre, and thus reflects real world dynamics and its infinite possibilities. It is always interesting to know what happens just before of whatever happens. In a way, the artist manipulates time just as he manipulates space.

This piece speaks geometry. The surface is divided into squares, while the oval citruses form a triangle. Realistic delivery and simple, but effective composition, in the traditional pyramid form, allow for a calm first impression. But, as in other McGinty's paintings, the initial reaction might not be the most revealing. And it is the basic pictorial device of varying geometrical forms that secures meaningful consequent viewings. Ultimately, the artist targets the audience's artistic and imaginative faculties, requiring active viewing. I admire this kind of talent: the one that brings out the talents of other people.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mick McGinty: Slopes of Grand Teton

My problem with landscapes has always been their inescapable partiality: no matter how wide are the perspectives, eventually the frame always cuts the view. Yes, it is a self-evident limitation but, I am still having hard time getting over it, and probably never will. This kind of perception has become ingrained in my visual and essentially mental assimilation of landscapes. In a way, the incompleteness has become a part of my aesthetic belief system; there always will be a sudden stop, a violent stop that goes against the three dimensional constant flow we usually witness. Consequently, I have developed a criterion as to what makes a landscape most enjoyable: the more the artist manages to subdue the finiteness, by absorbing the viewer into what happens within the given limits, the more the landscape turns engrossing and successful. If the painting appears to ignore its own limits, and takes a life of its own -- this is when it becomes good art. But enough theorizing.

This is a rich, three level depiction. Rocky slopes populate the foreground, a line of evergreens descends in the center and another one, a parallel, is visible in the background. To balance the strong diagonals, there is a large gnarled tree trunk, accompanied by a smaller one, both taming the composition. They also provide a mental point of rest: every upright tree may meet its demise and end up like the one in the foreground. Interestingly, these two trees are colored almost identically to the stones, perhaps referring to ancient eras, when fossilizing was just beginning to occur. Back to our times, by such correlation of palette, the artist may be alluding to human interference with nature -- the mining industry -- which takes advantage of those fossils.

The accepted norm of viewing a painting is from left to right, which should have been reflected in my choice of words: "ascending" rather than "descending." However, the general sense of downward movement is so powerful here, that the the latter verb seems much more appropriate for the adequate description of this scenery. The artist forces an inversion of the accepted viewing norm, he commits a "break;" notably, this break (paradoxically) deals with precisely the subject I mentioned in the first paragraph: the frame boundaries. These are not to be considered in the regular sedating left to right fashion, but in a more experimental opposite direction. This counter intuitive quality grips the observer. Ultimately, the viewer will return to the more conventional left to right pattern, which will result in at least double the time of overall examination. Thus the artist accomplishes the goal of absorbing people with what goes between the frames rather than with the frames themselves. He makes them work for his idiosyncratic purposes rather than allowing them to establish an independent meaning. Hence he prolongs the enjoyment, and increases its value.

*Click on the image to get a wider resolution

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mick McGinty: Woodpile With Wildflowers

An idyllic scene is captured on the canvas. It tempts the viewer with the magical bright light and the colorful unconstrained growth. Or so it seems: the logs certainly indicate a constraint imposed on the forest flora. The artist does not judge; he seems to keep to the role of the observer, and consequently offers his observation to the people. However, by avoiding judgment himself, he elicits it from the viewer -- possibly a conscious downplaying strategy that schemes to make the viewer (an urban homo sapiens) ponder a future ecological disaster, if only by juxtaposing the painted luxuriance with the rarity of occasions of actually witnessing it.

But there are more evident ambiguities to consider, and to interpret. The disposition of the logs near a growing tree may imply deforestation on the one hand, but, a moderate, controlled cutting that would benefit the forest on the other. This dichotomy is emphasized by the erection the logs construct: it is unclear whether it is a stable or a shaky structure. Perhaps a single slight push will start a rolling chain reaction -- causing uncontrollable destruction, -- or, the wood will remain immovable, -- rendering the cutting a contained micro damage, done for the greater good.

Perhaps, this is not an idyll. This painting may serve better as a warning, of either a utopia, or a dystopia. The problem is that humans can hardly deal with both. Considering the dynamics of the composition, with the flowers populating the foreground, and the neatly stacked logs delineating a smooth slope, I imagine that the artist tends towards the more optimistic outcome, if only tentatively. The light breaks the black hues in the background, generously washing the forest: if only things were more simple, and we could just relish nature without any politics involved! And so, we are at the outset again -- the artist doesn't judge. But it is too easy to forget that this is not his prerogative. Sometimes, it is nice to waiver that important right, if only for a few minutes, and simply enjoy the scenery.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mick McGinty: Sliced Tomato

This is a sinister painting. Being all cut up and bleeding, that tomato somehow conjures up the cinematic horror genre. The cavities filled with juice echo the cut pumpkins during Halloween celebration. The green leaves also look menacing, like a Gorgon, or perhaps a spider, an octopus or simply a mutated feral chicken's foot. They appear moving, in a grabbing motion. The fact that the leaves were not removed prompts to question for the reason, because usually, all green parts are disposed of before the slicing begins. Why not here? Maybe, because the purpose of this tomato is not to be eaten; possibly the cutter needs the seeds, or the juice. The seeds, in turn, could be used for something other than planting (if this is the way to harvest seeds at all -- I have to admit my total ignorance in this sphere). Keeping with the mysterious spirit, I tend to think in the direction of one of Sir Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories -- "The Five Orange Pips." In any case, the impracticality of such slicing makes it a symbolical act, and perhaps demonstrates a certain ritual.

