In the shadows

Lee Krasner, Untitled, 1948

After I came back from a trip to New York with students in the spring I wrote a lot here about the art I saw in galleries there. One thing that I didn’t write about at the time was a small painting I saw at the Metropolitan Museum; the relevant page on the Met’s website has been open in a browser tab on my laptop ever since I think, but it was seeing Mel Brimfield’s Clement Greenberg – Lee Krasner = Jackson Pollock that brought Lee Krasner’s painting back to mind. Though Krasner’s career was played out in the shadow of that of her husband Jackson Pollock, her contribution to twentieth century American modernism, and to abstract expressionist painting in particular, was considerable. Unlike Pollock’s action paintings, this work is modest in scale 76.2 x 63.5 cm to Autumn Rhythm‘s 266.7 x 525.8cm and the painting seems to me to be much more about the outcome than the performance of making it.

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Art by post

Eugenio Dittborn, The 11th History of the Human Face (500 years) (Airmail painting no.91), 1990

For as long as there’s been an art world, art has travelled. In an increasingly international, multi-centre art world that’s truer than ever and artists working at an international level might have exhibitions in several countries at any one time. For some artists though getting their work out isn’t easy. For Eugenio Dittborn the question of how to get the work out has determined the nature of the work itself. Based in Santiago de Chile, for Dittborn the issue is not just about distance but about the problem of making art while living under a repressive regime and in 1984, with Chile governed by the military, he started to make what he calls Airmail Paintings. Collage-based works, these are made of lightweight, foldable materials and are posted to the galleries that exhibit them – often in segments to be assembled on arrival – with the envelopes becoming part of the work.

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Drawing on the familiar

Tracey Emin, I didn’t say I couldn’t love you, 2011

I’ll start by owning up to the fact that I wouldn’t have gone to see She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, Tracey Emin’s exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate, if there hadn’t been a couple of other things on show outside the gallery that I particularly wanted to see. Over the years, Emin has made quite a lot of work I really like but most of it has been video and, with a few exceptions, I’m not crazy about her drawings, prints and paintings. But I was there so it would have been foolhardy not to take a look. I’ve seen enough of Emin’s work to know that at its best it can be genuinely affecting and that sometimes even the small, almost throw-away, drawings can be funny and occasionally hit a nerve or tell some sort of universal truth.

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The progress of progress

William Hogarth, The Heir from A Rake’s Progress, 1732-33

While I’m thinking about artists reworking the work of others it seems pertinent to look at William Hogarth’s series of paintings A Rake’s Progress which has not only been reworked by other artists – not to mention being turned into an opera – but was reworked by Hogarth himself as a series of engravings a couple of years after he made the paintings. The series tells the story of Tom Rakewell who inherits a fortune, spends it on good living, gambling and debauchery before being imprisoned and ultimately ending up in Bedlam. It’s a story told succinctly in a series of eight images, first paintings then etchings. Hogarth saw this as an exploration of ‘modern morals’.

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I wanted to love you more

Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, Deep inside my heart, 2009-10

Artists collaborating is hardly unusual. And, as the last few posts have shown, artists copy what’s gone before on a regular basis. And occasionally they go so far as to take someone else’s work and change it, like the Chapman brothers did when making Insult to Injury or like Robert Rauschenberg did, albeit with Willem de Kooning’s permission, when he rubbed out a drawing to make Erased de Kooning (1953). When Tracey Emin worked on top of a series of paintings by Louise Bouregois, she did so at Bourgeois’s behest, the two artists having met some years earlier and been in regular contact since; though Bourgeois wasn’t generally interested in collaborations, the two artists had shared preoccupations giving the idea of a joint work a certain appeal. As a collaboration what perhaps made this unusual was that Emin had the paintings for more than a year before deciding how to proceed. Do Not Abandon Me, the series of prints made from these images, was to be one of Bourgeois’s last works; although Bourgeois saw Emin’s additions – and was delighted with them – the work was not shown until after her death.

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Smoothing the surface

Frank Auerbach, Head of J.Y.M., 1981

For Frank Auerbach painting is an obsessive process. He paints the same people over and over again – J.Y.M., or Juliet Yardley Mills to give her her full name, is one of Auerbach’s favourite models; he’s painted her regularly for decades – often painting layer upon layer until he’s happy with the result. As a consequence both of his style of painting and the way the image is built up over a period of weeks or months – and who know, possibly years in some cases – the surfaces become almost sculptural. Even in reproduction – which, let’s face it, is how we often see art – the texture of the paint is apparent. Or so it seems.

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Simplifying the iconic

Johannes Vermeer, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665

There are some images that stick in the mind. Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring is surely one such. There is something haunting about the way the girl looks out at the viewer; it’s mostly about the eyes, but the slightly open mouth adds to the mood of the piece. The girl is caught in the moment rather than formally posing for a portrait. Though the girl is painted with beautiful detail, the painting as a whole is quite simple. The background is dark and lacking in detail, so it’s all about the girl and that earring that catches the light.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that a painting that has inspired first a novel and then a film should also have become the subject for another painting.

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