We call a role model a person that inspires the younger, mostly, with his or her positioning in life. Behaviour and success are considered the key points, but the historical moment and the trends that go with it allow this positioning to come out as success and as likeable behaviour, or not. Outside everyday life, role models are easy to identify in films, as well as in books; in a description so to say. But what if we would remove the descriptive part and offer the values of a role model in pure art.
A painter would suggest this:
Painting has an important role to play in our society despite of what people and the art world itself proclaim with frequent judgements. Painting – the act of and the responsiveness to – is a role-model to the following:
Self-sufficiency, to the extent possible
A sense of devotion outside religions
A measurable ability for concentration
A chance for contemplation with result to non-navigated thoughts
A movement of the brain in connection to the intelligent movements of the hands
A sense that time and space expand, shrink and take forms in respond to our disposition
A counter balance to art as entertainment
A living connecting point to tradition and history
A dimmer of human created noise
Thoughts by a a devoted painter and resilient advocate of the special quality that painting offers to the arts and to the community.
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Zurich is a fantastic place to be stranded for a few hours, but you must make a plan before you go off into town, especially if your budget is tight. I had decided not to spend more than forty euro, which is the same amount in Swiss francs; but did want to see some art…
The cancellation of my connecting flight and its replacement with an evening flight left me with a frown at first; then I picked up my 3 hour sleep energy, put my hand luggage in a locker and went out to see Zurich. It was a winter’s day with dry cold and grey light, but no wind nor rain, perfect for walkers. From the airport I took the train to the city, a little ten minute ride. I was most kindly informed at the airport desk to buy a day ticket that would serve for the train and for all public transport into town: ticket about 14 francs, locker 6 francs for 12 hours storage; half of my budget was spent before making a move.
Once off the train and walking with a tram map in my hands, I had to orient myself: tower at the left, man on scooter, stoplight, Christmas market, train rails; I should cross and be at the other side. Not sure of distances, I took the first tram that would bring me to the Kalkbreite building complex which opened a few months ago. They advertise it as an urban experiment; this was enough to attract me, a 100% city person. The complex has an elevated common central yard with a playground and stairs that lead to a higher level with view to the city and to the complex itself. There are community places (with common dining room with chef), cluster houses (with some shared rooms), office and cultural spaces. Connecting requirements include keeping energy consumption low and not owning a car. It was too early in the morning even for a coffee at the Houdini film house, so I took the tram towards the other side of the river Limmat.
I had to choose fast between contemporary art from Japan in “Logical Emotion” and the exhibition “Egon Schiele-Jenny Saville” at Kunsthaus. I went for the second; Schiele could not fail me. The ticket was 16 francs, with reduction, and free audio-guide which I switched off after the first two works. Schiele’s paintings and drawings deserved some active response from my side; a real painter this one, color and line with accuracy. Seen as a total, the exhibition makes once more obvious what a difficult art painting is and even more how easy it is to fall into lies and effects. Artists have been too eager to give away painting… After this, I walked upstairs to the permanent collection, the “classic illustrated” as I call them. What can one feel walking among Giacometti’s, Dubuffet’s, Rothko’s, Matisse’s, etc. and then further deep into history through Canaletto’s, Rubens’s, van Dyck’s, etc. The rooms were too stuffy and the walk too long for my strengths. On the ground floor there were those dark rooms with a presentation by the Venezuelan artist Javier Téllez called “Shadow Play”. I entered without expectations but stayed, legs resting on a bench, to watch two lengthy films. This is an extract from “Artaud’s cave”, one of his art films included in this presentation:
Taking the way back to the train station and the airport, I had to find the place where the dadaists were gathering in the ’10’s of our 20th century. I went by tram, found it and photographed it; what else could I do, make up an instant poem? However, they seem to organize poetic evenings in that same building; there is also a shop with dadaist objects in the semi-basement. It was just afternoon; the evening would offer a different view I suppose.
