Monday, April 25, 2011

Re-Nude: Part 3 (collages n stuff)



These may look like drippy paintings but they are collages by Conrad Guevara. The top one is called, "Rear Action," and the one on bottom is "Make It Rain." The fact that I don't get excited about exploring the History and Meaning of Painting through art that fetishizes painting makes me a really bad postmodernist (or a great post-post-modernist?) But where I fail Guevara steps up, and he seems to pose an intriguing question:

Lichtenstein famously made a gigantic steel sculpture that represented an Abstract Expressionist brushstroke, presented in Lichtenstein's famous cartoon-dot-and-outline style. It was a sculpture of a cartoon of the ideal painterly expression, oh-so-ironic. What if he had conceived of that piece today, informed by punk graphic art, Tokyo pop art, the Etsy marketplace, and feminist art?

While Lichtenstein was making art for galleries, public squares and modern mansions, many artists today are designing artwork for ease of shipping, for digital sharing, and for a young, middle-class, apartment-dwelling crowd. The contrast is similar to the difference between Northern (German/Dutch) and Southern (Italian) Renaissance painting. While Michelangelo and da Vinci were making theatrical, larger-than-life murals and sculpture for the tombs of royalty and to decorate the Church and the villas of great families, in the North painters like Durer, Vermeer and van Eyck were supplying the newly-created middle class with art. Their paintings were much smaller, often of domestic themes that ordinary people could relate to, and more affordable. They were more contemplative as well. Durer even had great success as a print-maker because because he could make simple artwork that was even more affordable to the middle-class.

To answer the question, Lichtenstein's commentary on the state of painting today may have looked more like these collages. The materials are (I think) colored paper and magazine pages on an acrylic background, affixed to a canvas (as in "Make It Rain") or framed ("Rear Action"). The size is appropriate for a small house or apartment, and the materials (photographic magazine pages) are familiar to an audience of ordinary people, as are the pretty candy colors and references (banal pornography and now-familiar drippy Abstract Expressionist art like that of Jackson Pollock).

The use of materials is very witty, too: printed magazines and photography have largely replaced painting and hand-made or -printed illustrations as a mode of mass artistic expression. Using a magazine to mimic paint is balls-to-the-wall ironic. But my favorite critique of "The Brushstroke" is the comparison to a spray of semen. My mind immediately went there with the "drips" covering the face of the model in "Rear Action." It is SUCH an accurate way to describe the macho post-war culture of Abstract Expressionism. I always wondered why critics like Lichtenstein stopped so short of the obvious: the Big Ideal Painterly Expression championed by Clement Greenburg and New York AbEx collectors was a sublimation of male orgasm, full stop.

And that's as far as I'm willing to go down the "Is Painting Dead?" rabbit hole.

Here's another collage. It's called, " I Love You, I Know," by Angela Chvarak. The title immediately reminded me of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back with Han Solo and Leia right before he gets frozen. Then the hands in the collage reminded me of Luke's hand that gets severed, since my mind had already gone down that road. But I re-grouped and took another look.

It bears an uncanny resemblance to a piece I did in art school:

We were supposed to work along the theme, "God or Goddess," if I recall. That may be Mila Kunis' head, but I didn't know that at the time so ignore that and don't think of Meg Griffin or Black Swan.

Anyhow, Chvarak's piece looks like a flower in full bloom with arms for stamens, with a background of collage and graffiti-like paint radiating outward from the flower. In this context, "I Love You, I Know," makes sense because flowers can pollinate themselves. The piece could be a metaphor, then, for loving one's self (or, more literally, masturbation, since we cannot impregnate ourselves). It seems like more of a female construction of masturbation or sexytimes not only because flowers are symbolic of women but because women's "alone time" is often portrayed as special, sensual, an indulgent retreat from the world complete with lit candles and a bubble-bath; whereas men's "alone time" is usually portrayed as a gross, thoughtless indulgence, the way you might eat your way through an entire bag of chips out of boredom.

I don't have much to say about Chvarak's piece but it is one of my favorites. It's very fun to look at.

*If you enjoyed this work you might also like Wangechi Mutu, Robert Rauschenberg

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