Jeremy Lipking and Kerry James Marshall: Mastery and ‘Mastry’

Above: Details from paintings by Jeremy Lipking (L) and Kerry James Marshall (R)
Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit two superb exhibitions of figurative painting: Jeremy Lipking ‘Recent Paintings’ at Arcadia Contemporary and Kerry James Marshall ‘Mastry’ at MOCA. Born twenty years apart—Lipking in 1975 and Marshall in 1955—and raised twenty miles apart —Lipking in Santa Monica and Marshall in Watts—both artists are concerned with painting the human figure, but their social contexts and artistic intentions are strikingly and tellingly divergent. 

JEREMY LIPKING
Above Timberline, Oil on canvas, 36 x 18 inches

Jeremy Lipking is a Classical Realist whose ability to effortlessly intersperse convincing evocations of form and energetic, improvisational brushwork have earned him a considerable following and reputation. The Art Renewal Center—which advocates “a return of training, standards and excellence in the visual arts”—has honored Lipking with the designation of  ARC Living Master™. Lipking has also been the recipient of other honors including a 2014 Prix de West Purchase Award.

Jeremy Lipking in his studio

Lipking’s recent paintings, including small landscape studies and female figures—both clothed and nude—showcase his considerable technical abilities. Using California’s Eastern Sierras as their setting, Likping’s figures, including some who wear antique costumes, suggest both endurance and softness. Painting with alternating applications of thin and thick paint, Lipking evokes windblown hair and cool, flickering shadows with a virtuosity gleaned partly from the works of 19th century painters he admires including Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn. Michael Zakian, the Director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum, says that “Lipking’s true subject is his pictorial fluency,” and seeing Lipking’s paintings close up supports Zakian’s point beautifully. 

JEREMY LIPKING
Above Timberline (detail)

Lipking’s nudes often veer towards depictions of inwardness and contemplation. For example, one of the nudes in Lipking’s Arcadia show, Matilija Poppy, appears in a field of white poppies (this species can grow up to eight feet tall) against a pinkish sky. Matilija Poppy is a celebration of delicacy fused with inner drama, a slightly surreal and fleetingly erotic painting that goes right to the edge of mythology. 

JEREMY LIPKING
Matilija Poppy, 2017, Oil on canvas, 18 x 36 inches
JEREMY LIPKING
Matilijia Poppy (detail)

One of the most impressive and fully-realized canvases on view in the Arcadia show depicts Lipking’s pregnant wife Danielle in profile, draped in a translucent, striped dressing gown. It’s a painted love letter from a virtuoso artist to his wife and unborn child. It’s also a painting that indicates Lipking’s ambition, which is to take his place in the long line of “Masters” who have used oil paint—a frustrating, flexible and sensuous medium—to capture and immortalize human dignity and affection.

JEREMY LIPKING
Danielle at 35 Weeks, Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches

The idea of joining the continuum of Art History has also been a lifelong goal for Kerry James Marshall, who has dedicated his career to addressing the omission of black figures in the Western tradition. “He knew he wanted to be an artist very early in his life,” recalls his friend Luis Serrano, “ If I remember correctly he took a field trip to the museum in elementary school and he told himself he wanted to create works of art and to be collected.” 

PHOTO: LUIS SERRANO
Kerry James Marshall

A dedicated student who pored over paintings in museums and books, Marshall was motivated by the gap between what the Old Masters had been able to do in their art and what he wanted to do in his. His ambition and racial consciousness helped Marshall to come to a pragmatic realization: that “Mastery” is a way of achieving freedom and entering the world (and history) on your own terms. “You have to recover the capacity to imagine yourself as an ideal” Marshall says, “and figure out how to project that into the world.” 