My time was up, my money too; I had to go back to collect my stuff and wait for the flight. Zurich is a good stroll; not a luxurious city, despite the high prices; quiet though busy, safe too. Not to worry if you get stranded for a few hours.
P.S. a kindest young man at the museum café gave me a cup of coffee though my last coins did not make the full 4 francs. Thanks again! #Zurich @Zurich
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This is not a review of the Rothko exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum; a super event surely, advertised all over The Hague on a poster with the most attractive purple colour ever. This is a stream of thoughts by a painter, me, walking by the works of one of the best artists of the last century at least. The exhibition is so much museum minded, educational, a set up for the wide public, with the beginning, the middle and the end clearly marked and explained. It is not bad to use the language to guide; can’t imagine what the reaction would be if there were only the paintings standing there, calling to the chaos. I am not sure whether Rothko would have approved the exhibition, but then he is dead so long that his opinion is a relic for historians and archivists. His works on the other hand stand like space rocks on the walls, detached from the content of the room. We, the spectators, belong to the squared floor and the air above it while the paintings pulsate in present-infinity. They represent the rarely heard moment of tuning to the universe’s sound. Some of us feel that this tuning is what painting is about, just like music. Yet, it is rather improbable for anyone to weep in front of them in the company of at least thirty others in the room and the audio guides in hands and ears.
It is kind of odd this high-end presentation in between the produces of the creative industry (which of course has goggled up the myth and the money about Rothko too, no doubt). However, in the times of no-object art, this is a formidable reminder that painting is not some kind of trick, is not entertainment nor a description of anything, and certainly does not need words to go with it nor heavy meanings and references. By the way, painting does not need to be interactive either; standing contemplative in front of it should be enough.
Still, Rothko’s earlier works are amusing throwing into insignificance the charms of shape or texture: mucky, indelicate, incomprehensible just as observations of something not visible. Colour passes by quickly and then as the rooms darken to host the reds and the blacks, I align once more with his view, that red and black are not like the other colours. They are as far as it can be from being decorative or descriptive and therefore closer to the step beyond. Besides, once you’ve shifted towards them it needs a good dosage of insanity to help you get by; the emotional crack is unbearable. When you have a good hatch in reality to get back and forth, it can very well not be the end. But then again, talking about the self inflicted end; imagine, you have an ailing body, you’re working in loneliness for a spiritual experience in painting and then this is your destiny: you have rallied with a soup can and the soup can won (and in an extended time projection too).
It can also though be the accomplished life that allows the end.
A review of the book
The story of black, by John Harvey
Reaktion Books, 2013
A book for those intrigued by black colour. It could be a pop-up book, an atlas with many dimensions and complex links between the exposed points; all drawing a story of a colour that is often discarded as not belonging and equally attributed to the “not belonging”. The story of black narrates in 300 pages the story of the colour black and its somewhat abstract characteristic, blackness, attached to art, to religion, to society, to fashion, to politics, to industry, to the environment, and of course to fears and prejudices, always inseparable from humans.
“One may speak of a will to find blackness within, because black bile is an invention, and its blackness another imaginary colour, like that of sin. For there is no black bile.” … For there is no talk about black colour without mentioning melancholia, depression as more modern term, as well as sin and the sense of an end, a death. But these are only a small part of what black can stand for; its story is much more fascinating.
John Harvey, Doctor of Letters of Cambridge University, narrates with a privilege earned by teaching; of talking extensively and in detail about a subject that can in the end stay an open discussion. Maybe every story must stay within reasonable limits so that what we call exhaustive does not become a dead-end. The author leaves the door open for further research and more stories to be told about black. However, what is narrated in this book is a story containing so much information that one has to come back to it, to one’s notes, to check again and combine, in time, with own thoughts and experiences. In that sense the Story of black is a study book that could become part of a curriculum.
