Saturday, August 12, 2017

Derain and the Fear and Loathing of the Modern Figurative Artist

The figurative artist today is considered an artistic Luddite, somehow quaint, but is dismissed as outdated as a prairie poke bonnet.  Recently in a New York Times article about Andrew Wyeth, critic Ted Loos wrote "Wyeth is often dismissed as a talented realist — generally not a compliment in today’s art world." This flimsy article does not warrant further reading as the author displays a remarkable ignorance vis-a-vis figurative painting, and is only useful to illustrate the typical dismissal of the genre. On the other hand, Cindy Sherman, that dirty underwear neurotic sends a New York Times critic into to paroxysms of artspeak over her new breakthrough: the  making public her Instagram account.
Cindy Sherman "Ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille"

It is difficult climate for the figurative artist, there are very few serious venues. The major galleries only show "realism" if your work is filled with snark, political messages, and irony. No sincere bathing in beauty here- are you mad!? I have been asked if my art is kitsch by gallery owners before seeing it. It may be but I assure you it is quite unintentional on my part.

I love the figurative but it is both a joy and agony to paint; is it too photographic or slick, should I try some faux  naive stylization? No not that- too dishonest but what? I find that often I try to do the best I can,and quite simply let the results lie where they fall. It is a quite humbling not to mention, painful experience when you realize that the final result in no way resembles the radiant, museum worthy, art book canonization of your original vision.

The tilt of art towards abstraction was challenged by Derain, Giacometti and Balthus. Here is a review of the show written by Jed Perl, one of the few remaining sane critics in the art world. To say this review gave me wings is an understatement. Jed Perl makes subscribing The New York Review of Books  worth it. I don't know if you are able to read the whole review without a subscription but you can read part of it. I included the insightful last paragraph,

An excerpt: All these artists, Derain as much as Picasso, embraced the fundamental modern discovery that the essence of the visual arts wasn’t naturalistic truth but pictorial truth. A work of art was first and foremost an arrangement of forms, which had both emotional and symbolic implications. With Picasso and Matisse, the constant rearrangement of forms became a way of generating emotions and symbols that reflected the artist’s kaleidoscopic personality. Derain, Giacometti, and Balthus were troubled by what they saw as the subjectivity of such constantly mutating forms. While they were too thoroughly modern to revert to the old idea that a painting was a mirror of the visible world, they wanted their imaginary worlds to have a logic and inevitability that transcended their own emotional appetites.
Derain "Nude in Front of a Green Curtain"
Derain  "Harlequin and Pierrot"

"To all of this skepticism the magnificent exhibition currently at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris responds with a clearheadedness and an intrepid confidence rare in the museum world. What we have here is nothing less than another side of the great modern adventure. That Derain, Balthus, and Giacometti are so absolutely insistent on rejecting irony in favor of sincerity and magic in favor of metaphysics gives this exhibition a particular urgency in our own dark times."

Further reading: Jed Perl's take on Cindy Sherman.


ian warburton said...

Thank you for that post Sharon. I was beginning to wonder where you were. When you get a minute, let me see what you are working on.
regards, Ian.

Meabh Warburton said...

P.S. Off to London at the end of next week so will pop into the BP Portrait show.

Sharon Knettell said...

Working on a lagre male figurae get you some pics. It has taken me for a ride.