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
Painter, 2008 (Detail)

Marshall’s project, which involved idealizing and re-positioning the identity of his race and community, has used the color black as both a formal device and a metaphor. All of Marshall’s figures are black—racially and chromatically—which has the effect of making black function in a new and symbolic way. Black never appears in the surroundings of Marshall’s figures, but it is serves emphatically as their skin tone and marker of their beauty. 
As MOCA’s website offers: “By mastering the art of representational and figurative painting during a period when neither was in vogue, Marshall produced a body of work that bestows beauty and dignity where it had long been denied.” His four pictures of Boy and Girl Scouts—which have the solemnity of icons—manage to both elevate their subjects while also multiplying the web of social complexities that envelop them: is that a blast or a halo surrounding the Boy Scout’s head? 

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
Scout (Boy), 1995, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas mounted on board, 34 1/2 × 34 1/2 inches. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gift of the Susan and Lewis Manilow Collection of Chicago Artists 2003.28 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

While viewing Marshall’s retrospective (which was organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art) the social presence and obvious pride and interest on the part of African Americans visiting the show was moving and profound. Marshall’s paintings do for people of color what the Romantic works in the Louvre’s Salle Mollien did for the citizens of Post-Revolutionary France, which is to validate and ennoble their passions and struggles. 

PHOTO: JOHN SEED
MOCA Visitors view Kerry James Marshall’s De Style, 1993

It must be extraordinary for Marshall to step back and reflect on both his success in making museum-worthy art and in having used his imagination as a tool for cultural transformation: Marshall’s level of commitment and social consciousness deserves tremendous respect. Numerous and honors—including a 1997 McArthur Award—have cemented his achievement and brought Marshall’s work into the pantheon he once admired as an outsider. 
In the process of entering the canon, Marshall has clearly studied and absorbed ideas and motifs from a wide range of influences including Renaissance art (Giotto is a favorite), Haitian and African art, folk art and also from the works of recent artists including Warhol—in Marshall’s use of stamps and collage elements—and Basquiat whose ability to scatter cultural references throughout a single image likely inspired the overlaid elements and drips of Marshall’s The Land That Time Forgot.

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
The Land That Time Forgot, 1992, Acrylic and collage on canvas, 97 x 75 inches, Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio Museum purchase, The Shirle and William King Westwater Fund and the Derby Fund

One charming reference that I noticed at MOCA was Marshall’s re-appropriation of the anamorphic skull in Holbein’s 1533 painting The Ambassadors: it is transformed in Marshall’s 2012 allegory School of Beauty, School of Culture into a kind of flattened and skewed Disney princess, perhaps the only white-skinned face to appear in any of the artist’s paintings. It’s a painting about the intersection and celebration of black beauty and culture, and the anamorphic image of white cartoon glamour serves as a kind of cultural Memento mori; a weird apparition that two small children inspect with a mixture of curiosity and caution. 

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas, 107 7/8 × 157 7/8 inches, Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham
School of Beauty, School of Culture (Detail)

Marshall’s most recent paintings radiate the artist’s continuing ability to deal with complex themes with candor and confidence. The erotic avidity of the woman reflected in Untitled (Mirror Girl) from 2014 is both welcoming and comic while also opening the door to the consideration of the possibilities of self-disclosure in the age of Instagram. The items taped to the mirrors frame—including a dry-cleaning bill and a bank receipt—add a hint of everyday life that grounds the glittering scene in reality.

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
Untitled (Mirror Girl), 2014, Acrylic on PVC panel, 83 3/4 × 59 3/4 inches, Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Mirror Girl (Detail)

The Mirror Girl’s bedroom is a long, long way from the Eastern Sierras, which brings me to the inevitable question: what was it like to see Jeremy Lipking’s work and Kerry James Marshall’s work on the same day? The honest answer... it was thrilling. 

