The Modernist Walk Home

Shushan has several loops: roads that lead out of town and circle back. Each loop is about four miles long, just the right length for a walk. I don’t know what it was about this walk, perhaps it was the fact that I was listening on my iPod to a lecture on Clement Greenberg by David Ward, curator at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, but I couldn’t take three steps without seeing another work of art in the landscape.

It started when I saw the Albrecht Dürer at the pig farm. [Albrect Durer and the Pig Farm] As I continued on my walk past Nolan’s Dairy farm, the tires used to hold down the plastic that covers the silage reminded me of a series of farm paintings by Altoon Sultan.

Altoon Sultan

Altoon Sultan

As I headed back toward town, a reflected tree in the river reminded me of Barnett Newman.

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman

And the railroad bridge of Sean Scully.

Sean Scully, "Without"

Sean Scully, “Without”

Passing Pook’s Farm and Slaughter House there was a Nancy Holt culvert.

Nancy Holt, "Sun Tunnel"

Nancy Holt, “Sun Tunnel”

And as I neared home more glimpses of Barnett Newman.

Barnett Newman, "Concord"

Barnett Newman, “Concord”

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman

 

 

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On the Nature of Abstraction: Ellsworth Kelly

“I’m not interested in the texture of a rock, but in its shadow.”  Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

I have been looking at the  abstract paintings of Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Sean Scully and Jackson Pollock,  that in some way intersect with the natural world. As non-objective as these paintings appear, there is something, an underlying quality of line, an approach to color or an  interest in rhythm and energy that connect these works with nature.

Kelly has always been aware of the intersection between abstraction and nature as is evidenced by his early work as a camoflage artist for the army during World War II. But also in his early days as an artist living in Paris, he searched for the abstract in all that was around him. What continues to this day, is his interest in making line drawing from nature, particularly from plants. He says that it helps keep his hand in — meaning you need to excersize your ability to draw – you need to feel it in your hand, or you will lose it.

Ellsworth Kelly, "Magnolia"

Ellsworth Kelly, “Magnolia”

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

It seems to me that in much of his work you can see the evidence of these lines. While they are not direct translations of the natural imagery, one feels a purpose in the contours of his images.

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly, “Leaves”

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Video Interview with Ellsworth Kelly

 

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On the Nature of Abstraction: Sean Scully

“My paintings talk of relationships. How bodies come together. How they touch. How they separate. How they live together, in harmony and disharmony. The character of bodies changes constantly through my work. According to color. The opacity and transparency of how the surface is made. This gives it its character and its nature. Its edge defines its relationship to its neighbor and how it exists in context. My paintings want to tell stories that are an abstracted equivalent of how the world of human relationships is made and unmade. How it is possible to evolve as a human being, in this.”  Sean Scully

Sean Scully, "Red Sky"

Sean Scully, “Red Sky”

When I first saw Scully’s paintings I was struck by their physicality. These are big objects. Frequently the stretchers are quite deep.   Not only does he paint blocks of color that are stacked one on top of the other, but he also physically builds paintings into paintings. One stretched canvas is inserted into a hole in another canvas. A completely seperate entity inserted into the picture plane. The paint is viseral, thick, lucious, complex, layered, Like nature itself. But then, the big surprise: These paintings are filled with light. So, when you look at these blocks of color you think about what kind of light and even what kind of weather they exist in.

Sean Scully, "Moorland"

Sean Scully, “Moorland”

Sean Scully

Sean Scully

Looking at some of Scully’s photos, you do get a sense that this notion of place, light and atmosphere is not foreign to him.

Sean Scully, "Inis Oirr Vl" , 2005, black and white photograph, 56.7 x 72.6 cm

Sean Scully, “Inis Oirr Vl” , 2005, black and white photograph, 56.7 x 72.6 cm

Sean Scully, Inis Oirr Vl , 2005, black and white photograph, 56.7 x 72.6

Sean Scully, Inis Oirr Vl , 2005, black and white photograph, 56.7 x 72.6

Sean Scully, Wall of Light Cubed, 2007, granite, Aix en Provence, France

Sean Scully, Wall of Light Cubed, 2007, granite, Aix en Provence, France

They are not just paintings about how things look in nature, but about how they behave — body next to body, stone next to stone.

Sean Scully, "End of Day"

Sean Scully, “End of Day”

Sean Scully, 1.1.08, 2008, pastel on paper, 56.8 x 76.6 cm

Sean Scully, 1.1.08, 2008, pastel on paper, 56.8 x 76.6 cm

 

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