The bombardment of information through internet sources has meant that I hear about more and more artists that I like. ”Great!” You might say. I’m not so sure. My current reading material is an essay by Elaine De Kooning on the artist Earl Kerkham and I had earlier read an article on American abstractionist Joan Mitchell. I really didn’t know about these artists and rather than just a name printed in black and white, I wanted to see their works, give them time and recognition.
I was really enamoured with Joan Mitchells work and was surprised that I had not discovered her work earlier. I don’t know if it was a case of seeing and forgetting or never looking. How many others have escaped me?
Earl Kerkham Head 1962
The trouble is there are so many artists out there past and present and the more time spent looking means less time spent doing. I admire artists who are single-minded and focus on one or maybe two artists and can develop their own work as a result. I thought I could do that and if I really had to choose, I could only narrow it to three – De Kooning, Giacometti and Antony Gormley.
But what happens to all the others I discard to focus on the big 3? Do I chuck them all into the second drawer that is my head and rummage through it when I’m working on a painting or series? That scares me, I know what that drawer is like and there is always a fabulous instrument that lurks at the bottom, sharp and edgy and when you go in to retrieve it you could possibly be hurt or come out with something you really can’t use.
My Lake series is bubbling and I am looking at artists that I think might be relevant to what I need - Puccini, Arthur Boyd, Rembrandt and Elisabeth Cummings are in the pot. And if I could give them a stir with the tool at the bottom of the drawer it would be Rauschenberg.
De Kooning always had a theme in the back of his head, according to my book Elaine De Kooning: The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism Selected Writings. He would see something and say “I’d like to do that.” I had said that to myself just a little while ago. There always seems to be something to paint, some subject to convert to oil. I have been saving a collection of photos for a body of work that will translate to paintings.
Car parks. When I go grocery shopping I see shapes and colours. Concrete wet or dry can transform into wonderful shades of grey. Angles and extensions and roof-top vents make interesting subjects against rectangular skies.
The book is a wonderful collection of essays by Elaine De Kooning that gives an insight into the work of artists such as Franz Kline, Hoffman, Rothko, Albers and many more. Some of the essays go into interesting details first-hand of technique and materials and written by herself as an abstract artist so I am finding this book has a unique perspective.
I finished David Hockney’s biography “A Rakes Progress” by Christopher Simon Sykes at the same time as my daughter returned from London where she saw A Bigger Splash Painting After Performance at the Tate Modern. We seem to have that sync with art. Sometimes we disagree on the merit of works and artists but for the most part we are at one.
I loved this book and found a renewed enthusiasm for drawing. It reminded me of art school and David Hockney Drawings a volume that was much too heavy to keep taking out of the library on a regular basis. I could not juggle the book, the paintings and the backpack so I would spend lunch poring over it at the table in the library, sketchbook out and scribbly notes taken. The good books were always the biggest – Rauschenburg, Picasso and another on my regular list – Asian Abstraction.
My current book is one that my little girl had found for me, another wonderful gift: Elaine De Kooning The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism Selected Writings. Full of essays and insights from a painter and a critic.
At the very end – the full stop is Peter Upward – a large slash of calligraphic crusty paint in June Celebration. This work left me gob smacked at the symposium on Abstract Expressionism at the National Gallery of Australia. Seeing it for the umpteenth time hasn’t dulled the feeling when standing before it.
This room, the last leg of the exhibition includes some important Australian abstractionist in Tony Tuckson, Ian Fairweather and Ralph Balson. The works will be the first to come down as the exhibition moves into the last throes. This end of the gallery has had a range of amazing exhibitions and despite feeling tucked away there is a feeling of intimacy with the works. I remember being down here with the Helen Frankenthaler woodblocks in Against the Grain and the Andy Warhol screen prints. Now I will remember being down there with Peter Upwards sister standing before June Celebration. The facing wall of works include Grace Hartigan and Franz Kline so will form the next post.
I couldn’t wait to get to New York, home of the expressionists but Philip Guston was not on my wish list of art heroes like De Kooning and Diebenkorn. I’d always been drawn to his work but it wasn’t until I saw his early works en masse that I was hit hard by the oily Guston stick. Paintings on the wall never compare to books. This painting and all I saw of Gustons were fresh, like he painted them and left the room for a break and he would be back soon. It was also the area he left surrounding the push and pull of paint.