Viewing Silence is Golden

One of the things that art is meant to do is to transport you, to get you outside of yourself, and both shows did that for me. Lipking did it with his fluency and introspection, Marshall with his incisiveness, complexity and deep commitment to making social statements. 
At the end of the day, Looking over Marshall’s Silence is Golden I realized that although I had seen nearly 100 paintings in a single day, I hadn’t seen a white male in any of them. That made me the white male, standing outside, just where Kerry James Marshall had once stood: in a museum, staring at a painting, wondering if art could possibly help the world be better. 
JEREMY LIPKING 
“Recent Paintings” - March 11 - April 2
Arcadia Contemporary
9428 Washington Blvd. 
Culver City, CA 90232
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
“Mastry” - March 12 - July 3
MOCA Grand AvenueTHE MORNING EMAIL
250 South Grand Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012

Honoring the Legacy of David Park to open at Santa Clara University


Honoring the Legacy of David Park
An Invitational and Juried Exhibition

Dates: April 3rd to April 28th, 2017

Public Opening: Saturday, April 15th at 3PM
Panel Discussion: Saturday, April 15th at 4PM

Location:
The Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History Building
Santa Clara University

The Edward M. Dowd Building



This exhibition is intended to pay homage to the art and values of artist David Park (1911-1960), the founder of the tradition of Bay Area Figurative painting. It does not include Park’s own works, but instead features the works of two invited artists and 35 artists chosen by a panel of four jurors.

David Park’s figurative works are characterized by humanity, candor and bold painterly brushwork. The goal of the exhibition jurors was not to select art that mimics David Park’s style, but rather to select paintings that honor the legacy of Park’s artistic independence and integrity, and also his interest in painting people and places that held personal meanings for him.

JURORS

John Seed is a professor of art and art history at Mt. San Jacinto College. He is also an arts writer and blogger whose writing has ap- peared in Harvard Magazine, Art Ltd. the HuffingtonPost and Hyperallergic. Seed wrote the catalog essay that accompanied the 2015 exhibition Interiors and Places': David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff at Hackett Mill Gallery in San Francisco.

DeWitt Cheng is an artist, collector, freelance art writer, educator, and curator based in San Francisco. He has served as the director of Stanford Art Spaces and writes for numerous art publications including Art Ltd Magazine and Visual Art Source.

Andrea Pappas is an Associate Professor of Art History at Santa Clara University, specializing in American and Contemporary Art, Gender and Visual Arts. She holds a BA in Fine Arts from the University of California at Berkeley, and both an M.A. and PhD in Art History from the University of Southern California.

Jessica Phillips is the Director of Hackett|Mill Gallery, San Francisco, which represents the Estate of David Park. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and Art History and an M.A. in Contemporary Art from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. 




Kyle Staver's "Biker Triptych" has arrived from New York and is uncrated and ready to install. You can view the catalog for "Honoring the Legacy of David Park" at my bio link. #kylestaver #figurativeart #santaclara


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In a Time of Political and Spiritual Repression, Must Art Become More Political? Not Necessarily...




DIGITAL COLLAGE BY PHOTOFUNIA.COM
“But among the greatest enemies of the arts are the enemies that lie within, in the arts community's seemingly liberal demand that all discourse be reasonable, disciplined, purposeful, useful.” - Jed Perl
Jordan Wolfson, a Yale-educated painter who lives and works in Louisville,
Colorado, left a comment for me on my Facebook page. He was wondering
what I thought about the situation of painting “in a time of political and spiritual
repression,” which he fears is “just warming up.” I share Jordan’s concerns,
but initially didn’t know how to respond to his query. If anything, I’m inclined
to offer more of a caution than an answer: I’m worried that artists of our era
may be too quick to respond to disturbing political developments by politicizing
their art.
Since the election of Donald Trump, the idea that right-minded artists should
politicize their art as a form of protest and resistance, has been widely circulated.
For example, in a recent HuffingtonPost blog, “What It Means to Be An Artist in 
the Time of Trump,” performance artist Emma Sulkowicz offered this exhortation:
“Too many people abstract the meaning from their work. More than ever, artists who have the privilege of any audience must speak clearly about the issues that matter most.”
Sulkowicz’ point of view, which I think is both well-intentioned and mis-guided,
makes me think of a Facebook comment that I read just days after the election—
sorry, but I forget who wrote it—that read: “Let’s all be ready for four years of really
bad political art.” I laughed when I read it, as I think that is a pretty good prediction.
 A quick scan of some of the images posted with the hashtag #antitrumpart on 
Instagram may also make you concerned about the tsunami of well-intentioned
but lame art America’s political angst has just begun to generate. Yes, Trump has
been a gift to satirists, but there is a limit to what satire and sarcasm can say.


