Art & Critique

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

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


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

I encourage you to visit it:

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.


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.