The darker tones of the table further reinforce these generic impressions; as do the cuts, in the form of an X and prison cell bars. The colors appear to shimmer and constantly modulate. The gritty orange alternates with cold diluted blue, gray, black and white. The bright red of the vegetable clashes with such an "unhealthy" combination, in a way in which a sickly ruddiness flushes the ghastly face of a tubercular patient. There is something sardonic about this painting: it is, after all, only a vegetable -- but I can't shake off the feeling of lurking violence, and threat.

The composition of two tomato halves creates a mirroring balance, which, however, is disturbed by their placement on the higher part of the canvas. This is an intentional instability: as a result, the two parts appear to fall, or roll down; instability, which leads to uncertainty, emotional shakiness and eventually fear. Additionally, the artist avoids the acceptable norm of the genre. Instead of depicting whole vegetables, he chooses to deviate and break the pattern, exploring a different approach. And, by slicing up the routine subject, he parodies the norm. This piece may inspire a lugubrious mood but, it does it with such style, as to make me embrace it with a smile.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mick McGinty: Spice Caddy

Mick McGinty focuses on two different genres, one being landscapes, some of which depict the artist's surroundings, the other still life, including fruit and vegetables, as well as kitchen utensils. A common thread passes through many of McGinty's paintings: splashes of the brightest light, dominating particular areas of a given piece. This feature radically vivifies his work, but in a contrasting way. While the landscapes assume a magical, untouched quality, the kitchen utensils appear hackneyed, as if oiled by countless human fingerprints. In the latter case,McGinty manages to instill a certain look, which will be best defined as one of a modern era: personally, I get a strong fifties vibe (early Coca-Cola posters). This notable characteristic is furthermore forwarded by the glossy palette.
McGinty scales his landscapes monumentally; he respects space and doesn't flinch from wide perspectives. I admire how the artist intuits the ideal scenery and, he practically imbues his renderings of it with a tourist appeal. However, I prefer the more intimate representations of forests and creeks. I think they allow for more individual expression and interpretation, which in turn make the artist's endeavors in that particular sub-genre appropriately absorbing. Mick McGinty lives in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, USA. He is a member of the Daily Painters Guild and keeps a website and a blog.

P.S. I have just read Charley Parker's review on Mick McGinty, and was pleased to find some similarities between my interpretation and preferences and those of the author of the esteemed blog (Lines and Colors). Considering Parker's reputation, I imagine that these similarities somehow enhance mine. Well, at least I hope they do. In any case, I would like to stress that I have become familiar with that review only after finishing writing this one.

This small object manages to pass on a sensation of a big space, presumably a restaurant. The multiple white dots on the metal and the glass represent reflections of light, coming either from several sources, or from a single one, positioned high above -- all of which implies industrial premises. In a way, the sheer number of reflections creates a visual noise that echoes numerous conversations mixed with a background music -- the usual restaurant buzz.

Considering the position of the menu, the caddy seems to stand off the table's center. In other words, it has been moved: such is the purpose of this implement, to be constantly shifted, pushed around, placed and replaced. It is a supplement to the table's usual setting. It is worth mentioning, thus, that this is still (along with the menu) perhaps the most steady of all other involved objects and subjects -- the food and the people come and go, and only the spices remain constant. This depiction offers a rare close up on a secondary character, which despite its supportive role, or perhaps because of it, provides an insight into the process, and eventually the aesthetics, of dining outside.

There is a possible humorous interpretation. The salt and the pepper are so close, as if to suggest intimacy. Indeed, if the metal ring above them would be of a wedding kind, the two spices could be viewed as a couple about to be married. Perhaps they can, if only symbolically (even more symbolically, that is), in a well spiced up dish. The rest is up to the viewer's imagination: since the two are bound together in a metallic frame that resembles a cage, one might draw unfavorable conclusions about such married life.

The detail with which the white jar is depicted is gripping: a stroke of orange, followed by a stroke of gray, followed by a stroke of white; in a way, since there is no gradation, the painter reveals how he works to produce a visual effect. This is a map of colors, with each territory reflecting a respective hue: that of the table, the metal and the light. A fascinating study in iridescence, it keeps me almost hypnotized. If, when eating out, you ever experienced the urge to play with the utensils, but felt uneasy to follow the impulse, -- here the artist provides you with a fine substitute. Just be careful not to eat with your eyes...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

J Matt Miller: Apple #3

Miller understands color: within a very simple palette framework of three major color areas, he generates both tension and relief, through complementary and opposing hues respectively. The red of the apple is countered by the blue of the wall, which includes sprinkles of the said red in what becomes a trademark of the painter's style. This blending, as I already mentioned, endows the background with dynamics, and eventually an active role in the composition.

Choosing a round object also brings Miller's style to a sort of a logical conclusion. His minimalism eventually devolves into a geometrical simplification, or abstracting of style -- perhaps a sublimation of sorts. The apple itself serves only as a vehicle for that kind of understanding and interpretation. It is not coincidental that schematically this piece resembles a Malevich, containing wide plains of color and reference to geometrical forms.

Thick brush strokes on the wall occasionally develop into impasto, as in Head Lock, for instance.
The zoom on the apple is so close, the edges appear smudged. If I am not mistaken, in the past, such distortions were the result of using a camera obscura. Perhaps Miller uses a different instrument, or simply pays tribute to the earlier practice. This painting has a fundamental appeal: utilizing bright contrasting colors, and a primeval theme (apple implies the original sin), it is an effective decorative piece.

*This article has been re-edited.