INSTAGRAM
Top posts with the hashtag #antitrumpart

It’s quite understandable that one might be inclined to like a work of art that carries
 a political message you are sympathetic to. The problem is, that ideological
sympathy can lead to giving a “free pass” to shoddily conceived or shrill works
of art. When the message of a work of art carries more weight than its other
aspects—it’s formal qualities, for example—there is a good chance that our
standards will lapse. And when the subject matter of art becomes politicized, it is
likely that what might now seem like vital subject matter now will seem trivial when
 the context of the moment falls away.
A case in point: just how much of the politically-motivated Social Realism of the
1920s and 1930s still moves you today? Other than Diego Rivera’s Detroit murals,
I come up fairly empty in trying to respond. When Arshile Gorky called Social 
Realism as “Poor art for poor people,” he had a point to make. The largely
apolitical art movement that we associate Gorky with, Abstract Expressionism,
proved to be much more enduring.


IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Unemployment by Ben Shahn (detail from a mural)

I think that the best art has an air of authenticity about it. I see visual artists—the
group that I write about—as mediums who bring us glimpses of the world through
the filter of the self. Each individual self is infinitely complex—shaped by nature
and nurture, by experience and perception—and when individual artists feel
obligated to respond to a collective set of demands there is a kind of flattening
that takes place. To put it another way, when art becomes a job, utility can sideline authenticity: the result will most often be dull, didactic art.
On the other hand, political outrage—when channeled through the sensibilities of
strong individuals—can certainly generate great art. The power of unfettered
individual expression—the natural opponent of authoritarianism—is what makes Picasso’s Guernica so memorable. Picasso’s personal antipathy to Francisco
Franco and to the terrifying form of modern war he sponsored is what gives
Guernica its authenticity, its sense of outrage. Of course, Guernica didn’t stop
Hitler, and any artist who engages in making political art needs to be realistic
about what art can and can’t accomplish. Writer Kurt Vonnegut has a few choice
words to say about this in relation to the Viet Nam era:
“During the Vietnam War, which lasted longer than any war we’ve ever been in—and which we lost— every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.”
Yes, dissent and protest helped bring an end to the disastrous Viet Nam war, but 
the political art of that era has fallen through the cracks of history. On the other 
hand, some of the best apolitical art made during that same time period—for 
example, Richard Diebenkorn’s early Ocean Park paintings—is looking better 
and better... which brings me to something important.

Up to this point I have been avoiding one of the words in Jordan Wolfson’s original
 comment: he asked me about painting “in a time of political and spiritual
repression.” I honestly think that one of the most important and vital things any
artist can do during a time of political crisis to deepen the spiritual intentions of
his/her art. Artists can take refuge in their art, which they in turn can offer to all of
us as a source of consolation. 


Monet in his studio.

