Continuing the “Artists as Curators” series this week, let’s look at “The escape from the banal of everyday life to the world of the ideal,” an exhibition at NURTUREart curated by Brooke Moyse, a Brooklyn-based abstract painter known for vivid color and casual landscape imagery. Moyse begins her essay, which seems like it could be used as a statement about her own work, with a wonderful poem from painter Dorothea Tanning’s recent book of poetry Coming To That:
If Art would only talk it would, at last, reveal
itself for what it is, what we all burn to know.
As for our certainties, it would fetch a dry yawn
then take a minute to sweep them under the rug:
certainties time-honored as meaningless as dust
under the rug. High time, my dears, to listen up.
Finally Art would talk, fill the sky like a mouth,
clear its convulsive throat while flashes and crashes
erupted as it spoke—a star-shot avalanche of
visions in uproar, drowned by the breathy din
of soundbites as we strain to hear its august words:
“a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z.”
The title of this exhibition, however, is taken from painter Charles Burchfield’s sketchbook. Moyse writes that
Burchfield worked in relentless pursuit of the elusive center of his artistic practice. His sketchbooks are filled with elaborate notes and codes, which he would deliberately refer to in crafting his surrealistic landscape paintings. Burchfield’s paintings and drawings are unique in that they do not fit into conventional formal categories. They are simultaneously surreal, abstract, and representational descriptions of the natural world. The sincerity of his marks make it difficult to know if he thought that he was fabricating environments, or if he believed that he was painting from life. These fantastical landscapes gave Burchfield a framework through which to investigate his true subject: the ability of a work of art to transcend the constrictions of its own physicality.
Presenting uncharacteristic work by abstract artists Jonathan Allmeier, Tamara Gonzales, EJ Hauser, Stephen Truax, and Maria Walker that is conceptual, formal, and sincere all at once, Moyse is interested in the objects’ history, the mark-making, and the way that the artists combine the two to create powerful new experiences, linking the late 19th-century Symbolist movement, mysticism, and transcendental experience to recent approaches in abstraction. Moyse continues, suggesting that
American artists who were interested in mysticism at that time often used nature as a departure point in exploring those ideas. Many artists, like Arthur Dove or Georgia O’Keefe, gradually moved on from nature into formal abstraction as their interests in the occult and mysticism became essential source material for their paintings. The intuitive and non-representational nature of formal abstraction lent itself to the investigation of the more personal (rather than institutional) type of spirituality that these artists were considering at the time. The new form of art thus became more about exploring the human mind and the role of the artistic object towards deepening our understanding of it, than about literally telling a story. The first half of the 20th century was an incubator for the formal and ideological developments of abstract art, introducing concept and notions that would become establishment by the 1960s. While the critical establishment was preoccupied by the formal elements of abstraction, the artists who were exploring it were primarily interested in its power for conveying a transcendental experience.
The subsequent years of modernism and post-modernism have changed the way that we experience art. Our relationships with images and with objects have evolved as these things become more disposable and less precious in this age of excess and remote living. Digital reproduction has helped to make the impossibility of creating an original image increasingly obvious. However, the great secret behind this notion is the knowledge that it has always been the case, and that there probably has never been an original image, since it all first appeared in nature. What makes this time interesting for art and for abstraction in particular, is the way that abstract gestures have become less precious and more colloquial. Companies like Apple have brought modern design into mainstream life, causing those lines to become more familiar and prevalent in places like street signs or web design. This attention to form and design affects the way that we interact physically with the art object, and perhaps even what that experience means, since looking at a painting is a uniquely slow and meditative interaction.
“I’ve always felt with her a sense of common purpose, ambition and predicament: that painting should engage an urgent sense of responsibility to life in this moment, yet with no roadmap for how to even begin, there is a void which begs the question: what is real? What can be made vivid? What is the cost of launching oneself into this act against all odds of making it new and vital?”–Jacqueline Humphries on Charline von Heyl for Tate Liverpool exhibition
The artist Jacqueline Humphries’ observation of the inherent impossibility of making a “new and vital” image in art directly reflects not only the digital age’s wealth of resources, but also the always-present weight of art history. Charline von Heyl is an example of an artist who does not discriminate between sources or influences. She has a deep and varied body of work that is at once current, ancient, and futuristic. In a 2010 interview with Shirley Kaneda for BOMB Magazine, von Heyl states that “What I’m trying to do is to create an image that has the iconic value of a sign but remains ambiguous in its meaning. Something that feels like a representation but isn’t. Something that looks as if it has a content or a narrative but hasn’t. Something that is kind of hovering in front of the painting instead of just being it.”
Von Heyl is talking about the desire to somehow present or create a vital and authentic experience that balances between having no roots, and remaining deeply integrated with all aspects of history and culture. Additionally, the idea of creating an image that hovers in front of the painting reflects the timelessness and spacelessness of the Internet, and brings us back to the non-linear commonality between it and art history.
Moyse concludes that the work she has selected has a similar authenticity and reflects
both the sincerity of ambition and the pointed power and presentness where Charles Burchfield intersects with Charline von Heyl. The power of the work is located in that ambiguous experience between the viewer and the painting in which the image attempts to transcend its objecthood (thus “hovering in front of the painting”). In bringing these artists together, I hope to facilitate such an experience of groundlessness in the gallery, as boundaries between new and old, virtual and real disappear to reveal something similar to Burchfield’s vibrating auras.
“The escape from the banal of everyday life to the world of the ideal,” curated by Brooke Moyse. NURTUREart, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through November 30, 2012. Check out Art Blog Art Blog for installation images.
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