Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Don't Fade Away (Featuring Sophie Jodoin)

I've figured out why I've been in such a foul mood for the last few days.

Four years ago, in June, I moved to New York. When I arrived at my new apartment, at 9 PM on a Friday night, it had been trashed. The power, phone and TV cables were cut, the intercom was smashed, it was about 104 degrees indoors and smelled like cat pee and moth balls. The movers, meanwhile, failed to deliver my personal effects until two months after I arrived. My only friend in New York suddenly turned into a paranoid, passive-aggressive freak and stopped returning my phone calls. I spent the Fourth of July wandering the streets of Manhattan at random, watching the first post 9-11 fireworks among a crowd of strangers. I don't think I spoke to another human being the entire day.

Three years ago, on the Fourth, I was opening my new gallery. I was stressed, anxious and proud; there was a big party in the building, largely consisting of strangers with whom I had little in common.

Two years ago, on the Fourth, I was getting dumped. I was the biggest wreck I've ever been in my entire life.

One year ago, on the Fourth, I was in a period of prolonged, self-imposed isolation, re-examining every single habitual way I relate to other people. I spent the evening on my roof, watching the fireworks, and talking with my next-door neighbor.

Basically, the Fourth of July in New York City does not hold too many positive associations for me. It's not only hot but muggy; it feels simultaneously oppressive and isolating. Plus, once you've gotten into the habit of self-isolation, it's a difficult one to break, like most habits. I start assuming that something bad will happen if I, like, call someone.

Perhaps the fact that both my phone lines went inexplicably dead over the weekend has to do with physical reality manifesting out of my state of mind. Or maybe that's narcissistic.

Anyway, this has nothing at all to do with the work of Sophie Jodoin, which Painterdog has so generously encouraged us to look at. The images posted here are all from her series, "Don't Fade Away," 2000, which are not necessarily representative, but which touched me deeply, for perhaps obvious reasons.

Sophie's work is proof positive that you can still say something modern and individual with classical painting technique. Sophie does whole series of portraits where the figure is a tiny, isolated speck in the middle of a large canvas; she does other series which look like ancient masterpieces which have been through a shipwreck. The luminosity, the marrying of nail-on-the-head realism with textural abstraction and gestural freedom are unparalleled in anything else I've seen, and that includes Odd Nerdrum. (What's with those weird rants about Kitsch on the main page? Odd Nerdrum is not Kitsch in any sense of the word. He's way too strange.)

Her work is a perfect example of how technique at its best is merely a tool for fluidity of self-expression. These paintings are obviously modern; the moods, the subjects, the compositions only make sense in the context, both of a long history of painting, and of our uncertain and socially isolated era. They're not about saying "look at me; I can paint like Rembrandt!" as much as they're about taking what's transcendent about Rembrandt's technique and bringing it to apply on deeply personal subjects.

This is far, far different from what negative, snotty brats like John Currin are doing. After reading Peter Schjeldahl's review of the Currin retrospective at the Whitney, I expected to like it better than I did. But the aggregate effect of perusing a decade and a half of Currin's work in one fell swoop was, simply, icky. You got the feeling that this artist is a soulless, cynical creep who just applies his technique in the service of thumbing his nose at everybody--artists and regular people, past, present and future. He's all references and no center.

Sophie's work may be much subtler than Currin's, as well as much more sincere; sincerity may indeed be out of fashion. But the depth that comes of mining a simple subject with patience and commitment holds up, for me, much better than Currin's snarky pot-shots. It bespeaks both humility and maturity.


painterdog said...

I love her work as you know.
Its dark and moody, and yet I find Sophies work very positive in strgange way. This is the human condidtion, we are short, fat, we get old, we have bad realtionships, we are sometimes content.

All of this comes through her work.

Currin is a bad illustrator at best, who I think happens to be a good salesman.

Your right about the soulessnes of his work.

His wifes work is pretty bad as well.

Odd Nurdrum, who used to be a big infulence on me, is kind of kitch.
He even talks of his work being so.

He is however a pretty good painter, at least up until the end of the 90's.

Now his work seems so empty to me.

serena said...

I have the same relationship to Francis Bacon's work that you have to Nerdrum's, Painterdog. It blew me away when I first encountered it, I emulated it for years, then suddenly it made me sick. Just unremitting, wilful negativity.

I think Nerdrum is an extreme egotist, which may be why his work has devolved into the empty mess it seems to be today.

painterdog said...

Bacon is someone I take in small doses. I like his work but sometimes the drunkiness comes out in his work.
I think he was a very angry person.

Who am I to talk, I have my issues.

Just look at my work. When I had a studio in a studio building we had open studios and this woman wanted
to know if I had problems with depression.

She though I was very sick person.

I am bit out there, but aren't we all?

The other thing that is interesting and refreshing is how many really good painters come out of Canada.
How many stay there and just do really good work.

Sophie Jodoin, Michèle Fenniak,Paul Fenniak,Fabian Jean, Angela Grossmann to name a few.

Alyssa Monks is american but very good.

Gerd Brunzema said...

When I first saw Sophie Jodoin on the web, it took me a day to recover. I know it sounds a bit big, but if you look arround, you need names like Goya, Velasquez and Rembrandt, when you try to describe her to someone not knowing her work.
It is just incredible.

k said...

Holy Moses.

This stuff knocked me on my ass.

Kicked the breath right out of me.