During the horrific political events of World War I, the artist Claude Monet was
working in his studio at Giverny, where he could sometimes hear the explosions of
shells not far away. He was creating his magnificent cycle of Nymphéas
(water lilies) that are now housed in L’Orangerie in Paris. “Most of my family has
left,” he wrote to a friend during this period. “A mad panic has seized all this area.
As for me, I’ll stay here all the same, in the midst of my canvases, in front of my
life’s work.” Monet, who knew what he was best at, did what he was meant to do,
which was to take his lifetime’s work to it’s ultimate conclusion. By doing so, he
gave us masterpieces that still resonate healing power.
So to Jordan—and anyone else who is reading this—if you feel so strongly about
politics right now and feel that you need to make your art a vehicle for your politics,
 I can respect that and America could use a “Guernica.” (Standing Rock, anyone?) On the
other hand, if your heart isn’t in it, don’t feel the need to politicize what you do. Art has 
many faces and there are spiritual and aesthetic journeys that need to be taken 
regardless of political circumstances.
I believe that people have a tendency to become what they hate, and if someone
tells you “You art must be political because of the times you live in” there is
something disturbingly authoritarian about that insistence. And If I didn’t entirely
respond to or answer Jordan’s post—and I am not sure that I have—it is perhaps
because I believe that the most important questions are ones we all ultimately
need to answer for ourselves.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art: Re-framing The Popular Filmmaker’s Legacy

Concept Design: Los Angeles Renderings for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Ma Yansong, MAD Architects Beijing, China. Photos: courtesy of Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true: filmmaker George Lucas has never received an Academy Award. “I’ve been nominated, but I’ve never won,” Lucas explained to Charlie Rose in a December 2015 interview; “I’m too popular for that.” Popular and then some, with a net worth of over 5 billion dollars—the bulk of that having come from his 2012 sale of Lucasfilm to Disney—Lucas’s commercial success has endowed him with wealth on a scale that will allow him to do whatever he wants for the rest of his life, critics and doubters be damned.

Read more at Art Ltd...

