Category Archives: Art and Artists

Ryman at Dia Chelsea

'Arrow,' 1976, by Robert Ryman

The use of white focuses the viewer on the tactile — on the paint itself. It is tempting to see the subject of these paintings as the very process of painting itself.
But this simplistic reading overlooks a great deal. There always seems to be a point at which the meaning of a work of art is insoluble in language.”

from Ill said Ill seen: a meditation on Robert Ryman and Samuel Beckett – now online at The Finch – read more here

above: ‘Arrow,’ 1976, by Robert Ryman

A Dialog…

Mazza_CHJen Mazza: (A Dialogue of Three Disciplines)
hi Richard,

I was just finishing Joselit’s piece and found it funny/interesting that many of the things he talks about are things I have picked out from other readings. Like this quote by Hito Steyerl, which refers to her medium and documentary film, but resonates with my concerns about painting:

But let me make one thing very clear: to engage in the language of things in the realm of the documentary form is not equivalent to using realist forms in representing them. It is not about representation at all, but about actualising whatever the things have to say in the present.  read more…


Matisse, The Window




Matisse condenses the air – the light is form, the dark is form. What one would pass through is solid while concrete things are but interrupted flickerings; chains of lines flattened onto fields of bright color. Things that do not touch, except that the eye links them in their overlap, are pulled apart again or embedded in each other by an aura of unfinished air that does not blend form into form but holds them apart. This gap of unfinished canvas sews the objects onto the picture plane.

That things sundered by space or time are made to exist together – even to touch – in painting is a harmless enough lie; part of the painters’ art. But I cannot look at the Giacometti portrait of his mother without seeing how hard he tried to force the air back in – pushing it in between table and chair, wall and woman – so that suddenly there is air again for passing through. Before, behind, between, the space stretches back. In this art there is more truth – truth to explain how we see, if not what we see – than in paintings that present a truer likeness but subsist on a flattened plane.

The Artist's Mother, Alberto Giacometti

Meditations on Landscape & The Infinite

Some Meditations on Landscape & The Infinite…
Tartar Steppe, leftTartar Steppe, right

From Leopardi:

“…at times the spirit…desires a view which is in certain ways restricted and confined… The reason is …the desire for the infinite, because in those circumstances the imagination goes to work instead of the eyesight, and fantasy takes the place of what is real.  the spirit imagines for itself what it cannot see, what that tree, that hedge, that tower hides from it, and goes wandering in an imaginary space, and pictures things it would not be able to if its sight extended everywhere, because the real would exclude the imaginary.  Hence the pleasure which I always used to experience as a child, and do even now, in seeing the sky etc. through a window, a doorway…”  (Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone p. 175, tran. in The Canti by J.G. Nichols)

“Concerning the impressions which please solely on account of their indefiniteness, you can see my idyll on the infinite, and recall the notions of a stretch of countryside which slopes down so steeply that from a certain distance the sight does not extend to the valley; and the notion of a row Continue reading


Cezanne, Flowers in Rococo Vase

Cezanne, Flowers in Rococo Vase




Bolted to DC for two days; Hirshhorn, Yves Klein, blue girls in black in white.  Flat fields, objects, moonscapes – all in that vibrant vibrating blue that seems to absorb sound and light alike.  A self made monograph of color field paintings cut out of commercial paint chips.  Blowtorches and firemen, Yves Klein always in a suit.

Evening spent on the front porch of my parents house listening to the tree crickets and katydids, the sound of car wheels on the long descent down the hill on the highway marked the passage of time through the infinitely throbbing chorus of insects.

Next day in the Tower at the National Gallery, listened to the Menil Chapel Rothkos hum.  Sat down to watch them move as day went from sun to shade and the colors of the paintings changed with the light – the way water changes – a grey day turning a pool into a mirror.  Rothko’s blacks are hardly so black – they are darkness stained with color: red, violet, green, the sheen of light turning a form into a slate of grey, while another form becomes a void.

Small French paintings in the basement, a whole room of little Vuillards!  My favorite french painting was upstairs: a Cezanne “Flowers in Rococo Vase”.   Brought back a postcard of another, a Matisse, not on view, that I wish had been.

