TIME. Upended, fast forwarded, knocked about, arrested, turned backwards, dormant, quick-silvered, never comprehended.
From Assyrian reliefs depicting war at sea, medieval manuscripts, Renaissance painting—Paolo Uccello, Hieronymus Bosch, Jacopo Tintoretto, then Nicolas Poussin—seeming chaos is the first impression . . . but not at all. It is that these artists had the vision, courage, and great ability to paint or sculpt those enormous subjects, often on an enormous scale. The conflicts of man against man, God against man, nature against man, or rather all the other way around, have been the subject of great art until the 19th century.
The ferocity and passion of these great works did not result in chaos.
Probably the one work that I know that does depict chaos is Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melancholia, with her fierce eyes and the amazing disorder of all around her, including the sea and sky. But for the solidity of the stone block, the sphere, part of a wheel, and a sleeping dog, everything is moving very fast.
We know and accept the intensity of these allegorical or historical works. The artists had a lot to say.
And there are painters whose work is very simple and clear, filled with a great quiet intensity.
Blinky Palermo’s exhibition at the Dia Art Foundation, To the People of New York, consisted of 20-by-22-inch paintings with two or three bands of color, and was a great experience of color when viewed as a whole. Separately, the way they were painted, that color met color, seemed to stop time and gave me a sense of stability. Each painting is beautiful.
Karawa’s paintings of time: days, hours in the same small scale, also have an intensity when looked at separately. The painting is beautiful. In this case the sense of time is very disconcerting and powerful to the person looking at the works.
The work of Richard Pousette-Dart could never be labeled as minimal. There is usually the single image of the circle. From etchings to very large canvases thickly painted, the spiritual intensity of the artist forms the beauty of the color in its scale.
In my own work over the last fifteen years, the scale is generally 40 to 44 inches. The grid is still often a foundation. I use a grid because it is perfect and I work from it—with it sometimes.
The geometry of the grid becomes time and weight. It moves and is moved against.
What I see in other works of art (from Assyrian art to work on view at Dia Beacon and available museums), being in the natural world (excluding man), experiences of life in the 21st century, are what I work with: from the very dense complex paintings to others like Century’s Sleep. Frame of mind, cause and effect. My heart and brain are fully engaged or the painting does not work. Scale is the first determinant, and I have chosen the 40-to-44-inch format to work within for these several years, doing many drawings separate from the paintings in other scales.
Less is more. More is more.
Notre Dame is about the great cathedral, painted before and after the 2019 fire. Notre Dame itself and as the symbol of hope and faith.
Rinconada is a sort of landscape of the canyon, which is filled with ancient pictographs in New Mexico, where I lived for nearly ten years. The painting is about time stacked up in Rinconada.
In After Melancholia I use the stone block as the weight around which geometric shapes are in motion. And the muted color is meant to slow things down.
Michelangelo on the Scaffolding is perhaps metaphorically about the bravery of every aspect of the great artist. The structure of the grid with its broken moving parts is about his determination and the dangers he faced.
Century’s Sleep and Blue Square are about paint and space. Memory Disbanded and Whirlwinded are about painting movement and time.
To Lee Krasner was titled a while after it was painted . . . I have always admired her work.
Image at top: Katherine Porter, Rinconada, oil on canvas, 40 x 44 in., 2019.