When the Bull Reappears: Nathan Oliveira’s ‘Tauromaquia 21’ Monotypes

©THE ESTATE OF NATHAN OLIVEIRA
Plate VI, 5.23.73, from the Tauromaquia 21 Series, 1973, monotype on antique rag paper, image 10.5” x 13.5,” paper 15.5’ x 23.5
The late Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010)—an artist who was rarely satisfied enough with any single image to call it finished—liked to tell his students a story about how he had once confounded and frustrated a European art collector. It went something like this:
This collector had come all the way from Germany, very intent on buying some work, so I sat him down and had him watch a slide show of more than 50 images of a painting in progress. He watched carefully as I clicked through the slides, and when it was over and the lights were back on, he pulled out his checkbook and said “I’ll buy number 17, number 22 and number 38.” When I then explained that the final image was the finished painting and the only one for sale, he was very surprised and put his checkbook away. “But I don’t want that one,” he complained.
Oliveira’s great strength as an artist—and also his great weakness—was an inclination to see art-making as a journey, not a destination: he showed the collector his works in progress to make that point absolutely clear. Like so many modernists, Oliveira had a mind that was disinclined to aim itself towards a fixed or finite result. He was a lateral thinker who saw every image as a way-station linked to an array of others. Working this way can be very neurotic, as it rarely leads to feeling finished, and Oliveira certainly had plenty of stories about the paintings he ruined over the years after putting a signed canvas back on the easel and saying to himself “I’m just going to tweak this spot over here a little bit...”
Nathan Oliveira, 1977
I thought of Oliveira when I heard the critic Peter Frank speak a few years ago at the Representational Art Conference, where he told us that “Most of what’s out there is just a rehearsal for the real thing.” It’s a rare and wonderful thing when an artist does hit on “the real thing,” but when you embrace the pure open-ended process of just making things—as Oliveira did—the rehearsals themselves could the thrilling. Attempting a way of making art that emphasizes process over product may not pay off immediately in material terms, but it can open up possibilities that a less risky approach would never allow.
Monotype, a medium that he discovered and mastered in the last half of his career, allowed Oliveira the flexibility he needed. It engendered a fast-moving, improvisational way of working that allowed Oliveira to take on challenging subject matter and dialogue the past masters of art history including Goya and Picasso. When I look at Oliveira’s seminal Tauromaquia 21 series—a set of variations on a single Goya etching—I think of Nathan as an artist/toreador, conjuring, erasing, then resurrecting Goya’s bull with his cloak of black etching ink. It’s a bravura performance.
NATHAN OLIVEIRA
Bull, lithograph, circa 1956
Oliveira was an accomplished printmaker who had made his first lithographs at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1949. In 1952 he exhibited a two-color lithograph of a bullring—an early nod to Picasso and Goya—that already showed signs of process-orientation in its dueling techniques of drawing and scraping. A mid-fifties lithograph of a bull (above) which clearly responds to Picasso’s famous sequence of bull-themed lithographs, already shows Oliveira’s searching and varied approach to depicting the vitality of his subject. Picasso’s series, in which a single lithographic stone was used to render increasingly abstract images of a bull, was a challenge and inspiration that clearly lingered in Oliveira’s mind for many years.
Above: Picasso’s sequence of Bull lithographs from 1945 (video)
Oliveira mainly supported himself by selling lithographs, often for around $20, until winning a Lewis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant for lithography which was shortly followed by a Guggenheim Fellowship in printmaking. During a brief period when he was unhappy with his easel paintings, between 1963 and 1966, Oliveira concentrated on lithography. When he arrived to teach full-time at Stanford University in 1964 Oliveira brought his own lithographic press and stones, establishing a printmaking studio behind the Stanford Art Gallery. One of his early students, who made lithographs with Oliveira in a small class setting, says that his lessons and lectures were incredibly detailed and intense: she told me that the lesson Oliveira gave on properly opening and closing tins of lithography ink still comes into her mind when she opens or closes a jar of peanut butter.
EDGAR DEGAS
Brothel Scene (Dans le Salon d’une Maison Close), 1874-84, 6.375 x 8.4 inches, monotype. Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. Edgar Degas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When art historian Lorenz Eitner helped Stanford’s museum acquire a Degas monotype in 1969, Oliveira found himself fascinated by this “forgotten” medium:
The nature of the monotype—the reversal of image, the reflective nature of paper, the brilliance of paper through veils of ink—had all the qualities of printing that I wanted, technically, and it had one other: it left a remnant or ghost of the idea after the impression was made. I could enter back into that image that was still malleable—that I could still manipulate—and extend that initial concept to a different state...
