This past Memorial Day weekend, my Lovely First Wife and I traveled with friends to Greenville, SC, for a lovely getaway.
First, I highly recommend Greenville as a getaway: great restaurants, great bars, fun shops, and a leadership who for some strange reason decided that the quality of life there should be passing pleasant. They’ve revitalized downtown in spectacular ways, going so far as to tear down a highway that was covering the amazing waterfalls in the Reedy River downtown, then installing a riverside path that goes all the way out to Furman University. So hie thee to Greenville.
While you’re there, do not miss the Greenville County Museum of Art. It’s one of a complex of museums, theatre, library, etc., that is amazing. Currently there are exhibits of Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, and a small flock of contemporary artists of whom you have never heard but who are stunning.
Jasper Johns is one of my favorite artists, and the exhibition made me very happy. His bold scribbles, his technical facility (all the pieces were lithographs, serigraphs, silkscreens, etc.), and his ability to make seemingly chaotic marks cohere and jump into something you recognize immediately as THE THING THAT IS NOT—I was in heaven.
Then I encountered those other artists.
Let’s see what we can STEAL from them.
First up, Arnold Mesches. His paintings are terrifying.
All his paintings are large, overwhelming the viewer so that you are enveloped in the apocalypse he’s depicting. In Coming Attractions #2, he presents the dire future as a gas-masked, panic-stricken person, painted in thick impasto style, while the audience dissolves in dark washes of color reminiscent (to me, at least) of George Grosz’s more decadent work.
And look at those chandeliers! Are they not dazzling, so bright and glittering and elegant?
They are no more solid than the audience or the auditorium.
So in this one painting we have multiple styles, manipulated by the artist for specific effects. STEAL that.
This painting actually frightened me:
Again, very large, so that you cannot escape the overwhelming violence. This photo cannot capture the dark bravura of the brushwork, and the destruction depicted is total. I’ve never encountered a painting that generated its own sound effects, but this one did.
William Henry Johnson was an African-American artist born in Florence, SC, and there was an exhibit covering his output as he moved from New York to France to Scandinavia (with his Danish wife). His artistic style shifted from realism to expressionism (he met and became influenced by Edvard Munch) to folk art.
Yes, Johnson was a highly trained artist, but this simple style is within your reach, wouldn’t you think? After all, he’s deliberately STEALING from untrained artists, isn’t he, with the blocky shapes, the flat surfaces, the distorted perspective and ungainly figures.
STEAL them back.
Roland Poska. Imagine turning a corner in the gallery and seeing this:
Poska was a printmaker and a paper/fiber artist. What you’re looking at is a very large collage of sorts, made from colored paper fibers, laid down on a large plastic sheet in layers and left to dry/adhere (for months, sometimes).
I adored the energy and exuberance of this work.
So let’s look at STEALING. Here’s a detail from the middle of Wall Sentinel IX:
Detail from the bottom:
See what he’s doing?
Here’s a detail from Sentinel VIII:
What’s going on here? If you want to see Poska working, there’s a video:
If you watch the video, you’ll see Poska doing the whole GESTALT/SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION process. The important thing for our purposes is that he works very ABORTIVE ATTEMPTly: there is no way he knows exactly what the piece is going to look like until he’s finished. He plunges in and just makes it. Can you imagine the amount of crap he had to produce to get to this point in his style?
As for me, I am seriously thinking about STEALING from Poska to create a Standing Sentinel for my back yard. Cras melior est!