It was difficult for others to understand why he left this abstractionist style behind but in the book Night Studio by his daughter Musa Mayer it was what he wanted to do, to take himself out of what was expected by him. So I was pretty impressed by the inclusion of this work of his in the abstract expressionist group. Books just don’t cut it, you have to see the paint strokes. Somewhere in a sketchbook I have made a scribbled note of which painting the one above was but I do know it was a super close up of a work in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
A few nights ago I went to Jackson Pollock’s and Morris Louis’ birthday party – 100 years celebration at the NGA where they transformed the sculpture garden restaurant into the Cedar Tavern for an event named “New York State of Mind”.
Before the drinks we had a talk by the curators about the exhibition but because of time they left this room out. I have blogged about the previous rooms and this is the last, the Orde Poynton Gallery.
A gallery named after a man who had never been to the National Gallery in Canberra but a generous benefactor who enabled us to stand in this space and marvel at the works on the walls. Orde Poynton was held prisoner of war in Singapore and I think he would have felt a connection with the Ian Fairweather’ calligraphic abstractions that were the result of his prisoner of war experiences in the first world war.
During the talk the curator referred to this gallery as the end of the “Y” referring to the shape of the overall exhibition. This is almost the last area of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition and it is an amazing collective of abstract artists.
There is however one work missing from this area that is not listed here and that is a painting by Tony Tuckson #81 that was not listed on the NGA website. Just another 2 rooms to go. Stay tuned.
My last post was the third room of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the National Gallery Australia. Like a cartoon story of a superhero, I had left you in that room, waiting. The next painting was by Lee Krasner Combat 1965 and I just couldn’t tackle that painting in a couple of words. All pink and orange and light, open and crisp and on the opposite wall Cool White painted in 1959 and separating those opposite ends is Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles and Totem Lesson 2.
Cool White was painted by Krasner after the death of Jackson Pollock and her mother. The muted colours were the result of painting in the dark, suffering insomnia. She chose to limit colour that was better tackled in the daylight.
I guess I was impressed with the difference in these works knowing our paintings are victims of circumstance.
At the Abstract Expressionism Symposium this was certainly the drawcard room. The big names Pollock and Krasner dominate this room and Blue Poles is certainly hard to ignore but my two favourite works were…no! they were….no! Damn. I can’t pick. Each work was important as the next. Maybe after loading these works I can make a more informed decision.
I have put the majority of works in this room on this post but I stopped. The last work a collage by Lee Krasner felt enough for now, the next two walls were works that deserved a separate post. And I didn’t make up my mind about the best work after all, but I’m leaning towards Hans Hofmann, it feels very important spatially to me. I think I have learnt in the last few posts more about Hofmanns work than I expected and where I thought it was about the colour it turns out to be about the space. I love seeing artists in unexpected ways.
Hans Hofmann’s painting is in the middle room in the Abstract Expressionism Exhibition at the National Gallery Canberra. I think if the room was full of the artists themselves, Pollock, De Kooning, Motherwell, you know -all of them, it’s Hans Hofmann I’d want to sit with. Each time you study a great New York painter he has some connection, a thread of influence. My painting teacher, Barbara Hilder had that same effect on a whole group of south coast artists. Her words echo Hofmann “push and pull”. Passmore had the same effect on early Australian abstractionists.
Clyfford Still’s work is reminiscent of our indigenous artist Sally Gabori’s My Grandfathers Country and Watkins work Anniversary produced in 1973 shows a continuum of work through the years.
“I always seem to be wrapped up in the melodrama of vulgarity.”*
Normally a trip to the National Gallery in Canberra (a couple of hours drive) involves me standing in front of De Koonings Woman V for an inordinate amount of time. Studying the colour, the way the paint is laid, where it is scraped, the bones of the work. I find it difficult to move away and would like it if they moved the bench away from the front of Blue Poles so that I could have a seat. For the Abstract Expressionism exhibition my old fave has been moved and sits entwined with other works and partially obscured by an enormous yellow painting. Moving from “the big room” where Morris Louis pre’veiled’ Rothko gently lures you through, De Kooning sets your heart racing and them BAM! Yellow! The work above here by David Seery. So despite the Rothko, De Koonings and Gorkys I call this the yellow room, there’s no mistaking it.