Matisse, Pot of Geraniums

Matisse, Pot of Geraniums


Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot, Master of the Osservanza
Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot, Master of the Osservanza

Walking along a dirt road how many pebbles would you pick up before you found a second to match the first?  Rock with a capital “R”, scattered in the road in the Osservanza painting is a repetition of rockness, a certain squiggle, hatch and shadow becomes shorthand for all rocks.  Their similarity suggests a return: a cycle through the full circle of variation which brings back a repetition. Symbol and similarity do better to contain infinity than diversity and the unique.


Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi


The objects in Morandi’s studio seen in photographs taken recently, appear to remain as constants though the moment and the man have passed.  Morandi’s switch from the clean opacity of Surrealism to his subsequent translucent and illusive impressions speaks to me about the inconstancy of time and ones own changing sense of it.  Surrealism requires us to invest faith in the solidity of a world that does not exist, it is an imagined world, a painted world, a mimetic world.

Morandi’s later works emphasize through fluctuating edge and transparency the quiver of mortality in the face of the infinite. In these works solid objects are made less so; but caught are the perennial, seasonal and daily shifts of light and shadow which are near to infinite compared to the limited moments of a single perception.  The light flickers and bends over the forms like players moving across a stage, where now only the props remain – the props and their painted echoes that mourn the moment in spite of the promise of the infinite.









Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, Man in Blue
Francis Bacon, Man in Blue

Francis Bacon at the Met

Hockney says time and space can’t exist well together in the same 2D surface – how does that relate to Francis Bacon’s works?  Does Bacon’s flattening-out equal the inclusion of time as a formal element?  Or is time merely implied conceptually through the literal device of multiplication or blurring in order to create the visual continuum of a moving or writhing figure.  How to decipher that – when familiarity dampens the impact, when sight is confused by the shifting apparitions of museum-goers reflected in the glass? Continue reading

Francis Bacon, Proust and Painting

Bacon, Three Studies for the Base of a Crucifiction

“Nothing touches me, nothing interests me, except what directs itself directly to my flesh” (Artaud, Art and Death)

“this unusable body made out of meat and crazy sperm”
(Artaud, Here Lies)

The rain comes straight down, a curtain of rain outside the window.  A city full of windows and so many contained, fleshy warm and bodied, behind each glass.  Each room a box: window-paned, rain-curtained, enclosing its warm human fruit in degrees of ripeness or decay. Continue reading

Ensor on a Rainy Sunday

The Dejected Lady

The Dejected Lady, James Ensor

Ensor on a Rainy Sunday

Outside it rains – with eyes attuned to greys I see the Ensor paintings at MOMA more clearly. And I think that Ostend must be a city of fogs for Ensor to know so well what colors would sing on a day such as today. What is interesting is what stops the light and what the light passes through. The light wraps around and dissolves its objects. Glasses, candlesticks, are as if removed, diminished by that which illuminates or eclipsed by those things deemed solid.

‘A Woman in Distress’, her disheveled form seems to displace the bedding she lays upon, as a weight would in a woolen bath the bedclothes spilling over the edge of the ornate wooden bed. In many of the early pictures, tablecloths, bedding, furniture – all seem to dissolve into the dark air and into the walls and the carpets so that all becomes waves of shifting patterns.

The light is at once solid and diffuse, and refers back to the hard geometry of the window panes whose glare at first blinds us – as it would if we entered such a space from another room more illuminated than this shady parlor. Slowly our eyes adjust and the shapes and forms diversify in the gloom. We see at first only what the light glances over and then at last we glean those persons and objects which Ensor obscures in shadow.

The light erases. The shadow devours. And yet by choosing our focus the eyes adjust and forms spill out from the gloom that the lamp licks over. The impartial daylight pricks the edges nearest the glass but is quickly extinguished in the plush and cluttered interiors – like noise is hushed in a padded room. The room absorbs what little light the day leaves into a sumptuous dark and velvet palette – green, grey and vermillion glow – grey becoming almost blue in the halflight, vermillion which is unlikely a true red and more likely brown but has such fire in the comparative dark, green – emerald which has its own heat. “On such a day one would need to be of solid emerald or ruby to burn with any flame and not merely dissolve in grey atoms in the universal grey,” as Virginia Woolf said on another such rainy day. Continue reading