the GIF animation loses the color…
This is the sixth post I’ve written about our iDEA trip to New York in March. I’m writing again about the Fountain Art Fair, where I saw the work of many wonderful emerging artists. Let me define “emerging artist” one more time (according to the curator at a similar art fair we went to): an artist that is not a household name. Frankly, many of these artists should be household names, and I don’t know why they aren’t. Really, some of the work is so fantastic that it makes me question the fame of any artist I had heard of before I became a serious art student, any of the classic examples of excellence that we take for granted as geniuses of their time. Maybe, they just had good luck, were connected to the wealthy or powerful, or had great promotion. Maybe they were just so damn persistent they eventually became noticed whether their art was really any good or not. Maybe they made a sex tape that accidentally became public (or the old world equivalent: had a raucous public affair with the spouse of an elite patron or colleague). Fame and success in the art world does not seem like a meritocracy. As, I suppose, may be the case in many professions.
On to today’s artist, Patricia Smith. I do not know much about her background. I looked on her website, scoured the internet, and found references to her work based on the exhibitions she lists on her resume. I know that she has an MFA from Rutgers in 1984. She exhibits quite a bit in the US and in Europe. But more than that, I could not find. She is an enigma.
The tenor of her work leads me to adopt mysterious airs. Her ink and watercolor paintings are delicate and alluring at first glance. Which is why, out of the many (around 100?) exhibits at the fair, I walked up and looked deeper into her work. They resemble antique maps, with fine lines and warm tones. Her shapes that are land masses look like somewhere I’ve been, but just can’t quite place. And as I started to read the names of locations on her maps, I found that they were places in the human subconscious, internal emotions, or random thoughts and connections that we all try to make sense of, whether we are aware of it ore not. She is referred to as “a cartographer of the psyche” in abstracts of her exhibits.
Peter has encouraged me to use photographs I took at the art fairs, so the above painting is what I have of Smith’s work. I did not snap a photo of the title of the piece. I felt nervous about photographing artists’ work in that setting, even if I knew it was for educational purposes, so sometimes I just got a quick shot in and them tried to nonchalantly move on. I tried to find this particular piece on her website, no luck, but other similar works have titles like “Garland of Questions and Answers,” “Forced Opulence Tank,” and “Twin Rationalization Chambers.”
On the painting I do have a photo of, the locations on the map are “Flesh Trophies,” “Hooch,” and “The Ropes,” among others. There is a sly, intelligent humor at work in her paintings, and her pitch is perfect – sometimes intellectual, sometimes crude, always peculiarly insightful. On her website, she explains: “Spaces are a symbolic language. Language has its own dimension of space in the mind. We are instinctively compelled to create and experience spaces, and to ‘own’ space. We have an innate desire to possess meaning through symbols. Most of all, we love the moment when we suddenly ‘get’ the joke.”
When I read that, I instantly thought, “this woman knows me!” As if she had been there, looking over my shoulder when, in fact, I got the joke. So few artists make you admire their work and inwardly smile at the chaos of life, feeling like you just were let in private club of the uniquely clever. To me, that is an artist to cherish.
So thank you, Patricia Smith, for creating such a lovely space in my mind through your paintings. Some day, I hope I can find out more about you, but for now, the paintings will linger in my psyche.
it would be interesting to see if anyone could program Processing to filter videos something like this…
“The video captures an episode of the popular TV show [“Man Men”] in the act of being shared by thousands of users on bittorent. The video simultaneously acts as a visualisation of bittorrent traffic and the practice of filesharing and is an aesthetically beautiful by product of the bittorrent process as the pieces of the original file are rearranged and reconfigured into a new transitory in-between state.”
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
– The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City deserved far more time than the afternoon we had allocated to it when we went there in March. This we knew upon entry. There was no way we could explore in any depth every section of the museum. Since we had already visited the MoMA, my wish was to take in the Old Masters and the Impressionists. Off we went.
I was, of course, not disappointed. No one can be unmoved by a live view of High Renaissance paintings, and the Degas and Renoir were just amazing. But as we were roaming from room to room, feeling a bit lightheaded, we chanced upon a room of English Romantic paintings. Frankly, this was not something I would have sought out, given our time constraints.
I came upon “The Calmady Children,” (1823) by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769 – 1830) was a portrait painter of the wealthy and an official painter of the Royals, with an unusual biography. He was self-taught, the son of an innkeeper, and a child prodigy. His first royal commission was at the age of 18, of the Queen Charlotte. His reputation as a portrait painter was unparalleled for his lifetime, and he lived a life of a bon vivant. There are books devoted to his love affairs, which included a devotion to two sisters, Sally and Mary Siddons. He later became president of the Royal Academy, and died suddenly at the age of 60, after a life filled with much professional success.
When I saw the painting, I was drawn to the eyes of the young girls. In person, they truly sparkle. Another Lawrence painting was right next to it – same thing. I just couldn’t stop looking at them. I got up close and tried to determine how, among all the paintings I had seen that day, this artist make me stop dead in my tracks. I decided his use of whites, in the eyes and other parts of the painting, had something to do with it. Another one of his paintings was right next to it, and it also drew me in.
The dramatic portrayal of nature and emotion are hallmarks of Romantic era painting, and I can see why this is something that appealed to me. But there were other painters in the room that did not nearly generate the same effect as Lawrence. And looking at the photo I took, which really is a pretty good representation of the painting, I cannot see quite what I saw when I was standing in front of it. Painting is not my primary art form, and if there is one thing I learned from this trip, seeing a print in a book pales in comparison to seeing a painting in person.
Another theme I’ve been exploring in these posts is the cult of the artist. Sometimes, the ultra-famous reputation of an artist is deserved. Sometimes, not so much. Perhaps it was the unusual circumstances or deeds outside of their work that added to the glamour of their fame; often dumb luck was a clear factor. And now we wear down the grooves of their fame, or infamy, again and again.
He did not paint landscapes, religious scenes, or any of the other subjects that bring recognition to the greats. But I am happy to carve Sir Thomas Lawrence’s groove a little deeper.