Each reader will choose a part of the book to focus on, or associate with, while in the end art is what connects the dots; as a painter I appreciate that of course. As a black painter at some stage of my painting life, somehow the most important till now, I found in certain thoughts of the author the spoken expression of that evasive sense of blackness.
“An element in Rotho’s depression – and in the disappointment of other notable black painters – was the sense that they had led art to a final high place, and art had not stayed there.”
There are many ways to search for the ‘something more than’ ; black is one of them: a destination, as a safe place and an end, in one; a deep and pointless search at the time; closer to philosophy and music than to tangible successes and commerce (for those who care: the term creative industry hurts!)
“But still we call colours ‘delicious’: they give us a pleasure like the pleasure of taste. We might say colour feeds the soul, not the stomach. But still colour feeds, while black-and-white signifies”.
P.S.1 Some thoughts on black by the author of this article can be read here
There is cold grey and warm grey like with all colours. Searching among notes on grey, in art but also in colour as therapy, I came across more or less the same: grey is not a colour; it is rather the absence of it, or an in-between phase; something like the point of indecisiveness, the proof of doubt, the sign of shutting-off, the moment before the flat-line appears. Before discarding it though as of lesser importance, I sat to think what grey meant when I started painting and how it moved along even during my most colourful periods, mostly as the obvious absent. Grey was one of the five tones that we would use in drawings; if I look at it now, we were actually using only grey, four tones of grey and white; no black. Later, when passion was allowed to come aloof, black became the dominant, tones became less in number with emphasis on contrast; grey was pushed towards elimination, the pariah between options. Using grey in order to make colours shine next to it was the easy way to my eyes and definitely did not interest me; I would always turn away from such paintings; a kind of cannibalistic approach which still holds my hand with vigour. Pure colour in its utmost clearness and brightness should be able to stand without tricks; and it did of course. This however lead at a certain point to a dramatic switch, from one series to the next, from bright colour to absolute black and white. Black, with white as its reflection carries colour; it contains all the colours. Where colour shakes our soul happily, black shakes it to its core; something to look for and demand from a painting, I thought; not easy to do though and even less to keep at it as there lies the thin border of (in)sanity.
Grey at the opposite side is useful for self-sedation when the way to the bottom reaches its end and you feel as hollow as the invisible wo-man. This curiously concerns a big number of people of the rich world who seem to buy their own boredom or camouflage themselves in order to move safely on the work floor. It is discomforting to think that art embraces the camouflaging trick and accepts the sedative role instead of moving towards smashing the numbness.
Grey appears in paintings every now and then, when still in process; when working with layers. At the second look the act of braveness is called in. Confessed: staying edgy through the years is something to do; smashing the napped greyness is too.
“I will provoke you”… “I will travel you “… “I’ll haunt you” … “I’ll be your mirror” … tells the artwork; the question is to what do we respond.
It is so that each life period picks its elements of seduction; as life evolves what we are able to see in an artwork ping-pongs between moods, thoughts and convictions. What if, though, in the end this phrase would summarize it all: “I’ll be your mirror”; I almost can not pronounce it without singing it, but the artwork does too, doesn’t it? As time passes and provided we do our homework on leaving aside as many habits as possible – in order to see our naked self, yes that’s it – the artwork as alive as we are will change as well. A painting is not a still image; it goes along with us; awakens a cell today and another the next day, or shuts it all off in a sharp annihilation; until we are ready to stand in front of it again.
Nevertheless, art does not comply to the linear approach of life; what it reflects is our present self relieved from time. Here comes along too the distinction between timeless works and statement-works; the latter becoming obsolete outside the social context and the relevant description (a story to be told apart).
The artwork as mirror is the materialization of the most intimate relation we can have; meaning, to ourself. Standing in front of the art-mirror is something to do; but would you?
P.S.1 Cannot avoid thinking that a big amount of the art production nowadays asks the viewer to get used to it, where this “it” is more an illustration of an idea than an autonomous work of art. If you wonder what is the difference between the two, search in the 19th century and the first plans for a conceptual museum. I will expand on this in a future article.