After being presented with a supply of 200 year old paper by a friend at Fullerton College, Oliveira felt ready to rise to the challenge of an artistic dialog with a print from Goya’s epic series of bullfight etchings: La Tauromaquia. He chose Plate 21, a daring composition in which the gored body of a small town mayor is hoisted triumphantly over a screaming crowd exiting the stalls underneath. Its central symbol—the bull—gave him something strong to grapple with, both in symbolic and formal terms.
GOYA (FRANCISCO DE GOYA Y LUCIENTES)
Plate 21 from the ‘Tauromaquia’: Dreadful events in the front rows of the ring at Madrid and death of the mayor of Torrejon, 1816, etching, 9 11/16 × 13 7/8 in., Sheet: 12 1/8 × 17 1/4 in.
By conjuring up a match with Goya and his bull, Oliveira was able, among other things, to indulge in a reconnection to his Hispanic heritage, which had been awakened by travel and friendship. Oliveira, who was of Portuguese descent, had traveled to Madrid in 1963 to receive a prize and was befriended by Fernando Zóbel de Ayala y Montojo. Zóbel, a Harvard-educated artist and the scion of a wealthy Philippine/Spanish family had recently moved to Spain where he was at the center of a circle of modern artists including Manolo Millares, Antoni Tàpies and others. An avid collector, Zóbel later founded the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca.
COURTESY OF THE AYALA MUSEUM, MANILA
Fernando Zóbel at the Museum of Abstract Spanish Art in Cuenca, 1966. His painting Ornitóptero hangs behind him.
Oliveira and Zóbel exchanged works and when Oliveira first met dealer Paula Kirkeby, who later would show his Tauromaquia 21 series in her gallery, he brought her a work by Zóbel to frame. It’s interesting to note that Zóbel later painted semi-abstract Dialogos (Dialogues) that were variations on paintings by Degas and others.
NATHAN OLIVEIRA
Tauromaquia 21, Monotype #4, May 27, 1973
A sense of friendly competition—with living artists and artists of the past—was always an undercurrent in Oliveira’s work, and although the Tauromaquia 21 series is overtly a contest with Goya’s bulls, there is another rivalry going on as well: with Richard Diebenkorn. Around the time that he made the Tauromaquia, Diebenkorn’s abstract Ocean Park paintings were becoming much sought-after and much talked about. Oliveira, who worked with local collectors Hunk and Moo Anderson as they built the collection, was asked in 1974 to help them choose an Ocean Park painting from a New York exhibition: he advised them on the purchase Ocean Park #60 (1973) which is on view today at the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.
Clearly, Diebenkorn’s interest in using geometry as a a kind of scaffolding that sustains abstraction, was something that Oliveira was quoting in his monotypes. Oliveira often said that when he made abstract art it “had to be about something” and Goya’s composition and subject gave him a “something” that to which he could apply both his own ideas and the ideas of his peers. To put it another way, Goya gave him substance and Diebenkorn gave him structure. Two years after Oliveira completed the Tauromaquia 21 series, Diebenkorn visited Stanford and made his own series of monotypes, taking his old friend’s medium for a spin.
NATHAN OLIVEIRA
Nathan Oliveira: Tauromaquia 21, Monotype #I, June 17, 1973
Oliveira’s monotypes have incredible tonal vitality, and in his Tauromaquia 21 plates one can see how wiping could create sheathes of light. Using his fingertips, dry brushes and the ends of brushes, Oliveira indulged in the subtractive potential of the medium. In Plate #1 from his June 17th session, Goya’s bull emerges from a shaft of light defined by subtractive wiping. In a kind of symbolic triumph the animal’s head and horns are wiped into abstraction in a gesture of Oedipal drama. Hints of Goya’s bullring stalls glimmer below, wiped from the dense ink with a few strokes.
NATHAN OLIVEIRA
Tauromaquia 21, Monotype #2, June 21, 1973
Some of the monotypes seem to veer into a kind of destructive chaos. In plate #2 from June 21st, a flurry of wiping has removed the bull entirely, leaving an admirable welter of ghostly forces that have the poetic resonance similar to that found in the works of Cy Twombly. In images like this one, you can feel Oliveira’s willingness to get rid of things to possibly find others. His way of working brings to mind Picasso’s answer to the question “What do you do when you get stuck while making a painting:” Picasso’s reply: “Get rid of the best part.”
NATHAN OLIVEIRA
Tauromaquia 21, Monotype #5, June 27, 1973
Working over a period of roughly two months, creating as few as one and as many as eight images in each session, the Tauromaquia 21 series was an exercise in freedom that helped Oliveira invent imagery that would inform and sustain his art-making—paintings, prints and sculptures—for the rest of his career. When Goya’s bull reappears in the final monotype of the series, Plate #5 of June 27th, it seems both controlled and contained, as if Oliveira had made the image his own. With it’s hovering frame—marked by tiny hatchmarks—and its bold diagonal, it is the work of a master: an artist/toreador has risen to the challenge of addressing his masters in his own terms. It’s a sublimation of masculine competition and violence, something that art and culture can offer all of us if we choose.
Nathan Oliveira: Current Exhibitions
January 14, 2017 to April 2, 2017
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
551 Broadway, Sonoma CA 95476
NATHAN OLIVEIRA
Cobalt Dancer, 2001Oil, alkyd and cold wax medium on canvas, 84 x 70 inches, Courtesy of the Oliveira Administrative Trust and Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
Dates: January 13 - March 4, 2017
Berggruen Gallery
10 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105