P.S.2 painting is always abstract, just like music
At the beginning there was silence. Then came painting and the sounds of lines. Then, after many years of practising, the words found an order and learned adjusting to the environment. Then this was wasted in words like
Then silence came again, containing a non-terminal despair; rather a painful clarity. As a trained artist, I grab this clarity when pain does not smudge it and do my work. To those entering my silence I then say “let me do my work”, which often comes across weird as it may be at the café or on the street walking to nowhere specifically.
P.S. There has been no way to explain to the therapist, in Dutch, the word “vanity”, which brought us to the mutual decision to stop with the sessions.
What was that now: wise talkative people speaking on the defence of introverts … I had never thought we needed anyone to stand for us; and even more explaining our qualities…
It must have been so that a whole generation (is that true?) grew up seeing and believing the “papardeles” – as we say in Greek – as the normal human behaviour and the straight undoubted way to success; people that need people to re-charge and a constant audience to justify their thoughts. I encountered this even in the circle of colleagues painters making abstract expressionism while discussing with no matter who about no matter what. I encountered the same in ceramic studios but then the crafting part of the work could allow it…
Introverts can go in such depth when in silence to come to sink in the bottom of the internal feeling sensors with as result to develop such a capacity for empathy (grading only in connection to their intellectual level) to be able to come to the place of an extrovert. They say that introverts can fake been extroverts. Yes, that’s true, especially if they consciously exercise as described above from early age.
On the opposite of this, introverts could become perfect old fashioned astronauts.
Natural empathy and flying in space; it sounds like having the perfect hearing in life.
P.S. 1 Of course this does not point to success, no.
P.S. 2 I remember sitting across a friend at the reading table of the free academy of arts here in The Hague, both in silence, when he said “you see what happens when two introverts sit face to face?”
The painting was rolled up for many years but survived intact and now is resting hanging on the wall of my studio until I find the means to buy the stretcher-frame
“Five youngsters from level 2 were lying on the ground hit by astonishment from the sudden cracks of knuckles of the upper man, just before he disappeared. ‘He cracked twice’ the one whispered to the other with obvious fear but still detached as their life level demanded. The workers on level 1 just below them also followed the protocol, pretending not to notice what was happening beyond their sky. ‘He was a controller’ the youngsters startled while returning to normal mode. ‘He has information on us now… and went back to his level’. They looked with no other movement to their sky. There was nothing to see except of the normal flying devices. The spy had become invisible; he belonged to the third level of life, the accomplished state, where everyone and almost everything was transparent.
The land had established since long -and after a history of experiments- the ideal state of equality in unmixed horizontal levels. Visitors from upper to lower levels were mostly uncommon since all knew well their place and their function was without doubt too. After the first shock which lasted a small few seconds, Ruhtra, the team chief, stood up and, while already walking away said ‘Faron will know’. The other four followed him to their mentor. Faron listened and without other comment pronounced as real teacher: ‘Fallen Angel’. Mentors were not supposed to say much on level 2, so the young men having nothing else to expect, left, with the two words floating in their heads.
They reached the main river without a word. Normally they would have analysed their experience and would now be discussing their opinions but instead they sat down in romantic positions staring at the river. This lasted a while. Haro scraped this silence stating ‘I’m scared’. He was the youngest, so still allowed to quote poetry but this old verse fell rather wrong to the team. ‘There is no time for philological analysis’ … ‘we must reach level 3, now’ chief Ruhtra said lifting his head up with mixed desire and anger. He stood up forcefully as in a move of impact, only to catch the others falling in sleeping mode. Before he could speak a word to reverse it they had disappeared in camouflaging colours, allowing only their inaction to flash dimly in a rhythmic on-off, on-off. …”
P.S. the opening paragraphs of the story “the ideal state”. Keep tuned for the complete work.